Elizabeth Haydon, documentarian, archanologist, and translator of Ven’s journals, including The Tree of Water, kindly answered some questions about her latest book. Read on for the interview and an excerpt from The Tree of Water.
Here is her “official” bio:
Little is known for sure about reclusive documentarian and archanologist Elizabeth Haydon.
She is an expert in dead languages and holds advanced degrees in Nain Studies from Arcana College and Lirin History from the University of Rigamarole. Her fluency in those languages [Nain and Lirin] has led some to speculate that she may be descended of one of those races herself. It should be noted that no one knows this for sure.
Being an archanologist, she is also an expert in ancient magic because, well, that’s what an archanologist is.
Being a documentarian means she works with old maps, books and manuscripts, and so it is believed that her house is very dusty and smells like ink, but there is no actual proof of this suspicion. On the rare occasions of sightings of Ms. Haydon, it has been reported that she herself has smelled like lemonade, soap, vinegar, freshly-washed babies and pine cones.
She is currently translating and compiling the fifth of the recently-discovered Lost Journals when she is not napping, or attempting to break the world’s record for the longest braid of dental floss.
Q: Can you give a brief summary of The Tree of Water?
A: Certainly. Ven Polypheme, who wrote the, er, Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, lived long ago in the Second Age of history, when magic was much more alive and visible in the world than it is now. His journals are very important finds, because they tell the story of ancient magic and where it still may be found in the world today.
In the first three journals we saw how Ven came to the mystical island of Serendair and was given the job of Royal Reporter by the king of the island, a young man named Vandemere. The Royal Reporter was supposed to find magic that was hiding in plain sight in the world and report back about it to the king. As you can imagine, this could be a fun but dangerous job, and at the beginning of The Tree of Water, we see that Ven and his friends are hiding from the evil Thief Queen, who is looking to find and kill him.
Amariel, a merrow [humans call these ‘mermaids,’ but we know that’s the wrong word] who saved Ven when the first ship he sailed on sank, has been asking Ven to come and explore the wonders of the Deep, her world in the sea. Deciding that this could be a great way to find hidden magic as well as hide from the evil Thief Queen, Ven and his best friend, Char, follow her into the Deep. The sea, as you know, is one of the most magical places in the world—but sometimes that magic, and that place, can be deadly.
The book tells of mysterious places, and interesting creatures, and wondrous things that have never been seen in the dry world, and tales from the very bottom of the sea.
Q: The main character in The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme series is Charles Magnus “Ven” Polypheme. Tell us about him.
A: Ven was an interesting person, but he really didn’t think so. He and his family were of a different race than the humans who made up most of the population where he lived, the race of the Nain. Nain are an old race, a little shorter and stockier than most humans, with a tendency to be on the grumpy side. They live about four times as long as humans, are very proud of their beards, which they believe tell their life stories, don’t like to swim or travel, and prefer to live deep in the mountains.
Ven was nothing like the majority of Nain. He was very curious, loved to travel, could swim, and longed to see the world. He was actually a pretty nice kid most of the time. He had the equivalent of a baby face because only three whiskers of his beard had grown in by the time The Tree of Water took place, when he was fifty years old [around twelve in Nain years]. He had a great group of friends, including the merrow and Char, who were mentioned earlier. It is believed that his journals were the original research documents for two of the most important books of all time, The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic. The only copies of these two volumes were lost at sea centuries ago, so finding the Lost Journals is the only way to recover this important information.
Q: What kind of research do you do for the series?
A: I go to places where Ven went and try to find relics he left behind. Usually this is with an expedition of archaeologists and historians. I am an expert in ancient magic [an archanologist] so I don’t usually lead the expeditions, I’m just a consultant. It gives me the chance to learn a lot about magic and lets me work on my suntan at the same time, so it’s good.
Q: What are the most difficult parts of restoring the Lost Journals?
A: Here’s the list, mostly from the archaeological digs where the journals have been found:
- Sand flies
- Dry, easily cracking parchment pages
- The horrible smell of long-dead seaweed
- Grumpy members of the archaeological expedition [I could name names, but I won’t]
- Expedition food [when finding and retrieving the journal for The Tree of Water, we ate nothing but peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, olives and yellow tea for six months straight]
- When salt water gets into your favorite fountain pen and clogs it up. This is very sad.
- Unintentionally misspelling a word in the Nain language that turns out to be embarrassing [the word for “jelly” is one letter different from the word for “diarrhea,” which caused a number of my Nain friends to ask me what on earth I thought Ven was spreading on his toast.]
Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
A: I hope, in general, that it will open their eyes to the wonder of the sea, which takes up the majority of our planet, but we really don’t know that much about it down deep. There is a great deal of magic in the sea, and I hope that if and when people become aware of it, they will help take care of it and not throw garbage and other bad stuff into it. I have a serious dislike for garbage-throwing.
Probably the most useful secret I learned that I hope will be of use to readers is about thrum. Thrum is the way the creatures and plants that live in the ocean communicate with each other through vibration and thought. As Ven and his friends learn, this can be a problem if you think about something you don’t want anyone to know about when you are standing in a sunshadow, because everyone gets to see a picture of what’s on your mind. Imagine how embarrassing that could be.
Purchase your copy here.
To Go, or Not to Go
The human boys had an expression back in the faraway city of Vaarn where I was born. It went like this:
Curiosity killed the cat
Satisfaction brought him back
I am a curious person. I was just as curious back in my early days in Vaarn as I am now, perhaps even more so, because my curiosity had not yet been given a chance to be satisfied.
The first time I heard this expression, I was very excited. I thought it meant that my curiosity could make me feel like I was dying, but it would let up if I discovered the answer to whatever was making me curious.
I told my mother about the rhyme. She was not impressed. In fact, she looked at me as if I had just set my own hair on fire on purpose. She patted my chin, which was woefully free of any sign of the beard that should have been growing there.
“That’s very nice,” she said, returning to her chores. “But just in case nobody told you, you are not a cat, Ven. Unlike you, cats have whiskers.”
My pride stung for days afterward.
But it didn’t stop my curiosity from growing as fast as my beard should have been.
My name is Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme, Ven for short. Unlike the human boys in Vaarn, I am of the race of the Nain. Nain are somewhat shorter than humans, and grumpier. They live almost four times as long as humans, and tend to be much less curious, and much less adventurous. They hate to travel, don’t swim, and generally do not like other people. Especially those who are not Nain.
I clearly am not a good example of my race.
First, I am very tall for a Nain, sixty-eight Knuckles high when I was last measured on the morning of my fiftieth birthday. I’ve already mentioned my uncontrollable curiosity, which brings along with it a desire for adventure. I have been blessed, or cursed, with quite a lot of that recently.
But as for the curiosity, while I’ve had a lot of satisfaction for the questions it has asked me, it doesn’t seem to matter. As soon as one burning question is answered, another one springs to mind immediately. As a result, I am frequently in trouble.
So now I am about to lay my head on a chopping block, on purpose, and a man with a very sharp knife is standing over me, ready to make slashes in my neck.
I’m wondering if in fact instead of being a live Nain, I am about to end up as a dead, formerly curious cat.
Because now I have three whiskers of my own.
Ven Polypheme had two sets of eyes staring at him.
One set was black as coal. The other was green as the sea.
Neither of them looked happy.
The green eyes were floating, along with a nose, forehead, and hair on which a red cap embroidered with pearls sat, just above the surface of the water beneath the old abandoned dock. The brows above the eyes were drawn together. They looked annoyed.
The black ones were in the middle of the face of his best friend, Char, who stood beside him on the dock. They looked anxious.
In the distance a bell began to toll. Ven looked to his left at the docks of the fishing village to the south of them, where work had begun hours ago. Then he looked behind him. The sleepy town of Kingston in the distance was just beginning to wake up.
Ven looked back down into the water.
“Come on, Amariel,” he said to the floating eyes. “I can’t really go off into the sea without him.”
A glorious tail of colorful scales emerged from below the surface, splashing both boys with cold salt water.
“Why not?” a girl’s voice demanded from the waves. “He’s a pest. And he isn’t nice to me.”
Char’s black eyes widened.
“I—I’m sorry ’bout that,” he stammered. “When I first met you, Ven didn’t tell me you were a mermaid—” He shivered as another splash drenched him again. “Er, I mean merrow. I’m sorry if I made you mad.”
“Please let him come,” Ven said. “Captain Snodgrass gave him orders to keep an eye on me. So if I’m going to explore the sea with you, he kinda has to come along.”
Char nodded. “Cap’n’s orders.”
“He’s not my captain,” said the merrow. “I don’t take orders from humans. You know better, Ven. My mother will fillet me if she finds out I’m traveling with a human male. Especially if we are going to go exploring. There are very clear rules about not showing humans around the wonders of the Deep. And besides, it’s dangerous. You have no idea how many sea creatures think humans are tasty. I don’t want to get chomped on by mistake.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Ven watched Char’s face go white.
“We’ll be careful,” he promised. “Char will be on his best behavior.”
“I’ve seen his best behavior. I’m not impressed.”
“Look,” Char said. “If you get sick of me, you can always cover me with fish guts and toss me out as shark bait.”
The merrow stared coldly at him.
“Oh, all right,” she said finally. “But remember, there’s a reason they call bait for sharks chum. ‘Chum’ is another word for ‘friend.’” Her eyes stayed locked on Char. “And if you make a bunch of sharks angry, Chum—”
“I’ll be chum,” Char said. “Got it.”
“So if you’re coming, we have to find a fisherman named Asa with a red-bottomed boat.” Amariel pointed south to one of the far docks. “He’ll cut your gills, and we can get going.”
Both boys grabbed their necks.
The merrow rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. Do you want to be able to breathe underwater or not? Gills are the only way I know of to do that. I’m tired of waiting. Decide whether you’re coming or whether I’m leaving.”
“We’re coming,” Ven said as he let go of his neck. “Sorry—it’s just instinct. Let’s go.”
Char nodded, but did not remove his hands.
The merrow disappeared below the surface of the water.
The two boys hurried south over the packed sand along the shore.
“Ya know, it’s not too late to change your mind, Ven,” Char muttered. “We could get a boat or somethin’, and follow her out to sea, like we did when we were chasing the Floatin’ Island, and then dive down to see whatever she wants to show us—”
“You can stay on shore if you want to, Char,” Ven said, trying to see the merrow in between the waves. “But I promised her a long time ago that I would explore her world with her. It’s now or never.”
“Have it your way,” Char said gloomily. “You always do anyway.”
They followed the pebbly path in the sand south until the fishing village came into sight. Several long piers led out into the harbor, with docks along each of them. Small boats lined the docks. At each boat fishermen were hauling nets filled with flapping fish and cages with crabs and lobsters onto the piers. Seagulls flew in great wide circles above, screeching and crying, then diving for food.
“So how did she happen to find this Asa, and how does she know he won’t just cut our throats?” Char asked as they picked their way among barrels and pieces of rope on the slats of the pier.
Ven shrugged. “No idea. But sailors and merrows have a pretty good connection.” He pointed about halfway down the pier, where a small green fishing boat with a red bottom bobbed lazily in the morning tide. A wrinkled man in a wrinkled hat sat on a barrel at the edge of the dock, cleaning his morning catch of fish. “Could that be him?”
Char squinted. “I guess so.”
“Come on. We may as well ask. If it’s not Asa, he probably knows where to find him. Fishermen all know each other.”
The two boys walked along the pier, stepping out of the way of men dragging lobster traps and heavy netting, until they got to the red-bottomed boat. They stopped behind the elderly fisherman, who did not seem to notice they were there.
Ven coughed politely.
“Excuse me, sir—are you Asa?”
The fisherman looked up from his work, his sky-blue eyes twinkling in the sun.
“Er, my name is Ven, sir. I was told I might find a fisherman at this dock who could, uh, cut gills.”
The wrinkly man nodded. “Well, Ven, you’ve found ’im. But I can’t say as I’ve heard of any recent wrecks.”
Ven blinked. “Pardon?”
“Shipwrecks,” said the fisherman. “That’s the only reason I know of for a man to risk a slice in his neck—to salvage the treasure from the bones of a shipwreck.”
“Oh.” Ven and Char exchanged a glance, then looked off the edge of the dock.
In the water behind the boat, the beautiful tail of multicolored scales was waving at them from beneath the surface.
“Uh, we weren’t really planning to dive for treasure,” Ven continued, trying to block the sight of the merrow’s tail. “We just want to do some exploring.”
The fisherman’s eyebrows arched.
“The sea’s no place to explore without a good reason, lads,” he said seriously. “Lots of bad stuff down there—believe you me. The only reason a man takes his life into his hands on a daily basis by going out there is to make a living for his family. Otherwise, we’d farm the land.” The blue eyes twinkled. “If we knew how.”
“Well, we’d really like to have gills, nonetheless,” Ven said. “We’ve been told you know how to, er, cut them without too much pain—and safely. Is that true?”
Asa exhaled, then nodded.
“I suppose that depends on how much is too much where pain is concerned,” he said. “That’s really up to you. It’s not my business what you’re doing. We mind our own business on the sea. If you want gills, and you’re willing to take the risk, I can cut ’em for you right quick.” He held up a thin silver filleting knife. “Then I have to get back to cleaning my catch. So, what’ll it be? Make haste, now.”
Char and Ven looked at each other once more, then nodded at the same time.
“We’re in,” said Char.
“All right then,” said Asa. He reached into the boat and took hold of the top of a small sea chest that held his tackle. He slammed it closed and put it on the dock in front of them. “Kneel down and put your heads on this chest, your left ears down.”
The boys obeyed.
“Well, ’s been good to know you,” Char whispered as they positioned their heads on the chest.
“Shhh,” Ven whispered back. “We’re not being executed, for pity’s sake.”
“You hope we’re not. You never know.”
Asa wiped the filleting knife on his trousers, then came and stood over Ven.
“Hold very still, now.”
Char winced and put his hand over his eyes.
Ven started to close his eyes as well.
Suddenly, from the end of the dock near town, a bright flash of rainbow-colored light blinded him.
And the world seemed to stop around him.