Archive for the ‘The Heart of Darkness’ category

What I’m Doing in the Study

January 22, 2014

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Take one tightly-coupled plot with four interwoven PoVs.
  2. Decide, after two of those threads are completely done and a third is coming up on the Act 3 break, to rearrange the plot so the threads end at the same time.
  3. Realize that the two completed threads are the ones that need to be rearranged, because they are the ones that require less calendar time.
  4. Break several subplots into tiny pieces and rearrange them, adjusting on the fly for new developments that arise in the rewriting.

I never solved Rubik’s Cube, but for some reason I feel confident I can handle this. The first 100K words of this operation have gone surprisingly well.

More anon.

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Talking with Barbara, Part Two

September 27, 2013

Part 2 of my delightful (well, for me at least) chat with Amy at Just Book Reading is live today. This time we’re talking mostly about the business of writing. I almost went off on a rant with this:

Barbara: Writing is a business—but first it’s an art. I think showing up in the study every day is an important practice because it keeps the creative juices flowing, but to expect to hold an artist to production schedules is destructive, and results in lousy art.

But all I will say on that topic today is Expect more on this topic. And meanwhile, stop by Just Book Reading for some terrific questions from someone who understands the business well enough to field truly penetrating queries.

Just Book Reading

Today is part two of my interview with Barbara Friend Ish, author of The Way of the Gods series and publisher over at Mercury Retrograde Press. Today, we’ll be talking about her books. Part one of this interview where we talked about the writing process, is here.

Amy:  I enjoyed The Shadow of the Sun immensely and I’m looking forward to the second book in The Way of the Gods series. Can you tell us a bit about The Heart of Darkness? Anything interesting we have to look forward to? What’s Ellion up to, or should I say, what kind of trouble is he in now?

Barbara: Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the ride, and it’s truly kind of you to say. The Heart of Darkness picks up roughly an hour after the end of The Shadow of the Sun, and all hell breaks loose…

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That’s Not Even a Real Word! How I invent languages for my fiction

April 9, 2013

This week in the continuing (and penetrating) discussion of The Shadow of the Sun on her Week Two readalong post, nrlymrtl posed me this question:

You have used language throughout the book as a way to sew culture clash, create bonding, and swear creatively. How did you go about building the various languages into your story?

The master of the invented language, of course, was J.R.R. Tolkien. I am not fit to dust his dictionaries. But even for those of us whose artistic talent & impulses don’t run towards inventing languages, the development of language is a useful tool for fantasy & SF. Languages both arise from and reflect cultures: words and phrases so commonplace we don’t even hear them are profound indicators of our culture’s assumptions and norms. And the etymology and linguistic underpinnings of a language tell the story of where a culture comes from, what other cultures it has encountered, and what its problems and conflicts are.

You just made that up,
didn’t you?

Nope. A couple examples to get you started thinking about this:

Gender assumptions:

In English, we say “men and women”; where gender is mixed or uncertain, we use male words to cover all the unknowns. When we speak of both, we speak of males first–except when we’re being self-consciously courteous, as in “Ladies and gentlemen”, which embodies reasoning too convoluted to get into here. These habits reflect entrenched patriarchy. In The Heart of Darkness, the sequl to The Shadow of the Sun, some of the point-of-view characters I’m writing come from a matriarchal society. Maleness is not their linguistic default. The choices I make when my matriarchal characters speak about mixed or indefinite gender tell a story about their assumptions: right down to the fact that where my human characters say “priestess” to apply to a member of the Danaan clergy, the Danaan characters say “priest”. Because in their culture all priests are women, so there is no need to specify gender.

Swearing and Insults:

How we swear, what is considered profane or taboo, bespeaks our religious and moral norms. Americans, who as a group tend towards religious fundamentalism and puritanism to a much greater extent than some other cultures, find great shock value in blasphemy against Christian religions, sex, and bodily functions. How we insult others speaks to what our culture values and abhors. Because we tend to be very narrow-minded about sex lives that are in any way different from our own (see also: fundamentalism and puritanism), Americans can be heard using “gay” as an insult.

In other cultures, notably pagan cultures in which magic is mixed in with the religion, there is frequently a strong taboo against speaking the nmes of gods aloud, particularly in the presence of nonbelievers: because the names of the gods confer power. It may also be considered inappropriate to use the names of gods outside the context of prayer and magic, whether in the presence of nonbelievers or not. (That’s a tradition that carries over in modern Christianity as well, at least in the U.S.) I’ve made some use of both of those taboos in The Shadow of the Sun: my Beallan (human) characters, both of whom are deeply religious, rarely speak the names of their gods outside the context of religion, and certainly never in front of the Danaan, who have their own gods; and the Danaan, who believe themselves to be in a collective state of disgrace before their great goddess, no longer invoke her name outside the context of prayer. It’s the lesser goddesses and the great goddess’s consort with whom they feel themselves sufficiently close to swear by their names.

But as nrlymrtl notes, swearing is a bonding activity. People love swearing, and in swearing together we relieve the tension both of whatever made us want to mouth off and of the transgression of swearing itself. Learning one another’s swear words is a moment of cross-cultural bonding, a means of building bridges between our cultures. Kumbaya, baby. We see that in The Shadow of the Sun, too, in the moment when the Danaan mock Ellion because he is unable to pronounce one of the sounds common to their language and he turns around and challenges them to swear in his–and then they all laugh at the results.

So where did you get
those crazy words?

If you’ve been reading along lately, you will be unsurprised to learn that I stole. A lot. To reinforce the cohesiveness of the cultures I had built on a basis of ancient Irish myth as history, I drew heavily on ancient Irish and Gaelic languages and naming traditions, with a bit of Iberian thrown in for development of the Essuvian names and words. Where I could, I lifted words whole; where the word I wanted either didn’t exist or was too hard for someone with my VERY meager command of those languages to track down, I started with the etymological roots of those words in that end of the human language genome and built new ones. I also drew on ancient Greek and Egyptian sources for words that are, in the context of my tale, of yet more ancient vintage. In the course of developing the traders’ culture in The Heart of Darkness I stole from Basque and Romani language and naming traditions. And the ubiquitous profanity fouzh, which Ellion can’t get through an entire page without, was invented out of whole cloth: I wanted something evocative of the “f-bomb”, as it is delicately styled, which would be satisfying in the English-speaking mouth but wouldn’t require me to litter the pages with something that makes a significant percentage of readers flinch, not to mention bringing our cultural norms into an entirely different culture.

I love playing with language, maybe even more than I enjoy playing with the rest of reality. And I adore taking apart the components of our culture, looking at them, and putting them back together in entertaining/disturbing ways. It helps me think, and I hope it gives readers the opportunity to think some thoughts they would not have otherwise. It was probably inevitable that I write speculative fiction.

Place as Character: Using Worldbuilding to Develop Story

April 1, 2013

HumanandTanaanRealmsMap

In her Part 1 post for the Shadow of the Sun Read-Along, Amy of Just Book Reading asked me a question about how I imagine the world I’m writing:

I ‘see’ this world very clearly in my head. In fact, I tend to read in pictures, active imagination and all that, when reading fantasy. When you’re writing, what do you picture and how do you keep the world so vivid? There is a map at the beginning of the book as well. Do you use maps to picture the world?

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Warning: Geek Content

If you’re not into serious worldbuilding geekery, this might be good time to look elsewhere. Here is a picture of my cats.

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The Map is Not the Territory.

But it is part of the story.

Maps are one of my most important tools for imagining a story world. I use a mapping program called Campaign Cartographer, which was originally designed for role-playing games. The maps I create become essential not only to the development of the world but also the development of the story.

Campaign Cartographer doesn’t build pretty maps, at least not for people who aren’t equipped to really tweak the program (read: amateurs like me). But what it does, brilliantly, is provide “real” data about the map’s territory. Once the map is built, the distances and potential routes between story locations are set—which keeps me honest, and requires the characters to deal with real obstacles. In order to facilitate the plot I’m planning, frex, I may want to have it take two days for a character to get someplace—but the truth of the world as constructed may be different. This tension helps to drive the development of the story, because it takes me out of what comes easily into stuff that makes me engage my “A-game”. It also helps to keep things feeling “real”.

Maps as Story

I’m also having a lot of fun with maps as a storytelling tool. I have the rare privilege of working with the artist Ari Warner on the maps for my books. He takes my amateurish, just-the-facts maps and develop them into maps that help tell the story of the world. Each of his maps is an exercise in worldbuilding: the glorious maps that grace The Shadow of the Sun are designed with the conceit that they have been developed by professional cartographers. Within the context of the story, each of the maps the reader sees comes from a particular collection: a couple of different royal libraries, and the collection of the Harpist Gorsedd in Ilnemedon. The inaccuracies in the maps represent misconceptions, misunderstandings, and confusions on the parts of the people who assembled the data–and those errors feed back into the story in the form of misunderstandings with which the characters who rely on them are walking around.

In the forthcoming The Heart of Darkness, the sequel to The Shadow of the Sun, Ari has outdone himself: we’re creating a new series of maps that originate with the kharr, the rebels in the war that encompasses both these volumes. He’s using a completely different style for these maps, one that reflects their less exalted and more practical origins. And the ways the kharr maps contradict the loyalist maps developed for the first volume carry part of the story as well.

Another tool I use in developing worlds is theft.

That seems to be a theme around here lately.

I stole elements of a lot of places in developing my story world. The geography of the Danaan sacred isle of Ilunmore came out of the legendary geography of Atlantis. The Ruillin Basin has its origins in the Bay of Fundy and surrounding waterways, right down to the shameless theft of the reversing falls on the St. John River, which became “Bormo’s Well” in The Shadow of the Sun. I used Mt. St. Michel in France twice: the island of Aballo is one part Mt. St. Michel, one part Bru na Boinne in Ireland, situated on Half Moon Bay in California. And the tidal accessibility of Mt. St. Michel became part of daily life for the island of Bealingas.

Theft committed in the name of worldbuilding can’t stop at window-dressing and yield a world that feels real. If stealing these places brought a wealth of details to the world that help to create the experience of a real place, that real feeling can only be maintained by following the facts of the places borrowed wherever they may lead. The tides on the Ruillin Basin with which the characters in my world must contend arose from the interaction of the true facts of the Bay of Fundy with the influence of my world’s extra moon. It created bizarre obstacles to travel in that region which in turn drove the development of an arcane “technology”, windcallers: wizards specially trained to harness winds and weather for the purpose of making it possible to sail in otherwise unnavigable waters. And those obstacles to travel fed back into the action of the novel.

But I am getting ahead of myself, for a post intended to accompany the first seven chapters of the novel. And the extra moon and all the baggage it brings to the party are a topic for another day.

/geekery

The Next Big Thing

November 27, 2012

Last week, the gracious and generous Dave-Brendon De Burgh tagged me in the Next Big Thing meme that’s going around. This is a really fun way to discover writers who are new, or at least new to you, and I am most grateful to him for inviting me to play.

Now that I’ve been tagged, I’m supposed to answer the interview questions and tag several more writers. In the spirit of “new, or at least new to you”, I’ve tagged three writers at various stages in their careers:

Leona Wisoker is hardly a new writer, though she may be new to you. Her third and fourth novels, Bells of the Kingdom and Fires of the Desert, will be coming out under the Mercury Retrograde label this spring. She’s got an almost cultish following for her Children of the Desert series. And I appreciate her taking the time to play this game with me.

Rod Belcher is a new writer: his debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, will be published by Tor in January, and it’s already lighting up Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Romantic Times, et al. In fact he’s so new that his website and blog won’t be live until the end of the week…so I am just linking to the Facebook page for his novel for now.

Rachael Murasaki Ish is, like so many of the writers participating in this meme, as yet unpubbed–at least as a writer. I happen to know she’s got That Thing We Can’t Teach in Writing Workshops, and I’m looking forward to her getting her fiction to the point of publishability. Having worked with her in other professional contexts, I know she has the tenacity necessary. (And did I mention that she and I have a book together coming out this spring? For that one she’s wearing her Visual Artist hat. But more on that anon.)

I hope you’ll click through on those links and discover some exciting artists. In the meantime, here are my answers to the interview questions:

What is your working title of your book?

The Heart of Darkness

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Short answer: Everything in World Myth, 398.2 in your library. I started hanging out in that section roughly 6 months after I could read things longer than your average Dick & Jane adventure.

Long answer: This book is the second of a series, The Way of the Gods. I started writing this series because I wanted to explore the nature of godhood. (What makes a god a god? Where does the god’s power come from? What does his existence mean?) Along the way, inevitably, the story also explores the nature of power, the definitions of good and evil, the dichotomy between science and religion, and the tension between honor and exploitation. And the nature of addiction.

The first book of the series, The Shadow of the Sun, introduces the reader to Ellion, a defrocked wizard and deposed monarch who wants nothing more than to redeem himself. But when an opportunity to do that arises, he runs as fast and far as he can in the opposite direction, because redemption will come at the price of confronting all the mistakes he made ten years ago. The problem follows him, as problems will; and he takes on the charter of protecting Letitia, rising monarch of the Danaan nation of Fiana, from a renegade wizard who is trying to take over the part of the world Ellion left behind.  Along the way, he will find it necessary to confront the past he’s been avoiding–and find his assumptions about the gods and the world around him up-ended.

The Heart of Darkness picks up where The Shadow of the Sun leaves off. The title refers to a magical operation that’s critical to the unfolding action–and also to the Joseph Conrad novella of the same name. Like Conrad’s hero, Ellion–and other characters as well–find it necessary to travel into the unmapped interior, the wild places where the rules are suspended, and find the deep truths revealed there: truths both about the world and about themselves.

What genre does your book fall under?

You’d find it shelved as Epic Fantasy. But none of the other Epic Fantasy books trust it. They think it’s a party-crasher, and it’s going to start some kind of trouble. They’re right.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I brought my first readers, Mark and Rachael, in to help me brainstorm this one. I’m the only writer I know who doesn’t automatically “cast” all their characters. And I’m pretty sure we can’t afford all this talent for our imaginary movie. But we had a great time!

In the interests of space, I’m just going to list our casting choices here. We went into more detail on Tumblr, here.

Ellion — Matt Bomer

Letitia — Natalie Portman

Iminor — Jared Padelecki

Nechton — Robert Downey, Jr.

Tella — Charlize Theron

Leahy — Matthew McConaughey

Rohini — Olivia Wilde

Amien — Peter O’Toole

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

One sentence? The book is going to weigh in at over 200K words! Ahem.

When Ellion becomes a pawn in the tug of war between the old gods and the new, he begins to realize that the truths he has spent his life upholding may not be true at all, and the order he defends may be unjust.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by Mercury Retrograde Press.

Full disclosure: I am Mercury Retrograde’s publisher and editor-in-chief. Fortunately I know that the publisher who edits her own work is a fool, and I humbly submit to colleague Anna M. Branscome during this process.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Hmm. The first draft of this novel was one part of the ridiculous 330K-word, 3-month orgy of writing that produced the first draft of the entire series over ten years ago. As a standalone, the first draft took maybe 6 months to develop. (It was considerably shorter; I am a better, deeper writer than I was then.) The current draft has been in the works for about 18 months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s a really rough question: it’s hard to answer without sounding or feeling arrogant, inflated. Within spec fic, one might draw comparisons between my series and Julian May’s The Golden Torc and the other books in that series; I’ve had people compare it to Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series and The Mists of Avalon. Thematically, I’d shelve it near Dan Simmons’s Hyperion and Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster series. And, maybe, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Professor Tolkien: I adored his books. Can’t tell you how many times I re-read them. I will say that some of the covers fell off, and those were covers from a nicely-produced boxed set. But for all the beauty and magnificence, there were things I wanted to argue with: among them, the unquestioning acceptance of the feudal ideals that the entire heroic literature tradition brings us. And, while I’m arguing with the master, the easy definition of Good vs. Evil. (This is the part where people will argue with me, and I accept all those arguments as valid. I’ve held them at cons beyond counting. But still I reject the notion that the world, even a fictional world, is divisible into the Good, the Evil, and the Corrupt.)

The Bible: because once you’ve angered all the Tolkien fans out there, the only bigger target is the Bible’s fanbase. No, that’s not the reason why. Because it’s wild and self-contradictory and huge and one-stop shopping for all the ideas a reader needs to unravel the Western canon, as well as an intellectual kleptomaniac’s dream. Because it begs the reader to ask the question Who or What Is God and then argue with herself about the answer.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Magic. There’s a lot of it in this book. Not the hand-wavey fairy-dust kind of magic, but real, there’s-physics-behind-this magic with roots in traditions that go back for centuries and serious implications for the society that has to deal with it.

Gods. Plenty of those, too. They are not nice people. But they are interesting.

*

This was a fun excursion. To my surprise, I especially enjoyed “casting” the novel–figuring out which actors should play the parts. And I had fun putting that Tumblr post together. Thanks for inviting me to play, Dave-Brendon!

Writer’s Block Isn’t Really What You Think, Version #73

November 18, 2012

Recently I’ve been nervous about the scene I’m going to start writing today. I didn’t know what I was going to write, and I thought the reason I didn’t know was that a significant chunk of the discussion was going to center around some RL warfare technologies with which I have only a glancing acquaintance. But then I got there yesterday, and tried to write the lead-in, so I’d have something to come back to after I’d boned up on the technical stuff…and discovered the Real Problem.

The war I’m writing about is erupting like popcorn thunderstorms in a variety of locations, which is how rebellions typically will. In each eruption, the motivations of the people who rebel are different. People don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Hm, I’ve had enough, I think it’s time for a rebellion”: not unless they’re well-fed intellectuals with too much time on their hands. When the peasants revolt, it’s because they believe they’re out of other options.

I knew why the other locus of rebellion I’m writing about had gone over the cliff. I finally realized, yesterday, I couldn’t answer that question for the present rebellion.

Once I finally began addressing that question, I found a huge reservoir of thematic deliciousness waiting for me. Now I’m SO EXCITED to write this scene, this chapter, this thread–and the technical brushing-up I need to do is no more than a minor detour in my head.

Same old story: the thing I think is the problem is just the thing my left brain can identify. The reason my right brain is really holding me up is that I haven’t done the deep plotting work.

This Week in the Study

November 5, 2012

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Life on the publishing side has been, shall we say, stimulating of late. Blogging and house-cleaning are the first things out the window when my schedule gets overfull.  You can imagine how ashamed my mother must be.

Be that as it may–
Those of you who follow the play-by-play over on Facebook know I blew my editorial deadline for The Heart of Darkness in spectacular fashion. The book should have been off my desk and on Anna‘s months ago. And meanwhile I have promised to launch it, the associated Fortunes deck and book, as well as the Fortunes electronic game, at ConCarolinas next year. Which means it’s got to go to press in May of next year, hence to the reviewing world by February. So I am in crunch mode.

The Heart of Darkness picks up where The Shadow of the Sun left off. Really. About an hour later. This time, rather than just following Ellion through the chaos, I’ve had to bring in other points of view in order to tell the story:

Leahy, the Bard of Arcadia–a name readers of the first volume may remember, even though they haven’t met the character yet

Letitia*, would-be Mora of Fíana, the focus of the conflict between Ellion and his nemesis

Iminor, her appointed consort

As you may imagine, that’s a lot of story. At present the novel stands at just less than 179,000 words. I presently estimate a finished length of ~225,000.

My goal is to finish this month. That will give my beta readers–and Anna!–a bit of room to maneuver. So I’m trying to write 2K words each day.

Stay tuned.

*I swore I’d never write Letitia as a PoV. Didn’t want to do it. And then it became necessary. She’s turning out to be more interesting than I anticipated.