First book in the Emerald City Shifters series
A. Catherine Noon of Noon and Wilder here, wishing you a Happy Holidays! I’m writing today about our Emerald City Shifters series, set in the Seattle area. Together with my coauthor Rachel Wilder, we created a world similar to our own but with a few twists. For one thing, supernatural creatures exist, and so does magic. Magic users and supernatural folk aren’t natural friends and distrust each other, sometimes for good reason and sometimes because of old prejudices.
Writing a novel is a little like swimming in an imaginary swimming pool – people look at you funny when you start talking about things that don’t exist. Novelists have lots of imaginary friends – it comes with the territory. When you spend a lot of time creating characters, something magical happens: they become real to you. It’s strange to me, for example, that our characters can’t, say, come to dinner and talk about what they’re up to.
The same thing happens with magic. When you create a world, or read a good book with an alternate reality, coming into the waking everyday world is a little disconcerting. Magic doesn’t work here the way it does in books, (which is a shame; how many times would it be really nice to have a good jellylegs curse from the world of Harry Potter?).
When Rachel Wilder and I created the world of the Emerald City Shifters, we wanted to have it feel like present-day Seattle. We also researched the founding of the city and figured out what likely shifters would have settled the area alongside colonists from back East or up north from Alaska and Russia. And then came the shifters themselves.
You’d be surprised. We could go with the American English language convention and just add an “s” to the end: lamias. Instead, since our creatures are originally from Italy, we went with a Latin convention for words ending in “a” like antenna, which becomes antennae. Therefore, lamia becomes lamiae.Rather than write about werewolves, we wanted a unique creature, grounded in mythology, but that allowed us the flexibility to build our own culture. Rachel researched lamia myths, which always feature a female figure – half snake and half human. Male lamiae aren’t in the myths so far as we can tell, which begs the question – where to lamiae babies come from? For that matter, what’s the plural of lamia?
In our world, we decided the male lamiae look like men when they’re in human form, or Burmese pythons when they’re in their animal form. There is no half-man, half-snake form – that’s only the females. Furthermore, they live in segregated communities. The boys come live with the men when they turn thirteen, and the women live in their own areas. Male lamiae are gay, except at mating time when they mate with the females. This allows us to create a plausible gay-friendly world where our characters can have relationships with each other without challenging the mainstream, dominant culture mores.
Our first book, Sealed by Fire, is about a young sorcerer of Russian ancestry. He was adopted as a boy by a powerful sorcerer. His family still lives in Russia. In the original draft, we had his family members play a part in the story, but that became overly complicated for the scope of the novel. Vanya, as he’s called, is the seventh son of a seventh son, which plays into some magical myths and gives him some extra power that makes him attractive to the sorcerer who adopts him.
In older Russian conventions, people took their first name and the first name of their father as their everyday use-name. For example, Vanya’s full name is Ivan Mikhailovich Demidov. Ivan is Russian for “John,” and Mikhail is Michael – thus, his father’s name is Mikhail. The ending “ovich” means son of, so: John, son of Mikhail. If Vanya were female, the patronymic would be Mikhailovna, or daughter of. Demidov is their family name. And finally, Vanya is short for Ivan, similar to the English nickname of Johnny. In older tradition, no one would call him that except for his family members and a few very close friends.
Names have power. Old magical traditions assert that one can have control over things if they know the thing’s name. In our story, the supernatural being Nash asks Vanya to make a magical bond by using his full name. This adds power to the spell because Vanya is tying himself, his very being, to the spell by binding it with his name.
Originally, we titled the books “Bound by,” instead of “Sealed.” When we worked with the publisher, they already had a popular series with Bound in the title, so we were asked to come up with some alternatives. We brainstormed several but eventually we, and they, settled on “Sealed.” We liked it because aside from the magical connotations of sealing something, there is an old Mormon tradition of sealing and one of our dear friends is Mormon, so we felt it would be an homage to her traditions by using that concept.
It grew, as we wrote the novels, and now has a deeper meaning than we originally conceived. In old faerrie myths, for example, when one makes an oath or a bond to one of the fey, it’s something more than just giving one’s word. In our world, to magically seal something is more than just a simple joining.
Which brings us to other creatures. Rachel and I adore fey mythology. When I was studying Russian literature, there’s a small creature called a domovoi, very similar to a house elf but almost always male. He is said to reward a diligent housewife, but to harass a messy one. He is usually pictured wearing a very formal suit but with bushy hair and beard.
I find it fascinating that this creature is seen to be male. I’m not sure why. Males aren’t typically the ones doing the housework in old Russian culture, so why a supernatural being would be male mystifies me. In our story, we decided that our domovoi binds himself to Vanya since he is of Russian heritage, so even after the bad guy is vanquished the domovoi stays around to take care of Vanya. He’s cranky and not particularly friendly to anyone but Vanya, which causes no end of consternation to the lamiae around Vanya because they want to make friends with this small creature who is magical like themselves. But the little guy won’t have anything, particularly, to do with them. Sort of like a cat.
So this holiday, as you pursue your family’s traditions, look around for a little magic in the corners. Maybe that shadow behind the tree is a domovoi, or the handsome man at the café having a hot chocolate by himself is a lamia. One never knows.
Happy holidays from Noon and Wilder!
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
– E.E. Cummings