Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Place of Storytelling in Our Lives

In some ways, I think of writing as the translation of human perception. The way we write things, the myriad ways we explore the same topics over and over in different mediums and genres, speaks to the variation of the human experience. We all see things through our own filters and presets, but at the core we all write about the same things.

Writers draw from their own experiences, but because we are all human those experiences have the potential to speak to a wide range of readers. Storytelling--and most forms of entertainment come down to storytelling--is the cultural language. By reading (listening, watching, writing) we assess our place in the cultural narrative. We experience situations and questions in writing and how we respond to them--which characters we root for, which ones we want to fall on their faces--we define ourselves, our own opinions and perceptions.

We see the characters with whom we identify either accepted or rejected, and we feel either that we belong within a culture or that we are alienated within the culture. Storytelling informs our view of the world, either reinforcing the lessons we have learned from other sources or contradicting them, helping us form a picture of the world, the culture, its rules and our acceptance or rejection of those rules.

From a young age--in fact especially when we are young--our brains develop neural pathways that form connections between concepts, images, words, etc. The more used that pathway is, the more often the connections are reinforced and the stronger the connections become. And because the brain cannot tell the difference between what it imagines and what it actually experiences (the same areas become active whether your see an object or imagine it), storytelling offers us an explorative medium in which we safely experience situations which might be dangerous, difficult or impossible for us otherwise.

For me, writing--storytelling in any form--is a vast continuing dialogue: an exploration of who we are and what we feel and think and want and need. It has widened, through the centuries, as we are exposed to new voices and new ways of thought, but it is also still the same. We still tell each other of epic heroes/ines, we still debate the lines between good and evil, and in hearing the story--or in telling it--we seek to find our place in the endless narrative of our common experience.


And two quick notes:

1) Just two more days to enter the raffle for a free copy of A Sign in Blood, over at Curiosity Quills!
2) I have a review of Wolf at the Door by J. Damask up over at Good Book Alert.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Long-Lived Species in Science Fiction and Fantasy

What's it like to live for hundreds or thousands of years?

When we create elves or vampires or ancient demons, we assume their life and their life cycle must be something like ours, and that the mind of a near-immortal must be somewhat like our own. But think of how much you have changed in the last ten years. Think of the person you were then, and the person you are now, and imagine seeing that much internal mental change every ten years over centuries. We don't stop evolving. Ever. We have not stopped evolving as people, let alone as a species. We stop changing, learning, growing, only because we die. If we didn't, what would we become?

Creating something inhuman is difficult for us. Often, these creatures, species, characters become an extension of humanity. They're just like us, only their culture is different. But would it really be that simple? Our culture changes as quickly as we do. Most of us have trouble imagining what it would be like to really have lived just a few hundred years ago. Our "ancient" cultures are only several millennia old, and that would be mere generations for an elf or a vampire or a demon (assuming they don't live even longer).

Often we think that this would slow them down, that their rate of change would slow with their span of life, and therefore it would balance out and they would be... pretty much just like humans, only more traditionally oriented.

But that fails to take into account the vast range of humanity. In the US, we change like its going out of style, but there are other countries, other cultures. Cultures in which tradition and history are valued and in which some times of change are slow, but others aren't. We're not making elves, we're making other humans. So what would it really be like to be a creature that is so long-lived?

We can never really know. We can only imagine, but so often we fail to really take the diversity and potential of a species into consideration. Elves become a single monolithic society because we think that long-lived means resistant to change. But if elves live in a world that is changing, whether quickly or slowly, wouldn't they adapt eventually? They've been around a long time, or have they? Has that first generation even died out yet? Do they know what death is like for them? Has any of them ever even seen a "natural" death among their people?

That would be terrifying. To know that other species die, and yet to not know if you do. You may assume immortality, but if you can be injured and killed, you have to know that a "natural" death is a possibility. If your body can fail, surely it's only a matter of time until it does?

The list of questions for a long-lived species changes. You go from wondering which characters know their ancient history to wondering which characters lived it. How do they perceive their own beginnings? When did they begin recording their history? How do they perceive the beginning of their evolution? Do they remember the moment in which sentience began?

For instance, the human species (this is speculation of course, but from the evidence we have) only reached behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago. There's a lot that had to happen after that, most of it is lost to us. But if the elven species had developed around that time, and each generation lived approximately 5,000 years, that would mean that they're only ten generations old. How much mutation can you get in just ten generations? Mutation is what produces variation within a species. We adapt to environments because we selectively choose mates which are adapted to the environment (which we know because they're still alive and more healthy than those without those adaptations) and then our children have those adaptations and so live longer and have the capacity to have more children, who... etc..

So, elves would possess the same drive, to choose a healthy mate, and therefore would certainly be capable of adaptation. Or would they? Maybe they don't, but because every living thing on the planet does (or is theorized to) why wouldn't they? I'm willing to accept they might not, but I'd want to hear why they wouldn't, you know? Is their reproduction different than ours? Are they themselves a genetic mutation lacking that drive?

The point is that if elves (or any natural, long-lived creature) have only lived in your secondary world for as long as humans, you might consider their evolution when you're considering who and what they are. If they were here before humans, that gives them a fairly good view of where we came from and how. Plus, how would human evolution have changed with the addition of another sentient species?

Or, consider vampires, they're made of humans, right? If they are in your world, than they couldn't have existed before humans did, (unless they were made from something else then?) but their age is going to play a big part in who they are. Truly old vampires have had a long time to grow, evolve and change and they would do so by the definitions of their world, their reality, in which there is nearly infinite time. (Infinite! They could, conceivably, witness the end of the universe, if they can get off this rockball before it gets smashed and maintain a food source, of course.) If that reality contained humans (meaning, if they associated with the humans it has to have at least peripherally contained) they may still retain human characteristics (ideals of morality, behavior, etc.). But they have to think about what they're going to be doing next millennia. That's like, the next ten years for them. Do you think about what you'll be doing in the next ten years? Did you think about it more the older you got? (Now, possibly, that's because you and I know we only get so many years, but the point holds if only because a vampire could live to see the next millennium.)

Some people do, some people don't, but my point is that, when you're immortal, you don't have to be static. (Or perhaps your view is that immortality leads to status, and therefore vampires, et al., are unchanging. Great! I'd love to read a story that thought about it. The point is to consider.) I don't think the idea of scale, life cycle, and timeframe are often considered when vampires, and other long-lived species, come into play. We see things in a very human way (for, I would hope, obvious reasons), but stepping outside that view is worth the time and occasional mental gymnastics.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Writing Action Scenes

I really enjoy writing a good fight, or chase. Action scenes can be difficult though, because there's a lot to balance. You have to make sure that the reader gets enough information to clearly follow what's happening, without slipping out of POV, and without giving so much information that the tension collapses under the weight of it.

The first hurdle is moving the reader from "no action" to "action" in a way that doesn't confuse or jar them. For instance, a made up on the spot example:

Garin crouched to examine the floor, running his fingers over the weathered wood. The dust had been disturbed, but not too recently. There was already another thinner layer overlaying the footprints. His world narrowed down to those prints, and what he could ascertain from then.

He barely noticed the squeak of the floorboards behind him, and by the time the sound's meaning penetrated, it was too late. He started to jerk upright when a heavy arm slipped around his throat, pulling him up and back against an equally heavy chest. The forearm crushed against his trachea just enough to limit the amount of air he could pull into his suddenly frantic lungs.

In this example, Garin registers the squeak of the floorboards, so we know that someone is coming up on him, but he's so intent on what he's doing that he doesn't at first realize what it means. If he hadn't registered them at all, I couldn't tell the reader about them. And while I have no doubt this all comes as a surprise to Garin, I think it's important to telegraph your punches for the reader. Too abrupt a switch, even in a scene where some sort of action might be expected, can feel jarring. For instance...

Garin's mind focused on the prints, on their width and length. A man, then, or a woman with large feet. Not an elf, and certainly not a gnome, although perhaps a--

A heavy arm wrapped around his throat from behind, pulling him up and back against an equally heavy chest.

Even with the dash to indicate the interruption of Garin's thought, this feels disjointed. There's no smooth transition and the reader has to process what is happening, while they're reading the sentence in which it's happening. Because they don't know what the end of the sentence is when they start reading it, it's difficult to parse the action. Sentences aren't absorbed as a whole until they've been read. So, here we have Garin thinking about the foot print, and then suddenly there's an arm. If you don't know what's coming next, the way a reader doesn't, it can be confusing.

The details of the telegraphing can also provide vital information. In the first example, the squeak that provides the telegraphing is behind Garin, which tells the reader about the positioning of the attacker in relation to Garin. Since we know that Garin is crouching to examine the floor, an image forms. The attacker is walking up behind Garin, and Garin is crouched. The reader has an understanding of the logistics involved.

Taking those logistics into account is another important step in constructing an action scene. I think the key to any action scene is a clear picture of what's happening. Seeing the movements of the characters lets you ask questions about how they would react. And when imagination fails, there's always getting up and trying it out. Obviously, the more complex moves are going to take more imagination--unless you're a stuntman or a martial artist, etc.--so it's important to cultivate the ability to visualize these scenes. It's a skill, like any other, and the more you practice, the more details you'll be able to add to the scene inside your head. That translates to more details on the page.

For instance, because we know that Garin is crouched, the attacker has to bend to reach in around him. The arm then pulls back as the attacker straightens, pulling Garin up and backward. If Garin is crouched, his weight is probably pushed forward, onto the balls of his feet. So, when he's pulled up he is off balance for however long it takes for him, specifically, to adjust. I then look at the character. Let's say that Garin is a trained fighter. Adjusting his balance would be reflex, even (perhaps especially) in the face of a surprise attack.

However, say Garin isn't trained at all, hasn't even ever been in a street brawl. Maybe he adjusts just to remain standing, but maybe he also panics. What if he overbalances? He could send both himself and his attacker sprawling just because he's off balance when he's pulled to his feet. Especially if he's taller than the person who's grabbed him. Does that person know how to adjust for that? Are they trained?

Knowing your characters is as important here as anywhere else, but you can't ask yourself the important character questions until you know what's happening in the scene.

How do you plan out your actions scenes? How much of them come out in the first draft and how much do you have to rewrite or rethink later?


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

LGBT Characters in SFF Guest Post

Just popping in to link y'all to the guest post on LGBT Characters in SFF over at Chrystalla Thoma's blog!


Monday, July 18, 2011

Post and Interview Roundup, with added apology

A vicious migraine ate my brain this weekend and I totally flaked on the LGBT Characters in SFF guest post I was supposed to do over at Chrystalla Thoma's blog (as well as my usual Saturday post here). Big, huge apologies to her and to you guys. The LGBT character post will be up soon, and I'm so sorry about the flaking!

Okay, now on to where all I've been this past week...

I did an interview on Kindle Author.

I was also lucky enough to do a guest post on Women in Fantasy over at Adventures of a Sci-Fi Writer.

And also a wonderful interview over at Discarded Darlings.

And where I will be this oncoming week...

July 22nd - A guest post on Worldbuilding at over at Making Words Happen, with a giveaway to intrepid comment-leavers!

July 23rd - I'll be doing an interview with the literary marauders over at Curiosity Quills! Although, watch your step, they're a tough crowd! ;-)

And the rescheduling of the LGBT Characters in SFF post, which I can't pin down at the moment because my cohort, the lovely Chrystalla Thoma, lives in beautiful Cyprus, where it is now night time. I will, of course, make a quick announcement when the rescheduling is decided.

Swing on by, if only to leave a quick comment and possibly win a free ebook!


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Self-Publishing: To ISBN or Not to ISBN

ISBNs were a mystery to me until recently, so I thought I'd take a few moments to share what I've learned and see if anybody had any advice or tips to share. A lot of the information I could find was somewhat out of date, and I think that's because things have changed so much in recent times.

So, the basics. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. An ISBN is a unique number assigned to a book in order to help people find it. It contains the publisher's code, and the code of the country in which the book was published, and then some unique numbers to indicate the book itself. This makes it easier for computer databases to retrieve information about your book.

However, places like Amazon and B&N don't require an ISBN; they use their own identification code to track the books through and in their systems. You can also use their numbers to find your book on sites like Goodreads.

Smashwords gives a free ISBN to any book which qualifies for its premium catalog, but this lists them as your publisher. However, they don't claim any rights to your book because of it. Also, the ISBN given by Smashwords isn't to be used at Amazon or B&N, if you publish there yourself (which is quicker and quite easy, for the most part) rather than letting Smashwords distribute to them.

You also have the option of buying an ISBN from Bowker directly, and this ISBN would list you as the publisher. However, a single ISBN runs about $125. You can buy a batch of 10 for $250, which is suspiciously deep discount, if you ask me.

It's possible to never have an ISBN attached to an ebook and still sell it through Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, but it won't go out through Smashwords to the Apple Store or Kobo. However, each format requires a different ISBN, so if you put your book out in print later, you'll need to get an ISBN when you put the print edition out. If you want your book to be in bookstores or libraries, you must have an ISBN.

So, there's a lot to consider. Buying an ISBN directly from Bowker means that you are listed as the publisher. There's debate about how important that is, though. Some claim that books listed as published by Smashwords may be a turn off to readers, while others say that this is offset by having your title distributed in as many places as possible (such as the places Smashwords will only send it if there's an ISBN attached).

Regardless, you will need to purchase a separate ISBN if you do a print run of your book, and places like Createspace offer a similar (if I'm not mistaken?) service, allowing you to purchase an ISBN from them at a fraction of what you would pay at Bowker. The question of whether it's better to purchase from them or directly from Bowker may come down to the particular perspective of the author.


Monday, July 11, 2011

A Sign in Blood Blog Tour Round Up and Schedule

I've been a busy babe this week, so there are a lot of links:

Today, over at Dreamer's Perch, I've given away several books and still have a few more to go! Drop on by and leave a comment to win a free copy of A Sign in Blood!

I did a guest post about Characters of Color in Fantasy at J.A. Beard's Unnecessary Musings.

And, here I did a fun, and hopefully funny, interview with H.C. Elliston.

Stefanie J Pristavu was kind enough to have me over for danishes and an interview over here.

And Rachel DiMaggio met me over on Twitter for an interview, which you can read here.

And coming up we have...

July 15th - Follow me over to Discarded Darlings where I'll be talking with the resilient Jean Davis about life, the universe and everything. Or, at least, some of everything...

July 16th - Join me at Adventures of A Sci-Fi Writer with the daring A.R. Norris for a guest post and discussion of Women in Fantasy!

July 17th - Come on over to the blog of the phenomenal Chrystalla Thoma for a guest post about LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) characters in Science Fiction and Fantasy!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Using Language to Deepen SFF

This is a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately. With A Sign in Blood out there roaming, my brain has turned to other projects and one of those is Born of This Soil. I've got the first draft done and now it's time to think about the nuance, and one of the things I really feel will be important is the language.

Both the language of the prose and, especially, the dialogue. There are two very distinct cultures living in close proximity, but with a very complex relationship between the two. And the characters come from both cultures. I want to show that interplay in the language they use, both when they speak to one another and when they're speaking to others of their own culture.

I've been trying to wrap my mind around how to do that. I don't want to use accents--at least not to any large degree--because these can get really challenging to read. Slang is good, and I'm definitely going to be thinking about what slang to use and how to fit it in with the characters. But when you write slang, the words have to be distinguishable by context. If they're not, you lose the reader, and that's the last thing we want.

Also, with slang, I think the amount of it a given character uses would change, depending on factors like their social status, age, education, subcultures, background, etc. And all of that will also vary the slang that's used. What a fifty-year-old woman calls one thing, a twenty-year-old might call another, even if there are no other big differences. That brings in the idea of introducing overlapping slang and I just... My brain stops there. I don't think it would be a good idea to introduce too many words for the same thing and I want to keep the focus on the contrast between the two cultures. It would be confusing for the reader to have the name for something in two different cultures, and then an extra word for it, too, even though it would give the world depth. I think that's just a step to far, at least, I don't think I could make it work.

In addition to slang, though, I want to consider the way the characters speak. Their word choices even when slang isn't involved, and how those change depending on who they're talking to. But it's not just word choice, I think it's important to also consider tone, formality and length of sentences, plus the traits and tendencies of the individual characters.

It's a lot to think about, and I think this why I keep having trouble wrapping my mind around it. I don't really think about it when I'm working with a character's body language. I know the character, I know how they're feeling, so I know what body language they'll show. But language is harder for me, and I can't seem to get a firm hold of it. (Strange, for a writer, yes?)

I think I also need to spend some time thinking about the cultures themselves, about where they come from as far as language goes. What are their linguist roots and what events had the most impact on them from that standpoint. The cultures' feelings about one another will also play a large role, with politeness also being a factor, and the tension between them being another.

Cultural linguistics is hard, y'all! :-D I love character interaction, so it's important to me to get this right, but obviously it's going to take more thought. And probably some time to actually sit down and work on the story. Maybe having it in front of me will make it easier.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tour Updates & Reminders

So, the tour spins on and here are the updates!

Check out my interview with H.C. Elliston over here!

And join me...

At Across the Border on July 8th (also currently known as tomorrow) for an interview, and at Unnecessary Musings on July 9th (currently the day after tomorrow!), when I'll be doing a guest post about characters of color in fantasy!

I am reliably informed there will be giveaways! :-D


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Writing Conversations

I love writing the dialogue, and I love reading it. Give me a good conversation any day. Action scenes are fun, too, but when characters start talking and interacting in believable ways, you hook me. Especially if I can see what the characters really mean, if I can get a sense of the undercurrents of their thoughts and all the things they're not saying. A good conversation moves everything forward. It tells the reader about the world, about the characters, about the conflict, about the plot.

The way characters talk to each other says so much. Their choice of words, the non-verbal cues, the tone of their voice and the way they act around one another. And how that changes when a third or fourth person is added. The subtle dynamics between people rendered in ink and spelled out if you read between the lines are not easy to accomplish. I sometimes spend days on certain conversations and then go back to them over and over, and just never seem to get them "right."

For any scene with multiple people in a dialogue, I make sure I know which characters are present, so that each of them is represented in the scene and no one turns invisible halfway through. Obviously, if there are a lot of people, some are going to be doing more than others, and some might get grouped together for ease of reading, but when there's only three or four, sometimes one can stop talking and reacting and just sort of slip away into the background.

Not everyone has to talk, of course, some characters prefer to sit in the background and make faces, or just listen, but I think it's important to note this for the reader. Otherwise the character becomes invisible.

I think it's also important to try and create a sense of which characters are having discussions of their own. For instance, if there are four characters in a scene and characters A and B know something that characters C and D don't, A and B might be exchanging looks at relevant points. Of course, if they don't intend to tell C and D, maybe they're pointedly not exchanging looks.

While body language helps when there are only two characters talking, I think that as a conversation gets more complex body language becomes a larger part. If a character is addressing a large audience, you can't give the reactions of every audience member, but you can give the reactions of groups within the audience. For example:

"Avery's supporters cheered in response to his announcement, but some among his opponents booed and others shifted in place, casting narrowed-eyed glances at one another."

That tells the reader a lot and hints that some of his opponents may be forming a plant of action in regards to Avery's announcement. Here, the body language conveys a reaction that isn't possible in words. No one wants to shout out their conspiracy plans, after all.

I think another good example of body language is when someone is eavesdropping, in which case the body language they observe becomes a big part of the conversation. They draw conclusions--and maybe not always the right ones--from how people are sitting, how they interact with whoever they're talking to, whether they look nervous, etc.

And, of course, no conversation would be complete without actual dialogue! I'm very much still working on slang and nuance when it comes to the language that people use, because it's such a big territory. From phrases used only by certain characters (whether it's because of where they grew up, or their religion, politics, class, etc.) to the way subcultures within a given culture speak to one another as opposed to how they speak to "outsiders." Even if you don't plan on creating your own language (and created languages are huge for some writers) there's just so much to consider.

I think that those little touches can really make a character, setting and conversation come alive, but of course they have to be used in a way that isn't a stumbling block for the reader. That balance is a difficult one to strike, but worth it when it happens.

A conversation should also move things forward, whether because the characters are learning new things, or because they're coming closer to some decision, or because the thing they've been hiding has finally come out. Those kinds of conversations are the ones that I like the most.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Sign in Blood is Out!

Happy Release Day!

Or, Independence Day, as we in the U.S. more commonly call it. :-D

A Sign in Blood is out!

You can read more about it in my previous countdown posts here, here, here, and here. Or you can go check it out over at Amazon or at Smashwords. The B&N link will hopefully be up later in the week.

Also, today's the last day to comment here and be entered to win a free copy of the eBook! I'll be announcing the winners on Wednesday instead of today. So drop me a comment and maybe I'll drop you a book!

Or, you can come with me on tour this week and meet some awesome people! (Don't worry, the blog will be returning to its regularly scheduled content, even while I'm away. I'll just be mentioning the tour, in addition.)

July 5th - Join me on Twitter tomorrow at 12:30 pm (Central US Time) where I'll be chatting about A Sign in Blood with the very clever Rachel DiMaggio. It's a tweeterview! Tweet about it to be entered to win a free copy! (Be sure to include @marionsipe in your tweet, so twitter will let me know!) I'll announce winners on Wednesday with the others.

July 8th - Join me at Across the Border with the adorable Stefanie J Pristavu, where we'll be talking about a little bit of everything!

July 9th - Join me at Unnecessary Musings with the insightful J.A. Beard, where I'll be doing a guest post about characters of color in Fantasy!

And, stay tuned for next week's blog tour line up!


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Countdown to A Sign in Blood - Day Four

It comes out tomorrow!! *bounces* I am so excited, you guys! So, today and tomorrow are your last chances to comment here and enter to win a free copy of A Sign in Blood!

Today we're going to talk about the characters!

A Sign in Blood started with Chadri Seforis. I can't remember when I came up with her, it's been a while, but she started the whole thing rolling. I liked her because she was so flawed. She already had so many of the things she thought she wanted, but like most people she didn't see it. She gets blinded by her hurts, the way we all can, by the things in life that suck, but she still strives. Still tries so hard, telling herself that if she just works hard enough, or long enough she'll be able to get what she wants. I liked her for that, for moving forward in spite of everything, for taking a sacred oath to find her father's murderer, despite the 15 intervening years and the fact that it will mean leaving behind everything she knows and loves.

Liral Nothiani is queen of Malithior in name only, since her mother's death. At twenty-four, she is a year too young to take the throne, and rumors of her instability and weakness of mind have been circulating. But once she reaches her majority, she becomes a threat Factor Hillian, who has been the most powerful of the highborn because he weaseled himself into the position of regent. Liral has managed to scrape together enough support to get her case for early ascendancy before the Factors' Council, which even Hillian can't defy. In doing so, she's showed her hand, revealed herself to be a threat to his power, and she's sure that if she can't get the support she needs to put her on the throne now, she won't survive to see it at all.

Nathias Deam'Earin is a very complicated woman. In her past she was an activist among her people. Bound to the temple of Barakou by her godlines--she is distantly descended from Barakou--she was forced to serve the temple as a priestess. But she wasn't the kind to sit quietly while the high castes were harming people, and that got her in trouble over and over again, until she decided to leave the temple and live her own life. She pulled it off, too, for almost a decade. She had a husband and three boys and a life of her own, until after her husband died and the temple caught her scent. Their attempts to get her back left her oldest son dead and Nathias on trial. It is sacrilege to execute a godline, so she was exiled from her country, but to save face the temple told everyone she was killed while trying to escape back into the city. She wandered for a long time, until she came to rest among Chadri's people, among the Bensas, and there met Chadri who was just as lost as she was.

Bastian Deom'Earin, Nathias' son, has been brought up with that legacy. Like her, his godline binds him to the temple, and he serves as a priest. Bastian is devoted to the Apostasy, to the rebellion which seeks to bring down the temples and the military. Surrounded by his enemies every day, knowing the penalty for his actions is exile (Or death. He believes they killed his mother, after all), he manipulates events to help shield the Apostasy, and it's leader, Carial Deom'Tetra.

Carial Deom'Tetra's ancestors were Sovereigns, ruling Tredalor with the help of three councils, but the priestly council and the military council turned on the last Sovereign. Carial's mother was obsessed with bringing down those councils, and she used herself as a rallying point to create the Apostasy, but she died before she could manage that goal. Carial, as the oldest of her children, took up the mantle, but he only did it to protect the apostates, the poor who were treated as discardable. The thought of being Sovereign, of looking after an entire nation, terrifies him.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Countdown to A Sign in Blood - Day Three

Wow, halfway there! I'm on pins and needles, guys! If you missed the prologue on day one, you can read it here! And you can read a little about the world of A Sign in Blood on the day two post, here.

Remember to comment, if you're interested in a free ebook! I'll be giving away five free copies on the 4th!

The mythology is a very big part of the world of A Sign in Blood. It is the backdrop for the story, and mythology is one of my favorite things to build for any story. I think that a people's mythology says a lot about who they are, about how they see the world and what they value. Building a culture's mythology helps me to better understand the culture I'm writing, so it's an important step for me.

With A Sign in Blood, the plot is heavily influenced by the mythology of three different, interconnected cultures, all of whom have a different take on the same stories, ancient stories from when the gods walked among mortals and the havoc they wreaked. The twin urges of creation and destruction set in motion by sibling rivalry and played out across the face of the world.

The scars are still present, even though the brother-gods, Myador and Barakou, trapped one another in a standoff long ago. Their worship still impacts both nations, although one is all but underground while the other is in decline. Myador and Barakou are the sons of Eskri, the divine mother. While the Bensas place Eskri as the highest deity, the Devsari favor their creator Myador, and the Nirafel favor their creator Barakou. The rivalry between their deities locks Tredalor and Malithior in an eternal struggle, pits them against one another and builds hatred between them.

The war is over, mostly because centuries after the supposed deaths of their gods, both nations have tired of the bloodshed, of the constant drain on resources and lives. But it's now, after finally settling into a wary peace, that the gods threaten to return. Myador's body is missing, and while many dismiss it as nothing, a story, or a figment of the imagination, Chadri can't help but feel its more. After all, her father is the one accused of stealing it.

But these aren't the only gods, and in the absence of Barakou and Myador, the other deities have established themselves in much more subtle and less destructive ways. The Nirafel have a particularly interesting relationship with their gods. Their nation is ruled by a Conclave of the military and priestly castes, and these two high castes control all five of the city-states. However, though Barakou's temple is still among the priestly castes, their mourning of the sleeping god leaves them without a vote in the Conclave. While they are still considered "high caste," they are in a strange limbo between being priests and not being priests. This puts them in a precarious political position, and that doesn't sit well with the current High Priest of Conclave, Deom'Walia.

The politics of Malithior are far less tied to the religions of the people, but Myador was a deity of war and rulership, and his worshippers tend to accumulate power. After the end of the war with Tredalor, the soldiers had to go somewhere, do something. Some threw their lot into the political arena, and some of those want the war to start again. After all, centuries of hatred cannot be brushed away overnight, or even over twenty years of peace.

So the mythology reaches into other sectors of life, into other parts of the country. It influences both country in numerous ways, and drives people in both.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Countdown to A Sign in Blood - Day Two

Well, it's day two of our countdown (still crazy excited!) and I thought I'd discuss a little about the world and geography of A Sign in Blood, and book worlds in general. Remember, comment here to be entered to win a free copy!! Don't be shy. Tell me about your favorite fictional world, yours or someone else's. What is it that makes you interested in visiting that place?

I often start off a world by drawing a map. It gives me a starting place, and I like having something solid on which to base the worldbuilding. I may have an idea of the story I want to tell, but evolves with the world and I find that having a set physical location gives me the first boundaries necessary to create a world. Once the map is finished, I have a solid foundation for building the rest.

With A Sign in Blood, I liked that all my characters came from very different places, with very different climates and environments. Different modes of survival. I wanted to use that in characterizing them. Chadri, for instance, often compares things to the home she longs to return to. She thinks in sea and storm and water imagery, connecting everything to sea-cliffs and mountains, to the winds and the rains and the floods. Her people, the Bensas, associate themselves with the stone beneath their feet, and Chadri has been trying to fit in among them for so long that she has trouble seeing outside of their perspective. Narrow city streets become ravines, and niggling questions get compared to grit in an oyster.

Nathias, on the other hand, uses terms, imagery and comparison from all three nations, because she's lived in all three--the only one of the character who has, at the start of the book. Her world view is larger, but still defined by her own perceptions of those three cultures. She is Nirafel, and she grew up in Barakou's temple, and she is not fond of temples or religion in general. When she does relate to it, she feels closest to the Bensas way of thought because deity is not--in their view--confined to a temple. They don't build structures at all, and for Nathias spirituality that is bound to a temple is too rigid and confining.

I find that once I have the geography down, the world builds itself to some degree. I start asking myself questions about the geography. What resources would these people have? How do they transport goods? How do they keep in contact with one another? How do they organize themselves? The geography often places an important role in these types of decisions. If they have to cross a lot of water, boats are a likely option, if they have to trudge through the snow, skis and sleds may be their idea of traveling in style.

Geography gives you a sense of what resources a place will have, and what they'll have to do to keep them. Culture grows up around it, and while every group of people will deal differently with the challenges and advantages their geography represents, knowing what those challenges and advantages are is the first step.