2016 Writing Retrospective & 2017 Looking Forward

My Writing Year of 2016 & Looking Ahead to 2017: This post is only about writing/publishing.

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Cover of Poisoned Blade, featuring a dagger superimposed over a golden circle and the tagline “To win the game, she must fight a war.”

What did I publish in 2016?

In 2016 POISONED BLADE: Book Two of Court of Fives came out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook  (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, USA, should be available worldwide). Court of Fives was published in a trade paperback edition (ebook and audiobook still available). Both audiobooks are narrated by Georgia Dolenz, who I think does a wonderful job making Jes sound determined rather than perky!

COURT OF FIVES has been named to the Tayshas and Lone Star 2017 lists of the Texas Library Association. It’s also on the South Dakota State Library Teen Choice list for 2016-2017 (Middle School). I mention these because library and school support for MG and YA novels is so important.

If you’re a librarian or educator, or have a book club, my publisher has made this Educator’s Guide available (they asked me questions and I answered).

Besides Poisoned Blade my most widely read piece published in 2016 has probably been the 9000 word essay, Writing Women into Epic Fantasy Without Quotas, which appeared on Tor.com in March. The title describes the content.

In a related post, Ken Liu and I published a dialogue at Lit Hub on the related subject of why the idea that it is unrealistic to show women in positions of power in epic fantasy still pops up with sad regularity. We don’t deal with the related claims that no one ever says this, even though examples can be found easily and often in the very threads in which people are claiming that no one ever says this.

Tessa Gratton and I read the Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, by Abdulqasem Ferdowsi, and we wrote each week about the chapter we’d read. We were delighted and enthralled, at times appalled, and occasionally bored by this classic of world literature, and we will never get over the tragic fate of Prince Seyavash. It was such a fantastic project that in 2017 I’m going to do a readalong of the Chinese classic The Water Margin (Outlaws of the Marsh), although Tessa won’t be participating in this one. Charles A Tan and Ken Liu have signed on though, so this is an official thing now. I’ll be posting information on that on December 30.

I started a world-building Wednesday series, which I hope to continue as I have time.

You can find the Poisoned Blade blog tour list here if you’re interested in the posts I wrote surrounding the release of the book or want to revisit them.

2016 Appearances:

RT Convention, Las Vegas, where Black Wolves won the RT Award for Best Epic Fantasy of 2015.

Nebula Weekend (Chicago, IL), where Court of Fives was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (Updraft by Fran Wilde won the award this year–huge congrats to Fran!)

San Diego Comic Con (big)

MidAmericon (fun)

HawaiiCon (an enjoyable relaxacon)

What did I write in 2016?

BURIED HEART (Court of Fives 3, and the final volume of the trilogy) is complete and due for publication on July 25 2017. It is already up for pre-order. Don’t wait!

I wrote a novelette for THE BOOK OF SWORDS, an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois. No publication date set yet. The story is titled “I am a handsome man,” said Apollo Crow and it is set in the Spiritwalker universe.

I wrote a 100 drabble (it was actually 1120 words) as part of a fundraiser for Reading For Pixels, a short piece set in the Jaran universe. I hope to share this in 2017; I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s me looking forward into 2017:

Dead Empire (Black Wolves 2): Yes, I’m working on it. I apologize that it is going so slowly. It’s a large and complicated plot, and I’ve added one more point of view character for a total of six. That is, there are two pov characters in each of the three plot-thread locations. The new pov character has been planned all along so this isn’t me changing my mind about things or going off on a tangent. Not that I can promise that will never happen but be reassured that this isn’t it!

YA proposal, TBA: Working on this and thus can’t announce yet. It’s space opera, not fantasy, and is intended as my YA follow-up to the Court of Fives trilogy. Not a literal narrative follow-up, that is, but a new series in the YA genre.

A 2nd Court of Fives novella: Working on this and can’t announce yet although I can tell you it will be about Bettany. But if you haven’t read Night Flower yet, please do so (if you’re so inclined). Since it functions as a prequel to the Court of Fives series you can read Night Flower with or without having read Court of Fives and/or Poisoned Blade. It works either way. And I’m particularly proud of how I sketched in the world-building in this shorter piece, trying to strike a balance between enough detail to give a strong sense of place and brisk pacing to keep the pages turning.

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The cover of Night Flower has the title superimposed over a white and pink bird of paradise shaped flower.

Short fiction: I have several partially-written Spiritwalker short pieces I would like to finish, a short-short set in the Jaran universe that I owe to Mette Harrison (as part of a fundraiser), and a couple of possible projects I’ve tentatively agreed to write a short story for that don’t yet have contracts (that I know of).

Jaran 5: I have the opening of this written. I’m starting to wonder if I can find a way to write this story as a novella just to get it out there. At the moment I do not know when I will have time because I have other contracts to fulfill. Hermione’s Time Turner would be useful right now.

Other projects: Like almost every writer I know I have a number of potential projects and scraps of openings written, just waiting for that halcyon epoch when I can write everything that is waiting to be written. These include a book set in the Crown of Stars universe, 500 years later, an adult space opera (not set in the Jaran universe), and several YA fantasy ideas in the early stages of development.

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The cover for Buried Heart shows a silver-colored spider super imposed on a pale circle and blood-red background. The tagline (which my fabulous editor came up with) reads: “The end the war, she must choose a side.”

Upcoming 2017 events (this is only what is confirmed so far, not a final list):

ConFusion, Detroit, Michigan (how will I survive January in Detroit? By never leaving the hotel!)

Duke University Story Lab

YAKFest, Keller, TX (Dallas-Fort Worth area)

Sirens Conference, Vail, Colorado

If I missed any 2016 events or publications, or you have any questions about 2016 OR 2017, jump on in to the comments.

Happy New Year, my friends and readers and colleagues. May you find art and support that helps you on your journey. As for me, I will as always try to stay on the road of justice and compassion.

The Reign of Hormozd (Shahnameh Readalong 38)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

This week: The Reign of Hormozd

Synopsis: “Hormozd begins by killing all his advisors, and spends his reign fighting against enemies and then his own ambitious champion Bahram Chubineh.”

TG:  I didn’t hate this section! It started off poorly, with Hormozd making clear what kind of king he was going to be by killing off all his advisors (in pretty imaginative ways)– a bad one. There were no women mentioned at all in the first 45 pages of the section either. Women are just absent entirely (but for the prophecy that Hormozd would have his eyes put out by his wife. Hormozd himself is just one more uninteresting, terrible king, and not very wise on top of that.

HOWEVER, I am very interested in Bahram Chubineh. He’s introduced as a Rostam character, but without the details that made me actively dislike Rostam–there are no magical horses to be mean to.

I almost liked Bahram, even, since he seemed like a pretty cool guy, within the context of this story, who was raised up by the king and lived up to it. I loved the fact that he had his dream about being defeated, but went to war anyway, for the right reasons. He faced terrible odds, and even his own doubt, and bravely led himself to success. (It was disappointing to find out the dream was sent by a magician, instead of being a dream from God

Once he began to fall from grace (at least in the eyes of the narrative and the king), I was even more interested because of the very blatant classism. All the conflict between Bahram and Hormozd can be traced to the fact that Bahram is not nobility, and no matter what great deeds he accomplishes, he still is not good enough to be on level with the king or even his defeated enemy Parmoudeh, and certainly unworthy of Seyavash’s earrings. I’d have been pissed at Parmoudeh, too, if he ignored me like he ignored Bahram. (I wonder what Seyavash would’ve said about Bahram, though.)

We did finally get some women affecting the story, who weren’t (yet) killed in terrible ways, though I have a bad feeling about Bahram’s sister. The others are the old woman astronomer and the Evil Sorceress, who sounds pretty great. Of course, once she put ambition in Bahram’s head, she just sort of vanished….

And speaking of women: DAMN sending Bahram the spindle and women’s clothes was cold. But also speaks to the really dangerous sexism that’s become so apparent in the last hundred or so pages of the Shahnameh. I don’t think that would have worked or even occurred to anyone during Rostam’s time.

I’m glad they’re still hanging on to Seyavash’s belt.

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Gordiyeh advises her brother Bahram not to aspire to the Persian throne. Bahram sits in the center with four people around him, one his sister as she speaks.

KE:  I also quite enjoyed this section although I have to admit that I was thrilled that Hormozd was immediately identified as a king of “evil nature” since I knew it meant I was allowed to cheer for all his bad decisions rather than being meant to admire him as with the awful Kesra. Once Bahram Chubineh was introduced I perceived a likely conflict, and because by now I have grown tired of the repetitive nature of the man problems (and the constant championing of a hierarchical, patriarchal, authoritarian inequality as the most just and right system) I was hoping that it would all kind of fall apart. Of course it doesn’t — it never quite does — but at least there were set backs and entertaining conflict. And we are left with a rare cliffhanger of an ending, with Hormozd blinded (although not by a woman as we were promised, so I’m sad about that).

Like you I was amused by the blatantly sexist gift of the spindle and women’s clothing as an insult. It follows the path of the recent chapters with respect to women (I can’t see this as being done in an earlier section; it would just have seemed childish).

This section also has a sense of realism in the ways wars are fought or avoided. At first many people are marching on Persia but Hormozd’s advisors figure out how to deal with each one except Savad Shah. The long standing enmity toward the Turks remains. I guess the Chinese Turks aren’t really the Chinese? I wonder if they are the eastern steppe tribes? I’m not sure. It would be interesting to find an article that tries to identify who these various groups might have represented, especially since the place names are consistent.

But my favorite episode in this section was with Parmoudeh (not even his dad’s favorite son; a classic case of the younger son being the favorite and thus crown prince, while the less favored son manages to survive the catastrophe). Because I am petty, I enjoyed his petty treatment of Bahram Chubineh trying to get back into his good graces by ignoring him and refusing all his efforts to make nice. Parmoudeh’s final comment “Go back, you have tired yourself out enough” is classic.

Next week: The Reign of Khosrow Parviz

Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 2, The Story of Darab and the Fuller, Sekander’s Conquest of Persia, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 1, The Reign of Sekander Pt. 2, The Death of Rostam, The Ashkanians, The Reign of Ardeshir & ShapurThe Reign of Shapur Zu’l Aktaf, The Reign of Yazdegerd the Unjust, The Reign of Bahram Gur, The Story of Mazdak, The Reign of Kesra Nushin-Ravan

Sekander’s Conquest of Persia (Shahnameh Readalong 27)

Join Tessa Gratton and me as we read the Shahnameh by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. We’re using the Dick Davis translation (Penguin Classics).

If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out this  AMAZING post by Rachel W in which she works out the complicated genealogy of our main and secondary characters.

This week we are again skipping over The Death of Rostam and continuing on with Sekander’s Conquest of Persia. Tessa and I, with the assistance of the able Renay of blog Lady Business and podcast The Fangirl Happy Hour, recorded a 30 minute conversation about our feelings about The Death of Rostam. We will post that for your listening pleasure as soon as Renay has edited it to her satisfaction so soon. Meanwhile, we forge onward.

This week: Sekander’s Conquest of Persia

Synopsis: “Sekandar invades Persia and defeats the king Dara in a series of epic battles. Dara is murdered by his own advisors, allowing Sekandar the entire imperial throne.”

TG: This section was very entertaining, and surprisingly heart-wrenching: first of all for how much I liked Sekandar as a character. He has a bit of the trickster in him, for how he goes to Dara’s court in disguise in order to judge Dara for himself and gather intel on the actual extent of Dara’s army.

Second of all, for the tension inherent in Dara and Sekandar being half-brothers. I didn’t expect them to find out, but I knew, and it stressed me out because of how tragically all previous episodes involving secret family members have gone. There WAS a moment I thought Dara might figure it out…when he recognized the disguised Sekandar as having farr and surely being from the same famous bloodline. (It was interesting a ruling king would admit another king might have the farr–seems dangerous to me, like it legitimized Sekandar’s claim and invasion, though I suppose one cannot deny farr.)

It was a great bit of story-telling in the very beginning how the narrative puts Dara and Sekandar in parallel but opposing roles as rulers: Dara rejects advisors when he takes the crown, but the first thing we learn about Sekandar is that he listens to the wise counselor Arestalis (I assume this is the same personage as Aristotle). It not only held up the brotherhood tension, but also put into place the characterization that neither of them is a BAD king. Though Dara is hot-tempered and arrogant, he treats his army very well and gives money to the poor. Sekandar seems well-loved, though we have less textual evidence of why so far.

Neither fights initially for entirely selfish or egotistical reasons: Sekandar doesn’t want to pay a tax for which he gets nothing in return, which I have sympathy for, and Dara is putting down a rebellion. Though Dara should’ve given up earlier for the sake of his army and people, and Sekandar seems genuine in his desire to resolve their differences peacefully, I can’t really imagine a true son of Dara’s bloodline surrendering. It’s not in their nature, as we’ve seen over 450 pages of story.

The death scene was very poignant to me — because I genuinely enjoy Sekandar for his trickster qualities and chivalry, and also because I’m never taught to dislike Dara. The image of Dara’s dying head on Sekandar’s thigh will stay with me, and I’m glad Dara’s traitorous advisors were executed. “It seemed his skin would split with sorrow” is an amazing line, as is “my part in the fires of life is now merely smoke.”

A final note: Though not yet as beloved to me as Seyavash, I feel like I’m really getting a solid idea as to Sekandar’s personality and I love what I see. He seems like a combination of the Persian heroic/kingly temperament and the only good parts of Rostam (his passion and willingness to play the trickster). Maybe if Zal had become a warrior king instead of a sorcerer he’d have been just like this. HERE’S HOPING SEKANDAR DOESN’T LET ME DOWN.

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painting of Sekander weeping as he cradles the head of the dying Dara on his lap

KE: What a fascinating retelling of the story of Alexander the Great. First, I can’t help but note how in this version of the story the Persians claim him as one of their own people, thus giving a justification for his conquest of what is clearly the mightiest nation in the region at that time. Because Sekander is also the son of a Persian king (according to this origin story) then it’s also a form of destiny that he becomes king.

The history follows reasonably closely too, including the reference to Aristotle. Alexander’s trip to Egypt is mentioned. Three major battles are listed, and Dara (like Darius) is struck down by one of his own supporters and left to die. Alexander executed the man who killed Darius and afterward claimed that Darius had passed the crown to him. Also there is a mention of all the negotiations over the families of the court, which is a major part of the Alexander history/legend.

I also really enjoyed the characterization of Sekander here. He has all the typical attributes given to kings yet with that playful or trickster or slightly reckless attribute that causes him to pretend to be his own envoy in a really wonderful scene. The characterization of Dara also appealed to me, strangely enough. He had an immediacy and roundedness in being described as “young, fiery-tempered, quick to take offense, and his heart and tongue were hard enough to blunt a sword.” Probably this personality type is a little too appealing to me in the narrative sense, to my shame. When he raises the pay of his troops I have to wonder if this is a play to make sure the army remains loyal to him while the nobles (often jockeying for power in the court) can’t undermine him. But that’s just me. I mean, this is the stuff that epics are made of.

Like you, I was surprised that Dara and Sekander were always respectful and courteous to each other and never fell into what I can only call the dick-waving contest of, say, Esfandyar and Rostam’s famous interactions. In fact, they acknowledge they are related in the very touching death scene.

One last curiosity: Sekander’s army is described as flying “the beloved cross . . . embroidered in red” on its banners (together with a bird). Is this a reference to Christianity? In which case, an element out of time. I don’t know.

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Next week: Either The Death of Rostam podcast OR part one of The Reign of Sekander

 Previously: Introduction, The First Kings, The Demon King Zahhak, Feraydun and His Three Sons, The Story of Iraj, The Vengeance of Manuchehr, Sam & The Simorgh, The Tale of Zal and Rudabeh, Rostam, the Son of Zal-Dastan, The Beginning of the War Between Iran and Turan, Rostam and His Horse Rakhsh, Rostam and Kay Qobad, Kay Kavus’s War Against the Demons of Manzanderan, The Seven Trials of Rostam, The King of Hamaveran and His Daughter Sudabeh, The Tale of Sohrab, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 1, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 2, The Legend of Seyavash Pt. 3, Forud the Son of Seyavash, The Akvan Div, Bizhan and Manizheh, The Occultation of Kay Khosrow, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 1, Rostam and Esfandyar Pt. 2, The Story of Darab and the Fuller

Midamericon/Worldcon Kansas City SCHEDULE

I am attending Worldcon Kansas City aka Midamericon.

Here’s my schedule. Find me! Say hi! I will have bookmarks and postcards and intend to give them away. I will also have a few copies of The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal, with its 29 black and white Julie Dillon illustration (she’s won the Hugo twice!), and I just might be carrying around a copy of the brand new just released August 16 POISONED BLADE which I will give away to the first person who comes up to me and says, “Kiss off, Adversary.”

SCHEDULE:

FRIDAY (August 19):

Friday 11:00 – 12:00, ROOM 3501B (Kansas City Convention Center)

BEYOND Fantasy Creation for the Bold

A reprisal of Sasquan’s 2015 worldbuilding panel dialogue between Kate Elliott and Ken Liu. This year the topics will include: respecting the intelligence of people of the past if you take inspiration from history for your fantasy world; cultural change and transformation as catalysts for conflict and plot; power dynamics and differentials between groups as the engines for ethics and institutions; mapping ethnicity in a secondary world; and more!

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Friday 14:00 – 15:00, ROOM 2207 (Kansas City Convention Center)

A Cast of Thousands and A Unity of Plots

How do you write a novel that features many, many characters with parallel/divergent plot lines that must be woven together seamlessly? How do you avoid plotting yourself into a corner? What tools, tips, techniques, research approaches, academic disciplines, etc. are useful? How do you leverage the knowledge of experts? How do you plan for and execute multiple plot lines?

Kate Elliott, Ginjer Buchanan (M), Charlaine Harris, Scott Lynch, Mr Robert Silverberg

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Tachyon Publications Book Signing

Friday 1515 – 1545 (Tachyon table in the Dealers Room) COME BY! Say hi!

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Friday 17:00 – 18:00, ROOM 2209 (Kansas City Convention Center)

Epic Fantasy

A look at the modern successors of J.R.R. Tolkien and what they are bringing to the quest.

Sarah Beth Durst, Kate Elliott (M), Tessa Gratton, Anna Kashina, Sharon Lee

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SATURDAY:

KAFFEEKLATSCHE

(you have to sign up for this in advance; 12 people only — basically we sit around a table and you can ask me anything)

Saturday 1300 – 1400; ROOM 2211 (KKCC)

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Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, ROOM 2504B Readings (Kansas City Convention Center)

Magazine Group Reading – Apex

Our Magazine Group Reading Series continues with a special group reading that features authors from Apex Magazine: Jason Sizemore (M), Ms Rachel Swirsky, Jason Sanford, Kate Elliott, Foz Meadows, Adam-Troy Castro

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Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, 2504B (Kansas City Convention Center)

Revealing the Past Through Alternate Histories

We think of historical fantasy and alternate history as revisioning the past: but can they be used, instead, to reveal it? How does sci-fi and fantasy enable writers to tell stories that make readers think differently about our history? What are the histories that we choose to tell ourselves?

Eric Flint (M), Alan Smale, Walt Boyes, Kate Elliott, Esther Friesner

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SUNDAY

Sunday 11:00 – 12:00 Autographing Space

AUTOGRAPHING

(please come if you can; I’ll have bookmarks and postcards, and I’ll write something special in your book. Or if you don’t have a book for me to sign, I’ll sign a bookmark!)

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Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, Room 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)

Sense8

This Netflix original by J .Michael Straczinski and the Wachowski sisters has fallen under the radar. There is nonetheless a devoted and growing fan base, especially among politically active viewers. Panelists examine the groundbreaking representations of gender, sexuality, race, religion, and identity in the show while also challenging its US-centric interpretations of other countries. *Spoilers Abound* for non-viewers, but why not come see what you’ve been missing?

Kate Elliott (M), Mark Oshiro, Meg Frank, Sunil Patel

That’s it! (isn’t that enough?)

Short Story Audio Drama with Redshift

The audio drama for Kate Elliott’s short story, “My Voice is in My Sword” premiered yesterday on Redshift!

Originally published in the anthology Weird Tales from Shakespeare, the short fiction story also appeared in print in Apex Magazine: “It is said that Macbeth is a cursed play, but will the curse follow an acting troupe to a distant world?”  Apex has partnered with Redshift Audio productions to bring sci-fi audio dramatizations to life.

You can listen to “My Voice is in My Sword” at Redshift or download the podcast on iTunes.

 

Court of Fives 3 first draft done! Also: WorldBuilding Wednesday

Two days ago I turned in the first draft of Court of Fives 3 to my editors at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

I’m so excited that I had to put that news in BOLD.

My editors will read it and then the revision process begins. Meanwhile I’m resuming work on Black Wolves 2, about which I am extremely enthusiastic because it is filled with Stuff I can’t wait to write.

However, I am exhausted. In the interest of promoting creative health and minimizing my skate along the thin ice of burnout, I’m taking the rest of April off from writing my Worldbuilding Wednesday posts. I’ll resume in May.

The Shahnameh Reading Project will continue every week, and if you haven’t joined us yet, it’s not too late to start because this classic of world literature just keeps getting better and better!

Giveaway Winner & YASH Recap

Thank you to everyone who participated in the YA Scavenger Hunt! Make sure to check out the final results for each team, including my team, the Purple Team!

Congratulations to CALLY H., the winner of my bonus giveaway for a Court of Fives audiobook, narrated by Georgia Dolenz!

CoF-coverAn additional thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway and helped make the YASH such a success. For those of you interested, here are the results of the poll you all answered for the giveaway:

In my secret heart of adventure I want to:
A) Study magic in secret while pretending to be the responsible one – 82%
B) Be a kickass athlete – 15%
C) Rage against the machine – 2%
D) Always be the drama queen – 1%

That was more of a landslide than I expected. Special shout out to the proud drama queens! Don’t forget to keep an eye out later this year for the Fall 2016 YA Scavenger Hunt at the YASH main blog. Good job, everyone!

Podcast: Fantasy and Worldbuilding with Kate Elliott, Helen Lowe, and Courtney Schafer

Enjoy the latest podcast from The Skiffy and Fanty Show, in which Kate Elliott, Helen Lowe, and Courtney Schafer join Paul Weimer in a special discussion of what makes their fantasy novels (Black Wolves, Daughter of Blood, and Labyrinth of Flame respectively) tick, from worldbuilding, language, style and much more.

The Skiffy and Fanty Show is a Hugo-nominated podcast that covers anything and everything related to the science fiction and fantasy genres, with commentary on controversial topics and news in literature, film, and interviews with authors, scientists, and filmmakers. Their current theme is “Women and Non-Binary in SF/F.”

Geography Is Destiny (Worldbuilding Wednesday 8)

World Building Wednesday: A series of short posts in which I write about my personal theory of how I approach world building, specifics of things to consider, and practical suggestions on how to use world building in the text. This is not a prescriptive program. I don’t think people must do things the way I do. I talk about my process because it is what I know. That’s it. Short bites: long tail.

Few things throw me out of a story as much as physical geography that egregiously makes no sense. If a writer is going to set a story in a made up world, I think it behooves the writer to make the physical geography obey known and understood rules — unless the point of the story is that it specifically does not.

Physical geography looks the way it does for a reason. Do basic research. Consider wind patterns, ocean currents, plate tectonics, climate zones, types of vegetation.

For example, if there is a mountain range and prevailing winds, one side of the mountain range will likely have a rain shadow and be drier. Islands often have windward and leeward sides.

Our earth’s mantle is made up three general types of rock, each formed under different conditions: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. If your civilization is building great monuments out of stone, think about where that stone might be coming from.

I’m not saying you have to work this all out in detail. And if you do, you don’t have to put it all in the book. But don’t have people growing water intensive crops in a desert region, unless you have shown how this society has extensive irrigation systems and how they are getting and storing water. Don’t have people growing cold intolerant crops in an climate zone where it snows during the winter, unless you have greenhouses. Don’t drop a Cascades mountain range equivalent into the story and place a massive deciduous forest on either side.

What kinds of resources do different regions have? There’s a reason coal is found in certain areas and not in others. Limestone quarries don’t exist everywhere, nor does marble. Salt can be panned or mined but in different places. There’s a reason for all that.

If you have a moon equivalent to Earth’s moon, then you will have tides and these will affect shorelines and harbors. If you have multiple moons or no moon, consider the consequences.

Listen, I get things wrong, and I’m sloppy at times. If you don’t want to create a geography out of whole cloth, it is to my mind a totally acceptable short cut to use Earth’s actual geography as a template, lifting out pieces, altering shorelines (within reason), or moving things around in a logical way.

The importance of physical geography doesn’t stop with the map itself.

People in traditional societies really know and understand their local geography — they know the landmarks and how to get around — and they know their local ecology because their survival depends on it.

Farmers were not ignorant primitive people grubbing helplessly in the dirt. Famine and crop disease were real disasters, and all too common, but any cursory examination of horticultural and agricultural practices in ancient societies shows that people did their best with the knowledge they had, and were often ingenious in how they adapted the water and soil resources at hand.

Fantasy societies where there is no apparent food source except an unseen supermarket is a pet peeve of mine: agriculture is crucial. Even when the story isn’t about that, I think writers ought at the least to know where the food people eat comes from. Agriculture will be the subject of another post.

Don’t assume your every day locals are ignorant about the physical world around them just because they don’t have a university education. I once read the opening of a piece of fiction set in an archipelago. An outside academic arrives in the islands to study the winds. There’s a throwaway line in which the academic asks the locals about the winds and they don’t know anything, they just have superstitious myths they’ve handed down from generation to generation. I stopped reading right there. Because it is the locals who are going to know, even if they couch their understanding in non academic terms. Their lives depend on their knowledge of the winds, tides, currents, and seasonal cycles.

I live in Hawaii. I race outrigger canoes, both sprint races and long distance. The most famous long distance race runs from the island of Molokai to the island of Oahu.

When you race long distance in an OC-6 (a canoe that seats six people), you go out with nine to twelve paddlers because your crew will switch out at intervals over the race (which may run from 24 – 42 miles). For example, you may paddle for thirty minutes, jump out of the canoe as another person pulls themselves in to the seat you just vacated, and swim to the escort boat (where your coach and extra paddlers wait). After half an hour in the escort boat you may jump into the ocean and, as the canoe races up beside you (and other floating paddlers ready to make the change), switch in again.

When you cross the open ocean, for example the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu whose maximum depth is 2300 feet, there are multiple factors to take in to account, including:

1) the open ocean swells, their direction and height and frequency.

2) the winds — how strong, where are they coming from.

3) the ocean currents — which direction are they pulling, how fast.

4) the topography of the ocean floor itself, especially important when you are close to the shore.

These conditions change every day.

So when you are racing from Molokai to Oahu, the straight line, the shortest distance, may be the fastest route but maybe because of the winds, swells, and currents, it might be better to take a slightly longer route that swings farther out. You can win or lose based on whether you took the best route for that day in those conditions.

Many (not all) people today live a step or three removed from needing an intimate knowledge of their physical environment. We are insulated in so many ways. But in a fantasy setting it is probable that your characters will not be–and should not be.

So when you think about world building, think of an ocean-going race as your metaphor:

1. The straight line isn’t always the best path. Don’t make geographical choices based on novels you’ve read or from a generic and disconnected idea of the physical setting. Remember that people really live in this world and must react and respond to its conditions.

2. Know your environments. Remember that distinct areas have local ecologies, and that societies develop within these local ecologies as adaptations.

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I’ll discuss culture ecology in April, but for the month of March I plan to take a detour into narrative maps and tropes, including a guest post on tropes by the redoubtable Juliet McKenna.

Next week: Narrative Maps

Previously: Introduction, The Flowering of an Image, Inductive to Deductive, Image to Idea: A Practical Idea, Deductive or Inductive: A Guest Perspective (Aliette de Bodard), The Map as Theory, Geography is Destiny

Official Kate Elliott Bookstore Launch

The Kate Elliott bookstore is open for business!

In an effort to clear out some closet space that is currently taken up by way more author copies than I have room for, my stalwart assistant Cheri and I are launching a bookstore on my blog.

You can browse the categories and the individual books and box sets, from the Jaran series and Highroad Trilogy, favorites like the Spiritwalker trilogy and Crown of Stars series, and new releases like Court of Fives and Black Wolves.

ALL BOOKS WILL BE SIGNED and can be personalized if you want. I’ll also include a lovely postcard of the fabulous The Very Best of Kate Elliott cover with a fantastic illustration by Julie Dillon and excellent cover design by Elizabeth Story.

Be sure to check out the DISCOUNT section as well for special sale items: These are mostly books that have some yellowing or discoloration on the edges/spines but are otherwise in acceptable condition. A few have minor tears.

For those purchasing internationally I am sorry to have to mention (as you already know) that international postage for packages is obscenely expensive. But we will mail internationally; just note the postage costs. Because this is a new venture for me there may be some delays and bumps for the first month, but the goal is to send out a shipment every week.

A quick note about the bookstore: My business is writing, not bookselling. The money from some of the few complete sets will go to Partners in Health, a respected organization that builds access to health care in impoverished communities from the ground up. The rest will go to pay my assistant.

I can never thank my readers enough. You are honestly the best, and I hope you know that. My thanks for your continued support.