I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date! Due to unforeseen circumstances (writers on both sides dropping the juggling pins) my interview with LT Getty from Worlds Of The Imagination is going up at the end of Wednesday night.
I don't want to post a Thursday Thirteen on top of it so I'll be skipping that again this week. Expect all my posts to be a bit off kilter as I finish up some projects and family comes to town for my daughter's graduation. I'm aiming for the July 1st long weekend to start herding my kittens back into their baskets.
In the meantime, I'm delighted Leia has joined me here today.
Leia, what makes your fantasy world different from ours?
Tower of Obsidian is set in the 10th century of our world – the difference, of course, is that magic exists, if only a very small amount, however I gave a good reason for it to go away towards the end of the novel.
What inspired this book?
There were a good many inspirations – I had previously tried to write a collection of short stories where I was essentially retelling the same story again and again, but it just wasn’t jiving. I was watching my niece a lot around the time I was forming Tower of Obsidian’s story, and I started to notice how the new versions of cartoons I grew up with differed from the versions I knew – not only in art style, but how much more educational and safety-sanitized the new versions tended to be. So when I wrote ToO, I basically wanted tell a fantasy story about the nature of story, and retell the tale within the text, meanwhile, considering how interpretation of story changes.
Cool! Are your characters human? What talents do they have?
For the most part they are human – Kale one of the main characters, becomes “cursed” with immortality and bound to the aforementioned tower halfway through the novel.
I already want to know more. Is this part of a series?
No, Tower of Obsidian stands alone, and I have no intention to revisit the story at this point in time.
What’s your process like when it comes to worldbuilding? Any tips for other fantasy authors?
I usually come from an idea for a plot, then I work out the characters. When I create characters, I usually think of their personalities, then think about the world that they would need to come from, then, after I’ve developed the world, I go back and make them a product of their world.
For example, I might come up with someone who I’m going to say is spoiled from a life of privilege and I want this character to be adventuresome as well. So I develop the world – are they of a higher social or wealth class? What would be these defining factors? Let’s say I wanted to write a story about a young man who commands his own ship, but he thinks he’s better then the men he commands – I’ll make this character of a merchant class, wealthy but not necessarily royalty. I’ll consider trade and what their family might deal with – the opportunities are endless, but a family that deals with something more refined like spice or manufactured goods denotes a different social class then one who is dealing with the slave trade or shipping raw ore or lumber. I’ll come up with what that port is known for – what the rules are, what the people eat, what day to day life is, and develop that character – at this point, I might say to myself, “I want him to be ignorant of what most working people go through – but still kind of outdoorsy and strong.” So I’ll make him come from a wealthy family of shipmakers – now, this is important if the society denotes only certain classes can make boats, or handle whatever materials or whatever – I need to figure out what kind of ships we’re dealing with, and what sort of education his family would require of him. If he’s the heir – he needs to know his father’s business and his life is probably very planned out. If he’s the spare – he might have some freedom but no inheritance – perhaps this society makes second-sons enter the priesthood or he receives a ship from his father to start his own business. So let’s assume I want my character to come from relative wealth, education and freedom – I’ll make him the third-born in a society where women inherit, so he’s not essentially needed unless disaster strikes. I’ve now developed a system that explains why a relatively young and ignorant character would own a ship, and I can use that world-building I’ve done to give him individual characteristics. In addition to his own dreams and goals, how does he see his family? How does he see society? Is he resentful of his older sister gaining the family business, or is he happy to make his own way in the world?
So I guess my advice is regardless of wherever you start in your story – whether you create the character first, or you come up with the world and plunk a character in it, is to ask some questions as to how they came to be the way they came to be – it might not match your original vision and you might do a ton of work that no one will ever see, but it’ll help you develop more rounded characters that feel authentic to whatever world you dream up.
Every good author should probably follow this back and forth refining of world and character to help develop believability, regardless of genre. Can you share an excerpt?
“You’d think you were a princess, the way you carry yourself.”
“Don’t talk to him,” said Ruairí. He stood directly above the grating and graced his captive with a downward glance before speaking in their mother tongue. “You look like a thief, not the husband of a princess.”
“We will see who appears princelier by voyage’s end.”
Ruairí laughed, bending down. “There’s a skin–thief in Wizeo. He specializes in teeth. You’ll have no need of them—many masters like to feed their slaves only broth, knowing if their property flees they’ll starve. I may keep your teeth for Aoife and string them into a necklace for her.”
“Say what you’d like, Ruairí, but you and I both know you will be a favored exile at best,” Kale said. “Aoife is beyond your grasp.”
“I’ll keep you around long enough to prove otherwise,” Ruairí said, but looked away when a man shouted. Ruairí opened his eyes wide and sprinted away from the hold’s grate.
Kale tried to see, but all he could see were the stars, bits of sail, and the bottoms of the boots from the men walking above the grating. The men shouted in alarm. Kale remembered Ruairí’s earlier words to slit Kale’s throat before letting him be rescued, but in the chaos of battle, the men would be more worried about their own skins than any lingering orders.
He thought of the men above, those like him who were unused to sailing, and suddenly he was thrust forward. The ship leaned and creaked, and he heard a terrible, foreign crunching. His cell filled with water. He was not experienced in nautical tactics, but he assumed their ship had been rammed. Someone yelled, “Sea serpent!”
Perhaps mercy, Kale thought as the cold water quickly filled his hold. He was cold already but the large space filled slow enough that he could tread water which lifted him to the grate. He heard the sounds of dueling and the screams of men dying.
Once he could grasp the metal bars, he thrust out an arm. He shouted that he’d drown, but no one seemed to care as the men panicked above. How much water was the ship taking on?
The icy water was near his shoulders when someone smashed the lock to his prison with their blade. “Up and fight, damn you,” the corsair ordered, helping him out and handing Kale a blade.
He took the blade and was about to say he would never aid pirates when he saw the creatures before them and joined in the fray.
At first, he thought they were Vikings. Their attackers were large men with broad faces and full beards. He did not recognize their dark leather and metal dress or their pale, grayish skin painted white. It was late in the battle so their true color was easily seen underneath the smeared segments which weren’t spattered with blood. Braided into their hair and beards were the teeth and bones of both men and beasts.
Despite the chaos, he could see their ship, and then he heard a reptilian chortle from above. Not a sea serpent, but a great silver dragon, smaller than the ship he was on.
It rained down fire toward the sails. Several warriors from both sides were caught in the flames; some of who leapt into the waves. Kale took cover but was instantly dry; his back burned, for the corsair’s ship was already on fire, forcing him toward the ship’s stern. He had talked with Vikings before, their merchant allies, and even some captured enemies. He had tried not to listen to their pagan stories but became interested when they spoke of their ghosts.
One large, pale warrior was struck by a corsair’s blade, and he bled as dark as any man. Ghost or mortal, Kale had no idea, but the word draugr burned into his mind as he fought. He tried to remember the stories, but with what seemed like death battling him, his mind was of survival, not folklore.
The dragon then dove beneath the waves. He barely had time to parry the attack from a one–armed draugr. Parrying, Kale caught his scent. The warrior was no ghost. He’d received a cut to his head.
He knocked Kale backwards, only for a corsair to shoot him from behind.
“Show them no mercy,” shouted the corsair. “I thought you were a great swordsman. Fight!”
Their ship was sinking faster now, smashed midway, and water lapped at Kale’s heels as he fought alongside the corsairs. Someone lanced his shoulder, rendering his right arm slow, so he fought with his left, defending his patch of deck like a mad man. Were they driving them into the sea, to feed the monster?
When the dragon emerged from the deep, it knocked the ship onto its side, sending men from both armies into the water. Kale managed to clutch the railing, though he almost let go when the dragon swooped down and picked off one of the corsair archers who had been shooting the draugr from the crow’s nest.
The ship slowly careened back onto its proper side, and as the flames threatened to encircle the survivors, the draugr no longer advanced. Instead, the pale men formed a line and stomped their feet.
A horn sounded from behind their line, and they skittered backward.
The patch of deck Kale stood on began to sink, but a talon snatched him, and he was thrown forward onto the draugr’s ship. It was a craft not like a Viking long ship, but larger, with sails and a hold, such as a merchant vessel.
He was grabbed and disarmed, but rather than be killed, he was forced to his knees with several other survivors. Kale looked at the dragon, which descended a final time to the corsair’s ship and dug its massive claws into the hull, forcing it to sink even quicker.
The dragon leapt to the air once again, but in the darkness, changed.
He strained to watch the creature while he was held down, but he saw the dragon descend to the draugr’s vessel as a man.
He was possibly the largest man Kale had ever seen, almost built to a different scale; his features were too angular and his movements fluid, feline, intentional. He wore black armor, not with bones or white paste of the draugr or the mail of the Vikings, but something which felt like it radiated heat when he walked past Kale.
“Take the survivors to the hold,” he instructed the warriors.
Ooooh, trouble. Where can readers find out more about you and your books?