I received a really neat photo recently. It was sent by a reader on vacation in Thailand who was reading The Last Motley.
It is pretty great just having anyone send you a picture of your book while reading it, but Thailand?!? That is extra special.
Certainly not something I ever expected.
I love to travel, and though I’ve even been to a fair number of countries outside the United States (nine in Europe and five in Latin America), I’ve never been within sniffing distance of Thailand.
Since getting married and having children, my globetrotting days are mostly a thing of the past. But, though I may not be a world traveler, I am instead a traveler of worlds.
A traveler of worlds
How so? Well, as it says in my bio, I do my traveling mostly these days by crafting worlds of my own.
Victor Hugo said that “A writer is a world trapped inside a person.” I couldn’t agree more.
“A writer is a world trapped inside a person.”
– Victor Hugo
Writing a novel, you wear many hats. Or wield many pens, rather. One of them, especially if you are a writer in the genre of imagination (fantasy and science fiction) is the one for world-building. I love crafting worlds and I’ve written about it in other places. It’s one of my favorite things about writing.
World building helps evoke that wonderful quality of verisimilitude which the best novels possess. For the story to work the author must see it first. For it to sink deep into a reader’s heart, this present darkness must pass away. The new world must crowd out the common one. But the world is not an end in and of itself. The hope is that, returning to our material prison of five senses, three dimensions, and four walls, we will see the familiar by the new light we bring out of the imagined world back into this one.
It is strange, isn’t it, that such cross-dimensional transit should be available to us through the means of some ink on a piece of paper. How does a tree turn into a portal to another world? It is the oddest thing when you stop to think about it.
But some will never become travelers of worlds, never experience this transportation. Perhaps they don’t read at all, or perhaps they find fantasy and imaginative literature mere escapism or a waste of time, something silly, juvenile, or absurd.
In The Silver Chair, the Lady of the Green Kirtle expresses the beliefs of some when she mocks Jill Pole. “Tell us, little maid, where is this other world? What ships and chariots go between it and ours?”
My favorite worlds
Well, Ms. Kirtle, those ships are called books. And the pilot is the reader’s imagination.
I’ve had some wonderful journeys in Middle-Earth, Narnia, Prydain, Fantastica, and so many others. But I’ve also had tremendous fun mucking around in my own worlds. My frequent flyer miles in those places far surpass any traveling I’ve done the worlds of other writers.
Last night my daughter asked me what my favorite fictional character of all time was and I told her it was one from the book I’m currently writing. She looked at me as if that was a bit presumptuous, but I told her that in my own books I get to put exactly what I enjoy best and another writer, as great and wonderful as he might be, can never write exactly what I like best.
So it is with the worlds I’ve created.
Stamp your passport for adventure
When I wrote my first series, The Chronotrace Sequence, I wanted to create a unique world set in the distant future. I didn’t want it to feel anything like earth. And Nai, the desert planet on which the story takes place is a pretty alien place. It has perpetual, dark green cloud cover, a constant temperature, and no surface water whatsoever. The water system is all underground.
And there are also storms. Lots of storms. They are big and deadly and make living on the surface almost impossible. Unless you are half insane (and there are some in the series who are) or have a great deal of technology (and there are some of those too).
A technological landscape
Speaking of technology. I didn’t want that aspect of the book to be based on modern science. At least I didn’t want to use modern scientific jargon. I wanted it to be more Star Wars than Star Trek. Because science is always changing and the accepted theories a hundred years ago are quite different than what is accepted today.
So I didn’t reference genetics or cloning or brain waves or anything we might use today to describe the technology in use. Instead, in its place I invented an interstellar freighter’s worth of technology to flesh everything out using my own terms.
Here a few of my favorite concepts from the books:
- The zoetic pulse, which is what gives life to things.
- The bioseine, which is a sort of organic computer which can be grafted into someone’s body augmenting their ability to deal with pain or react to outside threats.
- The oscillathe, a weapon which lets off a whispering sound right before its invisible beam simply dissolves organic life at the molecular level by suspending the attractive forces which hold them together.
I imagined a world where we didn’t use technology, but instead we experimented on our bodies and turned ourselves into “better” versions of what we had been. Humanity 2.0, so to speak.
Of course, reading the books is the best way to learn about these things, but all those terms are present within the six page glossary which can be found over on my Downloads page if you care to take a gander.
I am in the process, though, of enabling X-Ray on my Chronotrace books which will allow Kindle readers to look up all of the terms in the glossary as they’re reading by simply clicking on the word. It’s a lot of work transferring in the terms one by one, but I’m excited to offer this new functionality to readers in the near future.
An epic journey
For my next stop as a traveler of worlds, I chose a much greener location. Arinn, the world of The Last Motley is much closer to home. It is, in fact, based on a re-imagined version of medieval Europe. I even used the name Caledonia for one of the countries, which is an old name for Scotland (and yes, as some readers have noticed, it is the same Caledonia featured in the short story, Spirit of Caledonia). I’ve been to Scotland, and many of the descriptions used in the heroes’ travels through Caledonia are taken from my recollections of the severe, yet beautiful land.
Halicon, the other major country featured in the novel, was loosely based on France. Another unpublished short story set in this world is set in an Arabic-inspired land. The sequel to The Last Motley (which has been outlined but not yet written) will take place in a land inspired by ancient Rome.
Of course, unlike Europe there is magic here, though it’s extremely rare. And there are non-human being, though most of them do not make an appearance in The Last Motley, only the scathen. In order not to spoil the book, I’ll not mention what they are, but my idea behind them was to make an enemy for the heroes which was not the typical orcs or dragons or undead of most fantasy.
Land of Savants and Thaumaturges
Since magic is rare in Arinn, I chose alchemy to fill its function and its shoes, to give the world a little bit of the unexpected. There are two schools of alchemy, one good and one evil. Those seeking to use it to help others are known as Savants. Those using it to further their own power are called Thaumaturges.
I had fun playing with my alchemical inventions as well. Things like:
- Flameroot reeds, which can be peeled to created a sort of medieval “glow stick”.
- Veris powder, a truth serum.
- And flintfire which is a dust that can be used to quickly burn things away, or mixed with other materials to create weapons of explosive force.
Here is the map I created for Arinn:
I love all the names for these places, but particular favorites are Whithercrag, Brimstoke, and the Neverless Sea. I also had fun coming up with the names for the inns in the book, and a few readers have commented on that.
Kiln is also inspired by medieval Europe, but the political structure is quite different. It revolves around four large empires, or Wards, as they are called. At one time they were united and known as The Four Wards.
At the time in which the novels take place, only two of those wards are still in existence, Inrisward and Verisward, more often referred to as Inris and Veris.
Magic does not really exist in these lands, but the wise remember ancient legends of powerful weapons which turned the fate of men.
Here is the map of Inris, or at least the parts relevant to the events of the first novel.
Inris, land of conflict
The land of Inris is sparsely populated, but its people are hearty. It sits on the border with the vile Haukmar to the north. To the west dwell the unruly Noath. The Haukmar, in particular, are a constant threat and have invaded and occupied Inris many times, though they have never been able to push south and conquer Veris.
The Haukmar are giantish brutes, towering eight feet tall with pale gray skin and disfigured faces. They have little talent for producing anything but war and filthy settlements, but they are formidable in battle. They also have a terrible past which will come to light in later novels.
There are also nyn, though they are rare in Inris and Verisward. Nyn are short, energetic people, slight of build, but incredibly skilled in the crafting and building of things. They are born with white hair, but have youthful faces. Nyn rarely live beyond 50, but they live with an intensity and a zest for life during the years they do have. And they are great fun to write about!
Oh the places you’ll go
I may not be a world traveler on earth, but it’s a delight to travel among these imaginary places.
Besides the books and maps, I’ve done a bit of artwork for my books over the years, but it’s mostly unfinished and, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s art, it was never really meant for anyone but myself.
I’m very excited, however, to be working with an artist on my upcoming series to produce some interior art for the novels as well. I don’t have anything I can show yet, but the preliminary samples are amazing.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of my imaginary worlds. And if you haven’t walked through these lands yourself, I hope you’ll take the journey yourself one day.
The road goes ever on and on
How about you? Do you love to travel? Do you prefer planes and trains or books and nooks? Have you been to some place especially fascinating, whether real or fictional? Let me know in the comments below!