Creating an SF/F Modern World

My good friend June is the best worldbuilder I’ve ever met. I’ve seen her create a world on Friday afternoon, discuss it with friends that night and have a friend finish a story in that world on Sunday evening. She creates playable gaming worlds on the fly. She’s amazing. Everything I know about worldbuilding, I’ve learned from her.

In her estimation, the hardest worldbuilding there is in SF/F fiction is creating an SF/F modern world. Why? It’s a little complicated.

In order to have a believable world in fiction, you’ve got to present it well enough and have it be realistically consistent enough for the reader to forget they’re reading and buy into what you present.

When you’re writing a full Science Fiction or Fantasy novel and you’re inventing everything, that’s not so hard. I mean, if you’re writing about a world you totally created, who’s to say that culture doesn’t work like that? If your book takes place on a planet orbiting twin suns, there’s scientific theory to deal with, but who’s to say what the culture and society would be but the author? As long as you put things together in a way that reads interesting and consistent, you can pretty much do what you want.

Now bring the story into the real world and everyone thinks they know how this world works.

And they do, as far as their perception goes. And that’s where it gets complicated.

Everyone’s view point is colored by their own experiences. Someone who grew up rich in New York is going to have a different experience of the same culture than someone who lived homeless in the same city. Someone growing up middle class in Chicago is going to have yet a different experience. A white middle class person is going to have a different experience than a person of color in the same city. Growing up during the Reagan Era will give someone a different experience than someone who was young adult, an adult or a retiree at that time. Everyone’s understanding of the same thing is different.

Because of the fundamental human fact, the writer still has to do all the work of getting the story’s definition of the real world into the book well enough that the reader forgets their own experience and biases to fall into the created one.

This can be especially challenging if your story revolves around some aspect of society (government, military, police, elderly, race) being either glorified of vilified. Depending on the reader’s experience, that might make it an easier, or highly difficult, sell.

When adding SF/F elements, it becomes a delicate balancing act to maintain the believablility of the real world. After all, if all you’re adding are little touches that are difficult to dramatize and/or doesn’t really impact the story, why go to the work of putting it in? Gotta make it big enough to justify the effort.

One famous way of doing this is to make the this easier is to keep the Other a secret to the real world or a separated world, at least at the start. (This doesn’t include cross-over stories where characters from the real world suddenly find themselves in the other world. The real world is a frame, not the main story world.) Depending on your story, that can world marvelously. There’s many wonderful stories set like that.

However, when your story demands that it be our world with other elements, you have to make a lot of decisions. What’s necessary for your story to happen? What’s your geek points about an SF/F modern world that makes it worth writing? How much do you want to stay the same?
And know that, no matter what you decide, people will hate it. Even if they love your story, there will be people who hate what you decided to keep and what you decided to change. But, then, that’s true for anything about writing, so you should be prepped for it.

For the Magical Crimes Unit, it’s a geek point that it takes place in this world (circa 2000 CE), but magic has always been. There are other races of humans (dwarves, trolls, goblins, werewolves, merefolk, etc.) that have always been. They are citizens. They have jobs. They pay taxes. And some of them have magic which are unique to them.

But if magic always is, why is there technology? My answer: Because magic isn’t cost-effective to use instead of technology. Just because magic is known and the vast majority of people have talent with it, it doesn’t mean it’s the answer to everything. Just like being able to create art, or comprehending mathematics or science, being able to close a sale or win friends is something that everyone can do, people have varying levels of talent and interest in doing it. Magic is no different in this world.

This allows me to keep much of the world we live in the same, but it also should subtly clue the reader into a base fact in this series: Magic will never be the solution to the conflict. It will often be part of the conflict, but it will never be the solution. Magic doesn’t exist to make it easier for the hero. It exists to make the conflict more interesting to read (and fun to write).

As for social implications of having other races there, the impacts of these facts on history, well, we’ll see what points will impact the story I’m telling. I’m a true believer in not creating more than what affects the story at that moment in the story.

Thus far, people have liked the way I’ve mixed the real world and the fantastic, so I have some confidence in going forward as I have.

What challenges or successes have you had in creating a modern-day fantasy/science fiction world?


Writing is Frustrating

Everyone has their own style of getting words out of their head. I used to say “onto paper”, but that’s not generally how I work anymore, though occasionally I still do it. Anyway, everyone has their own way of doing it.

Some very fortunate people can sit down and start writing at the beginning, go all the way through to the end and get a first draft.

I used to be fortunate. I’m not anymore. But, then, I wasn’t usually thrilled with what I came up with when I was done, so I guess I wasn’t that fortunate after all.

Nowadays, I write a few hundred, maybe even a few thousand words. Then I realize something I forgot, so I go back and rewrite a portion. Then I write a bit more, then I realize I’d started everything too early or too late, so I have to write the more correct beginning. Which usually requires some amount of rewriting of the previous beginning so it works. Assuming I can use the previous beginning, of course.

Then I get to write some more, before I realize I’d forgotten this particular scene bit, so I have to rewrite again. Then I can write some more. Maybe a lot more. It differs.

At some point, a major character will suddenly *CLICK* in my head. That’s how I discover characters, by writing them in context, you see. Then I have to go back to the beginning and rewrite everything having to do with that character, which usually impacts everything else around it. Hopefully, I don’t have to change the main plot points a lot in that rewrite. Hopefully.

Repeat that step for every major character that suddenly goes *CLICK*–which could be every major character.

Adjust that step for every world/plot realization that happens because, yeah, sometimes my creative mind will just throw things into my conscious mind that make me stop and be amazed. However, there are many times when I go back to rewrite to set that up and discover that all the set-up is already there, I just hadn’t been conscious of it before that moment.

I’ve learned to trust my creative mind, but it’s not very good at giving me these things at the START of the process. Which is why it’s a step or two forward, then go back, then forward, then back, then forward some more.

It’s a highly frustrating process, I admit. But it creates good stories, so I deal with the frustration as best I can, day to day.

Though I do think back when writing was straightforward, just dumping words on the page and miss the ease of it. What’s the phrase? No pain, no gain? Apparently that applies to writing too.

The World of The Magical Crimes Unit

My shorthand summary of the world is: “A magical Pittsburgh where there’s trolls under all the bridges, werewolves are your neighbors and many goblins are lawyers.”

It’s catchy, but when writing, there’s more to creating the world than that.

Sure, those things exist, but are they considered people or not? If they are people there’s so many hows to consider: How are they people? How are they accepted and dealt with? How does that change the modern world we live in today? How has that impacted the history of the world? How do I handle people’s natural racism and prejudice?

Considering I want to pretty much write the modern world with magic, I had to think about how this would change things, yet allow it to stay fundamentally the same as the Pittsburgh and the US that we know.

Quick answer: Yes, they are people. They’re part of the Human Race. They are not Homo Sapiens Sapiens, of course, but they are human. The human race has actual other races in this world.

Which makes the root of racism much more valid than it is in real life. They’re not Homo Sapiens Sapiens, after all, as modern humans are. Humanity doesn’t have to look for excuses to feel superior than others in skin tone, religion or region of origin. Racism is actually against other races in this world.

Simple facts blow big holes in my mind every time.

Now I admit, I’m not the fastest worldbuilder I know, but I have learned a great deal from one of the best worldbuilders I know. It’s taken a while, and I think I’ve gotten the kernels correct, so it’s time to start growing the world beyond the first few written stories.

Since I brought it up, these books aren’t about racism. That topic is one of the hot buttons in today’s news, so it will come to mind. In this fictional Pittsburgh, USA, racism is the same as it is today, but different. A few people out there are rabid racists against one or more race that isn’t theirs. and are generally loud and obnoxious about it. There are stereotypes that exist about all human races that are just accepted without general questions (and, yes, Hollywood hasn’t helped those matters there too–no reason to change that). But the average person just deals with people as people and has problems with individuals, not entire races. That’s my experience in real life, so it’s translated into the world.

If you would like to read more about the world, the races of Human, and have me answer questions, consider patroning me at Patreon.

Running on Empty

I don’t know how many others have said or felt that there’s only so much energy for any given story. And when that runs out, it’s damnedably hard to keep going without some kind of motivation.

I’ve hit that point with Legend’s End.

Now, I’ve hit that point with this particular book many times. I’ve struggled more with this particular book than I have with any other book I’ve written. It’s to be expected because after many decades of doing things wrong, I decided to not stay in my comfortable writing ruts. This has been a big experiment book, trying to discover what’s natural and what’s been piled on during all the years of “how to write” nonsense. Frustration and problems were expected.

And those frustrations and problems were overcome. Writing this book has gone in lots of stops and starts as I figured things out. What works, what kinda works, what really sucks. Some of the how-to-write stuff is helpful. Most is not. To some extend, I’ll probably be figuring that out for the rest of my creative life.

But this, this is different. I’m probably 1-2000 words from finishing this book. Probably about 3-6 scenes, at most. And it’s like pulling hen’s teeth to put words down on it.

Sitting here, staring at the file, I realized what the problem is now.

I’m damned tired of making decisions for this story.

That’s what writing is, after all. Making decisions and putting that into words. Then explore the ramifications of said decisions. Then make more decisions, and keep going and going and going until all the questions have been answered and there’s no more decisions to be made. Everything’s tied up for this story. Yeah, there might be a sequel, but that’s a different story.

Now I’m to the point where there’s not many decisions left. Yeah, I’ll press on and get it finished. Yes, I will put proper consideration into it. But at this point in time, at the heat of the climax, these decisions have normally been no-brainers. Obvious. Natural.

As I type this, I wonder if I’ve done something horribly wrong in the telling of this story that I’m to this point and it’s not natural or obvious. And, if I have screwed up, dear ghods, what will I do then with this book? It’s not something I want to think about. And when I finish the book, I’ll have to look at that possibility. Even more, I’ll run the risk of not seeing it myself and discover it only when my betas read it.

So maybe this is a tired born of procrastination–something else I’m not accustomed to in my writing. Ah, the joys and wonders of learning something new.

World Building Confessions

The biggest confession I have about world building is–I despise it. I loathe it. There are not enough words to say how much I dislike world building. It is far from one of my natural writing talents. I have spent decades sucking Gibraltar through a bar straw with world building.

That said, the only thing I really want to write is Fantasy. Which means I had to find a way to make world building work for me.

The first option is the obvious one: Take an Earth culture and adapt it.

Simple, right? Well, it doesn’t work without more thinking about it. Pre-Christian Ireland (one of my favorite eras and cultures) is that way because of the land, the weather, the resources, the people who settled there and what they valued. Let’s change something simple, like giving them coinage instead of a barter system. Yes, it makes them not-Pre-Christian Ireland, but if that’s the only thing I change, then the world doesn’t feel right.

And it doesn’t feel right, basically, because I don’t want to do the work and ask questions to make it right. So what I get is a fallow area that doesn’t contribute to the story.

In Fantasy, the world has to be the richest source of story growth because that’s where everything fantastic comes from.

And story growth is things that sparks questions. You’ve got to ask the questions. You’ve got to follow the logic of those questions and see if that’s where you want it to go. Find a variety of answers. See what grows the best story.

But I didn’t care for many years. I hated world building, so I did as little of it as I possibly could. I mean, I didn’t actually have to do the stuff I hated, right?

Yeah. I was self-delusional for a long, long time. Decades.

Then I met someone who not only became my best friend, but she is the most naturally gifted world builder I’ve ever personally known. I’ve seen her sit for a half-hour and create an entire world that four people can role play in and it all hangs together perfectly. I envied her that, but it all worked out. She couldn’t plot for spit and envied me my natural talent there.

Over the years of our friendship, she taught me some basic world building tips that have improved my stories massively. I still dislike world building intensely, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can do some good work without feeling like I’m flaying my soul during the process.

What I realized is that I was uncomfortable coming up with all those questions I mentioned before. The questions that enrich the world, which affects the concepts leading to characters, conflict and all the elements of story. I was uncertain that I would be asking the right questions. I was afraid of doing it wrong.

It took a long time, years, for me to figure out that there aren’t any wrong questions. There aren’t really right questions. All the questions are for is to get me to think about things outside of whatever’s comfortable. Once I accepted that, I can’t stop myself from coming up with questions now.

Her tip? Find a “world feel” and use that as the ruler for all other ideas.

Sounds both simple and hard, which it is.

Because a “world feel” can be anything. “Magical Pittsburgh” is the world feel for my series of short stories. As I mentioned in the previous post, Crimson and Crystal. is the world feel for my MIP, Legend’s End.

So how does that work? Making a song into a world feel.

Basically, it boils down to: I hope to make people feel about this world the way I feel when I hear this song.

I find the song haunting, mystic and beautiful. It’s filled with longing, hope, and a touch of despair. There’s no confusion, it’s all very clear, very right there.

Now the questions start–what kind of culture makes me think of mystic, beauty and haunting? Or at least two out of three? What can I do to add the missing element? How do I keep it all clear? What attitudes, traditions or plot elements will lend the longing, hope and despair? Is there any way I can tie some of those elements into other areas of the world?

Once I have a firm sense of what the world feel is, when something comes up while writing, I can see if it fits. Weird things will come out of my imagination. I’ll be writing and they’re just be there. If they fit, they stay in and flavor the story. Often, they’ll become more important as I keep writing, lending itself perfectly to a plot twist, act as a foreshadow, or just giving real motivation for a character to do something.

Figuring out how to ask questions has opened the world building for me. I’ve actually gotten compliments on the world building in my recent works, so there’s come validation. It feels good not to be fumbling so badly anymore.

Ideas Become a Story Seed

Ideas come constantly and some stay for ages before they’re actually used. The novel I’m working to finish now is the result of long-lasting ideas coming together at the same time. So set the Way-Back Machine and let’s trace how things came together for Legend’s End.

Back in 1979, I started attending SF/F conventions and discovered filk. (That’s not a typo anymore, it’s what SF/F music is called.). One the songs I heard and loved was Crimson and Crystal by Cynthia McQuillan. Even simply played on a guitar and sung, it was haunting. Unlike many of the other songs I loved, I didn’t recognize a book or movie that might’ve inspired it. I determined to write a book someday that song might be filk of.

Fast forward to 1986 when Julia Ecklar recorded Divine Intervention, going outside the traditional voice and guitar and using a fuller orchestral experience and her own awesome voice. While the album contains many of her own fantastic songs, track three is Crimson and Crystal. The orchestration magnified all my feelings for that song and renewed my determination to write something inspired by it. But I’d also matured enough as a writer to know I didn’t have anything at the time.

So the idea went into the eternally simmering pot in the back of my mind.

When 2000 brought the launch of the Xmen movie franchise, one of my favorite fandoms got a kick in the pants. Hugh Jackman brought one of my favorite comic book characters to life: Wolverine. His is a different interpretation from the simplistic quasi-psychopath in the books, which worked and I liked it.

Talking to a good writer friend some years later, she told me about a world she’d invented where immortals had been created in ancient times, so I decided to translate the movie Logan into her world and we started role playing there. Over many RPs and several years, that character came into his own and, as I’m wont to do, I wanted to write a book about him.

The world he “grew up in” belonged to my friend, so that wouldn’t work, so I had to find a world, a plot, a story, that he would fit into. In 2006, I decided officially participate in NaNo at the writer’s site I was active in at that time. I decided to grab my Logan-clone and do something with him. But I needed at least a world and a conflict idea to pull it off.

I guess I kinda turned the simmering pot up to boil, in a manner of speaking. I wanted something to bubble up and I was open to whatever ideas it might toss at my consciousness.

On the commute home on day, I popped in Divine Intervention and started singing along. And up came Track 3. Something twinged inside my head, but I couldn’t grasp it. I put the song on repeat and played it the entire trip. I put headphones on at home and kept repeating the song over and over and over.

My first thought was that my immortal character could be the singer of the song–he would have a unique relationship with Lady Death, after all. But that wasn’t it. It just wasn’t it.

What it was hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks: This wasn’t a character or a plot or anything, this song was the World. (More on that in another post, probably the next one.)

Then things started coming together, the feel of the fantasy, the type of magics I’d be working with, societies, and such.

But I still didn’t have a conflict. Immortal vs. Lady Death just didn’t cut it.

And here’s where myth mugging came into play. Y’know how I said that I get a zillion ideas in my breakfast cereal? Well, one popped out of “nowhere” to smack me between the eyes:

What would happen if a reborn king is murdered on the eve of saving his country?

Y’know, like Arthur is Britain’s reborn king–there, waiting somewhere, to be called to save his country when it’s in dire need. What would happen?

Somehow, in my mind, that dovetailed into all the thoughts of the immortal guy, Lady Death and a world based on a haunting song. It all came together so that when November 1st arrived, I could start writing.

Now, mind you, I failed that NaNo. I didn’t get 50K words. I got about 35K or so. The push to just get words didn’t work for me and I had pages and pages of word salad. So I went back, started to work through it, to get things together, adjusting characters, pulling it this way and that until it finally jived. I worked on it, on and off, since then. But the initial ideas came together to form a story seed with so much energy, I haven’t been able to put it away and forget about it in all this time.

And the ghods willing and the creek don’t rise, it’ll be finished very soon. Wish me luck.

Planting Story Seeds

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about Ideas and Story Seeds. Thought I’d follow up on those thoughts since I’ve had some time to consider my process post-idea.

So, I’ve gotten a story seed that really grabs me. Even more, I’ve got the time and energy to actually write something. What now?

As far as I can tell, that answer starts with what kind of story seed it turned out to be.

Usually, the story seed I have has to “planted”, which means more questions. Lots and lots of questions. What kind of world would allow this story to happen? What are the story jobs I’ll need to “hire” characters for? What kind of plot points sound interesting and exciting? (For many authors, questions about themes/moral attitudes will come up too, but I prefer to find those organically within the pages as I write.)

As I answer these questions, and all the ones that come up because of those answers, the seed starts to disappear and the story itself starts to grow. At some point in the writing, the seed has spread throughout the work and is gone in its original form.

The other, more rare (for me), kind of story seed is “the perfect moment”. It’s so vivid in my mind, that it’s–it’s just THERE. The entire story is just to frame the perfection of the story seed. I don’t want it to change. I want to weave the story carefully around this little bit of perfection so it’s showcased exactly as I imagined it.

To date, I’ve only been successful in that kind of story when I that “perfect moment” fit within a fandom and I could write a fanfic out of it. Being able to draw from established worlds and characters, with all the underlying work therein, have I been able to focus on that story seed and keep it pristine in what I have to put around it to make it a story.

I have one seed that doesn’t fit into any fandom, though. I’ve tried to do the same kind of work around it, the weight of the creation–I don’t know–crushes it. Muddies it. Covers it with stuff so it’s no longer what I wanted and I gave it up in disgust.

I have to assume there are people who can do this in original fiction. Say what you like about Twilight, but to hear Stephanie Meyer talk about her process, she found the way to move from that fanfic to original fiction and keep that seed perfectly intact. And readers appeared to have appreciated that ability.

If someone has found other types of story seeds, or ways to get stories started, I’d love to hear about them.

As I’m pushing to get a novel finished by the end of July (a personal quasi-NANO effort), I’ll likely be posting more about process and this particular novel. It would be nice to get some convos going.

What’s your experiences with story seeds and getting them growing?

Thoughts on Gods of Egypt (the movie)

Mythology isn’t just a bunch of stories about gods. Well, it is, but it’s more. When taken as a whole, those stories reflect its society’s attitudes, its morals, the important lessons about itself. Like chapters in a novel, each myth advances how a society thinks and feels and functions.

When I look at a mythology I’m inspired to mug, I try to look at what the underlying story is. What is it trying to say about being a good person and living a good life? And I try to incorporate some of that otherness into whatever I create, so it’s not so…us nowadays.

When Gods of Egypt was announced, I was dubious about seeing it. Egyptian mythology is one of my favorites and I have a long history of discussion on the topic with various friends. There was a time when a couple of us set out to read hieroglyphics. And it’s Hollywood. I honestly don’t expect much depth or comprehension when it comes to mythologies.

I was talked into seeing it opening weekend with one of those friends I’ve had long discussions with. We went in expecting a Hollywood romp, fantastic special effects and maybe some pretty people to look at. Any hint of a good story or a good myth mug would be a bonus.

We got the bonus. Some might disagree, but that was possibly the best myth mugging Hollywood has done since the original Clash of the Titans (The Hamlin one). We were pretty blown away.

You see, when I “read the novel” of Egyptian mythology, my take-away of its “theme” of how to live a good life all centers around the concept of Ma-at. Yes, she’s a goddess, the one with the feather on her head, but Ma-at is also far more. It’s the understanding that you have a path in life that you must walk and, once you die, your heart will be weighed against your Ma-at to see if you did that or not. Each individual Ma-at is an important part of the society’s Ma-at, which keeps Order in the world and Chaos at bay. Ma-at doesn’t mean don’t live up to your greatest potential, but it does mean to learn to be content with what is yours and don’t covet what isn’t. If your heart balances with her feather, you have lived a good life and you are allowed into the After Life to continue living that life. If your heart doesn’t balance, your ka (soul) gets eaten by a horrible monster and you cease to exist.

Gods of Egypt is all about Ma-at. The whole conflict is Set and Horus accepting their own paths and being content. Neither are so inclined at the beginning. Horus is the stereotypical party brat heir with no real desire for responsibility or duty. Set has had full rule of the desert and is pretty much alone there while the other gods live it up in the comfort of the Nile. Both have paths laid out for them by their fathers, and when Set strikes out against the hand he’s been dealt, the conflict starts.

They also did an excellent job with Set, by the way. Set is the god of the desert, the Outsider, the corruptor. He is Avarice Incarnate. He, like the desert, will destroy anything if given the chance. He is insatiable. The writers, director and actor all managed to make that very clear in the movie. When the time comes when Set is presented with what his Ma-at is, what his time in the desert was preparing him for, you know he’s going to reject it. He has to. Even though everything he has done against the gods and humanity could be forgiven and fixed if he accepts, he has to reject it. He has to destroy everything.

Horus, on the other hand, when he’s presented with his Ma-at, thinks he’s too broken to achieve it. Set killed his parents, stole his eyes (though he gets one back) and left him to wallow in his misery and depression. Horus lost faith in himself, in his path, and has to find his own way back. The climax begins when he finally kicks himself out of the cycle of depression and revenge, and while the event is predictable, it was still enjoyable to see.

I know many people are upset with the casting and won’t go see it. I understand, I do. But it’s also a shame, because otherwise, Hollywood did a bang-up job with this one. The movie honors the mythology. It remembers that Ra does more than just ride the solar barque (which is some awesome Fx), for instance. It remembers Set dismembering Osiris after the murder, and that a piece was missing (though which one was changed for plot reasons). It had fun with the Sphinx’s riddles. It honored the Egyptian vision of the road to the After Life, and the many trials the ka had to go through to get to the weighing. It created an Aapep monster (embodiment of Chaos) that gave me the chills. The movie just did a bang-up job on the movie itself.

If you’re interested in myth mugging, I highly recommend this movie. It’s too bad it came out against Deadpool and probably won’t be in the theaters long, but if you get the opportunity, take it. It’s a good lesson on how to do the work right.

The Rebirth of an Idea

Fifteen years ago, our shared world series, Children of the Vortex died because of the cost of publishing the physical issues and the reluctance of the reading public to accept e-publishing.

In 2014, not only had publishing changed to favor e-publishing, but the readers had pretty much accepted it. More and more, even preferring the e-versions to the print copies.

With this new means to publish, even get “real” books out that didn’t cost a fortune, June and I realized that COTV could survive, perhaps even thrive in this new world we found ourselves in.

However, it had also been 15 years. We looked back on all the work to keep up with the creative output of so many authors and realizef that our burn-out was as much the reason for ending COTV as anything external. We thought about having to dedicate that much time and energy to it again and just weren’t interested in doing that again. We realized that if we were going to rebirth COTV and make it work, we couldn’t have as many writers on staff.

We’d also lost touch with many–most of those writing friends over the years. So we touched base with the few we still talked to regularly and asked if they’d be interested in trying this again. One had personal commitments and couldn’t. The other two were game.

Once again, there were long conversations, long emails, long computer chats, and within six weeks of deciding to give this a go, we’d rewritten the introductory two novellas and a short story. Out came Flamechild and the free short story, Stonechild (which is included in the “real” book version, separate in the e-version).

We had hoped to have the second issue within another 2-3 months.

Then we hoped to have the second issue within 6 months.

Then a year.

Now it’s been almost two years since Flamechild came out.

It’s not that the enthusiasm has died. No, if anything, that’s as high, if not higher than it was when we started.

No, what’s happened is that we realized, first June and I, and now the other writers–this isn’t the same Children of the Vortex anymore. It can’t be.

Fifteen years is quite a bit of time. We’ve changed as people. We’ve changed as writers. The stories that excited us then, well, they’re just so–then. Yes, we’re nostalgic about what we didn’t do, but when we thought about actually writing it, we weren’t as enthused as we expected to be. In talking, we discovered we were interested in something a bit darker, more mature than the previous lighter hearted stories.

In addition, in not inviting back all the writers, there were characters missing from the storylines that had to be considered. While the world belonged to June and I, characters and their storylines didn’t. We didn’t feel right in claiming what wasn’t ours for the reboot. This also necessitated changes.

Our skills as writers has also improved, frankly. Our ability to tell deeper, more involved stories has improved. We’re more interested in and able to playing with darker themes and characters than we were before.

Let me give you an example. One of my main characters in COTV is Shavonet Fleureaux. She is the eldest daughter of the reigning Duc d’Florant. As a child, she had a marriage arranged for her with the heir to the Duc d’Lascelles, Guion. Just before their wedding, she is Claimed by LLucin (the flamechild of the anthology’s title), which makes her a magic user, which negates the marriage and the treaty.

This has to happen because it sets up a war between the two duchies that will drive the first several planned issues.

In the 1990’s, Shavonet was a spoiled brat. She liked her lifestyle, she wanted to be duchesse. When she was Claimed, she imprisoned LLucin and left him to die–which didn’t work. When she was sent to the Cadre because of the Claiming, she continued to be a spoiled brat. She refused to deal with LLucin. She was snippy to every one. She didn’t want to learn magic. She was a “princess”, damnitall, and that’s what she wanted to be. The story arc I wanted to follow at the time was to change her into a worthwhile person, which I did.

Now, I’m not interested in redeeming a bratty princess. Now, she’s a tomboy princess who was looking forward to her marriage. When Claimed, she keeps her father from executing LLucin and negotiates with her groom to keep the marriage and the treaty intact. When her father screws that up and sends her to the Cadre, she deals. She gets to know the people, gets involved in the working of the Cadre, and discovers she’s a natural with magic.

Even more, Shavonet realizes how important it is that she finds a way to stop the war so all these people she’s come to know. People she realizes she’d never thought about as people before. And in her attempts to stop, she’ll discover that more things are not as she thought. Her attempts will also affect other characters and shifts their paths to darker locations.

Same, but very different. This is more a character for the writer I am today.

This is not to say that Flamechild is going to be pulled or rewritten or redacted or any of that. It isn’t. There’s enough changed there from before that we can move forward from that start. It’s a good new beginning.

And from a new beginning must come a new path, with new stories.

Which is what we’re now very excited about. And now we’re writing again, getting our feet back under us and starting down this new path through Deau.

It feels good. I can’t wait to see where we go with it.

The Birth (and Death) of an Idea

I met my best friend, June Dal, at a writer’s group meeting back in 1987. June introduced me to Pern fan clubs in the 90’s. Back then, you created a persona (or more) and wrote stories. As you got to know other members, you used their characters in your stories as well. More friendships blossomed for both of us (mostly the same people). However, clubs such as that are largely groups held together by the leadership. When the leaderships change, the group changes. It’s a natural cycle we’d seen multiple times. One by one, the groups changed and my and my friends’ interests lapsed.

However, we missed the fun of writing with other people. We regretted not being able to explore story lines we were developing for the various characters, or seeing what our friends were really going to do with theirs. But, we no longer were part of the club environment we had all enjoyed.

After some months of lamenting this loss, June and I sat down to create our own world, one we could write in with our friends again. Since most all of our friends came to us through Pern, we looked there to do the world building.

We talked frankly about what we enjoyed about the Pern fan stories we’d written, what about the world we found good story material. What we discovered is that we liked having our heroes be the “outcasts” of society. We liked having some kind of animal bonded to our characters, and that being what made them outcasts. We liked having a strict social structure, with distrust between different levels of society. We wanted a world-wide threat that our heroes were destined to combat.

Then we talked about what we wanted to be different. We wanted it to be Fantasy. We wanted there to be magic, furthermore, we wanted Good and Evil magic.

Even with what we liked, we changed. We didn’t want bonded animals that could be ridden. Dragons, horses, they’d all been done. And, frankly, we hated how many Pernese fan writers treated their dragons like cars and not characters. So, we decided we wanted smaller creatures, perhaps one that could fit on a person’s shoulder. We decided to base our creatures, the tereges, on the archaeopteryx. Tweaked, of course.

We made magic the ultimate corruptive agent, with the tereges the only “filter” to keep people good. Being magic users would make our heroes outcasts, but they would be the only way to defeat the corrupted magic users.

We decided to very loosely base the society on the Sun King’s France, so many different writers would draw from the same source for names, etc.

Literally in an afternoon, we created the basis of the world we called Deau. We got home and emailed a few of our friends to see what they thought. This was a Friday night.

They were very excited at the prospect. So excited, in fact, that by Sunday night, we had our first story submission in the new world.

And so Children of the Vortex came into being.

In about three years, we put out 6 issues of 100+ pages (with full color covers, perma-bound and interior illustrations). At our height, there were 23 authors actively writing stories in Deau. June and I were doing all the editing, all the coordinating story lines through all the various writers, keeping the world consistent, guiding and approving new ideas and creations in the world, and physically producing the print runs. We went to MediaWest Con a few times to market the series. We hosted a Fete party to get the various writers together, most of whom had never met in real life.

All this on top of writing our own stories and keeping up the day jobs, families–y’know, real life.

It was exhilarating. It was 50-70 hours of work a week. And we loved it.

Then something happened to the price of printing. Between Issue #6 and #7, the price jumped from $125-150 a print run to over $500. Between June and I, we couldn’t afford that. Even with help from the other authors, it was too expensive.

In 1999, we tried putting an issue on CD. It was a miserable failure. Not even our own authors liked the change.

So, like the clubs we’d loved before, COTV died.

  • The Bag of Holding

  • Pigeon Holes

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