The Story Behind the Story: Affairs of Honor (#SFWApro)

No reviews today, either—I just discovered my historical fantasy Affairs of Honor is out on Abyss and Apex. In fact, it’s been out since summer but when I got the check, I assumed they were paying early and never checked (why yes, I am sometimes a doofus). So here’s the backstory on how it came to be written.

The story was inspired by a nonfiction work of the same name, Affairs of Honor by Joanne Freeman. It’s a fascinating book that deals with reputation, honor and the code duello among the politicians of the newly born United States—Alexander Hamilton’s duel with Burr was only one of several he’d been involved with, for instance. It wasn’t necessary to actually fight (all Hamilton’s previous duels were resolved amicably by the seconds), but to prove that you were willing to fight—to show your honor by challenging anyone who insulted you, or to show you’d stand by your words if you were on the receiving end. It was also fascinating to learn what were considered fighting words back then, such as “scoundrel” or even “puppy.” There’s a lot more to Freeman’s book, such as how whisper and innuendo campaigns worked in that very-pre-Internet age, and I highly recommend it.

Somewhere in the middle of reading Freeman, I realized that a)I wanted to do a story in this setting; and b)it would be a fantasy (of course), with a wizard’s duel. The basic concept took shape immediately. The protagonist, Knorr, wasn’t in the duel himself, but his relative (I settled on older brother). His hot-headed sibling has written an honor-blackening, insulting letter about a much stronger wizard who now demands satisfaction. To complicate things, the other wizard’s uncle is a former comrade from the Revolutionary War, now estranged from Knorr an old dispute.

Then the nephew turns up dead. And all the evidence points to Knorr having killed him to save his brother’s life.

To this I brought something else that fascinates me about the early United States, the conviction (common to many revolutions since then) that they were creating a new world, a better world, a world such as had never existed before. In an age of monarch, they were a Republic, such as hadn’t been seen since the Roman Republic of old, full of “Republican” virtues (regrettably I decided that phrase would sound like a modern political reference, so I didn’t employ it). So in my alt.history, wizardry is part of that.

Wizards fuel their power with intense emotion, and the easiest place to find that is in the midst of battle. So part of the “republican” vision is to change that, to turn wizardry from a tool for kings to wage wars to a science that serves humanity in peacetime.

Of course, anything that involves magic and early America makes me think of Salem. It seemed logical there’d be witches at Salem but I so did not want to go the “No, in this world where magic works, witches are evil and they were guilty!” route (something I’ve discussed previously). So I decided no, they were witches but they were innocent, framed and hung by a cabal plotting to drain the magical power from their dying bodies.

I also worked in one really obscure historical reference, to “Inkle” as a synonym for “betrayer.” Inkle was a British planter’s son in an account published in the 1730s. Living in the West Indies, he took a slave woman as his mistress, then sold her when he needed money—getting a better price because she was with child. The shocking story was still remembered in the early 1800s, so I worked it into a reference to Judas and Benedict Arnold, figuring the meaning would be clear even if nobody knew the story.

I had a lot of fun with this one. I might go back to the setting sometime and do more.


Filed under Short Stories, Story behind the story

3 responses to “The Story Behind the Story: Affairs of Honor (#SFWApro)

  1. I read this one and enjoyed it very much! Loved the mix of magic and colonial setting.

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