No, I’m not talking about tassel as in the tuft of loosely hanging threads, I’m talking about my musical character Tassel Stark, she of Weatherscan fame (eagle-eyed fans of classic Weather Channel might notice a similarity in name and role to Trammel Starks and our real-life version of Weatherscan; yes, I’m that niche). I had the thought: what if Tassel dies, killed by the storm? After all, my latest vision of the Great Christmas Blizzard is for it to achieve a record intensity of 865 millibars, for it to intensify explosively over a short period of time, and for the degree of intensification to come out of left field. Considering Tassel is supposed to be on an island off the coast of Maine, exactly the region the storm surge is at its worst, this is a recipe for an unexpected surge of seawater to overtop her house, sweeping it away without a trace, and her with it.
Since she’s live-streaming the playing of her music during the storm, her death will happen with plenty of virtual witnesses, much like storm chaser Hernando’s as he’s torn apart by an ice-wrapped tornado in New York City during the same storm. It really underlines the brutality of the weather, as well as the raw power of the North Atlantic, which I recently had the privilege of experiencing at Cape Cod. Having seen the region, including Maine and the rest of the Outer Lands, it strikes me that such an event as I envisaged would be apocalyptic; whole swaths of land and housings would be washed out to sea without a trace. The sheer power of it would be awe-inspiring, and I should want to capture that vibe in my story.
I was originally thinking Tassel would be located on Ragged Island, on account of it being high up enough to avoid the storm surge and looking out directly on the open Atlantic (not a sheltered bay), but Tassel perishing opens up a variety of islands that peak lower in elevation. I haven’t conducted a new search, but it strikes me, having visited there, that Tassel might be located somewhere near the Passamaquoddy Bay.
It’s an area that holds greater interest than being the easternmost point in the contiguous United States. There was a serious attempt to build the first tidal power plant in the world in the bay, which was only interrupted by Congressional intransigence in the 1930s and World War II; in this timeline it may well succeed, and it would have brought tremendous cheap power and industrial development into the area, and into Maine in general. The Eastport area is conveniently also a huge deepwater port that remains largely undeveloped; see also Coos Bay, Eureka, and Prince Rupert. It could be a massive facility in this universe, especially considering the absolute explosion in global trade compared to real life; the idea of developing new ports at heretofore unused harbors might seem compelling. Eastport/Lubec may well be a major city comparable in size to Minneapolis or even Boston; see also Duluth and Sault Ste. Marie, which are also major in my universe.
Most of northern New England, especially northern Maine, is surprisingly undeveloped. Mount Katahdin and the Appalachian crest in general could make fantastic ski areas; those northwest slopes get tremendous snowfall. Again, it just needs a lot of infrastructure investment, which in this universe is on the table. Combined with the rustication trend, and it’s likely a Northwoods version of Broadacre City will see northern New England experience an epochal population boom (combined with places like Boston, Fall River, and Providence seeing steep declines). There’s a whole massive axis of civilization that could exist there where it doesn’t in real life. In this timeline of course the Pacific deep water ports like Prince Rupert and Coos Bay are fully developed; the Passamaquoddy is something of an Atlantic counterpart.
Back to Tassel again, it’s worth noting that the Passamaquoddy Bay is named after a Native American nation, the Passamoquoddy. Why not suppose that the effort to develop the area into a major city is spearheaded by the nation? Perhaps large land acquisitions were made by the nation in the bay area when it was an embryonic industrial area, and the major city was largely their creation, master-planned. Imagine large wooden buildings in a style that straddles and combines National Park Service Rustic with Art Deco, everything clean, new, modern, and futuristic, oriented toward enjoying the landscape and the sea, fully in tune with the natural environment, everything designed to be as a beautiful work of art, incorporating traditional Passamaquoddy motifs throughout (baskets, canoes, cloth patterns, etc.).
Languages of an Alternate History
Given this background, I have the idea to add more color to the story by making Tassel herself ethnically Passamaquoddy, even a citizen of the tribe (in real life they have a reservation, which in this universe by 2045 carries the same status as a fully sovereign independent state). I always had the idea that Tassel was a Yankee (i.e. old-stick ethnic English from New England), but she could easily have parentage from both of these groups. Her mother tongue: the Passamaquoddy language, which unlike in real life is not particularly endangered, having benefited from a revitalization effort. She would of course also speak English, the all-dominant language in Maine…or is it?
The United States is a much more multilingual place in this timeline; French in Louisiana, for instance, doesn’t suffer the post-World-War-I decline it did in real life, so by the mid 20th century, when minority language preservation and revival comes back into fashion, Louisiana goes the way of Quebec, with Francophones tightening their grip over the whole state. Quebec itself experiences a considerably more favorable demographic situation, and immigration into the United States is much more open. Upshot? A lot more French-Canadians in New England, particularly in the north; already in many border regions substantial shares of the population primarily speak French, not English, and this could be taken much further. Not to the point that French replaces English, but it would enjoy a large presence in the area.
For even more alternate history flavor, I’ve been considering more full-fledged language revivals. The standout success case, of course, is Hebrew, which went from a liturgical language to a living modern tongue spoken natively by millions. The other end of the pole, a near-total failure to arrest decline, is the story of the Irish language in Ireland. It’s generally thought that a more serious effort centered on education through immersion could have effectively revived Irish. What if in this timeline that happens, and the mother tongue of most Irishmen by 2045 is once again Irish?
Worldbuilding the Tongue of the Pharaohs
But rather than Irish, the standout analogue to Hebrew that never became a contender is Coptic. Like Hebrew before the modern revival, Coptic has been reduced to a liturgical language, but it is still prized and treasured among a religious group, namely the Coptic Christians. And like Hebrew but even more so, Coptic is the inheritor of a rich ancient legacy, in Coptic’s case ancient Egypt. Yes, Coptic is the latest stage of Egypt’s native language, the tongue of the pharaohs.
Coptic Christians are very much in the minority in Egypt, but the Muslim majority in the country could potentially be brought on board with embracing Coptic as part of a general Egyptian national revival centered on its ancient, rather than Arab Muslim, heritage. Exactly this sort of national identity has in fact been popular and promoted, being rather dominant in Egyptian nationalist discourse earlier in the 20th century (called “Pharaonism”), before giving way to Pan-Arabism after World War II…which, interestingly, has since given way to a resurgence of identification with ancient Egypt. Pharaonism may yet win the day. What if it does so much earlier and more decisively?
Might Coptic go the way of Hebrew? Certainly given a Pharaonist Egypt there might be serious interest among the Coptic Christians at least in reviving the language and promoting it to Egyptians generally as they seek to reconnect with their ancient past.
Ironically the recession of the Abrahamic faiths in the face of the New Age takeover after the 1960s might help substantially, as identification with Islam and the Quran becomes less salient, and ancient Egyptian heritage rises to the fore (what with the decipherment of the hieroglyphics and the archaeological surge in the 20th century). In Egypt the repaganization process, the end of what in my stories will later become known as “the slumber of the gods”, will necessarily involve turning to the gods of the pharaohs. As an aside, this is also an Egypt which cultivates closer ties to Europe and to Western civilization, which given that the latter is generally much more vigorous in this universe might hold some attraction.
Tassel’s Egyptian Smash
Despite the hype about the old gods, even in the 2040s devout Christians and Muslims will continue to exist in significant numbers, and this Coptic Christian core will still be the vital center of Egyptian nationalism, at least as far as the language is concerned. So why not introduce a character who’s an ethnic Egyptian and a devout Coptic Christian into the story? For a while I’ve wanted to do a character who was seriously into orthodox Christianity, and this would be a natural way to do it, via the simple vehicle of having this character be a dear friend of Tassel’s who she hosts at her house in Maine over Christmas (the Western date, December 25), complete with a big lobster dinner (this is New England, after all).
I originally envisioned Tassel being all alone, but a dance party sounds like more fun anyway, and a whole group meeting their demise from the shock storm surge would add more pathos to the story, especially since Tassel’s girlfriend, in my envisioning of her story, is engaged to be married, and is to have her wedding in Egypt on Christmas (the Coptic date, January 7), perhaps even beachside (on the Mediterranean or even Red Sea coast), where Tassel will attend and will even reciprocate by being able to enjoy dancing at the reception her friend will host after the wedding.
As for how Tassel got this girlfriend in the first place, my current thinking is she studied abroad in Egypt, apprenticing in Egyptology, and lived over there for years as a teenager, immersing herself in the Coptic language to the point she became fluent, with her girlfriend after she met her (perhaps she was her tour guide once for some Coptic heritage site and they hit it off?) serving as her best friend over there and chief teacher in the Coptic language.
Tassel is smitten at once, and knows she is the one she wants for her “smash”, a type of intense romantic friendship common among young girls in women’s colleges in late 19th century New England, but still a thing in this universe’s 21st century, and having expanded beyond Yankeedom. Not so far as to be familiar to Egyptians, however; so Tassel’s advances come as quite a surprise, but as Tassel persisted and made it clear she would have no other her girlfriend came to appreciate it and surrendered to the inevitability of love.
Husbands and Men for Tassel and Friend
Not only her girlfriend but Tassel too like men as far as their sexual tastes go, however, so that got me thinking about Tassel’s status in that regard. She might have some connection to the native-built city in the Passamaquoddy, but I envisioned her as coming from a modest background where she really just wants to make her music, see the world, and have fun. Nevertheless, her status as a music artist (and the chief music artist for Weatherscan), starting in her teens even before she went to Egypt, might garner her interest from a young scion among the Passamaquoddy nation (who had been a huge fan of Weatherscan since childhood), an heir of the original leader who spearheaded the city-building effort, and still owns a lot of land in the area, having used the project to become upwardly mobile (in common with many others among the tribe).
Considering Tassel might not be all that young, perhaps even up into her thirties, he might already be her husband by the time the story takes place. Both of these men, Tassel’s husband and her girlfriend’s fiancé, will be at the fatal party off the coast of Maine. This fiancé will also be a Coptic Christian, most likely ethnically Egyptian. As for what faith Tassel and her husband subscribe to…that is an interesting question.
The Faith of a Tassel
For Tassel at least I envision her also being a Christian, in a world where Christianity holds very little weight anymore, a fact that might be woven into the story in general; the white Southerners like Decca in Nashville, in stark contrast to real life, are entirely ignorant of churchgoing Christianity and are New Age spiritualist types that in our timeline would be more associated with hippies on the California beaches than with Music City.
Another interesting question is what sort of Christianity Tassel subscribes to. As an ethnic Yankee and representing that tendency in the story some sort of low-church Protestantism would be the most obvious choice, but perhaps she nevertheless finds herself attracted to the theatricality and magnificence of the liturgy, as epitomized by the Catholic and Orthodox churches. This might even be an occasion to make clear through the story that the Catholic Church (well, the branches that use the Latin rites) in this universe still conducts all its services in Latin in this timeline.
Tassel’s Christian faith and fascination with the liturgical churches feed into an idea I have to make a massive Celtic cross motif the centerpiece of her house’s design; think with stained-glass windows in between the circle and the lines of the cross to provide light, perhaps with the stained glass containing Passamaquoddy motifs.
Indeed, her lifelong fascination with the liturgical churches might explain why she was so interested in exploring the heritage of the Copts to begin with, as well as why she outright lived in Egypt for years as a teenager. The thought crosses my mind that she might even convert to Coptic Christianity, but the contours of the story and her character suggest not; perhaps she seriously considered the idea during her time in Egypt but rejected it.
This all suggests she has an interest in religion, and also perhaps an interest in certain Protestant intellectuals who find Anabaptist theology to be eminently sensible, to be the future of living Christianity (considering the Amish and the like are by far the most vibrant branch of Christianity if population growth is any indication), and who are nevertheless starting to call for reemphasizing the liturgy to reinvigorate the spirit of God in the soul of man, essentially calling for a new religious movement that in unprecedented fashion will combine the medieval liturgy of Orthodoxy with the theology and community doctrines of Anabaptism. Tassel herself is not an Anabaptist, but these ideas do strike her as fascinating, especially from a futurological perspective: not so much what the future of the faith should be, but what it will be. Incorporating this into the story foreshadows developments in the Christian tradition I have planned for far in the future in my fictional universe.
Cool stuff I think, that adds a lot more worldbuilding spice into my story and helps to bring the Tassel Stark subplot to life in three-dimensional fashion and give her something to do and be instead of just sorta being there vibing, as far as the book is concerned. It was fun thinking of all this after my trip to New England cements itself in my mind; indeed, that’s one reason why I wanted to not get to writing the book: because I’d have a much clearer view of the region once I actually went there. And it’s not over yet: my mind currently turns once again to Georgia Roadhouse, and I’ve got some ideas about her on the front burner…