Author’s Commentary, Part I

My novella, Beauty of the Lilies, was released last week as an e-book. Today, then, I am posting the first part of my author’s commentary. The italic portions are extracts from the novella, and the plain text below is my comments on it. If you haven’t read the novella, and for some reason want to read the commentary anyway, be forewarned that there are spoilers.

Author’s Commentary on The Beauty of the Lilies


This story began with a character. The character began with another story.

In Chapter III of The Last Heir Colten Shevyn and Elymas Vonran debate their conflicting proposals for ruling the Empire. At one point Vonran states, “A passive emperor is still the emperor.”

In the first draft, Vonran buttressed his assertion by citing Emperor Jediah, who “devoted himself to his family and his painting”.

It was only a historical example, and the exact preoccupations of the negligent emperor were irrelevant to any point. Still, I had to write down something. I chose painting because, well, there was something about the idea that tickled me. Then I added family to keep the emperor from being completely selfish.

During the re-crafting of the scene the mention of Jediah was cut. Vonran, in the book, skips the history and goes straight to the point. It seemed better rhetoric. But I could not forget about the painting emperor. Eventually I decided to write a story about the emperor who wanted to be a painter. My first thought was: This could be funny. My second was: This could be sad. From these the whole story came.

The Beauty of the Lilies was completed in 2008. When I decided to publish it as an e-Book, I read through the story and revised it. Mostly it was a matter of style; there were no major changes of plot or character, though there was some refinement.

I am an old man now …

This begins one of my favorite bits of writing in the whole story. It was fun and relatively easy to write, and it’s sort of a crash-course introduction to Jediah and the tension of what he ought to be and what he wants to be. This prologue is the heart and spirit of the whole story, in brief.

Act I

The Beauty of the Lilies was too short for chapters, yet I wanted to divide it somehow. I decided to mimic the structure of five-act plays. The five acts are: Act 1 – Exposition; Act 2 – Complications; Act 3 – The Climax of Action; Act 4 – Falling Action; Act 5 – Catastrophe.

Lilies may or may not be a faithful rendition of the old style. At any rate, titling its sections Acts has a classy air, and I always liked the subtitle A Story in Five Acts.

He noticed Kyran Akon …

In the original story, Tervath meets Sirius Kliveen, not Kyran Akon, on his way to the meeting. Kliveen was the Chief of the Treasury, an old, testy man. I had a notion that he might come in useful, but he never did. When I began the revision, removing Kliveen was one of my first priorities. I didn’t want to distract my readers with an irrelevant character, and I was looking for opportunities to build up other characters. Eliminating Kliveen opened one up.

The emperor’s periods of long, sustained work were followed by periods of idleness.

Before I began writing Lilies I did research on painters and turned up a list of common attributes. This was one of them.

The last arrival was Jace Lukas.

But the last arrival used to be Akon. When I relegated Kliveen’s moment in the sun to Akon, I gave Akon’s introduction to Lukas. The few lines of dialogue, here between Akon and Lukas, used to be between Akon and Kliveen. Lukas was not originally in this scene at all.

Tervath began, as was his custom whenever the conversation took this turn, to tune out.

It tells you something about Jediah that Tervath is used to him turning conversations about governing into conversations about painting. It also tells you something about Tervath that he never listened.

But my primary reason for having Tervath “tune out” was that it allowed me to portray Jediah’s expertise without having any expertise myself. In fact, the whole paragraph is an analogy for the research I did into painting. I never knew there were so many different kinds of paints, or that they had a real effect on how paintings turn out. Paints that are glossy, paints that dry quickly, paints made of water and oils and even eggs. I learned a little. If I had ever gotten deeper than the Wikipedia level of research, I would have learned much.

A Turul cruiser was dispatched …

The Turul is a bird in Hungarian mythology; it was said to be the ancestor of Attila.

The Avidan …

One of the nice things about writing different stories set in the same universe: You already have a store of facts to draw from. As established in The Last Heir, the Avidan is the headquarters for the Empire’s military.

He was still a diffident scholar.

This is kinder than what I have often thought of Trev: blah.

Anyon Timnah approached with a quick, smooth step. Nothing could be told from his face, good or bad; rarely could anything be told, beyond what he intended. He was as handsome as the emperor, but more impressive than his looks was his boundless self-possession.

So enters the last Chief into the story. For a novella, there really is a large cast of characters. I introduced every Chief with a few lines like this, hoping to quickly define each one so that they would not be confused in the reader’s mind.

The Augustus is ordering …

The Augustus is the title of Vothnia’s sovereign (and a nice one, if I may humbly say so). But no one knows that. This is one of the tricky aspects of writing: How do you smoothly get across information known to all of the characters and none of the readers?

My first try was to have Tervath ask, “The ruler of all Vothnia is taking responsibility for this act of war?”

This felt a little awkward, so during the revision I rewrote his comment. Then I added Timnah and Akon’s response to it—improving the story in another way. The Chiefs’ words give readers a feel for the Vothnians.

The Vaaris Cluster …

In The Last Heir one of Alexander’s secret bases is in the Vaaris Cluster, hidden by its electromagnetic radiation. But unless my memory fails me, the Cluster was invented during the writing of Lilies.

An Este-class cruiser … created by Vahan.

The company’s original name was Golver, Inc. I changed it because, come on, what kind of a name is that? While I was at it, I decided to change the name of the cruiser. (It was first called Aplon.) Vahan is a Sanskrit word meaning vehicle—and carrying a religious meaning of no relevance to my story.

So it is,” Timnah said—with true or false agreement Tervath would never venture to guess.

He’s a diplomat! And Tervath could easily believe a liar, too. I brought Timnah in because, in a diplomatic crisis, I had no choice but to include the Chief of State. He became, surprisingly, a favorite of mine.

Jediah circled two fingers of his left hand …

Jediah is left-handed, a characteristic I gave him because (1) The majority of people are right-handed, and Jediah does not generally fit into that category, and (2) I heard somewhere that there is a connection between creativity and left-handedness. I will not vouch for the truth of that, however.

Nyev’s eyes sharp and shuttered, Jediah’s clear and mild.

A nice contrast, and one that runs to deeper things.

Do you not know?”

Jediah is trying; he’s just not very good at it.

For a second the light in Timnah’s eyes sharpened to a needle point.

One of the things I enjoy about Akon—and Lukas, for that matter—is how upfront they are about who they are and what they think. One of the things I enjoy about Timnah is how elusive he is about who he is and what he thinks. He maintains a calm and even exterior—but beneath it he, too, is tough.

Akon’s eyes darted away from the scene with angry speed.

A very late addition; this is the last scene to undergo revision.

Their grievance is as legitimate or illegitimate as it ever was.

Jediah sees clearly—and to the way of everyone else’s thinking, simply.

Timnah smiled …

Two thoughts on Timnah’s remarks here: One, if you’re going to insult someone, this is how to do it. Two, his own opinion on the emperor is difficult to sound, though it is hard to imagine the worldly-wise Chief of State thinks the painting emperor is much of an emperor. But here it is he, not Tervath, who offers a defense for Jediah.

He wanted to defend the emperor, but he could find no words.

Tervath is loyal to Jediah beyond his own best judgment; his feelings are more positive than his thoughts.

A young man came in …

Recall that Jediah was introduced wearing old, paint-stained clothing, but his brother is introduced as being “very finely dressed”.

Fourth in line for the throne

A fact that can be gleaned from this: Jediah has three sons. I also decided that he had three daughters, but it was never mentioned. Two of his daughters were, of course, seen.

At twelve years than his brother he was only twenty-seven.

Jediah’s exact age is indirectly given here. But here’s the important thing: Twelve years is a significant gap between siblings because it ensures that they will never be children together. They may still be close, but at a large distance of years it must be—at least early on—a quasi-parental relationship. However, as the younger grows up and intellectually catches up to the older, friendship becomes possible. That this has not happened with Jediah and Ruark is obvious as early as Ruark’s first barbed remark—“I also see my brother is not with you.”

You invited me after the new little one was born.

A transparent lie: He really came back because of the stewing crisis with Vothnia. Jediah indicates as much by saying that the “new little one”—and the invitation—is two months old.

I will settle this,” Trev cut into their argument. “We should vote.”

This, from Trev, is bold leadership.