The A-Zs of World-Building with Rebekah Loper

One of the keys to writing a story that draws in readers is building a world that is believable, intriguing, compelling…a world that drives plot forward when the character finds herself in opposition to the way things normally go. And a pal of the Purple Inkers, Rebekah Loper, is pretty much an expert in world-building. We talked to her about why she loves inventing worlds in her head and then putting them down on paper for readers, her background in fantasy and sci-fi, and her new book, The A-Zs of Worldbuilding.

1. Tell us a little about your background. How did you become interested in fantasy stories? What books and movies have influenced your storytelling? 
Some of my earliest memories are my mom reading to me and my siblings, and one of the first fantasy stories I remember being impacted by was The Chronicles of Narnia. I remember being enthralled by the whole mythos and world C.S. Lewis created as a canvas.

Rebekah Loper author of The A-Zs of Worldbuilding on Purple Ink Writers

Author Rebekah Loper

The next set of stories that I remember impacting my sense of storytelling is a little-known series called The Bracken Trilogy by Jeri Massi. In many ways, it dealt with more mature themes than Narnia did. I remember reaching the end of the trilogy, and something about how one of the main characters simply died of old age really resonated with me. Seeing that heroic characters don’t always have what we perceive to be heroic endings made fantasy very attainable to me. It made heroes suddenly human. The protagonists were all mostly female — young girls, teenage girls, and mothers, and mature women. This series may have also sparked my interest in herbalism.

The stories that most impacted by writing, though, were The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. The sheer scope and scale of Middle-Earth and the stories it contained captivated me completely — to the point that I joined a fandom roleplay site, and that is really where I got my start with writing.

Lord of the Rings literally changed my life. I found National Novel Writing Month through that fan site (and NaNoWriMo is how I ended up building my local writing community). I wrote my first 50,000 word story on that site (a fanfic that is buried in the depths of their archives, thank God!). I received (and gave) my first story critiques on that site. I am still in contact with several people from that site.

When I learned that J.R.R. Tolkien had created many of the languages in his stories, that really sparked my interest in creating worlds. For a while, I got caught in the ‘oh, I have to create languages!’ phase that many fantasy writers seem to stumble into when Tolkien is their introduction to world-building, but fortunately I had the sense to realize my time was better spent elsewhere. Tolkien created languages because he was a linguist. I am not!

2. What are a few of your favorite fantasy stories?
Other than the ones I mentioned above, some more of my favorites are the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers (I reviewed it for Fantasy-Faction if you’re interested), Arena by Karen Hancock (a Pilgrim’s Progress retelling as a portal science-fantasy, and it’s awesome), The Song of Albion series by Stephen Lawhead (steeped in Celtic mythos, which always fascinates me because of my heritage), The Dragon Jousters series by Mercedes Lackey, The Staff & The Sword series by Patrick W. Carr. I could go on and on.

3. When you think of a story that has fantastic world building elements, which story do you think of, and why?
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is, hands down, my favorite book when it comes to fantastic world-building. I definitely have a thing for dragon stories. Hartman created an incredibly rich, complex world with the intersection of the history, culture, and religions, and she hit the jackpot on how it intertwined and caused conflict. My main issues with the stories were the expectations she set up for the readers on relationships between characters and then didn’t follow through with. The ending in that regard was too ambiguous.
4. What is it about world building that you love the most?
I’ve always been fascinated by ‘what if’ both on the intimate, close-up level of storytelling, and on the global scale of world-building. Sometimes I start to world-build with a goal in mind — I want to know what type of society or culture would bring about XYZ. Sometimes I need to know because I’m unsure of a character’s motivation. And sometimes I just want to get lost in a different world for a while, and I don’t have a particular story in mind. Mostly, I just love exploring ‘what if’. What if… my chickens could talk? What if my mirror led to alternate dimensions? What if a world had two suns? Anything that catches your imagination can be a point to start world-building from.
5. What made you decide to write a book about the process of world-building?
The A-Zs of Worldbuilding by Rebekah Loper on Purple Ink WritersWell, I first did the A-Zs of World-building for the A-Z Blogging Challenge a few years ago. It had a much higher response than I expected, and so many writers told me it was fascinating to see how I could just jump from one thing to another and connect dots the way I did. For me, it’s a very intuitive process, but many people don’t know how to think like that.

There are many good resources out there. What I would often find, though, is that they were either too brief, too technical, or too focused on world-building for gaming. One of the very first years that I participated in NaNoWriMo, someone created a ‘30 Days of World-building’ exercise set in the NaNo forums. It was immensely helpful to me, but the creator never expanded it further than that. I looked for years for something similar to that, and never quite found it.
So, you know they say ‘write the book you want to read’? That’s basically what I did.
6. How did you come up with the exercises in your book?
The exercises in the book are basically my thought process when I sit down to develop an aspect of world-building. All of my world-building is taking a concept and asking “What if?” and then just building on it from there. I haven’t necessarily used every exercise in the book, nor have I used it in the workbook format like this, but the process is what I use. But I am going to go through the exercises for my NaNo planning this year, because I am woefully behind!

7. How does working on world building add to a novel’s effectiveness? How does it help a writer to make their work better?
A story is only as effective as its setting, and when you’re writing a story that doesn’t take place in our world, the setting can’t be taken for granted. There can be things that translate well (especially when the setting is earth-like, in the case of historical fantasy and portal fantasy). But usually a fantasy story is fantasy because it’s a story that can’t be told well in our world due to the setting or the characters and sometimes simply because it might be too inflammatory. Getting the setting to mesh with the story and be accessible to the reader is what makes world-building vital.
8. Is there anything in your book that writers won’t find elsewhere?
I’ve not come across another world-building book with this broad scope of topics all in one place, especially one that focuses less on the technical or scientific aspects and more on finding what makes sense for your story and world. Most resources that I’ve seen focus only on a few core topics, and often only from one aspect. I deliberately tried to be as broad with each topic as I could, while still being concise so that the focus is more on the creation of each aspect of world-building than ‘you should or shouldn’t do XYZ’ without examples or inspiration.

And really, even covering 26 different topics (and how they intersect with each other), there is still so much more to consider! I’ve got two more books in mind for an A-Zs of World-building series even now.
9. How can writers get a copy of your book?
The ebook is available now, and will be 99 cents from September 23–30! The fastest way to find it from your preferred retailer is to visit https://books.pronoun.com/the-a-zs-of-worldbuilding/

The print book will be out on September 30! It will be available on my own site, Amazon.com, and the CreateSpace store at first. I’ll be working on adding it to other retailers as I can!

About the Book:

Worldbuilding is the ultimate act of creation for speculative fiction writers, but how exactly do you worldbuild? You ask ‘what if’ and use each answer as a springboard to more questions and answers about your fictional world. 

In The A-Zs of Worldbuilding, that ‘what if’ process is broken down into 26 themed chapters, covering topics ranging from architecture to zoology. Each chapter includes a corresponding set of guided exercises to help you find the ‘what if’ questions relevant to your story’s world. 

Fair warning, though: worldbuilding is addictive. Once you get started, you might never put your pen down again.

About the Author:

Rebekah Loper loves to create worlds — whether they are magical and fictional, or a productive farm in her suburban backyard where she makes futile attempts to curse Bermuda grass from all existence.

Rebekah lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband, dog, formerly feral cat, a flock of chickens, and an extensive tea collection. She blogs at rebekahloper.com, and is also a contributing blogger at Fantasy-Faction.com and The Rabid Rainbow Ferret Society (fictionalferrets.wordpress.com).

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Can You Give a Compliment?

 

Have you ever made a man angry by accepting a compliment with confidence instead of demure, shy embarrassment or shock?

Yeah, this really is a thing. You can read about it in this fascinating BuzzFeed article, which goes into plenty of examples of various men getting pissed off when a woman says “thanks” or “I agree” instead of “oh my god, you’ve changed my life” after a simple compliment. You can probably come up with examples of your own.

For me personally, when people say I’m really smart, I say, “Yes I am,” because I’ve known that since I was 5. It’s not the most interesting thing about me, and it’s certainly not the number one thing I care about. People’s reactions when I say “Yes I am” tend to fall in one of two camps:

(1) They’re cool with it because they don’t take it personally that I’m smart, perhaps smarter than them. They see the real me and like me.

(2) They get hostile or have a need to prove their own intelligence, which means they both resent my intelligence and don’t actually know me, because I’m not a person who holds my IQ over anyone’s head. No one has to prove they can match wits with me. I wouldn’t even mention intelligence except that it fits this blog post.

But the real point is… you can learn a whole lot about how other people see themselves and the world by how they react when you respond to something they say.

It’s All About Power

downloadWe live in a culture where so much is about power, in so many ways. It’s an insidious problem not just because it’s so entrenched in everything we do, but because it can’t be eradicated until we learn to see power differently than the entrenched cultural norms teach us to do.

You see, there are essentially two ways to seek out power for yourself:

  1. You can seek it outside of yourself.
  2. You can find it within yourself.

Let me tell you from experience as a person who used to care a lot about what other people thought about me, and had to learn to let go of defining my self-worth in terms of what others think: It is an exhausting and futile way to be in this world if all you do is let other people determine how much agency and self-respect you have.

Your sense of being grounded and unmovable by the fickleness of day-to-day living has to come from a sense of having your own roots growing into the ground. Just like a tree, seriously. The tree’s roots come from itself so it can ground itself and create stability for itself. It doesn’t get roots from other trees, though some trees can gather together and strengthen each other, like palms do. Their roots grow together and create new trees. But the fact remains, each palm tree has its own roots too. You’ve got to build your own roots. Otherwise, you’ll be pushed around by every wind that blows up around you, and you’ll constantly feel unsettled and miserable.

How Power Struggles Screw Up Our Interactions

power 2Where you seek power (from outside or from within) is a key issue in so many power abuses and wrong-headed social interactions that plague our society. Imagine this:

You don’t feel powerful. You believe — because it’s how you have been taught, it’s what you learned on the playground — that your power, prestige, self-respect, confidence all depend on whether others approve of you and interact with you in ways that confirm your power. In this scenario, literally everyone else has some say in how much power you have. People more powerful than you can make or break you by accepting you or rejecting you. People less powerful can bow to your power, confirming your power. Or they can resist, shaming you and forcing you to shame them worse to restore your power.

This explains bullying, mean girls, narcissistic personality disorder, abusive behavior, road rage and so much more, doesn’t it? Even at a young age, kids are doing this to each other on the playground. The boy who is considered the leader can bring another boy into the crowd, giving him social acceptance, or he can declare the other boy the subject of ridicule, and suddenly the other boy is a reject. Other kids follow suit because they don’t want to be outcast too. Girls do this too. Boys do it to boys, and they do it to girls. Girls do it to girls, and they do it to boys. It infuses everything we do as we grow up unless we break the cycle.

What an exhausting way to live. But so many people live that way, because they haven’t learned another way.

So Break the Cycle, for Crying Out Loud

The other option for finding your sense of power is to realize that you exist in this world with a degree of self-agency or strength that comes from within, regardless of what happens outside you. At the least, you get to choose how you will react to what happens. And that means a lot, much more than many people realize.

Consider the a**hole who flips you off as he drives past you, shouting at you even though you haven’t done anything except to not meet his expectations, whatever they are. That guy can ruin your day if you choose to let it. Or you can choose to recognize that his problem is his problem…that he was angry long before he passed you on the road and he’ll be angry long afterwards, and you were simply a convenient target for him to justify continuing to be angry instead of dealing with his anger like a grownup.

In fact, this is essentially what is happening when a women gets a compliment, says thank you (which is polite, yes?), and is then judged or attacked for saying thank you. It’s like a drive-by road rage incident, and had nothing to do with her. Some women understand this, and they just keep trucking along happily, which is the right response. (Though it is definitely tiring to have it happen to you day in and day out.)

When a Compliment Is Not Actually a Compliment

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Great article from a woman’s perspective about learning to say thank you

When you see a man giving a woman a compliment and then taking it back because she agrees with what is being said, it was never actually a compliment to begin with, was it? It was never meant as a genuine expression of admiration and appreciation and respect. Instead, the comment was born out of anger, resentment, jealousy… It was born out of a feeling of powerlessness that the guy is trying to resolve by asking someone to feel more powerless in his presence and to acknowledge that he has more power, even if only a little bit. When that script doesn’t get followed, the rage comes to the surface instead of bubbling below it, because he feels it is being confirmed that he doesn’t have power.

And because the rage comes to the surface and gets expressed, it feels like what it is — a form of abusiveness. Because when you give a compliment to someone only to get a specific reaction from them that meets your needs, not theirs, you’re acting in a way that is clouded by your own distortions of life. You’re thinking about you, not the other person. You want to receive something, and you feel like you have to manipulate someone else to get it. That’s abusive. It’s passive aggressive. People don’t like this, for obvious reasons.

The solution is pretty simple, really. And it applies to both men and women, and to more scenarios than just this issue of accepting and giving compliments:

Learn how to find your sense of power, confidence, strength and respect from within yourself, and how you see yourself, not in how other people see you, speak to you or react to you. You don’t have to wait on anyone else to confirm or deny you are worth something. You you don’t have to agree with them when they tell you that you aren’t worth anything. And you can learn to deal with frustrations without hurting other people.

Oh, I know, I know… I could go on about toxic masculinity, or the patriarchy. I could explain that it’s #notallmen, though it’s certainly a #lotofmen, more than it should be. I could talk about how this problem hurts men as well as women. I could talk about all kinds of things. But ultimately, changes like this have to happen inside each person as they make the decision to stop giving their power over to the reactions and responses of others.

Now imagine this: You say to someone, “Hey I like this thing about you.” And they say, “Yeah, so do I.” And so you say, “Awesome! We have something in common. Let’s keep talking.”

Not a bad alternative, to say the least.

PS. If you like talking or thinking about stuff like this, go listen to Collective Snark’s podcast episode on How to Talk to Girls, and Guys, and Anyone in Between. It’s good stuff.

In Defense of Garbage TV

I have a confession…red-rose-1347966141q6t

No, I can’t. It’s too horrible.

OK. Let me just get this out.

Recently… I started watching The Bachelor.

Whew. I got that off my chest. I feel a little better.

Now, this show is garbage. Purest garbage.

So why am I watching it?

Well… because a podcaster I like does a fancast for The Bachelor (called Rose Buddies) so I thought I’d give it a try. In other words, I’m watching the show as an excuse to listen to a podcast.

Still. It’s garbage. It’s fake, and awkward and really inappropriate in a lot of ways.

And I’m starting to find it therapeutic. It’s fun to flip off the TV every time the designated ‘villian’ is on the screen. It’s fun to protest when the bachelor gives her a rose week after week. It’s fun to bitch about why they don’t show more positive interactions between the contestants, or speculate about how much of what goes on is actually real and how much of it is producer manipulation. To speculate on who’s in the running to win and who’s just there to stir up ratings *cough corn cough*

I can’t actually scream “I hate you!” to idiots on facebook, but I can scream it at my TV. I can’t say, “OMG, you’re SOOOOOO STUPID,” to people in real life, but I can yell it at the bachelor.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s trash. It’s garbage. It’s sensationalist and ridiculous and more than a little sexist.

But one night a week I can forget about real life and real problems and that’s not a bad thing.

…I may have more to say on this topic later. 🙂

We All Have a Dream

unnamed“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US, and as usual, I’m seeing plenty of MLK quotes pop up in people’s social media feeds. There is nothing wrong with quoting the man; he was a genius speaker and writer, and his words are filled with a weightiness that moves us all to do more.
I just wish we read more of his words than just a few “I have a dream” quotes. I wish we had to read him in history and English classes today, as part of American literature canon. I wish we remembered as a nation that Martin Luther King, Jr. was both incredibly dedicated to a higher morality, and also incredibly radical in challenging a status quo that has lent itself to injustice for generations in our country, much of which still exists despite the great strides we have made as a nation to do better.
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Today as you see those quotes and watch some news coverage and maybe attend a parade, I hope you’ll use this opportunity to read more of MLK’s words, many of which are revolutionary and all of which demand a higher responsibility and morality from each of us. Let him challenge you to pursue truth, justice, wisdom and stand for what is right and humanizing to all around you.
 
It may be that we’ll never change the world. Injustice seems to be a problem that plagues the human race, and our generation is no stranger to it. But we can change ourselves and we can change things for the better for everyone we encounter.
But only if we choose that path every day.
 
That’s what I love about Martin Luther King, Jr. He reminds me to choose a demanding path toward ethical living and justice every day, tempered with mercy and humility, even when it’s hard or unpopular. It’s something I need to be reminded of, since it is so easy to become complacent with the daily grind of work, errands, groceries, and bills that I forget about others around me who may be suffering.
MLK was really good at reminding us to look at things not from our comfortable position but from the uncomfortable point of view of those who are rejected, downtrodden, held in contempt, powerless… It’s an incredibly humbling thing to let go of your own opinions to truly live in someone else’s shoes for a while.
quote-martin-luther-king-jr-we-may-have-all-come-on-different-100780
And it’s not only humbling; it creates empathy. It’s only when you’re willing to see life from the point of view of others who are different from you that you can empathize with them and maybe help make their lives better. It takes courage to do that, because you never know what you’ll find out about yourself when you empathize… Perhaps you’ll discover you’re more selfish than you like to admit. Perhaps you’ll discover you’re lazy or uncaring in some ways.
Perhaps you’ll discover how very lucky you are that you were born in your particular skin in your particular country in your particular century, and that without that luck, you’d have a very different life.
It’s a reality check we all need once in a while, especially if we want to make the world a little bit better just by our being in it. I think that’s worth something. And Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly believed that too. It’s what he lived and died for. Let’s honor that memory by doing the same.

Women’s Health Care Is NOT Negotiable

Warning: This is a rant. It contains spoilers of Downton Abbey and the Star Wars prequels, NSFW language, and mentions vaginas, sperm, birth control and women’s reproductive health.

So, I’m finally getting caught up with Downton Abbey. (Don’t judge, we all have our weaknesses.) I’m in season 3 right now, which is apparently the year the writers took on the challenge of shoving in every possible soap opera plot known to humankind in 9 episodes. And they do, believe me. But I’m not here to talk about all those plots, just one…

I’m talking about reproduction. And how women take the blame and bear the repercussions of it in so many ways that men can still avoid, even when we live in what we like to think of as a modern, enlightened millennium.

ethelOne plot from season 3 of Downton Abbey revolves around a young maid who sleeps with an unmarried young major who is convalescing from injuries he got in WWI. And as you’d expect, because she’s not using protection and neither is he, she gets knocked up. And as you’d expect, she has the baby. And as you’d expect if you’re a woman living in this world and know the score, the major won’t take responsibility for the baby he helped create. So the mother of the baby is kicked out of her job as a maid and forced to live in poverty. You’d think this would seem archaic, outdated…because we are so much more enlightened now (*sarcasm*). However…

I rarely get into this on the blog, but I work for a faith-based nonprofit at the moment. For the most part, I’m okay with that. It has its quirks like any other job. However… I just received a letter that my employer officially received an exemption under the health care laws so they don’t have to pay for birth control pills for their employees.

Never mind the fact that it is highly unlikely any of us will be running out to swallow down Plan B pills anytime soon, because that’s not what you do when you join a faith-based organization. Never mind that we won’t be running to the abortion clinic anytime soon. Never mind the fact that birth control pills give many women the ability to control serious menstrual problems and improve their lives, enabling them to actually make it into their damn job instead of being stuck at home, bleeding out.Never mind all that.

I’m going straight to the heart of the matter. Birth control pills should be available for free to all women of child-bearing age, whether married or single, young or old. Why? Because the fact is, no matter how archaic and old-fashioned that plot point in Downton Abbey should seem, it’s not archaic at all. This is how we still live. Two people have sex. Only one pays for it unless you force the other to pay for it (literally, through paternity tests) in a court of law.

And it is bullshit that we still live like this.

In Downton Abbey, the grandparents of the child step in to offer a dubious deal. “We’ll take the baby,” they say, “but you, poor tramp of a mother that you are, have to give up all claims to the baby and can never see him again. Because you’re a slut. Shame on you.”

Yes, right. Shame on her. Everyone blames her. And yes, she was pretty damn dumb to think that entitled ass of a major would be responsible. But how about shame on him? Wasn’t it his penis and sperm that caused the problem? No sperm, no pregnancy. And if only one half of the species carries the sperm, maybe that’s the half that should be responsible for what the sperm results in. Or at least half the responsibility.

But if you want the female half of this species to bear all the responsibility, then you better damn well let us do it. That’s why we need birth control pills. Either you expect men to be self-controlled and non-sexual the way you expect women to be, or you let us both be lascivious and we both accept responsibility for the results. Fair is fair.

amidala

(c) Lucasfilm/Disney

How does this relate to the Star Wars prequels? Oh, I’m just going to share with you a link to a Motherboard article that describes in detail how the lack of adequate women’s health care basically led to Amidala’s death. Think about this… In a science fiction future where robots are self-aware and ships can jump to hyperspace, no one can figure out how to give a woman a test to see if she’s carrying twins, for crying out loud. How the hell is that possible, unless she never went to see a damn doctor the entire time she was pregnant! What the hell, Star Wars?

In a universe where men are clearly in charge and women are often helpless even when as a queen they should be powerful, I suppose it’s not surprising that a bunch of medical droids programmed (no doubt) by men can’t figure out what’s wrong with Amidala. “She’s medically fine,” they say. “We don’t know why she’s dying.” She’s dying of childbirth? Seriously?

(Oh, I know there are other interpretations of what happens to her. Maybe the emperor is draining her life force to bring Darth Vader back from the dead. The Motherboard article disagrees, by the way, and gives an interesting alternate view of what happened.)

Here’s the thing… It just makes me so damn mad to know that after centuries and centuries of what we’d like to call progress, women and childbirth still carries this freakish, shameful scarlet letter of a curse that is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age. We shouldn’t even have to have this conversation today. This post shouldn’t even be necessary. But it is. Which makes me incredibly angry and sad.

It makes me think that even if it wasn’t Hilary who ran this year… Even if some woman who was universally loved and respected, that paragon of womanhood still wouldn’t have been elected as president. Because she’s a woman. And we can’t even trust women to take birth control today, much less run a country. Yay America.

Oh and one final word… Women like sex as much as men do. We shouldn’t get punished for it. Deal with it.

Sometimes depression is a terminal disease

Reposting this because my depression is really bad right now, maybe it’s the holidays, I don’t know. But I needed this and thought I’d share.

purple ink writers

Depression is like a war

A few years ago, a good friend of mine killed himself. I did all the things you do: I blamed myself. I got mad at him. I grieved.

While talking to a friend, I expressed the thought that if I’d only called him that day as I’d planned… and he said, “Sometimes depression is a terminal disease.” Sometimes, you cannot save someone with depression.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Take depression seriously.

depression 3

Don’t tell a depressed person they should just smile more. Or that they’re just being dramatic. Or that they should just think positive, or just shake off the negative feelings.

Depression is a disease. You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer, or in liver failure, or heart failure to just let it roll off them. You wouldn’t even think of making one of those people feel bad about themselves for their inability to just “get over it.”…

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2016 – The Year of Endings

2016= 2+0+1+6=9 9=endings

In the fringe(cringe!) world of numerology 2016 was predicated to be a year of endings.  I found a post from December of 2o15, which noted – 2016 will be a year of endings, completion and rest.  And so it has been for many.

My never-into- that-kind-of- crazy-new-age-stuff-always-rational husband recently forced me to read an article which asserted that 2016, as far as deaths are concerned, was no different from any other year.   We just think it is because we are ourselves, a) older, b) more aware of celebrities, c) more linked together because of social media.

But doesn’t it feel different to you?  Doesn’t it?

Doesn’t 2016 feel a little sadder,  a little more empty than other years?

For me, so many of these deaths pull harder at my heart than others have in years past.  Maybe it’s because I have endured a very personal loss, maybe….

I could have filled up the page with photos of all of those we have lost in 2016.  I chose these few representatives of art and history because my memories today, but tomorrow I could pick dozens more.

It’s been a very long year.

I am so weary of endings.