Magdeburg, Calvin and Matthieu

In any writing, there’s a lot of work that goes into something behind the scenes that most people will never see. Here’s a preview.

Before a single word of this story had been written, the process of making it began with learning about the Thirty Years’ War in AP European History. I couldn’t remember the name of the city (Magdeburg) for a while but all that stood out to me was that it was sacked by Catholic armies who believed the Protestant inhabitants posed an existential threat to their principalities. Now the truth of this is debatable and I’m not a specialist in that time period, but that image stood out to me, even after the obligatory AP test info dump.

A few years later, it somehow joined up with what I’d read about John Calvin and the city of Geneva, which he and others attempted to reform into a utopian society outside the Catholic Church’s orthodox beliefs. The next logical conclusion for me was to imagine a city where these two images came together into one: a city that really did pose a threat to the world around it and whose armies actually march on their enemies instead of waste away in a months’ long siege. From this came the city of Cyrnne and its primary religious group, the Evangelical Brethren, or Mentites.

But I couldn’t just write a story about that without giving more context, so the nearby city of Heilicon became the testing grounds for the Evangelical Brethren’s ambitions to cleanse the world from sin with violence, and Matthieu SartonnĂ© was introduced as someone who saw it all happen and lived to tell about it. Actually, that’s a little backwards. The story started with him. Before everything about Cyrnne had coalesced in my mind, I had an idea for a monologue that I assigned to an unknown character who stated that he never wanted to be king. From there, a narrative began to develop as I found his voice and gave him a name.

The story of The Default King at this point was very different then compared to what it turned into later. Originally, it was a sort of satire in the tradition of Gulliver’s Travels and Candide, where a young man is forced out of one place after another because he pokes holes in the prevailing logic. The situations he encountered were admittedly contrived, transparent allegories and most of them were preachy. I put all the details on the back burner for a few months but none of it could go away entirely. Occasionally, I’d add something new in an effort to fill out the story, and new episodes got added over time that changed the tone from overt satire to more of a faithful adaptation of an old European novel-writing form called the picaresque novel, which is the form that Gulliver’s Travels and Candide satirized. As this happened, the more moralizing episodes dropped away in favor of a narrative based in realism, which meant that it had to be based in geography.

I’ve always liked looking at maps, so I knew that The Default King needed one, if only because that’s how fantasy novels work if they want to be taken seriously. I started with a sheet of printer paper and drew a coastline, making sure to have no straight lines or other features that appeared unnatural. Once that was done, I started adding cities: Heilicon, Leganne, Cyrnne, Meddelburg, Ossir, and Seedern. This became the Ossiric League, the setting for all of what’s now Volume One, part of Volume Two, and all of Volume Four. Of course, this wasn’t enough; if I had one country, then I would need more surrounding it, so I used the edges of the map to fill in neighboring countries: the Arcino Confederacy and Oravia. A few more months passed and I found myself making another map, where the previous one’s land area took up only a square inch or so of the paper. Eventually, I had a continent to be filled in with cities, rivers, mountains, national boundaries, and all of Matthieu’s adventures.

But that can be another post.

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