Josh VogtI’m happy to have Josh Vogt here at my blog again, in honor of the release of his second novel, The Maids of Wrath, the follow-up to last year’s Enter the Janitor. Josh has also written a number of tie-in novels for Pathfinder, which you can find more about at his site or by following his his YouTube channel.

What do you do when you accomplish a dream you’ve had for over a decade? I can remember the specific moment when my love of reading and writing coalesced into a true vision to become an author (a career author, no less) and get a book published. I remember the specific book I was reading, my sophomore year dorm room, and time of day. I remember the thought flashing through my head of: “I could write as well as this, or better.” And then replying to myself, “Well, why not prove it?”

Things quickly became more complicated once I started researching writing craft and the publishing industry, attending conferences, conventions, and critique groups—but the initial dream remained intact. I dedicated countless hours to this new passion, trying to refine my technique, trying to complete stories and submit them, and then trying to not let near-constant rejection discourage me from continuing on this path.

Years went by. I worked for a publisher, writing sales copy. I worked as an editor for an online newspaper. I eventually transitioned into full-time freelance writing, expanding from corporate copywriting to writing for roleplaying games and other fun projects. I also got an agent, only to amicably part with him a year later after things didn’t quite work out.

Maids of Wrath - Copy - 2And then, back right at the beginning of 2014…I got an offer for not one but two books. On one side, I got a contract to write a novel in the Pathfinder Tales tie-in line, set in the world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. On the other, WordFire Press acquired Enter the Janitor, the first in my humorous urban fantasy series, The Cleaners. Both came out in May 2015, and now The Cleaner #2: The Maids of Wrath is out April 2016, with #3 well under way.

It’s a strange feeling when you’ve worked so long and hard to reach a particular goal, to achieve a specific dream…and then it happens. You make it. You’re there.

There’s a celebration, to be sure. Launch parties and signings and conventions and those wonderful first reviews (while quickly learning to ignore reviews in general, for sanity’s sake). You get to meet readers and fans and maybe even earn some royalties! Inevitably, though, within all the hubbub, the mind looks ahead and wonders, “What’s next?” What happens when you’ve seen a dream literally come true?

At first, I half-feared my passion for writing might fade. That, because I’d done what I’d set out to do, I might lose the drive to keep going.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. In fact, I only became all the more eager to leap onto the next book, to tell my next tale, and see it get published as well! I quickly realized that initial dream I had was just a single facet of a much bigger vision of pursuing a lifetime of creativity and constant growth as an author. I’d hit a milestone, yes, but it was only the first of many.

Enter the Janitor - CoverThat thrills me. I now know the only limits on what I dream to achieve are the ones I set on myself. Sure, there will be dreams I have that I’ll never see come to fruition—but that doesn’t mean I won’t chase them. Sure, there will be failure—but I can learn from it and move on. And throughout it all, I can be confident that there will always be new challenges to overcome, new milestones to celebrate, and new dreams to reach for.

What more could I ask for?

Click here for the English version of the story. Cu mare place va prezint un nou scriitor de primul rang, Sebastian Bangs, cu varsta de 5 ani. Aceasta poveste a fost scrisa de el in ultimele zile, cu redactare usoara de mine.

Doua balene au venit la copilul care s-a nascut in ocean. Baiatul a urcat pe balene si s-a dus la un loc secret in ocean balenelelor. L-au dus la un loc unde erau monede de aur.

Balenele i-au spus, “La revedere!” copilului care s-a nascut in ocean! Copilul a revenit la tarm. Copilul a fost invitat acasa la balene si era foarte speriat pentru ca credea ca balenele vor sa-l manance, dar nu erau asa de rele. Familia balenelor a crezut ca acest copil arata ca el e e prietenul nostru care s-a nascut in ocean.

Baiatul care s-a nascut in ocean avea o prietena pe care o cauta. Baiatul care s-a nascut in ocean a gasit-o pe prietena lui. Era pe partea cealalta a oceanului si doua balene care erau prietenele baiatului au spus ca s-a facut o noua casa pentru baiatul care s-a nascut in ocean. Si a stat acolo cu prietena pe care o cauta.

Niste serpi au vrut sa-l manance. Serpii au vrut sa-l puna in inchisoare. Si inchisoarea era un cuptor. Si serpii l-au pacalit pe baiat care s-a nascut in ocean. El credea ca cuptorul era perna lui unde se culca, dar era cuptorul. Serpii au facut foc in cuptor. Si l-a lovit foarte tare pe baiat care s-a nascut in ocean.

Cele doua balene au venit sa-l salveze. Si l-au salvat pe baiat care s-a nascut in ocean. Si l-au adus unde era prietena lui pe marginea oceanului. Si a jucat cu prietena lui.

Dupa aia cerul s-a schimbat in nori si erau multi serpi care erau facuti din curent electric. Serpii au vrut s-o manance pe prietena baiatului care s-a nascut in ocean. Si au venit balene de foc si serpii si balenele au vrut sa se distruge unii pe altii. Baiatul care s-a nascut in ocean a fugit cu prietena lui.

Dupa aia au vazut serpii din curent electric si balenele de foc si balenele cele doua. Balenele au batut pe serpi. Universul oceanului era salvat.

Dar mai erau niste serpi care au spus balenelor de foc, “Nu puteti strica planurile noastre!”

Si cele doua balene si balenele de foc si prietena si baiatul care s-a nascut in ocean au mers acasa.

Dati click aici pentru versiunea in limba romana.

I’m delighted here to present the first work by a budding novelist of the first rank, Sebastian Bangs, age 5. The original story was composed in Romanian; it has been lightly edited and translated by myself.

Two whales came to the boy who was born in the ocean. The boy climbed onto the whales and went to a secret place in the whales’ ocean. They took him to a place where there were gold coins.

Then the whales said, “Goodbye!” to the boy who was born in the ocean. The boy returned to the shore. Then he was invited to the whales’ home, and he was very frightened because he thought the whales were going to eat him, but they weren’t so bad. The family of whales thought that this boy would be their friend because he had been born in the ocean.

The boy who was born in the ocean had a girl friend that he was looking for. The boy who was born in the ocean found his friend. She was on the other side of the ocean, and the two whales who were the boy’s friends told them that they had made a new house for the boy who was born in the ocean. And he stayed there with the friend that he had been looking for.

There were some snakes who wanted to eat him. The snakes wanted to put him in jail, but the jail was actually an oven. And the snakes tricked the boy who was born in the ocean. He thought that the over was his pillow where he slept, but it was actually an oven. The snakes made a fire in the oven, and they hurt the boy who was born in the ocean.

But the two whales came to save him. They saved the boy who was born in the ocean, and they brought him to where his friend was on the edge of the ocean. And he played with his friend.

Then the sky was filled with clouds and there were very many snakes made of electricity. The snakes wanted to eat the friend of the boy who was born in the ocean. Then whales of fire came, and the whales and the snakes wanted to destroy each other. The boy who was born in the ocean ran away with his friend.

Then the snakes of electricity and the whales of fire and the two whales came, and the whales defeated the snakes. The world of the ocean was saved!

But there were a few more snakes who warned them, “You cannot stop our plan!”

But the two whales, and the whales of fire, and the boy’s friend, and the boy who was born in the ocean all went home.

The Interpreter's Tale: A Word With Too Many Meanings
The Interpreter’s Tale: A Word With Too Many Meanings by E.M. Epps
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was a little skeptical about a book called “The Interpreter’s Tale”. I was extremely skeptical about the dedication to “linguistic nerds” on the first pages—not because I wasn’t sure that I would like it, but because I wasn’t sure that anybody else would.

Well. I shouldn’t have been worried.

This is a charming, breezily-written story about an interpreter named Eliadmaru, a bookish, curious young man who has made a habit of studying obscure languages. He is picked up from his obscure post at a border station by a relative of the Emperor, called “the Autransi”, for a diplomatic mission to a neighboring country. His job, ostensibly, is merely to facilitate the Autransi’s attempt to heal the neighboring king’s sickly daughter with magic, and then help the Autransi woo the princess and secure a favorable trade agreement. Their mission becomes more complicated than it looks, as you might expect. There are enemies in the foreign court and members of their own mission who have ulterior motives. Eliadmaru develops a relationship with the imperial sorceress, a woman named Folso, and he finds himself with divided loyalties as his duties as a translator, his oaths to the Autransi, and his fondness for Folso all come into conflict.

This book is not a page-turner: the pacing is gentle, and the tone is measured and pleasant even when the stakes in the Autransi’s mission turn lethal. That’s not to say that the book is boring; on the contrary, after reading a series of arduously brutal fantasies Eliadmaru’s the calm confidence was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. And I was preparing to give the book a solid four stars, right into the last fifth of the book, where—

I don’t want to reveal anything about the last bits of the plot. However, the light-hearted nature of the story takes a sudden turn towards the end, and the store ends with a psychological and moral quandary of surprising depth. Characters I thought that I understood turned out to have more complexity than previously suspected, and the protagonist is forced into hard choices with no good options. And I am ambivalent about the ending, which has had me wondering for several days whether Eliadmaru actually did the right thing.

And as for the promise of the title and dedication: there are plenty of allusions to linguistic trivia and the mental and physical act of interpreting, but these discussions don’t overwhelm the story, and there’s plenty to recommend the book even to someone who isn’t terribly interested in linguistics. I’d recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a good political fantasy.

View all my reviews

It looks like I got to Romania just in time. In Bucovina where I live, there is a cathedral which has been under construction for roughly ten years, and this Sunday, my second Sunday back in the country, was its official dedication and opening service.

My favorite moment is this one, in which the bells began to ring at the entrance of the bishops into the church for its dedication.

Church bells represent the voice of God, and let me tell you, standing underneath that enormous bell tower and hearing their enormous clatter, that’s certainly what it sounded like.

I have pictures, taken on my small and rather inadequate phone. But I got early enough to get close to the front, so I had a good view.

After going to the opening of the cathedral, my family and I headed back home where we had a lunch of sarmale (cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and meat) before heading out into the forest preserve near where we live. We swatted around a birdie with badminton rackets and went on a walk through the woods, collecting wild apples, walnuts, and acorns along the way.

And that evening we went to an open-air market with local products, where we ate mici, a Romanian specialty sausage made from a mixture of beef and pork, and bought two kinds of cheese: cașcaval afumat, a sort of smoked cheddar, and brânză burduf.

And now we’re home, and exhausted, and happy, the perfect end to a lovely Sunday.

In three days, I’m moving to Romania.

This is probably the most exciting thing I’ve done since the time I went to Romania to live there for a year, when I met my wife. But this time I’m not going for a year—I’m going to stay, and my wife and kids are already there. They headed off to Romania about a month ago, while I stayed to finish up some final projects at my work and at home.

Those things are done now. Tomorrow is my last day of work. The day after that I tie up loose ends, and then I fly out.

But I hear you ask: Why are you moving from a comfortable and well-paid job in the US to Eastern Europe, of all places? Don’t they have bears and Communists there?

Of course they have bears and communists! In fact, there are over 6,000 bears in Romania, about a third of all of the bears in Europe, making Romania a major destination for European hunters and sportsmen. As for Communists, well, my wife calls herself a Communist to anyone who will listen, but what she means by that is probably not what you’re thinking. That’s a topic for another post.

But let’s get to the real reasons. There are three:


Ciprian and his Grandmother

My wife has three sisters who live in Romania, along with her parents and something like sixty cousins. The trajectory of my life over the past decade has towards a greater engagement with family and long-lasting communities, and away from urban areas and high-stress jobs. In 2011 we moved from Seattle to Minnesota so we could spend more time with my family, and as a result of this change we were able to develop deeper relationships with my cousins, grandparents, brother, and parents that we would never have had the opportunity for otherwise. Moving to Romania continues this trend: we’ll be minutes away from Larisa’s sisters, and my children will get a chance to know many Romanian cousins whom they had never previously met.

My wife’s family has deep roots in the area where we’ll be living. She was willing to uproot herself and come to the US with me for a decade. Now it’s my turn to go to her hometown, and I can’t wait.


I kind of got sick of sitting at a desk all day with a manager looking over my shoulder, you know?

The office

Don’t get me wrong: I really liked my software job, but as part of my shift in priorities, I found myself progressively more disengaged from the work I was getting paid to do, and more interested in other things. Selling my house in the US and moving to Romania (a country with a lower overall cost of living) allows me to go into freelance programming, something which offers me tremendously more flexibility and freedom. I hope to cut back on the number of hourse I spend programming, and put that time into other things.

One of which is publishing. I’ve been writing like a madman for the past several months, and I’m hoping to use some of this extra time turn my writing output from “substantial” to “OMG SO MANY WORDS”. I have a half-written series of six books which I’m going to start releasing next summer, and beyond that there are many, many worlds that I want to visit. I have a crazy dream of putting out a novel every other month, and with all this newfound time, I might just be able to do it.

My wife, meanwhile, is working hard to bootstrap her aromatherapy and therapeutic massage business in Romania. This is something she had worked on here in the states for the past few years, and there’s a large untapped market for this kind of thing in Romania. I think she’s gonna make it big.

Oh, but there’s one more thing that I’m going to do in Romania:


The main thing that my wife and I want to do, the thing which really got us thinking about Romania in the first place, is make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Gypsy children in Aiud, Romania.

Larisa’s sister and brother-in-law spent the last several years working in a small Gypsy village in Romania providing social services and education to the impoverished population there. They initially contacted us about two years ago wanting to know if we would be interested in joining them. We thought about it seriously, but for various reasons that arrangement didn’t work out for us. But we couldn’t shake the idea of revamping our lives, and using some of our money and expertise to reach out to people in Larisa’s home country.

The idea we decided we could act on was to open a kind of after-school program for children from poor families who are struggling in school. The Romanian education system is set up to require a lot of parental supervision: the school day is only 4 hours long, and children are provided with homework and lessons which they are expected to complete with the help of their parents. However, economic changes in Romania mean that there are lots of families with absent parents or parents who aren’t able to support their children’s education due to their own poor education or personal problems. Romania is relatively lacking in the kinds of extracurricular activities and remedial education which can help these kids. We hope to step in to fill this gap in our local city.

We’re focusing on children in grades 1-6, hoping to intervene before people fall too far behind. Initially, we’ll simply be going to local principals and offering tutoring in common subjects (English, math, reading, and writing). Soon we hope to expand this into an after-school program which offers a healthy meal followed by a structured time for homework and mentoring. Eventually, we hope to integrate the after-school program a fuller family-oriented curriculum that offers counseling and support to parents and their kids together.

But that’s still a ways away! We’ve determined to go slow and take things as they come, discovering exactly what the needs and priorities of the people we work with are. We’ve already had to change plans a few times, and we might have to change them again. But we’re definitely going to do something.

(Because we often get asked: we don’t have a formal non-profit organization yet, and we aren’t asking for donations. Our plan is for me to continue working and support the family, while the profits from Larisa’s business are put into the charity work.)

It’s going to be an adventure. I’m incredibly excited.

“Designed by committee” is considered an insult for a reason. Things which are designed with decision-making input from multiple people usually turn out terrible, because there is no unifying vision which can create something beautiful from the conflicting ideas of the committee members.

But the popular alternative, of the lone genius, is not much better. The lone genius doesn’t have input from anybody outside his head, and so he often winds up with something which is appealing to his idiosyncrasies, but not to anyone else.

(Yes, there are individual exceptions to both of these rules, but the preceding generalizations hold.)

The winning model seems to be “individual ownership with collective feedback.” An individual owns the project and has final decision-making power; there is no collective veto or decision stress which comes from needing to pacify multiple conflicting parties. But that individual’s decisions are constrained and informed by feedback from peers and managers, who can help the individual step out of their personal vision and accomplish something which is intelligible and appealing to a broader audience.

I have seen this work in both software and writing. I would not be surprised to hear that this basic model works for all endeavors that require any kind of creativity.

A little while ago I posted on headcasting for Storm Bride based on pictures that I found on the internet. I promised a post about the locations of Storm Bride, which is late, but better late than never.

For a refresher, here’s the map of Storm Bride:

The Land of Storm Bride (Click for bigger image).
The Land of Storm Bride (Click for bigger image).

The story begins at the shore near Prasa, when Saotsa washes up on a sea stack called Six Pine Rock. It looks something like this:

This one would be called Zero Pine Rock.

The city of Prasa like in a wet coastal region, and the extended family called the enna lives in lodges together. Prasa is a pretty big city; it has about 30,000 people in it at the time of the story, which is much bigger than any real-world settlements in the Pacific NW before the arrival of Europeans. But I imagine that it looked something like this, stretching quite a ways back along both shores of the Prasa river, with lodges marching in rows away from the shore:

The Prasa skyline (adapted from a picture of a Haida village)

The greater size of Prasa relative to any real-world settlement is one of the big changes. Unlike the other tribes of the Pacific NW, the Prasei are not just fishers and foragers, but have a variety of domesticated crops which drives a larger population size.

The Yakhat hail from a distant part of Aratasa known as the Bans. This is an amusing story, because I originally conceived of the Bans as a sort of hilly marsh, in which lowland areas perennially flooded, but hilltops served as sites of permanent structures, where the people lived during the flood season. I didn’t know whether any such place actually existed on the earth, until I saw this picture:

The Bans (actually a settlement of Marsh Arabs)

This is exactly what I thought the Bans should look like, and I was excited to see that something very similar to what I had imagined actually existed.

Finally, much of the action of Storm Bride takes place away from the rainy coast, on the high, dry plains which are in the rain shadow of the White Teeth Mountains. Just as I imagined the coast of the Pacific NW as the setting for Prasa, I took the inland parts of Washington state, across the Cascade Mountains, as examples of what this area looks like.

The plains, with the White Teeth mountains in the background

Imagine the tents and cattle of the Yakhat spread across those hills, and it’s just about perfect.

I’m a few days late posting this (because reasons), but I’m very excited to post this interview I recently did with the folks on Conlangery, about the languages of Storm bride, and a bunch of other questions regarding fantasy literature and language creation. You can listen here:

We talk about:

  • How I got into linguistics and conlanging
  • Why there’s only two sentences of actual conlang in Storm Bride
  • Why most fictional languages in SFF suck
  • Ursula K. LeGuin’s Always Coming Home and other SFF works that at least try to get it right
  • How to present strange phonologies without terrifying your readers
  • Cultural appropriation issues when conlanging based on an real languages and cultures
  • Other stuff that I can’t remember.

This was the most fun I’d had in a while! Hope you like listening.