Tag Archives: ClarionWest

Where do little Erinthians come from?

In 1995, I went to the Clarion West writing workshop, where Gardner Dozois made a passing remark about how many fantasy and SF worlds created by newer writers, were comparatively simple, politically. He was describing a one planet, one government, one language, one culture kind of formula. He used a phrase like “failure to fully imagine a settomg…”

It was an observation, not a rant or a lecture; I doubt more than one breath went into it. But it set me back on my heels a little. There was a “Oh, yeah!” moment. Since then, I’ve taken that throwaway remark as license to write complicated, messy worlds filled with different tribes, factions and languages.

I tell you this because Paul Weimar of SF Signal asked: What were your inspirations for the various cultures we see in Child of a Hidden Sea?

Pick an Island, Add Magic

There are about 250 island nations on Stormwrack, so I thought I’d start with Erinth. (At some future point, if you’re all interested, I’ll do entries on Verdanni and Sylvanna. Not until after the book’s out, though, when it’s less spoilery.)

A lot of us get our early image of spellcasting and magic from depictions of warty, cackling crones over a cauldron, dumping eye of newt and fillet of a fenny snake into a cauldron as they chant, “Bubble babble, toil and trouble, let’s trick MacBeth into making some bad choices. Evil Magic Soup FTW!”

I wanted Stormwrack to have a wisp of this–specifically, the eye of fenny snake element–in its magic system. Each of those 250 island nations has its own microclimate, and the specific types of newt, toad and creeping kudzu available to a people determines what kind of spells they can work with it. In one archipelago, you might have five islands with seven variations of newt and seven completely different resulting magical effects.

To this foodie-influenced cooking element, I added contract law. The spellscribe has an intention, you see. They want to make you beautiful or restore your lost hearing or give you angel wings or help you do lightning-fast calculations in your head or cause you to keel over dead. They cook up their ingredients, usually following a recipe set out by earlier researchers. They write the precise text of the spell, using a magical language with its own magical alphabet. The spellscrip has been imagined here by cover artist, Karla Ortiz–there’s some on the sails of Nightjar, on the Child of a Hidden Sea cover.

The spell must be written with specific materials, on other specific materials. It’s an exercise in perfection. Get it wrong–imprecise materials, flawed writing surface, misform a letter wrong as you’re engaged in calligraphy–and nothing happens. That newt died for nothing. Get it just right, though, and you have a form of magical contract. The nature of reality is changed…

… for as long as the physical artifact, the inscription, remains intact.

That’s right. Spells are, on Stormwrack, things you can literally break. Destroy the contract, the spell doesn’t necessarily fizzle. Reality reasserts itself as best as it can. If you had a magical appendectomy twenty years ago and somebody rips up your scroll, you might get your appendix back, inflamed and ready to pop. Then again, if the appendix has been sitting pickled in a jar for twenty years, you might get that, formaldehyde and all.

Tame a volcano? What could go wrong?

This brings us to Erinth. One of my earliest notes on Stormwrack was a long list of possible spells, which said, “there’s an island that uses magic to hold the local Santorini-like volcano in check…”

Say you’re the Conto of an island whose population is tired of having the neighborhood volcano wipe out the capital city, or a substantial portion thereof, every sixty years or so? Say you set all the magicians you can afford on researching a way to write an intention that will calm the mountain down.

Cindria, Erinth’s capital, lives in the shadow of a volcano calmed by such an intention. It’s described here, in “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti.”

“See for yourself.” Tonio swept out an arm as they reached the cliff top, and Parrish saw the figure of a woman, sculpted in rose marble and fully fifty feet high. Clad in a modest robe, hair bound at the nape of her neck, she stood on the inland lip of the caldera, hands out in a soothing gesture, the hushing pose of a mother calming a child in its cradle.

Ice-blue spellscrip glimmered on her arms and hands, written from shoulder to fingertip.

In the shadow of those big stone hands, the molten stone churned like a pot aboil. Beyond it, the flow of lava seemed orderly and civilized.

One obvious inspiration here, then, is nature in the form of my favorite volcanos: Mount Saint Helens, or Santorini, to name two.

I had already decided this much about Erinth before a trip to Italy in 2012. Since I was going, I went to Catania to see black lava buildings, not to mention Mount Etna. I went to Naples to see Vesuvius and one of the cities, Herculaneum, that it destroyed in 79.

Erinthians live in the shadow of a killer mountain, and they know that when something finally happens to their Lady, all the stored energy from all those becalmed eruptions will come bursting forth in spectacular fashion. They deal with this reality in a very human way–by posting guards around the statue and hoping for the best. If it weren’t for the time honored concept best articulated by the phrase of “La la la, I can’t hear youuuuu,” most of us would spend all our waking hours in the fetal position.

Having taken a bit of inspiration from the landscape of Italy and the history of Santorini, I married the terrain to another of my early notes on politics, which read “…there’s an island a bit like Florence under the Medicis.”

You might say my approach to worldbuilding is additive. I’m not quite as much of an extrapolator: “If this happens, then naturally the people will worship this kind of god and develop that kind of technology…” I admire people who do that and make it seem effortless. I’m more of a pinch of this, dash of that, see how it tastes, add something else kind of writer. I’ve got the magic figured out? Yay! Now I’ll add the volcano. Got the volcano tamed? Let’s add some Renaissance Florence! How does that all work? Oh, there’s some extrapolating, I suppose. They’ve got the tame volcano, so maybe there’s a local industry in volcanic glass. And pumice. Maybe pumice figures into beauty spells?

As I write this, there is just over a month days before Child of a Hidden Sea‘s release date. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say we’ll be going back to Erinth for awhile over the course of the novel. It’s one of Gale Feliachild’s favorite places, a place where she feels truly at home. Naturally, I hope all of you enjoy being there and getting to meet the older versions of Tonio, Secco and some of the other characters from the above-mentioned story.

Toronto Transition, Day Fifty

Saturday was our fiftieth day here in the big city, and I am definitely beginning to have a sense of things having settled. The apartment is squared away and I’m finding some satisfying routines. I’m starting to feel, for Downward Dog, the first wisps of the deep affection I felt for Open Door Yoga in Vancouver.

The landscapes are still incredibly new, of course. There is no place I can go where I’ve seen and noticed everything. By chance we spent both this past Saturday and the one before walking north up Bathhurst Street . . . and on the most recent jaunt, I saw this, which I’d totally missed the first time.

For some reason, @kormantic, this makes me think of you.

I’m building up my mental maps of the neighborhood, but there’s an enormous novelty factor. It’s exciting, because there’s always something new to see. Touristy, you know? But it also means there’s rarely a moment where I can lapse into walking on auto-pilot.

In other news, my latest session of Creating Universes, Building Worlds has opened up at the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program. (I didn’t announce registration this time simply because class filled so quickly.) I’m looking forward to meeting a new crop of writers and seeing what they write this summer.

Finally, and on a related topic, I’m not doing the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. I love this event, but the things I need to accomplish right now don’t lend themselves well to a Thon.

Last official @ClarionWest #Writeathon Word Count

I admit I was hoping to break 60K by the end of today, but to do that I’d have to be self-abusive and willing to write what–even by my lax first-draft standards–would be unsalvagable drivel. Pages upon pages of “And then McReporterpants did the thingie with the watchamacallit. Theodolite? Look this up later.”

So – today, words that are better than the above:

July 27 2,308 for a grand total of 58,378 words. Here’s what they looked like before I typed them:

Extremely rough draft, with chamomile tea.

(Sponsor me here! Win Naming Rights to an Island on Stormwrack!)

I had a look at the outline and I’m not as far from the end of the plot as I would have guessed. Maybe another 15,000 words until the thing’s Frankensteined together? I’ve never been good at making these kind of guesstimates.

What I did today to celebrate the end of the Write-A-Thon was go to the Urban Tea Merchant and spend two and a half hours imbibing Royal Darjeerling tea, little sandwiches and luxurious baked goodies while scribbling the above words. It was a very enjoyable wrap-up to the whole Write-A-Thon ritual; I commend it to you all.

I plan to keep up the current pace, of course, until I finish the draft. And then go back and rewrite, and rewrite some more, and then some more.

Buffy Rewatch, Write-A-Thon, And Everything

I’m a bit squeezed at the moment, which is why no writing essay yesterday. But here is a link to the latest Buffy rewatch, on Dopplegangland. Go join the fray!

For those of you still considering whether to enter the Stormwrack Name-An-Island contest, which is my giveaway for the Clarion West Write-a-thon, you can walk away with the naming rights to an island nation for a cool $35. Here’s a snippet about Isle of Gold.

“Here we go,” she said. “Isle of Gold.”
“What’s it say?” Bram asked. He had picked up her videocamera and was using it to shoot all the opened books he’d set out.
She read: “Isle of Gold is one of five nations formerly known as the Piracy–”
“Of course. They would have pirates here.”
“A barren rock unfit for agriculture and without much of a fishery, its difficult-to-navigate coastal waters and dense military fortifications led to its becoming the treasury of a shifting alliance of thieves, smugglers and raiders during the decades of warfare that plagued the seas… okay, from the looks of it, a bunch of countries put together a fleet–”
“The Fleet, presumably.”

Latest Clarion West Write-a-Thon word counts (Sponsor me here! Win intangible things!):

July 24 1,150 for a total of 54,054
July 23 1,260 for a total of 52,904
July 22 411 for a total of 51,644
July 21 899 for a total of 51,233
July 20 777 for a total of 50,324
July 19 898 for a total of 49,547
July 18 1,192 for a total of 48,649

Full disclosure: I am about two thirds of the way through the book… I’ll hit 60,000 words before the Write-a-Thon is over, but I won’t have it quite drafted. I’m still pleased with how it’s gone, and planning to hold the same pace until I’ve got the draft done.

All I #amreading is student novels…

My UCLA Extension Writers’ Program course, Novel Writing II, is in full swing and I haven’t yet found a book that goes well with fourteen student novels-in-progress.

I am continuing to write about 1200-1500 words a day on my current novel, as part of my Clarion West Write-A-Thon commitment. The naming contest is still on the go for sponsors. Right now, a donation of any size will get you into the draw for a chance to name a landmark, person or animal species. It’ll take at least $35 to be the biggest donor and thereby get the right to name an island nation. Here’s a snippet about another island, Tiladene:

“Perhaps, too, since you’re an outlander . . . ”
What else had she done? “Yes?”
“Lais Dariach . . . he’s from Tiladene.”
Tiladene. That word was on one of Gale’s coins. “You said that. So?”
“They’re somewhat . . . promiscuous.”
The significant look on Dracy’s face made her want to giggle. “You mean sexually promiscuous?”
“They don’t believe in marriage–in faithfulness.”
“Okay, got it. Your other passenger–”
“Lais.”
Lais is from Friends with Benefits Island.”
Planet of the Polyamorous Sluts, she thought, lightheaded. Didn’t the Star Trek guys used to go somewhere like that for shore leave?
And then: A little shore leave wouldn’t be the worst idea I ever had. And he is cute.

New Words, #Writeathon Words, and a #Buffyrewatch

Over at Tor, I’m up to rewatching “The Zeppo.” How fun is that?

Meanwhile, a recent peek at the Clarion West Write-a-Thon notes (Sponsor me here! Win intangible things!) reveals the following metrics:

July 9th 1,092 words, for a total of 36,155
July 8th 1,017 words
July 7th 1,415 words
July 6th 1,400 words
July 5th 1,147 words

Here’s a snapshot of an island nation you can’t name on Stormwrack, a little place by the name of Tallon:

Home. Royl could make out the drydocks, the riggers, the sailmaker’s quarter. Standing well back from the water was an ugly brick plug of a building where the spellscribes worked, enchanting unbreakable masts, wheels that could hold a course, for a time, without a navigator and figureheads that called out in the fog or the dark, whenever a vessel came within sight of their carved, painted eyes.

The Yards were the one great sight of his birth island, a long stretch of busy industry as far as the eye could see, men and women assembling the bones of cutters like the one he’d been sailing these past thirty years. The ships of the Tall were famous. Many a great ship of the Fleet–Constitution, the seat of the government, came from the Yards, and so did the fastest ship on the Nine Seas, Courser. The poor doomed frigate Gulietta was a Tall’s ship, as was the craft that sank her, the stolen pirateer Bleedlove.

This comes from one of The Gales, a wip currently called “Losing Heart among the Tall.”

I #AmReading, but for how long?

Happy Fourth of July, U.S. Friends!

I am about a third of the way into The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization and have only just reached the first gory corpse in Patrick O’Brian’s Red Rain.

Neither book is completely doing it for me: The House of Wisdom is good, but I seem to be absorbing it in small chunks. I feel predisposed to extreme pickiness, to feeling dissatisfaction with the books I’m tackling. I’m not sure there’s much wrong with them, but we definitely aren’t playing well together.

I’ll note that this all started well before I started busily bustin’ words for my WriteAThon commitment. On which note, some braggage:

Tuesday – 1,464 for a total of 28,887
Monday – 1,146 for a total of 27,423
Sunday- 850 words, total of 26,277
Saturday – 1,280 words total of 25,427

Sponsor me here! Win naming rights to stuff on Stormwrack! The number of donors in the pool tripled this week, but the odds of winning the draw are still excellent!)

Okay, back to my point, which is books. Reading for pleasure. The delights of the written word. What has been working for me, in terms of reading, is some of the stuff on the ever-delightful Longreads–I read a good piece on a tornado that ripped through Moscow, Ohio, and a New Yorker article about how having pots of money (or even thinking about it) can affect a person’s capacity for empathy or generosity.

So yay Longreads, and all that, but I am still struggling to sink into a good book-length work, fiction or non-fiction, that I haven’t already read. Has this ever happened to any of you?

Back in the @ClarionWest #Writeathon Groove

My trip last weekend involved more research than actual words-on-paper but once I’d been home a couple days I was back to the 1K words daily pace. Will that get a draft done by July 27th? I’m not entirely sure I shouldn’t step it up to a daily goal of 1300 or so. What matters is I’m making my way through the plot and I’m happy with how it’s coming together.

I invited the people who came to my readings to pledge support and enter the contest, and I did get some takers. (Folks, I’ll be e-mailing you soon if I haven’t already.) The deal, if you haven’t already heard it, is this: whoever gives the most money gets to name one of the island nations of Stormwrack. Anyone who gives money gets a chance to name a ship, person, city, landmark or plant/animal species… whichever floats your boat.

Here’s a sample, to give you an idea of what the world’s like, from “Among the Silvering Herd.”

Parrish’s voice carried across the plains. “On the island where I grew up, Bendi, we take in those slain by magic. Such murders are doubly tragic, because nothing lasts forever. It is a given that the scrip will be destroyed in time; that the spell will revert and the murdered person will live again. So the victims must be kept safe.”

The pulver was staring at Parrish’s lips.

“There was a young monk once, whose job was to bear corpses from the sea to the monastery of the sleeping dead. But he loved a woman whose farm lay on the route from the port. He’d stopped at her cottage, once, and a grass fire caught near his wagon. The coffin and the woman lying within were burned.”

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Are you in the WriteAThon? How are you doing?