Going through my folders in search of another blog post entirely, I came across this one and decided I really ought to repost it. Not sure just when I wrote this, but it still holds largely true. Minor edits to bring it up to date have been applied. Enjoy! 🙂
The Creation of Uniqueness
I’m often asked what made me decide on a desert setting. My usual response involves a blank stare and a fumbling attempt to make “I haven’t the foggiest” sound like a rational answer. (I didn’t know I’d ever need to answer that question, so I didn’t keep notes!) On better days, I talk about how my writing group, many many years ago now, complained that my story was set in a boring, Standard- Euro- Medieval- White World.
To fix that, I started asking the Big World questions: where and how life developed, who the various gods were, what happened to atheists, who the vegetarians were as opposed to who raised cattle (and where to find bacon, cheese, chocolate, and coffee–very important items to the development of civilization, as far as I’m concerned!), why humanity had moved from point A to point B, and why nobody had done the equivalent of the route-to-China schtick.
(Short answer on that last: I was feeling lazy and didn’t want that complication. I knew that wouldn’t fly as a reason, so I had to come up with a plausible reason why travel to date had been restricted to the one large continent. That reason is not mentioned anywhere in the Children of the Desert series, mind you, although it is hinted at during the end bit of Fires of the Desert. I may or may not reveal it in subsequent series, or in special mini-stories along the way. But it’s in my Secret Background Notes. Mwah.)
Back to the question of uniqueness. Essentially, I referred to the many excellent guides scattered across the Internet about the worst fantasy mileu tropes, cross-checked my writing against those, decided which ones needed changed, inverted and rearranged what I could, and came up with plausible reasons to keep the rest. There was no point to developing a totally unique inn and tavern setup, for example, or a different kind of beer, wine, or tea. Those are backdrop items that really don’t need a whole lot of tweaking to work, and if I messed with that basic trope, I risked distracting the reader from the action. Instead, I focused on the strange creatures like firetail birds, gerhoi, desert lords, ha’ra’hain, and ha’reye, along with the cultures and characters, to make the world stand out.
In Guardians of the Desert, the servant/kathain cultures from north to south are set in sharp and deliberate contrast. In the south, the servants see themselves as a valued part of a noble household, and kathain–personal servants to desert lords–are highly respected. In the north, servants are often little more than disposable creatures to kick when one is displeased, and kathain, as such, don’t exist–the closest equivalent is a high-class prostitute, which is hardly a respectable profession in northern eyes.
Likewise the views on women in general are very different from one culture to another; however, the south is hardly innocent of misogyny. Darden and F’Heing Families are, overall, less than kind to their females–but they are willing to accept women who fight past the preconceptions and prove themselves strong enough to run with the boys, if you will. That’s not quite as progressive as Aerthraim or Scratha Families, which are matrilineal and ruled by women, but it’s considerably better than the (currently) rigidly patriarchal Northern Church rules.
Religion, as Deiq observes in the opening chapters of Guardians, has run through some interesting permutations over the years. The southlands began with a very different attitude toward the gods than what they have today, and the northlands are even more muddled–which I plan to explore in more depth in the next series.
That next series, by the way, will return to that original manuscript that set everything in motion. I’m tremendously excited about the prospect of fixing what was broken with that book–and about the prospect of working with Tank as he matures, walks out of a seriously unhealthy relationship, falls in love for the first time, and staves off a civil war in the northlands. Oh, and he discovers he’s a father, too, which totally screws with his head in all sorts of ways.
But before I get to that, I have to finish the Children of the Desert series, which is now five books (it started out life as a trilogy). On the good side, four of the books are already written; Secrets of the Sands, Guardians of the Desert, Bells of the Kingdom, and Fires of the Desert. So you can enjoy those while you wait for book five–and I’ve begun putting out some short side-stories to help fill in some of the rich background and backstory driving events in the main books.
Ah, but I still haven’t answered the question of “what made you choose a desert setting?” Well, I truly had very little developed by way of world building when Idisio first strolled onto the page. When Scratha grabbed him, and I asked myself what made Scratha so ominous, the term “desert lord” just sort of showed up on the page. So I had to develop a desert culture that would have feasibly produced someone as catastrophically bad-tempered as Scratha. Then I had to figure out why Alyea would go south with such scanty knowledge as to what she was facing (besides being young and easily manipulated, that is); developing the immense suspicion, plots and politics between north and south kicked off a whole new set of details and questions.
I suppose at some point it began to seem like something of a shame not to use all this amazingly cool information I was putting together. So Scratha threw in the towel and went south, dragging Idisio and Riss along.
Events took on their own direction and momentum from there. I had to run fast enough to keep up with the weird stuff I was writing, and provide rational or at least plausible reasons for it to be happening. So the best answer I can offer is this: I didn’t choose the desert setting. It chose me.
But it’s been a damn fun ride so far–and certainly a unique one!
The Children of the Desert series is currently available in both print and ebook form through ReAnimus Press. Samples of my writing from those and other projects can be found here. Feel free to catch up with me in real time on Twitter–but be warned, my feed is largely political at this point. 🙂
One of my self-challenges in recent years has been to update my writing to match my growing awareness of racism. I routinely pull up old, unpublished work for an overhaul and cringe at the assumptions I didn’t even know I was making at the time.
By way of example, I’m going to start out by talking about Kingdom of Salt, the as yet unpublished story that actually launched the entire Children of the Desert series (I’ve told that story elsewhere, but I’m unable to find it; the digital goblins have made off with it for their own obscure purposes. I’ll recreate that as soon as possible). That book has been through ten years of steady upgrades at this point, and I’m still finding issues I missed. I’m happy with the changes; it’s definitely a stronger story, more complex and nuanced compared to its origins as a white Euro-medieval pastiche.
Tank, the redheaded mercenary (and deliberate Kane homage), started out as a relatively carefree, if intense, kind of guy who basically liked to fight and fuck. Readers of the series to date already know that’s gotten way more involved: Tank now has a Tragic Backstory involving heavy childhood abuse; being “rescued” by folks who wanted to use him for their own, less sexual but considerably more dangerous agenda; and a proven ability to use his enormous anger as a psychic weapon.
He’s half-southern. He considers himself to be southern, but with his red hair and freckled skin he can pass for northern anytime he likes. His father is a northern sailor with a lady in every port, his mother was a drug-addicted southerner who genuinely loved Tank’s father–as much as she was capable of loving anyone, at least. (That part, by the way, is a cynical nod to one of my guilty-favorite songs, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl“.) Tank’s never met either of his parents; his mother died when he was a baby, and he hasn’t gotten around to searching out his newly discovered father yet. He tends to view the concept of “family” with intense distrust, in any case, so he’s in no hurry to hunt down blood relatives.
In the initial versions of the story, Tank was completely northern–which I now realize I was using as a synonym for “white”. It logically followed (in those versions) that southerners were “black”. I had a number of problematic structures in place, just based on that division alone. All of my Admirable Heroes were white, for one thing. I didn’t even realize that until I went back and took a hard look at particulars.
I actually started reshaping that part of the narrative long before I started educating myself about racism*, because the implied timeline of genetic drift didn’t make sense. Humanity started in the south; there was a catastrophe/diaspora, and a large portion of the population moved to less dangerous lands in the north. Fast forward oh, somewhere between five hundred and eight hundred years later, and the population in the north is white but folks in the south are black.
I remember sitting back to look at that for a while, scratching my head and going, uh…. no. That’s just…not possible. I came up with a behind-the-scenes, as-yet-unrevealed reason for some of the physical changes, but for the most part I started making sure the characters showed a wider array of appearances and backgrounds. So Alyea, in Secrets of the Sands, developed into a young woman caught between the pressures of her mother’s northern ideals and her father’s southern heritage. The conflict between north and south came to life as a heavily political situation: heritage (not genetics–here’s a breakdown of the difference) became a prejudicial factor, and religions split along various schism lines.
The slave trade, as it developed in our real world, never happened in Children of the Desert. The folks in the south are heavily distrusted and looked down on as “barbaric” by folks in the north, but that’s grounded in political, religious, and superstitious reasoning. Folks in the south, in turn, consider themselves stronger, smarter, and more tapped into reality than “ignorant” northerners.
Slavery does exist in this setting, but in two distinct forms: honorable and dishonorable (the latter being the katha villages where Tank grew up). Honorable slavery involves a limited-time punishment of working off a criminal offense (what we would call indentured servitude). The south, by and large, doesn’t bother with jails: either you work off your misdeed, or you’re executed. Minor northern criminals are often sold off to southern slavers (called machagos)–not a legal transaction, these days, since the north does have jails, and is developing a reasonably balanced legal code under the current king. But that option, whether legal or not, is an ingrained custom, so it isn’t going away any time soon. Besides, honorable machagos make sure their slaves have actual crimes to work off. (On the other hand, unscrupulous ones . . . don’t.)
There is no explicit history, in this series, of one set of humans seeing another set of humans as subhuman based on appearance or heritage.
On the other hand, the remnants of the ha’reye–a very, very long-lived species who existed long before humanity evolved–do see humans as, well, subhuman. Lesser. Inherently inferior, regardless of heritage or appearance. Useful for specific purposes and completely disposable outside of those instances. There are as-yet-unrevealed (but heavily implied in the series to date) human political structures keeping that hierarchy in place.
This all developed before I started paying attention to racism. Which means I’m still picking bits of grit and shit out of what I’ve written. At the end of the day, I think the series is okay as a beginning. I can do better, and I will do better. I still have too many “northern-passing” characters like Tank as Heroes who save southern (darker-skinned) folks. That’s a real issue (take a look at children’s literature for a few examples of that) and I can’t just plop darker skin on a main character by way of fixing it.
Pausing again here. Have you seen the SyFy adaptation of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books? Did you realize that while the characters in her books are explicitly dark skinned, the TV series had almost entirely white actors? Here’s what LeGuin had to say about that.
Stop and think. If Hollywood is willing to do that to a multiple award winning, white author like LeGuin, how much influence are black creators trying to tell their stories going to think they have? Tell you what, you don’t even have to think too hard about that question. Here are some hard numbers.
Coming back to my own writing, in the series to date, the interactions have all happened within a sharply defined geographical area: south of the complicatedly dangerous Hackerwood**, below the line of which north and south heritage is, for all practical purposes, heavily intermixed. In Kingdom of Salt, though, the action moves north of the Hackerwood, and into more “purely northern” territory. While technically part of the northern kingdom, the people here are politically far more independent–-and much more distrustful of southerners (read: anyone with southern features). This is the area where racism might logically start rearing its ugly head. This is the story where I apply what I’ve been learning, modified for the world I’ve built.
This is also the story where I absolutely must hire a sensitivity reader. I should have done it long ago. I’m absolutely positive I’m going to screw up dozens of small things I didn’t even consider. I’m positive I already did, in the existing series. All I can do there is offer a sincere apology, and all I can do for the future is commit to doing better.
Much like my hopes for 2017: may everyone out there “do better”! Hold on to whatever you have, folks, and keep on trying. We’re all making mistakes and finding out about our flaws, every day of our lives. Keep writing, keep singing, keep dancing, keep working–and keep challenging yourself. Always, always challenge yourself.
It only hurts when you land….
VERY IMPORTANT NOTES
First and foremost, please do comment on this post. Tell me if I’m getting something wrong, or right, or if you’re just confused on a point. I know I’m going to screw stuff up, as I said. I want to know about it asap and fix it.
Now, about those asterisks:
*That does not mean I’m doing it right. I’m not saying this as a “pat me on the back and gimme a cookie” moment. I developed a world without our version of racism; well, there’s also no King Arthur, no Jesus Christ, no Zeus; Sophocles probably would have loved arguing with the teyanain, but on the other hand they’d likely get bored and kill him sooner than later. The closest version to Christopher Columbus, Cortez, or Da Gama is a madman who found a path through a forest filled with horribly dangerous creatures**.
** The Hackerwood is a gigantic belt of dense forest filled with horribly dangerous creatures. It’s a three day trip to get from one side to the other, and there’s only one road to date. Creating that road, and the way stops for travelers, took a lot of work and–-let’s call it bilateral cooperation. 🙂 Another road isn’t gonna happen any time soon, since the alliances that allowed for that initial attempt have fallen apart.
Related post currently in development:
Behind the Scenes About the Cover Art for Children of the Desert Series, and Common Racism in Cover Art (the final title will be less unwieldy, but that’s the base concept).
I’ve been trying to write a political blog post for weeks now. I literally can’t keep up. Every time I settle on a topic, something else lights up as more important.
It’s been observed, I believe rightly, that this is deliberate. There is such a deluge of flat out shit coming down the pipe that none of us can reasonably keep up with it all, let alone write cogent commentary on the entire mess. Some have made noble and brilliant efforts. I find myself picking apart many of the lists, such as the one on The Daily Kos, as offering too much bias and not enough stand alone, unassailable truth. There’s a roundup at CNN that is more balanced in its wording. Either way, there are enough summaries and lists already out there that I feel no need to reinvent the wheel, as it were.
I’m also seeing a stark difference between my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Granted, I’ve populated them with very different “friends and follows”, but I’m beginning to realize many of the folks on my FB friends list genuinely don’t know most of what’s going on. I keep forgetting that not everyone is glued to the news feed. Many people just want to live their lives, go to work, shake their heads, cluck sadly, and wait it out.
Wait and see. He can’t do all those things he’s threatening. He doesn’t have that power. He has to get approval from Congress. He didn’t mean those things, politicians always say outrageous things to get elected. Give him a chance. He needs our support. He deserves our support. We owe him a chance. It’s about time we got tough on these problems, anyway. . . .
Does that sound familiar? Have you, or has someone you know, said any of that?
Here’s an exchange I had recently. Please do not try to search this out, as I’m not trying to start a shitstorm on anyone’s timeline.:
[name redacted]: …During campaigns politicians say anything they think will get them elected. Here’s my thing, everyone wanted people to give Obama a chance. The same goes for Trump. No I didn’t vote for him but ya know what, I want to see what he can do before condemning him. If you give one a chance you have to do it for the next. And if you didn’t vote than you have no right to gripe.
[me]: So far Trump has: stated that he might invade Iraq again in order to get the oil; pushed through approval to get his son in law hired; refused to divest his business assets; banned the National Park Service from using Twitter because he was upset at their repost of photo comparing inaugural crowds from previous and latest election; issued orders to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership; reinstated the gag rule that forbids overseas medical caregivers from even MENTIONING the word abortion; complained at length about the media misrepresenting him; restarted the Dakota Pipeline Project despite massive protests; declared his own inauguration day to be National Patriotism Day; set a clear focus on business negotiations as more important than human rights issues. What else would you like? Oh, how about his nomination of DeVos for Secretary of Education, a woman who has zero experience with public education, teaching, or anything relevant but who JUST SO HAPPENED to donate heavily to his campaign. ….There is so, so much more that marks Trump as an already unfit leader. I haven’t even gotten into the fact that he’s the darling of the Nazi movement and hasn’t pushed back at that in any meaningful way. He’s had his chance. He’s shown who he is. He’s not going to change. The international community isn’t going to give him more time; they can’t afford to. They’re already making plans to deal with him as he is presenting himself right this moment.
I’m utterly unsurprised that there has been no reply whatsoever from the original poster. I have yet to hear any coherent defense of the “give him a chance” stance once confronted with the actual, unslanted facts of what Trump has already put into motion.
Meanwhile, there are many threads on Twitter like this one, explaining in clear and flat detail how Hitler rose to power, and how easily it slides from small to medium to huge without even being noticed–because part of the process is a growing deluge of problems ranging from petty to emotional hot-button issues, problems that come far too fast and thick to absorb or comprehend. Logic need not apply.
One obvious example comes to mind:
Trump is insisting that a wall must be built on the Mexican border. He is insisting that Americans will pay for it up front but Mexico will pay us back. Mexico’s president has said, over and over, that his country will do no such thing. Trump’s response, when asked about that by a reporter, was literally dismissive: “Oh, he has to say that.” Then he said something about alternative ways for Mexico to pay us back–other than currency, by implication.
Dear God. That interview absolutely chilled me to the bone. Let’s set aside the debate about whether the wall should be built, and focus on that one small angle with common sense and logic:
We’re going to build a wall to stop illegal immigrants from coming into the country. We’re going to add a huge burden ($15-25 BILLION) to our taxpayers in order to build this wall. And in return, the other country, which does not want this wall, which has publicly condemned this notion (not because they mean it, according to Trump, but to save face–which, Logic 101, why would you call them out on the international stage about that? Doesn’t that make their loss of face that much worse and increase the likelihood that they will, in fact, dig their heels in?) . . . this country, then, in spite of being so blatantly disrespected and humiliated, will do . . . something . . . not directly financial . . . to pay us back . . . ?
Sure. Let’s wait and see. How bad can it get? There’s already so much to do in day to day life, after all, and what can one person do, and maybe if we just wait it’ll sort itself out, and hey there are already people protesting, I don’t need to get involved. Phone calls? Why bother? Surely thousands of other people are calling already. I’m busy. I hate talking on the phone. I might have to give my name and address to prove I’m a resident, and then–
That last protest is rooted directly in fear of negative consequences for making that phone call. So if you have that thought or make that argument, you already know the problem is very very deeply bad. America has always protected political protest as a basic right. If you’re truly afraid of losing your job or being arrested or having your computer hacked just because you called your senator to register your dissent—
–you’ve just revealed that any wait and see rhetoric you might be spouting is self-serving bullshit.
Thousands of people are calling to complain every day. It needs to be hundreds of thousands of people, every single day. You. Me. Our siblings. Our kids.
I’m terrified. I’m depressed as hell. I’ve said and continue to say all the deflections I typed above. I’m as complicit in the I’ll do it tomorrow stall-out as anyone else.
I can’t get out to march, for many reasons. I rarely pick up the phone to call and complain, mainly because there’s so damn much to call about I’m overwhelmed and drowning in indecision. As guilty as I feel over those two things, it’s not enough to make me do them. (Although I’m hitting my self over my failure every day, trust me. Sometimes that even works, and I pick up the phone.)
What I can do, instead, is write blog posts like this one. What I can do is winnow out the most reliable stuff I see online and point my readers to verifiable facts. What I can do is push people out of complacency and be a naggy bitch about making you face what’s happening all around us.
What can you do? –not a defeatist question. A real one. What is within your abilities and capacity and passion to achieve? Please, figure it out, and start doing that thing.
I’ve been assembling notes in preparation for a series of posts on why I can’t seem to quit playing World of Warcraft. I have three pages at this point, and those are just notes, not actual thought out essays. I look at the file and think, damn, where do I start….. there’s just so much here.
I will note that I’ve decided to assume at least basic familiarity with the games and companies I’m talking about. If you’ve never heard of, much less played, Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, or Neverwinter Nights, this post won’t make the first damn bit of sense to you. I’m creating a breakdown of several games for those who aren’t already familiar. That’s going to be a rather long series of posts, and will take some time to complete. In the meanwhile, if you know what I’m talking about, proceed! If not, well–proceed anyway, but at your own risk. 🙂
I’ll start at what was the beginning for me: Blizzard’s Hearthstone. I really like card games, and I was a huge Magic: The Gathering geek for a while. Hearthstone, which feels a bit like MTG Lite, caught my attention immediately. I played it endlessly for months. I mean total addiction mode, up half the night, madly excited about finding a Legendary in a card pack. I even went looking to see if they’d converted MTG to an internet game, and indeed they had–but on trying it out, in comparison to Hearthstone it felt laggy, unwieldy, and flat out boring. I couldn’t understand why I’d ever liked it in the first place. Hearthstone was so obviously superior: fast, with great animations, goofy card text, incredible play style flexibility and options, endless promotional boosts–and free, don’t forget free.
At the same time, a lot of folks on my Twitter and Facebook feed were talking about World of Warcraft, a game also produced by Blizzard. I realized that Hearthstone was, in fact, a card game based on WoW–don’t laugh at me, I can be dead slow on the uptake sometimes–and the temptation began. Because if Hearthstone was so fun, and WoW looked like a big sprawling RPG (potentially even better than Neverwinter Nights)… well….
I’ll pause here to note that I had never played a MMORPG before. I always chose the offline version of a game and played solo. That was partially financial, because I hadn’t had an internet access plan that would allow for a brute of a game like WoW, and partially–well, I’ve already said games are an addiction for me. I didn’t want to risk the rabbit hole.
I first tried to load it to my iPad. Yes, I was that ignorant.
I side-eyed the game for several more days before giving in and installing it on my computer. In a proper romance story, I would say I immediately fell in love and the rest is history. This being real life, I’ll admit that I absolutely hated WoW for about the first two weeks. It was confusing and complicated and there were all these people running around acting so completely confident. There were more options and buttons and bars and beeps and boops than I’d ever seen on a game before. It was worse than the days of trying to teach myself a 3D animation-building program without help. I struggled just to understand the camera settings, let alone trade chat or joining a group. I had no clue about key bindings, action bars, oh gods, dozens of things. It is, honestly, a freaking beast of a game with a zillion options.
I kept going because I’m stubborn, and because friends I trust told me that my reaction was normal, to just ignore anything that didn’t need to be understood right that moment. So it took me weeks to take a chance on joining a quest group, months to figure out key binding, years (yes, you can laugh at me here) to realize details such as, for example, enchantments could be cast on scrolls for later use, instead of having to be cast on the same items over and over in order to build skill points. I mentioned I’m slow sometimes. It just honestly never flagged in my head.
I still only use about a quarter of the fancy shit that WoW offers. Macros still confuse me a bit, and I prefer solo play over group, especially with dungeons. I don’t see the point of a lot of what other players are fighting over; I have zero interest in raids or PvP combat or–
Well. If you already play WoW, you’re doing one of three things right now: rolling your eyes at me, leaving to find someone more Authentically Geeky, or nodding along enthusiastically and saying talk about what’s good in the game now, please!
Okay. First two subsets: hush. Last subset: WELCOME TO MY WORLD.
This post is for you.
What I really love about WoW, the reasons I can’t quit playing:
The side quests, especially those tied to profession skills like fishing, herbalism, tailoring, and so on. I’ve created new characters (“alts”) just to explore questlines among different professions.
The professions themselves. Both gathering and crafting sides are fantastic fun. I’ve created a team of characters, in fact, who farm and craft for one another–basically a mini guild. Why would I want to join a guild, when I can do all the stuff myself?
I’m going to pause here and note that I have been in several guilds, and three of my characters are still in a guild–on the Horde side–and I’m well aware that guilds can be fun. I’m only in that Horde guild because one of my IRL friends invited me in. I almost never take advantage of any of the perks. I just use the guild to keep in touch with my friend more easily.
I’m also going to pause–in fact, stop–at this point because I’ve just realized that discussing what I love about WoW is going to take up an entire post all on its own, if not several. Please post comments about which aspects of WoW you particularly love, and I’ll try to address those points in my next post.
REMEMBER: I have a first time commenter approval policy. Your comment will take around 24 hours to show up, depending on when I have time to check my email. Once you’ve cleared that first comment block, future comments will appear instantly. 😀
Now I’m off to the next bit of writing for the day–whatever I decide that’s going to be. I might just freewrite for half an hour, I haven’t done that in a while.
Go be creative and have fun today! Because why the hell not. 🙂
After several batches of suspected bot subscriptions, I’ve switched the form. Instead of signing up for the blog, there’s now an option to subscribe to my Irregular Update newsletter (the next one will be sent out in the coming week). I’ll re-enable blog follow signups next month, once I’ve settled out a few items on this end; meanwhile, there’s always the option to sign up for the RSS feed. Thanks for understanding! 🙂