Amalie Howard grew up on a small Caribbean island where she spent most of her childhood with her nose buried in a book or being a tomboy running around barefoot, shimmying up mango trees and dreaming of adventure. An aspiring writer from a young age, Amalie’s poem “The Candle,” written at age twelve, was published in a University of Warwick journal. Her debut novel, Bloodspell, was selected as a Seventeen Magazine Summer Read. She is also the author of the Aquarathi series from Harlequin Teen (Waterfell, out now, and Oceanborn, available August, 2014), as well as The Almost Girl from Strange Chemistry (available now) and Alpha Goddess from Sky Pony Press (coming March 2014).
Science Fiction and Science Fact
World-building in THE ALMOST GIRL
by Amalie Howard
According to the laws of physics, time travel and inter-dimensional travel are both possible. Having been a science fiction fan for most of my life (Star Wars, Dune, Aliens and The Fifth Element all grace my top 10 movie list), when I wrote The Almost Girl, I knew the world-building and the concept of jumping between universes, had to be complex but relatable, especially for a young adult market. As a fiction writer, any world has to have rules, and those rules have to be consistent or the world falls apart. So step one was definitely research.
Debra Mullins is the author of thirteen historical romances for Avon Books and one paranormal romance for Tor/Forge. Her books have been translated into several languages and nominated for awards from both the magazine RT Book Reviews and Romance Writers of America and its chapters, including the Golden Heart, the RITA, the Holt Medallion (twice), the Book Buyer’s Best Award, and the National Readers Choice Award. She also won the Golden Leaf Award for Best Historical for her book, A NECESSARY BRIDE. She is currently finishing a paranormal trilogy for Tor/Forge. The first book, PRODIGAL SON, is out now. You can find her on Twitter using @debramullins and on the web at www.debramullins.com.
Building the World of Atlantis
by Debra Mullins
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated with the lost city of Atlantis. Archaeologists still search for evidence that the city/island existed, even to this day. Our only clues to this mystery are the ones Plato left for us in his Socratic dialogue Timaeus. Long story short, he heard about Atlantis from a friend whose ancestor had traveled to Egypt to compare history and legends between Egypt and Athens. It was in Egypt that this ancestor learned about Atlantis and came home to tell the story to his family, which got passed down each generation. Plato goes on to describe what he heard from his friend, and his words are the accepted canon for how Atlantis might have been.
World building is an integral part of any story, but even more so in science fiction/fantasy/paranormal. Continue reading
Michael J. Martinez is the author of The Daedalus Incident, out now in ebook and due out in trade paperback in July. He spent 20 years in journalism and communications, writing other people’s stories, until he finally got up the nerve to try writing one of his own. In addition to Daedalus, he’s also serializing a novella, The Gravity of the Affair, on his website, www.michaeljmartinez.net. And he tweets now and then: @mikemartinez72. He lives in northern New Jersey with his amazing wife, wonderful daughter, and The Best Cat in the World.
[Photo by Anna Martinez]
The Joys And Perils Of Writing Historical Fantasy
By Michael J. Martinez
When I first approached writing The Daedalus Incident, I had yet to actually try my hand at any type of fiction, and I found the notion of historical fantasy oddly comforting. World-building can be very daunting, and I thought basing the book on the historical Age of Sail would make things easier.
And you know…it was. I had actual history to draw character and plot ideas from. I didn’t have to come up with a heap of odd fantasy-sounding names. I didn’t have to create my world from whole cloth.
But writing good historical fantasy has its own set of problems unique to the subgenre, and as I wrote and revised Daedalus, I came across a few things that I wrote down and kept in mind for future efforts – because, if all goes well, I’m hopeful The Daedalus Incident is just the first entry into this particular world.
Garrett Calcaterra is author of the epic fantasy novel, Dreamwielder, released earlier this month by Diversion Books, and touted by steampunk legend James P. Blaylock as “fast-paced, colorful, and richly detailed.” His previous titles include The Roads to Baldairn Motte and Umbral Visions. In addition to writing, Calcaterra teaches literature and composition at various academic institutions. When not writing or teaching, he enjoys hiking with his two dogs and quaffing good beer.
Epic Fantasy: A Civilization in Peril and the Heroes to Save it
by Garrett Calcaterra
With Disney’s recent purchase of the Star Wars franchise and a new movie looming, everyone seems to be talking about Star Wars. I’ve been no exception. In a guest post at the very cool Inkpunks blog I confessed how the ending of Return of the Jedi inspired me as a young lad to go off and write sprawling stories with multiple viewpoints and climatic endings. More recently, I was a guest on the Defective Geeks podcast where I talked with the delightfully nerdy Gizzy B and Space Pirate Queen about why the original Star Wars trilogy is so much better than the prequels. The consensus among the three of us was that Episodes 1-3 are little more than Star Wars porn-sure we get our fix of exotic planets, light saber duels, and space battles, but the plot premise and characters are about as plausible as a buxom babe inviting a plumber inside to “check her plumbing.”
To me, the most disconcerting aspect of Episodes 1-3 is the fact that in the back of our minds we all know Anakin Skywalker is going to turn into Darth Vader. We all know the Republic will fall and Palpatine will create the Empire. This makes every one of the protagonists-even the most powerful ones like Obi-Wan and Yoda-utterly impotent. They can do nothing to change the fate of their civilization, and therein lies the weakness of the prequels. George Lucas had it right the first time when he started the story with Luke, Leia, and Han: the heroes who actually save the galaxy. But Lucas is hardly the first person to make this mistake. In fact, the grand-daddy of epic fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien himself, made a similar miscalculation a good 80 years before Lucas.
“There is something strangely self-undermining about the idea of utopia. Since we can speak of what transcends the present only in the language of the present, we risk cancelling out our imaginings in the very act of articulating them. The only real otherness would be that which we could not articulate at all. All utopia is thus at the same time dystopia, since it cannot help reminding us of how we are bound fast by history in the very act of trying to set us free from that bondage.” – Terry Eagleton
“[A] fictional world is a parasitic world.” – Umberto Eco
“World-building” is a vital component of fiction, one that is especially obvious in the fantastic varieties of literature. Critics, authors, and readers discuss the practice frequently, trying to grasp how it works, extolling its virtues and bemoaning its problems. In fantastika, particularly the SF and fantasy categories, world-building is assumed to be of primary importance and singular significance, used to project a plausible future or generate a richly-textured secondary world that sets each production apart. Every work of fiction, however, is an exercise in world-building to some extent, because every work of fiction generates an understanding (or sometimes multiple understandings) of the world, and every reader conjures a sense of world from their interpretation of that understanding. That is, readers elicit the workings and contexts of human existence in a given fiction; the world is, after all, the conditions of existence that surround us. Yet world-building is not just about conceiving of those conditions within a fictional framework; it is a reflection of the ongoing human impulse to create a world out of the realities our senses and imaginations encounter, to assert that what we confront is an organized milieu with graspable patterns.
Travis Heermann has been a freelance writer since 1999. Publishing credits include dozens of magazine articles, role-playing game content for both table-top and online MMORPGs, short fiction. Travis’s latest novel, Rogues of the Black Fury, is now available at online booksellers, select bookstores, and libraries. He has also been putting the finishing touches on the second book in his Ronin Trilogy, Sword of the Ronin.
Rebuilding a Ronin’s World
World-building a historical fantasy novel is considerably different from a secondary world fantasy. Historical fantasy has a few more rules, unless you want to venture into alternate history or steampunk. Writers are free to play around with the fantasy elements, but to still call the story ‘historical’ means adhering known historical events and creating a compelling narrative around those events. But that is not a limitation; real historical events are often crazier and more dramatic than anything a fiction writer can conceive.
“[A]ny existential statement – a statement, for example, beginning ‘Once upon a time there was…’ – always implies a world, because it implies a universal statement.” – Simon de Bourcier
A couple of years ago I wrote a piece for the Apex Publications blog on “other-worlding,” the process of creating a place and time different than the one we as the reader currently occupied. It was a very naive bit of writing (that disappeared with the blog), but that theme of understanding how writing creates a world, and how readers enter into it (or not), has been one that I keep coming back to as I try to understand how reading works, because every work of fiction posits a world that the reader comprehends through their interpretation of the clues the writer has encoded in the story. A world is constantly implied in all fictions, and the question is: what ideas and angles of inquiry can open them up to more understanding both in their construction and their effects?
Last week I ended my column by stating that “[w]e need to draw deeper not just from those other wells [of inspiration], but from [our] own, understand our own depths before we go diving into others.” This week I want to discuss that statement, pick it apart and try to articulate what it signifies to me. That statement is significant to me as writer and reader because it reflects the importance and promise of literature to me. And by “literature” here I mean the written work that has meaning for me and brings me joy and fodder for rumination. Much of that literature is fantastic in nature, and I want to reflect on what the explicitly fantastic has to offer us as literature, what good writers can do with it and what good readers can glean from it.
The problem is, this idea of drawing deeper is subjective; it depends on the individual writer (and reader!) for its infusion and decoding in a story. What does it mean to “draw deeper?” What qualifies as doing so? Personal investment? Fine detail? Mythic resonance? Beautiful writing? The answer is hard to pin down, but what I am driving at is a combination of care and insight. I use both terms as broadly as possible, but when I think of drawing deeper, I think of assiduousness and illumination. I think of attention to detail, but attention that is sensitive and deft; I want to feel what I am reading has empathy and veracity (as opposed to Truth, for example).
“Not only does the imaginative consciousness allow us to transcend (depasser) the immediacy of the present instant in order to grasp a future that is at first indistinct, , , but it enables us to project our ‘fables’ in a direction that does not have to reckon with the ‘evident universe.’ It permits fiction, the game, a dream, more or less voluntary error, pure fascination. It lightens our existence by transporting us into the region of the phantasm.” – Vincent Crapanzano, Imaginary Horizons: An Essay in Literary-Philosophical Anthropology, (p. 19)
I just returned from a great weekend of Readercon, where I was fortunate to lead a panel on “Anthropology for Writers.” We discussed the promise and pitfalls of cultural representation and produced a conversation that has stirred up some more issues in my head about the idea of worldbuilding and the places of culture in fantastic fiction (and I hope to put up a video of the panel over the coming weekend). The more I think about and discuss how culture is used and represented in fantastic fiction, the more I feel that we are missing opportunities to create more entertaining and insightful literature. I want to examine two issues in this week’s column: the link between culture and imagination, and how our ideas of what culture is often limit the fantasies we produce and read.
When I taught Introduction to Cultural Anthropology courses at the college level, I always began by informing the students of an important fact: that they were all already anthropologists. They were participant-observers learning about the cultural ideas and practices around them and constructing “culture” in their heads. They had done it since birth and would continue to do so until their brains ceased functioning. They learned about the world around them and were also taught ways to examine and reflect on culture, and used such tools every day. They were not using the theories and philosophies of scholarly anthropology, but they were using theories and had crafted or appropriated methods of their own for understanding the behavior and utterances of other humans.
I am heading to Readercon this Thursday, 12 July, and I am very happy to be a participant for the first time. It is going to be a very different experience and one that I hope to repeat in the future. I’ve been thinking a lot about the panels I’m going to be on, and this week I want to write some thoughts down about one of them. On Friday the 13th I am leading the panel entitled “Anthropology For Writers,” which has this description:
“In a 2011 blog post, Farah Mendlesohn wrote, ”Worldbuilding’ as we understand it, has its roots in traditions that described the world in monolithic ways: folklore studies, anthropology, archeology, all began with an interest in describing discrete groups of people and for that they needed people to be discrete.’ This panel will discuss the historical and present-day merging and mingling of real-world cultures, and advise writers on building less monolithic and more plausible fictional ones.”
I think there’s potential here for a good discussion about the ways in which culture is invoked and represented in fantastic fiction, but I must say that I have some reservations about the idea of “worldbuilding,” some of which were articulated in a recent blog post that is well worth reading (and yes, it is ranty and mean in parts, but it also points out some concerns that could use more thought and discussion). Cultural appropriation is one of them, tangled as that concept may sometimes be. The fetishization of made-up cultures is troubling to me, particularly since that is part of my own history. And the focus on arcana rather than message, when it occurs, shapes the way that we discuss fantastic literature in ways that dilute some of the potentials and gifts that lie within that field.
James L. Sutter is the author of the novel Death’s Heretic, which Barnes & Noble ranked #3 on its list of the Best Fantasy Releases of 2011, as well as the co-creator of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game campaign setting. His short stories have appeared in such publications as Escape Pod, Starship Sofa, Apex Magazine, and the #1 Amazon bestseller Machine of Death, and his anthology Before They Were Giants pairs the first published stories of SF luminaries with new interviews and writing advice from the authors themselves. In addition, James has written numerous roleplaying game supplements and is the Fiction Editor for Paizo Publishing. For more information, check out jameslsutter.com or follow him on twitter at @jameslsutter.
Rejecting Creationism: Building Better Monsters Through Evolution
Creationism is a hot topic these days. There are constantly fights over whether it should be taught in schools, debates within religions about whether or not creationism can incorporate the idea of evolution, and so on. Yet whether you believe in creationism as literal truth or not, there’s one angle you may not have considered.
Creationism is a crappy way to design monsters.
I don’t just mean for science fiction, either–since science fiction has science right in the name, it’s hardly surprising that readers of that genre are going to expect any aliens and monsters they run across to conform to the principles of evolution. Yet even in fantasy–perhaps especially in fantasy–a little evolutionary theory can go a long way toward making your monsters and setting more interesting and engaging for the reader or player.
[SF Signal extends Best Wishes to Joe Haldeman, who took an unexpected trip to the hospital. Get well, Joe!]
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