Tag Archives: worldbuilding

The Military Fantasy Thing

Somewhere along the way, I ended up writing military fantasy.

I didn’t intend to, really.  Maybe way back, when I was first putting stories together, I had a notion.  But really, I can’t recall ever thinking to call them “military fantasy.”  But once others applied that label, and when I read their reviews and impressions…  Let’s just say I’d forgive you for not believing me, because of course it’s military fantasy.

Sword and Chant Cover

So here’s how the truth tapped me on the shoulder:

Continue reading The Military Fantasy Thing

Worthy Regardless

Sword and Chant CoverBack in June, Anne Johnson hosted my guest blog post on writing gender equality in epic adventure fantasy.  Just a couple days ago, this 2011 story got a bump when it was featured on Tor.com.

And it got me thinking…

Let me say from the start that it’s fabulous to see archeologists pay better attention to little details like the sex of the folks they’re researching, particularly when they’re defining the culture based upon that research.  It’s awesome to see the combat-based contributions of women have made throughout history acknowledged.  And the more articles we have like Hurley’s We Have Always Fought, the better.

But as tempting as it is to wave that research around — “See?  We can have women in our stories!  History says so!” — it’s important to acknowledge the fact we don’t need to justify our stories. Continue reading Worthy Regardless

More of What Ends Up In the Book

Once upon a time, I lived near deserts and I loved them. It was natural, then, that deserts became the living and breathing setting for Sand of Bone.

When I was a kid, my grandparents owned a piece of desert property outfitted with a one-room cabin outside Apple Valley, California, on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Apple Valley was a little tiny place at the time – less than a tenth of the population it is now – and for a kid raised in the suburbs of Orange County, it was about as middle-of-nowhere as I could imagine.

Our family spent a few weekends every year up there. It being the late 70’s, my parents let me roam the desert at will for hours as long as I promised to never try to catch a snake or explore the abandoned mineshafts.

Continue reading More of What Ends Up In the Book

Everything Ends Up In the Book

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Half of my first summer as a teenager was spent in a compact car, driving back and forth from Southern California to New Orleans with my mother and nine-year-old sister. I was torn between huge curiosity and excitement, and the nagging certainty spending so much time with my ultra-extroverted mother and sister would cause my head to explode. I remember we argued daily, but remember more clearly all the places we saw along the way.

It was the first trip I took after deciding I could, just maybe, write a novel someday. Every part of me was primed to store experiences and research with the intention of one day using it in a book. One excursion in particular made a huge impact: Carlsbad Caverns.

Continue reading Everything Ends Up In the Book

Pomegranates and Bats: Details in Revisions

Sand of Bone heads off to its editor and final reader tonight, so I’m taking a little break in order to let me brain think about something else for a bit.

I am not a structured worldbuilder. Before writing, I do not sit down to answer a hundred questions about culture, religion, navigation, textiles, government, livestock, gender relations, history, trade, exploration, child-rearing, and economics. That’s not my process. (For that, check out this post, wherein I discuss altering my worldbuilding to fit the plot rather than the other way around.)

That doesn’t mean I don’t care. I deeply care. I don’t expect to get everything right, but I want it to be right enough to keep the reader with me.

Continue reading Pomegranates and Bats: Details in Revisions

Festivals of SheyKhala

Now that Serpent Heart is up, my attention turns back to final revisions for Sand of Bone.

Celebrations—when, how, and why—are fantastic worldbuilding tools that can give depth to a culture, move the plot, and reveal character.  The longevity of the celebrations, and how the celebrations have evolved over the years, inform us of the culture’s values.  Whether characters partake in, shun, or are indifferent to the festivals tells us how well characters are integrated into the larger culture.

In the desert and delta of SheyKhala, where the upcoming novel Sand of Bone takes place, festivals mark the turning of seasons primarily through focus on close kin, neighbors, and the greater community.

The year ends and begins with the Feast of Kin — the midwinter festival of family. Though jokes are often made about the different ways one could serve one’s family members at a feast, the festival is critical for maintaining good will among kinship groups as they head into that time of year when close quarters and limited food supplies can raise tensions. For the days leading up to the feast, family members do favors for one another, and the most secret favors are considered to be the ones performed with the deepest love and respect. The feast itself, though, is geared toward indulging the children in all possible ways. Grandparents say the focus on children ensures young adults consider carefully what their nighttime cold-weather activities might engender.

Promise Days happen in the spring, when the seasonal rains provide the low desert just enough moisture to coax short and spiky grass to cover the sands between brush that blooms but once a year. The notion of promise-keeping is incorporated into the river levels as well, since the season’s rains promise to flood the delta once the water rushes down from the high desert. It’s also the time of year consorts decide to make new vows, renew their existing ones, or part ways. It’s one of two festivals that include the ceremony to brand women and men as full Blades in service to the ruling Velshaan. (The other branding takes place during Shades.)

In midsummer, everyone takes part in Givings, which the cold-hearted and tight-fisted call the Mis-givings. Able-bodied folk provide service and work for the neighbors, preferably those less fortunate. (As you can imagine, there can be a snark-fest in determining who among one’s competing ‘friends’ is more or less fortunate.) In larger settlements, Givings is the day set aside for civic duties such as field maintenance, road and wall repair, and sewage care. Moreover, every person must pass their evening meal to someone less fortunate, and will not eat unless someone more fortunate takes pity on them. The two groups most likely to go without an evening meal are the middling poor and the ruling Velshaan bloodkin. In fact, the Velshaan absolutely refuse to eat on Givings Day because they have only the gods above them.  Why the gods don’t provide the Velshaan with their own meals is a subject of speculation only among those who wish to live a life of hard labor in Salt Hold.

Lastly, the welcome cooling of autumn leads up to Shades — three days and nights of honoring and remembering the dead, and (supposedly) spiritual visits from dead ancestors or notable figures. It’s understood ghosts don’t really show up every year to everybody, just like we understand Santa Claus doesn’t really visit every child’s home on Christmas Eve. Shades is instead a time to reflect on past losses. It’s considered wise to think of what you’d say to loved ones if you were a mere ghost able to communicate but once a year, and wiser still to say those things while living. But, as with our Christmas traditions, parents take advantage of the festival to instill behaviors and beliefs in their children. Parents will sometimes leave small notes or symbolic gifts from “ghosts” for children to find, and the final night of Shades is marked by costumed folk going door-to-door masquerading as prominent figures from SheyKhala’s history dispensing advice and warnings.

In addition to the large festivals, smaller celebrations are more often either observed within families or smaller groups, or confined to certain occupations and such. There are feasts on the Dark Moon, when the nightsighted folk see the undimmed beauty of the stars. (It’s a favorite among young people looking for excuses to spend the night away from family.) More ritualistic celebrations occur around the first pressing of olives for oil, the training of horses, the welcoming of new Blades into the ranks, and thanksgivings for salt and iron.

In more recent years, remembrances for the Woes have been added to the festival calendar. Officially, they are held to acknowledge the losses and destruction caused when the Velshaan warred among themselves. But they are really intended to both remind the people of what power the Velshaan can (or, more accurately, could once) wield, and remind the Velshaan bloodkin of what fate they could meet if they stand against the wishes of their family.

How much of this will make it into the final version of Sand of Bone? Only bits and pieces mentioned mostly in passing. Half the story takes place in settings removed from the usual cultural constructs. The sequel, Breath of Stone, more tightly entwines the cycle of celebration and remembrance, and the third (yet unnamed) novel downright depends upon them to trigger… well, to trigger happenings. (Shh, can’t tell!)

But I know the festivals are there — why some people choose to ignore them, why others anticipate them, and why still others will seek ways to use them. It’s another valuable tool in this writer’s Swiss Army Knife.

Treasure In Storage

It sucks knowing you’ve forever lost a beloved story because you didn’t properly back up your work.

Six-ish years ago, about the time life went sideways and put my writing plans on the shelf, my computer did a spectacular crash without warning. I had backs-ups and/or hard copies of all but one novella and one short story. Alas, those were two of my favorite pieces. Lesson learned.

I spent most of last weekend helping my mother sort through and clear out a large storage unit. Amidst stacks and stacks of boxes, we found half a dozen boxes of my things — mostly books, some files over ten years old, Dev’s old toys. But stuffed into a box of books was a stash of spiral notebooks and a large envelope just the right size for a short manuscript. I pulled it out, not at all that interested when it seemed to be nothing but a partial of a story even now sitting on my computer and waiting for attention. But it looked like there was some printing on the other side so I turned it over and…

I jumped up and did a dance of joy. I’d found a full copy of that lost novella!

Second best of all? The story still holds together.

Best of the best of all? I can put back in what I had to cut before, when the only options for publication had firm word-count caps. Clocking in at 23K, the story had all of two professional markets available to it at the time I wrote it, and cutting it down to that length forced me to say goodbye to some depth of worldbuilding and complexity. Now I can flesh it out to the length I want it to be. The additions and subtractions aren’t extensive or lengthy, but will make a difference. Besides, I decided it was best to lay groundwork for future stories should I decide I want to write more about these characters.

So that’s my project for the coming week—and it’s a nice distraction to have while I await beta feedback on Sand of Bone.  With work and cooperation from life’s many demands, I should be able to release it by the end of May.