Ananth and the World of Demons

Most of my novel The Demon King is set in postapocalyptic New Jersey in an era far in the future, but the world before the apocalypse is my attempt at imagining a contemporary “low fantasy” society where magic is commonplace but not particularly fantastic. Almost anyone can perform magic, just as anyone can play an instrument or do math without a calculator, but most people either don’t care or don’t bother.

The difference is that being good at guitar or having the ability to solve equations in your head can’t directly hurt people or reshape reality. Kids therefore have magic classes in school from age nine to age fourteen; and, starting at around age ten, children attend magic academies for three or four weeks over the summer. Attendance at summer academies is mandatory during middle school and optional during high school. Some of these academies are private, while others are state sponsored. Most of the subsidized summer academies are hosted by local colleges and universities, while others are conducted at specialized institutions.

Magic classes and summer academies are ostensibly intended to train children and teenagers to use magic responsibly while helping them to develop their talents, but most kids take magic class about as seriously as they take art class – which is to say, not very seriously at all. The real purpose of magical education is to alert professional magic users called mages to children with unusual talents.

Most people don’t have much magical aptitude, but a small percentage of children demonstrate powerful magic from an early age. Performing magic is a complicated process that requires an external point of focus, meaning that it’s not something that can be done unconsciously or accidentally. Regardless, any type of magic can be dangerous if the user is powerful and untrained. Children with an unusually high level of magical ability are therefore singled out for extra attention and education.

Many magically talented children grow up to use their magic professionally. Almost all sports involve an element of magic, for example, so most athletes are skilled magic users. People who specialize in “shadow” magic, which involves manipulation of the perception of light, often go into the arts, while people who are skilled at “sun” magic, which involves the manipulation of organic matter at an elemental level, go into medicine. This doesn’t mean that magic is necessary to become an artist or a doctor, but rather that many professional fields accommodate magic.

Highly trained professionals called mages study magic for its own sake. Mages work (and often live) at the magic academies that run summer programs for children, and one of their primary duties is to monitor and police the use of magic. Although mages may be occasionally be affiliated with law enforcement, they mainly operate according to traditional codes of law that are international in scope. As a result, their activities may be extralegal at times. This is because magical threats are extremely dangerous, and it’s necessary to contain such threats as quickly as possible.

Thankfully, magical crises are highly uncommon, as sociopaths and gifted magic users are equally rare. Moreover, the vast majority of potential problems are neutralized at the summer academies, which serve as an opportunity for mages to keep watch for antisocial behavior and dangerous magical talents.

Each of the permanent academies that train mages houses an “elemental keystone,” which is a physical object that functions as a magical battery. A keystone can be anything, but it’s often symbolic and generally small enough to be held in one hand. These keystones contain traces of the power of every mage who has studied at the academy, and they distribute magical energy to the academy’s infrastructure while serving as a repository of tradition and knowledge.

The process used to transfer individual magical power into and away from the keystone can also be weaponized to permanently drain someone’s magical ability. Although this happens only in the most extraordinary of circumstances, the complete absorption of someone’s magic into a keystone can be used as a punishment or a preemptive measure. In most cases, the person is unharmed; while in others, the process renders them physically and psychologically inhuman.

The victims of such tragedies are called “demons,” and their existence is unknown to everyone but the most advanced of mages. The process that creates demons is horrible and inhumane, but the alternative of giving free rein to dangerous magic users is unthinkable.

In order to prevent keystones from being easily accessible, they are hidden within labyrinths that can’t be navigated by anyone who isn’t a mage-level specialist in the particular type of magic contained within the keystone. Human interactions with these keystones are therefore infrequent. Some cultures view them as sacred objects, while the more secular view is that prolonged contact with keystones is demonstrably unhealthy. Starting in the late nineteenth century, there’s been a halting but gradually growing movement to do away with them altogether. Nuclear power is a useful but imperfect analogy, as keystones remain the only way to neutralize dangerous magical abilities.

Like any other magically enchanted object, keystones gradually lose their charge if not maintained. There is nevertheless a covert and illegal trade in keystones, which are perceived as art objects of historical and archaeological significance even if they no longer contain magical power. By the twenty-first century, fully active keystones have become extremely rare, so much so that most people consider accounts of their power to be mere legends.

The apocalypse was triggered by a young researcher at an East Coast R&D branch of a large and wealthy tech company. The researcher and her team had access to multiple keystones in close proximity to each other, a situation that never would have been possible without the company’s extraordinary wealth, prestige, and power. To make matters worse, this researcher was working outside of the academy system with no oversight by more mages who possessed a better understanding of how keystone magic works and what makes it so dangerous.

In the process of triggering the apocalypse, the researcher managed to absorb a portion of the magical energy of the disaster into a new keystone, which happened to be the closest thing she had at hand – her smartphone. After decades of postapocalyptic turmoil, this smartphone-turned-keystone eventually became the magical relic that powers the water purification facility hidden in the mountains separating the kingdom of Whitespire from the ocean, whose water has become toxic to humans. The relic’s existence is a secret guarded by the royal family of Whitespire and the esoteric order of monks who serve them, as its destruction would mean the certain demise of the kingdom.

Ananth, the eponymous “demon king,” comes from the world before the apocalypse. His parents are both specialists in sun magic; but, instead of being able to manipulate matter at a quantum level, he can manipulate time. Suspecting that his magic is highly illegal and would result in his detention at a magic academy if its nature became known, he presented himself as completely unable to use magic for most of his life. When the apocalypse happened, however, the benefits of time travel suddenly outweighed its risks.

As well as going back in time, Ananth is able to jump forward into the future. There are a number of limitations and caveats to what his magic can achieve, however; and, on top of that, he’s a normal person with no magical training. Through extensive trial and error, he’s realized that his best bet for preventing the apocalypse is to steal the keystone from Whitespire and return to the past with it, where he could hopefully use its power to cancel out the initial magical chain reaction.

When The Demon King opens, Ananth has been time traveling for years, but he hasn’t gotten anywhere. He’s seen the apocalypse happen countless times and been unable to stop it, and he’s seen countless people killed in countless wars as he watched civilization re-establish itself. He’s almost been killed countless times himself. He’s gotten older, and he’s tired. Despite himself, he’s managed to become friends with Ceres, the reigning queen of Whitespire, and he finds himself increasingly involved with the people who live in her era.

Ananth is therefore faced with a terrible choice. Is it worth saving his world if he has to destroy another world in the process? More importantly, if Ananth can’t save the world, who’s going to save him?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This illustration of Ananth was created by the legendary Sam Beck, who writes and draws a fascinating and nuanced comic about lost magic and renegade wizards called Verse, which you can check out (here). Sam goes by @sambeckdraws on Twitter and on Instagram, and you can see more of her professional comic and illustration work on her portfolio site (here).

Ceres and the Poison Sea

I just finished Chapter 10 of The Demon King, an original fantasy novel about adult wizards making terrible decisions. This chapter is an extended flashback to the time before the apocalypse that created the world of the story. Although I’m still brainstorming the details of this disaster in terms of the universe’s magical system, what essentially happened is that a frustrated researcher with a wealth of funding but no oversight managed to create the equivalent of a miniature sun that exploded into a supernova before collapsing into a black hole. This set off a chain reaction that rapidly accelerated climate change, which in turn significantly raised the sea level and irradiated the ocean.  

The researcher’s tech firm was located in New York. Because of the disaster, the city no longer exists, nor does anything east of Newark Bay and the Arthur Kill Straight. In order to prevent the decimation of the entire Mid-Atlantic region, mages pushed the landmass of Manhattan Island and Staten Island westward to create a mountain range protecting the mainland from the toxic ocean and its storms. This mountain range also serves as a water filtration system that feeds a system of freshwater lakes and rivers to its immediate west, which has become a kingdom known as Whitespire.

Geographically speaking, Whitespire is somewhere in the vicinity of Elizabeth Seaport in New Jersey. Although a great deal of I-95 is underwater, Route 1 still functions as a major trade route, and Whitespire is about halfway between the Northern Kingdoms (Hartford, Springfield, and a bit of Rhode Island) and the Southern Territories (Baltimore and Washington DC). Because of changing climate patterns, everywhere north of Albany and south of Richmond is uninhabitable, as is the land west of the Appalachian Mountains. Meanwhile, most of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania is a wasteland where water is scare and nothing grows.

The Northern Kingdoms are governed by draconian regimes that are constantly at war with one another, while the Southern Territories are lawless and threatened by the steadily rising ocean. Whitespire is the only real civilization left on the East Coast of North America, which has been isolated from the rest of the world by the impossibility of travel by sea or air. The citystate thrives because of its mild climate, access to plentiful fresh water, and relative distance from other centers of power.

Whitespire is ruled by a royal family whose primary duty is to ensure that the system filtering the seawater through the mountains continues to function properly. The bloodline of the royal family is not strictly hereditary, as anyone able to command the necessary magic may be adopted into royal line. Generally speaking, however, knowledge of the kingdom’s secrets and rituals are passed from parent to child. The queens and kings of Whitespire are supported by a religious order dedicated to preserving the magic necessary to protect the kingdom.

Under the stewardship of its royal family, Whitespire has been peaceful for several hundred years, but this doesn’t mean the monarchs have absolute authority. Political power is shared between the noble lines that maintain the rivers and lakes that spread from the Whitespire Castle, and there are occasional disputes over succession, taxes, and territory rights.

Ceres is the current reigning queen of Whitespire. For reasons known only to herself, Ceres’s mother resolved disputes among Whitespire’s aristocracy through strategic assassinations, which eventually resulted in her murder. As a result, Ceres ascended the throne during a political crisis when she was nineteen. She is a supremely competent ruler, but her reign has been marred by lingering political tensions. She navigates this challenge by presenting a wise and virtuous image of herself in public but being crafty and merciless behind closed doors.

Ceres was born to be a queen, and she plays her role with style and grace. Her only concern is that she is entirely ignorant of the vast majority of Whitespire’s deep magic, as her mother never shared the kingdom’s lore with her. To make matters worse, the former queen killed many of the people who were close to her, along with the entire order of priestesses dedicated to the worship of a deity called The Weaver, who supposedly established Whitespire by wresting the primordial world from the control of demons.

Although the truth is more complicated, “demons” are believed to be powerful monsters whose magic can’t be controlled and can thus only exist in a state of madness and chaos. Demons are real; and the eponymous “demon king” Ananth, who has traveled centuries into the future from a time that he considers be the pre-apocalyptic present, is one of them.

Ceres is primarily a foil to Ananth during the first two narrative arcs, but I plan for her to become the main viewpoint character during the third and final part of the story. She befriends Ananth mainly for political reasons as she attempts to prevent a coup organized by operatives from the Northern Territories, but her real interest in him comes from his openly stated intention to steal the hidden relic that’s the key to the magic of the royal family. Ceres needs this relic just as much as Ananth does, so she aids his plans with the hope that he’ll find it for her. As someone who possess powerful magic of her own, Ceres has full confidence that she can fight and kill Ananth if necessary, so she’s completely unbothered by his antagonism toward her.

Ananth doesn’t treat Ceres like a queen, so she returns the favor by not treating him as a demon capable of destroying her kingdom whenever the mood strikes him. As a result, they gradually form an unlikely friendship that gives Ceres a stage to be her best and most authentic self, namely, a strong and self-assured woman who loves drinking and dick jokes. It goes without saying that she’s a joy to write.

The illustration above was created by Doc Hollibee, who is on Twitter (here) and Tumblr (here). Doc drew me a picture of Princess Zelda with a sword (here), and I loved it so much that I asked her to draw Ceres with the same energy. Doc creates marvelous illustrations that depict the women of the Final Fantasy games as beautiful but still powerful and full of personality, and I’m thrilled and delighted to see the same artistic sensibility applied to my own original character.

The Demon King Reboot

Around this time last year, I finished an original fantasy novella called The Demon King. I serialized it on AO3, posting each chapter as I wrote it with a minimum of editing. This year I’ve been slowly editing the story into a legitimate novel. The process has been a lot of fun, but I’ve had to make some major changes.

I originally planned to serialize The Demon King in five arcs. The outline of the story was structured for each arc to focus on one character while providing the reader with one major revelation. I wanted there to be something resembling a punchline at the end of every scene, so I wrote the story as a comedy centered on character interactions. In other words, I saw The Demon King as something like an ongoing prose webcomic illuminated with occasional illustrations. AO3 isn’t a good platform for a project like this, however, and it was impossible to build an audience. I therefore closed the story at the end of the first arc.

In the original version of the story, I deliberately left room for the plot to spool out across later installments. In order to write a proper novel, however, I need to make the structure more streamlined and compact.

My strategy has been to simplify the plot in order to focus on the most important themes and character development arcs. The easiest way to go about this has been to remove half of the cast from the story. This was relatively painless, as I’m sure these characters will return in another project.

Another efficient way to simplify the story has been to make certain aspects of the plot clear from the beginning. A major component of this was to drop the conceit of the main characters going by multiple names. In the first draft, the eponymous demon king called himself “Balthazar” because he thought it sounded like a wizard name, and the characters closely associated with Balthazar humored him by using wizard names of their own. I decided to cut the plot points relevant to Balthazar using a fake name; so, in the current draft of the story, he goes by his real name, Ananth.

Ananth uses time magic, which needs to be clear from the beginning. The extent of the time travel will only be revealed gradually, but it will make my job infinitely easier if the reader sees Ananth using time magic in the very first chapter. Not only does this explain a number of aspects of his character that would otherwise be needlessly mysterious, but it also creates a compelling sense of mystery by providing opportunities for the reader to understand that Ananth is in fact very bad at using magic. Given that his only real talent is a basic ability to manipulate time, how did he become so powerful? Where (or when) did he come from, and what are his intentions?

While Ananth’s character has changed significantly, his foil Ceres hasn’t changed much at all. Ceres is her real name, and she’s not hiding anything by being catty and manipulative; that’s just her personality. The one significant edit I made is that Ceres is no longer a princess, but a queen. Then again, this isn’t much more than a matter of using the “find and replace” function to switch a few words, as Ceres was always a queen in my heart.

In any case, I’ve succeeded in compacting the story outline from fifty chapters into a solid thirty, and I’ve managed to finish the first ten. I enjoyed serializing fanfic novels on AO3 because of the constant stream of positive feedback and encouragement, so the major challenge of writing an original novel has been working in relative isolation. It was difficult to get started on revising this project, and it’s been slow going. Still, now that I know the shape of the story, I have a better sense of working toward an achievable goal.

The illustration above is by @Lunie_junk on Twitter, who also shares her work on DeviantArt (here) and on her Patreon page (here). I love Lunie’s Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy art, and I’m a huge fan of her soft pastel style and colorful fantasy illustrations. She takes character commissions on a regular basis, and I recommend checking her out on her Carrd page (here) if you’re interested. I adore the story illustration Lunie created for me, and I really enjoyed working with her!

A Public Service

Queens don’t have to do paperwork. 👑

It’s been a while, but I’m back to work on The Demon King, an original fantasy story about tired adults doing their best. I wrote a stand-alone novella last year, and I’m currently expanding it into a proper novel. I drew the thumbnails for a few comic scripts back when I first started playing with ideas, and I recently decided to ink and color a few of them just for fun. This one is loosely based on a study of a panel in Tess Stone’s Not Drunk Enough, a stylish horror comic with a target audience of me specifically.

The Magic of Fiction

I thought long and hard (so to speak) about the title of the book the Demon King is reading, but everything I came up with was awful. I decided to give up after “Dragon with a Hard-on” and just leave it up to the reader’s imagination.

This comic is written by me and drawn by Frankiesbugs, whose art is sometimes cute, sometimes creepy, and always stylish. You can follow them on Instagram, on Twitter, and on Tumblr for more comics, demons, and attractive people in fancy dress behaving badly.

Free Real Estate

Just another day in the life of a powerful but clueless wizard and the princess who (barely) tolerates him.

This scene takes place at the end of the second arc of my original fantasy novel, The Demon King. In this segment of the story, Balthazar attempts to learn how to control the weather and ends up harnessing ancient forces at the limits of human comprehension. He uses his newfound power for silly nonsense that does not benefit him or anyone else, but you have to admit that floating islands are cool. And, as Ceres says, it’s free real estate.

This comic was written by me and illustrated by Mjoyart on Twitter (and elsewhere). I wrote the script and sketched a set of rough thumbnails, and Meghan was able to turn my stupid joke into something truly magical. Meghan posts Pokémon and Legend of Zelda comics and fan art on Twitter, and I highly recommend checking out her online portfolio (here) to see her original storyboards and animation projects. Her art is fantastic and never ceases to amaze me, and I’m very lucky to have been able to work with her!

Murder Is Very Expedient!

This comic is based on a marvelous illustration of Ceres and Weive created by @l-a-l-o-u on Tumblr. You can see the piece in all its colorful glory (here). 

I’m going to use this illustration as the cover for the second story arc of The Demon King, which I plan to start posting on AO3 beginning on August 1. Being able to work on collaborative illustrations and my own silly comics fills me with inspiration, and I’m excited to share the next segment of the story!

Radiant Princess of Dawn

Gin and cranberry juice is a healthy way to start a magical day.

Ceres is my take on magical video game princesses, and it is my headcanon that all of these ladies are consummate day drinkers. I think you’d probably have to be in order to summon the emotional fortitude to deal with the shenanigans of heroes and villains on top of the everyday business of running a moderately large kingdom.

Ceres’s Story Arc

I’m going to start writing my query letter for The Demon King soon, so I’ve been thinking about how to describe the story, which has two parallel threads that unspool in alternating chapters. The eponymous “demon king” Balthazar (he’s not really a demon king) is the main point-of-view character, as it’s his actions that push the larger narrative forward, but the role of his “nemesis” Princess Ceres (she’s not really his nemesis) as a deuteragonist is equally important and will only become more important as the story progresses.  

Balthazar’s plot arc in the first novella is simple: he says he will go to a temple and find a magical artifact, and he goes to a temple and finds a magical artifact.

Meanwhile, what’s going on with Ceres is more complicated and can’t be succinctly summarized.

Ceres opens the story by sending a hero to fight Balthazar. This “hero” is actually a convict whom she has effectively exiled, and she intends for Balthazar to dispose of him. He does so, but not before the hero kills two people and injures a third.

Back in Whitespire, Ceres grants a private audience to a viscount from an outlying territory who essentially asks to stop paying taxes. Ceres dismisses him, but she allows herself to be seduced by his daughter, who wants the viscount to step down so that she can manage her family’s estate. While engaging in an openly sexual relationship with the viscount’s daughter, Ceres realizes that the viscount is being manipulated by a shadowy anti-monarchist political faction. In an attempt to provoke the members of the faction to reveal themselves, Ceres orders the head of her intelligence staff to direct a covert attack on the viscount’s estate.

Members of a separate anti-monarchist faction, fearing that they will be blamed for this attack, offer a scapegoat in the form of an advanced student of magic – a grad student, basically – who has been distributing seditious tracts. Ceres has actually discussed the matter beforehand with one of the leaders of the grad student’s faction, who is her close friend (and happens to be the author of the ongoing series of romance novels that Balthazar is addicted to). She therefore exiles the student, ostensibly to die at the hands of the demon king but actually to study with his friend Melchior, a wizard from a foreign kingdom who has strong anti-monarchist leanings of his own.

Ceres has grown fond of the viscount’s daughter, and she doesn’t want her or her father to become pawns of court politics in the way that the grad student did. She therefore engineers a minor scandal involving the viscount, which serves as the excuse the daughter needs to transfer power away from her father.

At the end of the first story arc, the viscount and his daughter leave the castle alive and unharmed. Ceres hasn’t been able to figure out who was manipulating the viscount at court, but she’s content to have secured an ally in the viscount’s daughter, who will almost certainly manage her family’s estate better than her father.

All’s well that ends well, but the reader is left with the dangling thread of why Ceres is so amenable to the idea of deposing herself from her own throne. In addition, how does she know Balthazar, and why is she so friendly with him? There’s also the matter of Ceres having sent Balthazar a “hero” that he was given no choice but to murder. Balthazar alludes to the fact that this isn’t the first time Ceres has done this, which is even more disturbing.

At the beginning of the second story arc, probably at the end of the second chapter, Ceres is going to address this matter directly and reflect the main theme of the story back on Balthazar by saying that these “heroes” have a choice. What she means is that no one is forcing them to attack the people they see as their enemies, but this raises the question of whether Ceres is giving Balthazar a choice in how he handles the circumstances she has created. This digs even deeper into the story’s theme by suggesting that some choices aren’t so simple, and that people suffer when they try to deal with making these choices on their own.

Also I intend for Ceres to make a lot of jokes about oral sex in her second story arc.

This summary is much more complicated than the story itself, hopefully. Ceres is not an unreliable viewpoint character, and none of these plot elements are supposed to be confusing or mysterious to the reader.

In the end, the goal of all this political intrigue is to set up Ceres’s kingdom as a battleground while establishing that it is primarily a battleground of relationships and feelings.

If Balthazar is a means to look at high fantasy heroic quest narratives from a different perspective, then Ceres is my take on the traditional “pure-hearted princess” trope. Ceres is in her early thirties, and I don’t think a princess can survive that long in a position of near-absolute power without being extremely clever and at least a little evil.

The above illustration of Ceres was created by the stylish and magical Fernanda V. (@artesiants on Instagram and on Twitter + @artesiant on Tumblr), who draws bold and fashionable designs of witchy characters. The prompt I gave her was “an elven princess who is beautiful and ethereal but delights in destroying her enemies,” and I love how she’s mixed diaphanous skirts and delicate jewelry with a lightly armored Amazonian halter that leaves Ceres’s arms free and ready to handle any conflict that comes her way.

It’s so interesting to see how various artists interpret this character, and every illustration of her makes me even more committed to telling her story despite the occasionally stress-inducing intricacies of its twists and turns.

The Demon King Editing Notes

Starting in April, I’m going to begin putting together a formal query letter for The Demon King. I’d like to participate in the #PitMad event on Twitter at the beginning of June, and I’d also like to finish up this portion of the project so that I can go ahead and get started on the next novella in the series.

If you’re interested, this is my fifty-word Twitter pitch:

The Demon King is a high fantasy adventure comedy about a garbage wizard named Balthazar who seeks to claim a magical relic sleeping within the castle of a powerful and devious princess. Until then, he would prefer to be left alone so he can read trashy romance novels in peace.

I’m going to put the first novella through another round of intense editing in May, but I just wrapped up the initial set of major edits. I’ve been fixing typos and other minor second-draft awkwardness, but I’ve also been thinking about tone and structure, as well as how I relate to the genre of fantasy in general.

Although this will change as the story progresses, the beginning of The Demon King is largely an episodic comedy that plays with tropes from epic fantasy novels and video games. Instead of exaggerating or subverting these tropes, I’m interested in looking at them from the perspective of rational adult characters who fit their assigned archetypes poorly at best.

Each chapter is prefaced by a short introductory section modeled on the sort of “lore” or “flavor text” that a player can unlock in a video game by defeating a certain number of enemies, collecting a certain number of items, and so on. This isn’t made explicitly clear in the first novella, but these intro sections are written by Balthazar, the eponymous Demon King, who is addicted to romance novels and secretly aspires to be a writer himself.

I’ve been putting a lot of work into crafting an appropriately epic language for these sections. What I’m aiming for is a needlessly fancy style that borders on purple prose without being actually poorly written or obnoxious. In addition, I’d like for readers who come back to these passages after they know more about the world of the story to be able to see where Balthazar is being ironic, where he’s being sincere, and where he’s flat-out lying.

I had initially rendered these sections in italics, but I think we can all collectively agree that italics are difficult to read. I therefore reformatted the text to remove all the italics on the chapter intro sections. I might put them back in to demonstrate that these are excerpts from “found sources” and not part of the main body of narration, but I think the character-specific perspectives of the chapters are clear enough that third-person omniscient narration stands out strongly on its own.

I also decided is that everyone is going to be represented as speaking English. If the viewpoint character – usually Balthazar – can understand what someone is saying, it won’t be accented with italics. Perhaps other characters might comment on the fact that he understands speech they don’t, but I don’t want to play games with fantasy languages. Along the same lines, I deleted all mentions of fantasy language names. Nobody needs that.

One of my most hated of all sci-fi and fantasy tropes is when a story gluts itself on constructed terminology, especially in lieu of meaningful worldbuilding. I therefore tried to keep fantasy words at an absolute minimum. The crow people (called starags, after the Gaelic word for “crow”) have their own name because it would be silly to call them “crow people,” and the concept of a “gaesh” (a type of semi-telepathic soul bond that facilitates magic sharing) is something that I want to feel strange and alien to the reader, but I think that’s it.

I leaned into this by using common words for elements that are native to the story. For example, Balthazar is not a “demon” in the usual sense of the word, the “gargoyles” who appear about halfway through the story are actually bat people, the “artifact” Balthazar is seeking is something highly unusual and specific, and the creatures that Balthazar calls “dogs” and “horses” are not dogs and horses, not by a long shot.

As the story continues, I think it’s going to be fun to play with the disconnect between what various characters take for granted as common knowledge, but I want this to remain comfortably in the realm of comedy and not venture into the territory of “who knows what secrets at what point in the story.” If anyone asks, you didn’t hear this from me, but plot is overrated. The plot of The Demon King is going to become more interesting and intricate as more layers of the story are revealed, but I want the reader to care about the characters before the plot ever becomes a concern.

That being said, there are major conflicts between the characters that have no easy resolutions, so I took care in my edits to make sure that each of the main characters states their goals clearly. Figuring out why these characters insist on pursuing these goals is the story’s primary source of forward momentum, so I’m doing my best to set up these mysteries while also providing ample clues and a healthy dose of foreshadowing.   

Hopefully the process of writing a query letter will help me clarify the themes and narrative structure so that I can continue to hone the story when I return to it in May for another set of edits.

For the time being, I’m hosting the first novella in The Demon King on AO3, and you can find it (here).

This post’s illustration of Balthazar is by the lovely @Lemonscribs on Instagram, who was kind enough to compare the character’s aesthetic to Katie O’Neill’s fantasy slice-of-life comic The Tea Dragon Society. What an apt observation, and what an incredible compliment!