24 February 2017 0 comments

Piaffe: The Movements

The pirouette, or dancing in circles.

Capriole on the lines.
Forging Piaffe's world on the page for the reader is crucial to the immersion, suspension of disbelief. One of the greatest challenges for me as the writer fell in the realm of the insigni, specifically their warfare tactics and strategies.

Once upon a time, before tanks, mounted cavalry units were the single most intimidating force on the battlefield. A well trained steed could scatter infantry with a kick, and was a force to be reckoned with -- wielding hooves, teeth, and its greater weight against adversaries at its rider's behest.

Capriole under saddle in action.
The remnants of those techniques are preserved in the militaristic discipline with which horsemanship is taught to both equine and human pupils at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.

For those who aren't familiar with classical dressage, describing a horse's movements with terms more complex than jog or gallop may prove challenging. So when portraying a capriole, for instance, how exactly does one proceed? It is a rear, a leap, a kick, but to witness them performed in flawless transition is to realize the power and force behind the act, and realize that it is so much more.

The Lipizzaners, as a breed and a legacy, are certainly a sight to behold. But when one takes into consideration the fact that each stallion only trains under one rider, and together that rider/horse team practices each and every day, and that these complex haute ecole movements demand musculature, physique, and intellect that few horses could dare attain in their lifetimes... suddenly their efforts and performance take on a new meaning, and the observer has a greater appreciation for what it takes to do that seemingly innocuous and quick leap-kick. It is not enough for the horse to understand what the rider wants and execute it, he must have the strength to do so with power and control, without hurting himself.

Thus it is with the insigni. They are large and powerful, more so than a horse, and yet at the same time they cannot simply throw themselves into movements without proper athletic regimens and training, not without injuring themselves or endangering the wellbeing of those around them. It is the same with any professional athlete, it is the same with any military personnel. It is, after all, a running joke among enlisted ranks that the most dangerous individual on the battlefield, or the training field, is a lieutenant with a compass.

There is precious little media circulating on the internet that I can share that is actually the Spanish Riding School pupils. If you go looking, be wary of any shots that have the horses performing in show rings, or names that flaunt "Lipizzans" without mentioning the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria. Look for the brown coats, the sideways hats, and the beige and white wall of the arena in Vienna.

Pesade under saddle in action.
Levade under saddle.
For ease of reference, I've included definitions of the various movements below. These are sourced from Wikipedia's article "Airs Above The Ground", but most classical dressage manuals will provide similar, if not identical, information. All sketched images are done by Ludwig Koch, and have been sourced from Lipizzaner: A Story of the Horses of Lipica, by Dr. Milan Dolenc, of which I own a copy (I took pictures of the sketches for you, using my mobile device).

The levade from the piaffe.
  • Pesade & Levade: 

"The pesade and levade are the first airs taught to the High School horse, and it is from these that all other airs are taught. In the pesade, the horse raises its forehand off the ground and tucks the forelegs evenly, carrying all weight on the hindquarters, to form a 45 degree angle with the ground.

"The levade was first taught at the beginning of the 20th century, asking the horse to hold a position approximately 30-35 degrees from the ground. Unlike the pesade, which is more of a test of balance, the decreased angle makes the levade an extremely strenuous position to hold, and requires a greater effort from the horse."

the courbette and the croupade

  • Croupade & Courbette:

In the croupade, the horse jumps from a raised position of the forehand (levade) straight up into the air, keeps the hind legs tucked tightly under, and remains parallel to the ground. This movement is a prerequisite to more difficult movements, the first step.

"In the courbette, the horse raises its forehand off the ground, tucks up forelegs evenly, and then jumps forward, never allowing the forelegs to touch down, in a series of "hops"."

the ballotade

  • Ballatode:
In the ballatode, the horse's hind hooves are positioned so one can see its shoes if watching from behind, but the horse is not asked to kick out. When the horse demonstrates proficiency in the ballotade, the capriole is introduced.
**There is actually an error in PIAFFE, on pg 133 line 5 of the paperback or the bottom of page 62 in the PDF version, where "ballatode" should read "courbette" instead.** 

the capriole

  • Capriole:

"In the capriole (meaning leap of a goat), the horse jumps from a raised position of the forehand (levade) straight up into the air, kicks out with the hind legs, and lands more or less on all four legs at the same time. It requires an enormously powerful horse to perform correctly, and is considered the most difficult of all the airs above the ground."

23 February 2017 0 comments

Piaffe: The Cast

As promised, picspam! Sorted roughly by order of appearance (except for Traken down there at the bottom), here's the rest of the cast of characters in Piaffe. Some of them don't have much page time. Others have a much larger role than what is seen or claimed in this volume of the series.

I had fun exploring these first two, because Neolus and Erryn are two of my favorite supporting characters. We'll see more of them. Can I say that without it being spoilery? I really like them. Willoughby, who plays Neolus, is of Ojibway from Whitesand First Nation and Jamaican descent. Thuy is a Vietnamese model.

Also worth mentioning is that Jherrfaulken Torrente character about halfway down. He doesn't actually get page space, but he kind of steals it. And his presence and influence loom a bit. He never really had a face, until I stumbled on a photo shoot a while back, and then I couldn't see him as anyone else. I'm sure he won't mind. Everyone wants to be named after the biggest, baddest falcon, right? He does a fine job of making shaggy look chic.
22 February 2017 0 comments

Piaffe: The Sacred Groves

The Sacred Manda Grove
It was in drafting a spiritual system for Piaffe's world that trees became a major player. I didn't want there to be religious structure, per se, but I did want to create a measure of spirituality in the form of respect for the planet and all its inhabitants. A sharing of resources and space.

Filtered Sunlight
Because their language system is heavily Latinus influenced, I opted to transform Gaia into Ommat, literally "all things are," from om mat, which means "mother of all." She began not so much a specific goddess entity as she is a communion with nature. The sacred groves were space set aside for rites in which the dead were returned to the earth, the final embrace.

I was in the throes of working these details back into the story, trolling the internet for images of what these groves might look like. How old were they? What kind of trees were mandas, beyond being old, dense, and dark? That was when my longtime friend Amara hit me up. She was working on a shiny, and she wasn't sure if the stones worked so well together. She was debating scrapping the combination entirely and beginning again. Artist to artist, I sympathized with her pain.

"Send me a pic of what it looks like," I told her. "I'll tell you if it works or not."

21 February 2017 0 comments

Piaffe: The Insigni

Once upon a time, tanks could dance.
One of my favorite parts of creating the world in Piaffe revolved around the insigni. I'll admit that my inspiration was born in Vienna, Austria at the Spanish Riding School where, at the age of five, I had the pleasure of straddling the back of a Lipizzaner mare. She was huge. Enormous. Fluid.

Exploring the abilities of the mundane horse, the years of training required to perform complex maneuvers which the Spanish Riding School teaches, and extrapolating the possibilities of combining those with a sharp intellect and an aware mind, led to the evolution of the equine soldier.

Forging that image in the reader's mind was a bit of a challenge. I see their towering presence in my head, but how could I convey it? I could see them moving in my head, but how does one describe it?

20 February 2017 0 comments

Piaffe is loose in the world.

I've been working on this story for longer than I'd like to admit. It's been written, rewritten, revised, thoroughly overhauled, and rewritten again after sitting for a good long while. If it were a bottle of whiskey or bourbon, it'd be worth a pretty penny at this point.

It's not... but I hope it kicks like one.
This fantasy world is one that's been with me for so long that I've had to include a glossary of terms to anchor readers because it becomes a struggle to remember, in the throes of writing, what is known and what has simply become ingrained in the fiber of my being and flows through my veins.

So I'd like to do a little post introducing you to this not-Earth, where Gaia is called Ommat, the All-Mother, the sacred trees have veins of crystal, and the humans aren't the only recognized sapient species that contributes to the foundation of society and culture.
07 February 2017 4 comments

Dreams unwind

(L to R) Mary-el, Lumina, and Deviant Moon tarots.

Love's a state of mind. "This is the story of an old Welsh witch." Do you know that song?

In the society and time from which tarot originated (to our best estimations), arranged marriages were a norm. Marriage was a contract for political or financial gain. Lovers were an expense, a luxury, a potential weakness for exploitation, an opportunity to further one's interest, garner favor, and increase power.

The Lovers is a card associated with the element of air. I also associate this card with Gemini, the Twins, as well as Yin and Yang. I see it as an allusion to balances of power between myself and others, about power plays and relationships and connections, none of them necessarily romantic or sexual. This card speaks to me of othila and ehwaz, of group souls, and links between people -- the ancestral connection, the collective unconscious.

01 February 2017 0 comments

It's actually happening.

It's official. You can now pre-order my next book. It's slotted for a release date of February 20th, and what's more, it'll be available in paperback as well as digital format for those of you who've expressed interest.
This is the first in a series, and while I'll try very hard not to be Robert Jordan or GRRM, I can't very well make any hard promises. Because as George recently said, years from now it won't be the wait for the next book that everyone talks about, but how good it is, and that's ultimately what I'm striving for. Not perfection per se (I realize it's an unreasonable and I'm working on that) but the best artistic effort that I'm capable of, given where I am right now.

It's a journey. Let's see where it takes us. It's (finally) one I want to share with all of you.

Keep an eye on my website, or better yet sign up for my newsletter, as I'll be sharing a free excerpt in the week before release.