Tag Archives: fiction writing

Ghosts, A Hurricane, and a Dash of Shakespeare

… Or the genesis of Ghosts of Prosper Key.

Stories are strange things. They grow from tiny seeds—characters, actions, imagined events. Often for me, a story really takes off only when two or more completely unrelated ideas come together. This seems to create a kind of magical tension as I wonder “How can these things fit together?”

Background

My newest novella, Ghosts of Prosper Key, evolved in this way. It is the fourth of a series, the Abby Renshaw Supernatural Mysteries, so I already knew the back story. Abby is a teenage “true magician,” student of a tradition founded by her ancestors in the town of Harmony Springs in rural Florida.

Ghost of Prosper Key Cover
Ghosts of Prosper Key is available on Amazon.

At the end of the preceding novel, Ghosts of Lock Tower, Abby has succeeded in overcoming magical challenges and dangers spawned by the occult. She is living with her grandmother and starting college. She has relationships with elders in the magical circle, as well as two guys she is interested in romantically.

Idea 1: Molly is Haunted

Abby also has a best friend, an aspiring journalist named Molly Quick. All of my readers seem to love Molly, due to her bravery, insatiable curiosity, and no-nonsense approach to things. In Lock Tower, it was also revealed that Molly has native talent as a spiritual medium.

So I wanted this story to focus on Molly.

What’s her situation? She’s in her last year of high school, applying to colleges. Like many sensitive and intelligent kids, she is scared of the coming changes, scared of growing up. These fears haunt her. Because of the subject-matter of the series as a whole, these fears manifest as paranormal events.

Molly is haunted. But by what?

Idea 2: The Setting

One thing I love about this series is that it lets me write about out-of-the-way places in Florida. A location I had visited and wanted to use as a setting was Cedar Key.

This island lies off the northwest coast of the state. The area is known as the Nature Coast, as it has little population but lots of swamps, ranches, and nature preserves. Today, Cedar Key is a remote, “old Florida” tourist destination.

But the past has a different story to tell.

Cedar Key cemetery
Cemetery at Cedar Key, site of one of the scenes in Ghosts of Prosper Key

In the late 1800s, the Cedar Keys (as they were then called) were one of the most populous areas in Florida. The island then known as Way Key was the end point of the east-west railroad and the major port on Florida’s west coast. Fishing, oyster farms, and especially timber were major industries. Because of over logging, the economy began to decline in the 1890s. Then, in 1896, the area was devastated by one of the worst hurricanes ever to hit the United States.

So, I thought: if Molly is haunted and if our heroes visit Cedar Key, the ghosts must originate there. And if there are unhappy spirits roaming the place, they most-likely lived during that great hurricane.

Idea 3: The Tempest

So now I had the main character, her conflicts, and the setting. But something was still missing. Who were these ghosts? Why were they restless?

It had something to do with that hurricane.

For research, I read the book The Cedar Keys Hurricane of 1896: Disaster at Dawn by Alvin F. Oickle. The events were both frightening and amazing. The island that is now Cedar Key was leveled, while nearby Atsena Otie Key (then known as Depot Key) was inundated by a ten-foot storm surge.

Their whole world washed away in a night and a day.

Pondering that, I suddenly thought of a famous song that the spirit Ariel sings in Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark! now I hear them. Ding-dong, bell.
(Act I, Scene 2)

Sea change. The sea rising up and changing everything. That idea resonated strongly. My story had some relationship to The Tempest. But what?

Scene from the Tempest
Illustration from the Tempest source: https://shakespeareyouthfestival.com/2015/12/tempest/

As you might recall, the play concerns Prospero, a powerful magician who has lost his Dukedom by betrayal and now lives on a remote island with his daughter, Miranda (and spirits that he conjures).

Prospero raises a storm to wreck a passing ship which, he happens to know, contains the party of Alonso the King of Naples and Prospero’s own brother, Antonio, who usurped his place as Duke of Milan. Ferdinand, the son of the king, swims to shore and is found by Prospero. Put into service by the magician, he falls in love with Miranda, and she with him.

So: Molly haunted by ghosts, a powerful father and his daughter, a tempest and disaster, a love story.

My completely unrelated ideas had come together.

The story had taken off.

Denouement

Throughout the action of Shakespeare’s play winds roar; confusion reigns and disappears; love is found; moral order is restored; and all the lost characters reunite in the end.

As Gonzalo, the loquacious king’s counselor, summarizes:

…O, rejoice
Beyond a common joy, and set it down
With gold on lasting pillars: In one voyage
Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis,
And Ferdinand, her brother, found a wife
Where he himself was lost, Prospero his dukedom
In a poor isle and all of us ourselves
When no man was his own.
(Act V, Scene 1)

Shore at Cedar Key
Along the shore at Cedar Key

These days, of course, our own world is facing dangers and changes of every kind. Will we all drown in wreckage, or will we emerge on some better shore having found ourselves in unlikely ways?

We can hope for the best. That’s what stories are for.

————————

You can find Ghosts of Prosper Key on Amazon.

Or check out the rest of the
Abby Renshaw Supernatural Histories here.

Interview with Author JC Kang

This month we are pleased to present an interview with John (JC) Kang, author of The Legends of Tivara, a multi-volume epic fantasy “series of series” that includes, among others, The Dragon Songs Saga and Scions of the Black Lotus.

The Dragon Songs Saga Boxset

Welcome JC. Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

Thanks for having me!  I’m an acupuncturist by trade, a Wing Chun Kung Fu instructor for fun, and I do a little writing, as well.  I generally write epic fantasy with a mix of cultures drawing from Earth’s history.

When did you first decide to be a writer? What first drew you to writing fantasy?

I grew up both GMing (Game-Mastering) and playing D&D, and as a teen, I’d stood in line waiting for Dragonlance books to come out.  As something of a misfit, I tried to write a story set in my game world then. It was a total mess. Twenty years later, I came across my worldbuilding materials while cleaning out my room in my childhood home. Of course, as an adult, I had a better understanding of matters like economies and gravity, so I decided to recreate the planet that I’d envisioned as a teenager.

On the seventh day, I rested. It was then that I realized I would probably never play D&D again; and since as a DM, my players always frustrated me with their free will, I decided I would write.

Are there particular books, movies, or games that were a major influence on your work?

Besides Dungeons & Dragons, Civilization was a huge influence in terms of giving me the idea of a second world with Earth Cultures.  Of course, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia were huge literary and media influencers when I was growing up.

Do all of your stories take place in the same fictional universe? How do you approach setting and world building?

So far, yes!  The primary characters of one series might make a cameo in another, and there is one character who appears in all of them.

For world building, one of the most important things to me is continuity and interconnectivity.  For example, I created a low-orbit moon which is tidally locked and always in the same place in the sky. I started to think, how would that moon influence the people viewing it from below? What cultural practices would that lead to?

Yes, I remember thinking what a cool idea that moon was. It gave a science fiction touch to the fantasy world. 

I am always interested in the magical aspect of fantasy. What inspires the magic or supernatural elements of your stories?

I give each ethnic group their own form of magic, but it is all based on borrowing wave energy from an abundant mineral on the planet. Each culture describe the manipulation of frequency, wavelength, and amplitude to alter reality it in different terminology:  For example, the “Roman” Diviners hear the Gods’ Whispers to Divine; whereas the “West African” Mystics sense the Resonance for sorcery; South Asians channel Vibrations into fighting prowess, etc.

I think a big challenge of fantasy is creating magic that is plausible and understandable to the reader. Do you construct rules-based magical systems or approach it in some other way?

I would neither call the magic system hard or soft—it’s firm. There are definite rules, but I don’t keep track of mana points or anything like that. The key to me is consistency: if there is magic, how will that affect the development of a culture, and the cultures around it?

Complete Tales of the Floating World Boxset

Of all the characters you’ve created, who are your favorites and why?

My favorites have changed over the years, but now, I would say it is my half Asian/half-elf ninja. Originally, she was just a minor character meant to show the world was a mix of Eastern and Western fantasies; but my first critique partners loved her so much, she got an important back story. She’s fun to write because the snark in her viewpoint.

How would you describe your writing style?

Technical?  Not technical writing—I actually worked in that field at one time—but rather, the idea of structuring variety in sentence structures and patterns. Beyond that, I can’t say I’m a brilliant wordsmith who knows the perfect word to evoke the perfect image.

Your biography includes professional experience as a Chinese Medicine Doctor and a martial arts instructor. How have these experiences added to your fiction?

Martial arts has helped me choreograph fights. Chinese Medicine has helped come up with some cool sayings.

Art of the Floating World cover

What are your current projects? When will we see your next book?

I’m currently working on the sequel to Masters of Deception, which chronologically takes place between Crown of the Sundered Empire and Orchestra of Treacheries (though the sequel to Crown, and possibly a serial) will squeeze in between those last two.

I’m also working on a cyberpunk-Progression Fantasy mashup.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a lot. Critique, because if you’re like me, in reading unpolished works, you will see what doesn’t work, and you’ll realize you probably make the same mistakes.

In closing, is there anything else you would like to say to your readers?

I’m deeply humbled by those who’ve spent time reading my stories. Thank you!

***********************************

You can find JC Kang’s books on his Amazon page.List of JC Kang Books

To learn more about JC Kang visit http://jckang.dragonstonepress.us/

 

A Cast of Characters

Right now, I am more than delighted because I am finally nearing completion of Tournament of Witches, the third and final book of The Glimnodd Cycle .

Cloak of the Two Winds Cover image

The latest novel truly fits the mold of “epic” fantasy, weighing in at a healthy 95,000 words and featuring a multitude of characters and lots of background (aka world building).

Presenting this amount of information in a story is one of the great challenges of epic fantasy. Of course, the best way to present all of this backstory is to chop it up into little chunks and weave it into the narrative. In a past series of posts beginning here, I described Five Techniques for presenting backstory in this way.

Still, no matter how skillfully the author weaves in character descriptions and background details, readers will sometimes get lost. This is particularly true for readers who might start by reading one of the later books in a series.

To solve this dilemma, an author might provide additional tools that the confused reader can flip to to remind or re-orient themselves. One such tool is a Glossary, which can include definitions of things, places, and concepts that only exist in the fantasy world. Another such tool is a list of characters.

In Tournament of Witches I am including both of these, a Glossary in the back of the book and a character list in the front.

Ad for Book 2: the witch Amlina confronts a dragon spirit.

We’ll leave discussion of the Glossary for a future post. But here, in draft form, is the character listing. Since this is placed at the start of the novel, one thing I’ve tried to do is not only identify the characters, but give a little (hopefully intriguing) information about who they are and what their situation is at the start of the story. Because there are so many, I’ve also used the information designer’s technique of grouping them under subheadings.

Cast of Characters

Amlina – Wandering witch from Larthang, a nation of great witches. Victorious in acquiring the Cloak of the Two Winds, she now seeks to recover from what it cost her.

Eben – Warrior of the barbarian Iruk people. Inclined to poetry; squandering his loot on a life of ease; enjoying it less than he expected.

Eben’s mates, members of his klarn:

Glyssa (f), brave and loving. Trained by Amlina in the magical arts.

Lonn (m), the klarn leader, strong, passionate, stoical. In love with Glyssa.

Draven (m), Lonn’s cousin, brave and optimistic. In love with Amlina.

Karrol (f), brawny, decisive, outspoken. No longer sure where she belongs.

Brinda (f), Karrol’s sister, quiet and reserved. Loyal above all to Karrol.

Others related to Amlina or the Iruks

Kizier – Scholar and friend to Amlina. Ruminating over his past life as a sentient sea-fern.

Buroof – A talking book, once a human. Three thousand years old and full of knowledge.

Beryl Quan de Lang – Amlina’s great enemy. Now a ghost that haunts her.

Bellach – Iruk shaman and sometime mentor to Glyssa in visions.

Witches of Larthang

Drusdegarde – Archimage of the West. Supreme witch of the Land.

Trippany – Bee-winged lady of the drell people. Envoy from the Archimage.

Clorodice, Keeper of the Keys – Powerful and strict. Adherent of the austere Thread of Virtue faction.

Arkasha – Clorodice’s subaltern and member of her circle.

Elani Vo T’ang – Clorodice’s favored apprentice.

Melevarry, Mage of Randoon -Chief witch of that port city. Loyal to the Archimage.

Larthangan Military and Court

Duke Trem-Dou Pheng – Supreme Commander of the Larthangan Forces and leader of the militarist faction, the Iron Bloc.

Shay-Ni Pheng – Admiral of the Larthangan Navy and the Duke’s nephew. Unhappy with his current assignment.

The Tuan (Me Lo Lee) – Supreme Ruler of Larthang. A nine-year-old boy with access to the memories and knowledge of his 154 dynastic predecessors.

Prince Spegis – drell ambassador to the Court. Cousin to Trippany.

Ting Fo -gentleman tutor and interpreter for the Iruks at the Court.

Ancient Chinese Rulers
Ancient Chinese Rulers: Inspiration for the Larthangan court. source: http://earlyworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/01/yao-shun-and-yu.html

 

You can find more background on the magical world of Glimnodd here .

Or check out the series on Amazon.

Origins of the Frog Monster

As guest author at a book club meeting recently, I was asked about the egregore, a figure in my latest novel Ghosts of Lock Tower. In the story, the egregore is a thought-form, a monster that originates as an internet meme but soon takes on a life of its own.

Ghosts of Lock Tower
Ghosts of Lock Tower is available on Amazon.

As I explained to the book club, as much as possible in my fiction, I like to base magical content on the real thing—that is, magic as it is actually believed in and practiced in our world. I have researched this quite a bit, and both historical and modern occult practices are represented in Lock Tower.

Two Schools of Magic

The protagonist, Abby Renshaw, is an initiate of the Circle of Harmony, a magical order loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Founded in the late 19th Century, the Golden Dawn became a wellspring of modern occultism, and there are still Golden Dawn groups practicing today.

Perhaps the best-known book on the Golden Dawn, by Israel Regardie

During the story Abby encounters another tradition, called “Postmodern Magic,” which is (again, loosely) based on contemporary occult practices grouped under the collective term “Chaos Magic.” As explained in Wikipedia: “Chaos magic has been described as a union of traditional occult techniques and applied postmodernism – particularly a postmodernist skepticism concerning the existence or knowability of objective truth. Chaos magicians subsequently treat belief as a tool, often creating their own idiosyncratic magical systems…”

A character in Lock Tower explains to Abby that he was drawn to Postmodern Magic because it is “free of doctrine and bullshit, a completely scientific search for truth.” Abby finds this appealing, but also worrisome. Postmodern magic lacks the structure and guidance she is used to from the Circle of Harmony. Yet is also offers power that she needs.

The Concept of the Egregore

Two concepts from Chaos Magic that figure prominently in Ghosts of Lock Tower are sigils and the egregore.

We’ll leave sigils for perhaps another time, but (again quoting Wikipedia), “Egregore (also egregor) is an occult concept representing a “thoughtform” or “collective group mind”, an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people.”

Source: Supernatural Magazine, Image Source: https://supernaturalmagazine.com/articles/egregore

Notice that an egregore is both made up of the thoughts of a group of people (usually an occult circle) and also influences their thoughts. An independent entity, created by thought, that manifests in the world and affects peoples’ minds – if you spend any time on social media, it is no stretch at all to see how this idea compares to a meme.

The egregore in Ghosts of Lock Tower begins life as a character in an online game. Soon he is adopted as a meme representing collective rage and hate.

But why a frog?

The egregore first appears early in the book. Abby has a nightmare that takes place in a virtual reality game world. She runs in terror through dungeons and corridors filled with dazed and injured young people. Finally:

I enter an upper chamber, like a temple or throne room. Suits of glittering armor stand along the walls. More kids are lined up in a queue, approaching a throne. On the throne sits a huge white frog, with mad angry eyes in its head—and dozens more eyes in its stomach. A girl approaches the throne, and the frog monster opens its mouth. She shrieks as he sucks her in, like sipping cola through a straw.

A frog monster
A Frog Monster similar to the one in the novel. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/480266747758596316/

When I drafted that scene, the image of the egregore as a giant white frog spilled readily out of my unconscious. It was only later that I realized a connection. In our own little world there is in fact a meme (or egregore) that started as a harmless online character but transformed into a powerful emblem for hate. You may have heard of Pepe the Frog .

Pepe the Frog from New York Magazine
Pepe the Frog, from an article in New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/04/the-whole-world-is-now-a-message-board.html

The ways of the group mind are vast, deep, and strange, gentle reader. Like Abby, we all must look for principles and guideposts to help us navigate the chaos.

*********************************************

To learn more about Abby’s quest to combine the two forms of magic, check out Ghosts of Lock Tower here .
You can also read more about the frog monster in this (free online) story published by Harbinger Press: “Return of the Egregore.”

Interview with Fantasy Author Kasper Beaumont

This month we have an author interview with Kasper Beaumont, creator of The Hunters of Reloria trilogy (young adult sword and sorcery) as well as fantasy short fiction. December 14 will see the publication of her newest work, a contemporary urban fantasy titled Captive of the Darkness (Hidden Angel Series, Book One).

Kasper Beaumont

Welcome Kasper. Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

G’day Jack.  Great to be here, thank you.  Your Triskelion Books website sure looks interesting, and I’ll be checking out your Mazes of Magic book for sure. I love Egyptology.

Oops, back to the question. Yes, I’m an Australian author of fantasy books.  Four in The Hunters of Reloria series (yes I called it a ‘trilogy’ and I fail at maths haha). I have now started on another trilogy (slow learner here) and think it will be three books, but I do find my characters have their own ideas about things, so we’ll wait and see.

When did you first decide to be a writer?

In primary school I was that geeky kid reading Lord of the Rings while my classmates were enthralled by Dr. Suess. I guess that was the first clue. When we swapped our creative writing books and read each other’s work aloud, my friends couldn’t even pronounce, let alone comprehend, some of my stories. Oops, sorry guys. At least we’re on good terms now. One friend named Becky recently gave me a Galadriel award for creative writing. (She totes made up that award, but I gladly accepted.)

I then grew up, went through uni where my assignments struggled to fit in under 2K or 5K word limits. Then after having a few halflings (kiddos) of my own, I rediscovered my love for creative writing.

What first drew you to writing fantasy?

My first thought to answer this is laziness (chuckles). I’m not one to spend hours in libraries researching the past when I can create my own worlds. I have vivid dreams, such a halflings and fairies playing in wheat fields or mace-wielding lizardmen being tossed into the air by a dragon.

I guess another instigating factor was when my eldest child started school and I thought it would be a cool project for us to write a book together and see our ideas in print.

Are there particular books, movies, games that were a major influence on your work?

The Belgariad series by David Eddings was one of my faves growing up. I felt pure joy and the excitement of waiting for the next installment in the series. It’s probably why I chose to pen a series instead of a single novel. You get more time to formulate and expand your ideas over several books.

Movies I enjoyed growing up were madcap adventures like The Three Musketeers, The Goonies, modern spins on classics, such as Neverending Story, magical escapism such as E.T, and I can’t overlook my fave of all time, Star Wars, for sheer entertainment value.

You were born and raised in Australia. In what ways would you say that influenced your work? Put another way, do you see any particular differences between Australian fiction and that of other countries?

Mateship is a strong theme in Australia. Being the driest inhabited continent and prone to bushfires, the people are tough and form deep bonds where we look out for each other. I guess that is why my characters develop such deep friendships and risk their lives for each other, like the traditional ‘Aussie digger’ soldiers in the World Wars.

Sometimes I write of things we lack in my country such as historic castles and particularly documented histories. Our culture here is very old, but has limited written or man-made edifices, more a sense of one with nature and lore stored in the minds of elders and passed down from generation to generation.

Can you tell us about your newest work, Captive of the Darkness?

On Riley’s 18th birthday, she is told she’s a demon hunter, like the rest of her family. She shrugs the news off in disbelief but that very night she unwittingly enters the lair of a powerful demon and her whole world is turned upside down.

She meets a stripper nicknamed Cupid, who states he is prisoner of the demon. He is a graceful ballet dancer forced into slavery but yearning to escape his dangerous master. When she sees a glowing aura around this young man, she realizes he isn’t just any ordinary lad, but something very special. She knows she must try to save him.

Captive of Darkness Cover

As urban fantasy, Angels and Demons is a departure from your Hunters of Reloria series. What influenced you to take this new direction?

Good question. I think my reading interests have been leading me in this direction for many years. After years of loving epic fantasy, I’ve been reading a lot more paranormal and mature content and guess this is where my inspiration developed. Influences would be The Fallen series, Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, Sookie Stackhouse, Anne Rice, etc.

Also, my love of culture is evident in the ballet dancing and the artwork (more in the 2nd book, so I won’t elaborate). I still do love coming-of-age and graduation themes though. It’s such an important part of life, and I think that being around and writing about young people keeps me young at heart too.

How would you describe the challenges of writing urban fantasy versus epic fantasy or sword and sorcery?

Hmm…I guess for me it was a more mature writing style and language. They are quite different genres. In the Hunters of Reloria series I could just throw in a twin planet or a new form of magic without having to explain the physics of how that would work or why. The beauty of writing in an alien world, anything is possible.

In the Hidden Angel series, I feel more responsibility to make the paranormal abilities and characters believable as though this is just a part of the real world you didn’t know about. I have thrown in a few little ‘Easter eggs’ of places that people living in Redcliffe and Brisbane may recognize. One is even a hotel which was demolished but has been reborn in another location in Captive of the Darkness.

The Hunters of Reloria books are described as YA (young adult) fiction while Angels and Demons is adult fiction? How did you adjust your writing for the new audience?

I’m hoping there aren’t young readers here, but if so, please look away now.

The main mature concept introduced in Captive of the Darkness is male exotic dancers. You know what they say, sex sells, baby. That may sound a bit cocky, but to keep it real, I write what I like to read and hope there are readers with the same tastes as mine who would like to follow me down the rabbit hole.

Elven Jewel Cover

While we’re on the subject, can you tell us a little more about The Hunters of Reloria?

This fantasy adventure begins when the magical continent of Reloria is threatened by cruel, scaly invaders called Vergai from the wastelands of Vergash. These invaders are barbaric and are intent on destroying the protective elven forcefield and conquering peaceful Reloria. The Vergais’ plan is to steal the Elven Jewel which is the key to the Relorian defence system.

Halfling friends Randir and Fendi and their bond-fairies are the first to discover the invaders, and they embark on a quest to save the Elven Jewel. They leave their peaceful farm village with their fairies and race against time to stop the invaders. They join forces with dwarves, elves, men, and a mysterious dragon, and call themselves the Hunters of Reloria.

The quest is perilous, with numerous encounters with the ruthless Vergai, who are determined to fulfill their mission. The Elven Jewel is stolen and the quest becomes a race to the portal to retrieve the jewel before it can be taken to Vergash. A battle for Reloria ensues where the consequences for the Relorians is death, unless Vergai are stopped.

How would you describe your writing style?

I fly by the seat of my pants. At best I have a general outline of the story and sometimes even then I change the plot in the middle of writing. The uncertainty is quite fun and keeps me on my toes. With work and family commitments, I don’t always get to write every day, but I do enjoy writing a lot when I have the time.

This past year I created two wonderful online groups with my friends Cheryllynn Dyess and Marsha A Moore and later have been joined by around 20 other wonderful collaborators of whom I’d like to particularly mention and thank Rennie St James.

The Fantasy & Sci-Fi Readers Lounge and
The Fantasy SciFi Author Support Group

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Join a group, read aloud, get feedback, and hone your craft. We all have to start somewhere, and practice makes perfect. (I’m the Queen of the clichés today, it seems).

I think the most important advice is to keep going. Not everyone who reads your work will love it. Even the biggest writers in the world have had rejections, so don’t quit when someone doesn’t like your work.

In closing, is there anything else you would like to say to your readers?

May the force be with you. Never give up, never surrender. Live long and prosper. Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread through shadows to the edge of night, until the stars are all alight.

If you know and like those four quotes, then you know where to find me.

Also, a review is the best gift you can give an author.

Happy reading, cheers,

Kasper.

___________________________________________

You can find Captive of the Darkness on Amazon

Can an angel be hiding here on Earth?

A veil of secrecy is lifted on Riley’s 18th birthday. She thought she knew the world, but now discovers she is a demon hunter. It doesn’t seem real, but then she meets Him, a charismatic young dancer with special powers.

He is a prisoner of a powerful demon.

What secrets does this stranger hide? Will Riley risk her own family to save Him?

To learn more about Kasper Beaumont visit these links:  

Kasper Beaumont
Hunters of Reloria series
Hidden Angel series
Website: www.huntersofreloria.weebly.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kasperj.beaumont
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KasperBeaumont
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kaz.beaumont/

 

Introducing the Winged Lady

Or how I won Aristotle’s approval for my novel in progress.

I am working once again on the Glimnodd Cycle, epic sword and sorcery set in a unique magical world.

Presently, I am in the thick of writing the first draft for Book 3, tentatively titled Tournament of Witches. And I don’t mind telling you I’ve had some trouble getting this one rolling. I have a pretty detailed outline, composed some time back, for the second and third parts of the book. The opening was the problem. I needed to collect my crew of characters (six warriors, a witch, and a wandering scholar) where I left them at the end of Book 2 (A Mirror Against All Mishap) and get them going on their next adventure.

Five of the crew are living in a remote colony in the south polar region of Glimnodd. Hiding out, because they now possess the Cloak of the Two Winds, an important magical treasure that , inevitably, powers from all over the world are looking to claim. Meantime, two of the warriors have returned to their former lives as hunters. The other warrior, Eben, has been living in the port city of the polar colony, squandering his loot on drink and dissolute living.

Since Eben is the protagonist of Book 3, I knew I needed to open with him and his sorry circumstances. I imagined him waking up in an alley, hung over and having been robbed. Poor Eben.

One of plot elements that intrigued me most didn’t appear until part 3 in the outline—people with bee wings. By that point, our heroes have arrived in distant Larthang and returned the Cloak to its rightful owners. Now they are embroiled in political and magical intrigue, part of which involves the drell. The drell are insect-winged people from a neighboring land. One of them, a lady, is kidnapped as part of the plot.

Autumn Fairy by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite
An image close to my idea of a drell. Autumn Faery, by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. source https://www.pinterest.com/pin/296533956689319731/

So how could I tie all this together and get my characters and story moving.? After worrying over this for some time, a solution came to me. The drell lady from part 3 is an agent for one of the factions searching for the Cloak. She appears in the opening scene with Eben. As I wrote on a social media post:

“Sometimes it’s takes a while to realize that the bee-winged lady from Part 3 is the same as the witch’s agent who discovers the hero drunk in the alley in Chapter 1.”

Shortly after figuring this out, I took it a step further and made the villain from part 3 one of the other parties searching for the Cloak in Part 1. These revelations not only introduce important new characters right at the start, they tie together the dramatic events from part 3 with the book’s opening. The whole plot is now much better unified. And didn’t Aristotle cite unity as a crucial element of drama in The Poetics?

My new book is now okay with Aristotle. What a relief!

Here, in draft form, is the opening scene for the new novel…

Cold wind tickled his forehead and eyelids. Eben blinked, painfully coming awake. Squinting into the gray dawn, he recognized the worn brick wall of an alley, smeared with frost. Rime and icy winds were normal enough in Fleevanport at the end of Third Winter. Waking from a drunken sleep in an alley was also, regrettably, typical for him these days.

Not typical was the sparkling woman floating over him in the air, her vibrating bee-wings blowing cold air on his face.

Eben shut his eyes and rubbed the back of his head. At least the drunken dreams were growing more interesting. Groaning, he reached inside his fur overshirt, fingers groping for his purse.

Gone. Robbed again, no doubt by some doxy he had stupidly followed from a tavern. How often had he fallen for that ploy these past two seasons—roaming the waterfront, drinking far too much, squandering his hard-won loot? At least this time the thief had left his fur cape and hunting knife.

Persistent humming made him open his eyes. Startled, he sat up then squinted hard.

The gleaming lady still hung in the air, her wings a blur. She had the body of a slim woman, dressed in gauzy garments that could have offered little protection from the cold. Black hair, banded by a gemmed silver crown, a slim and angular face, coppery complexion, eyes that turned up at the corners—eyes like black onyx bead, watching him.

Vision or real, Eben thought her the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.

She floated down, dainty belled slippers settling on the cobblestone. Bending to peer at his face, she spoke in halting Low-Tathian.

“You are … all right?”

Stiff and aching, Eben struggled to his feet. He was small for an Iruk warrior. Even so, the top of the lady’s head just reached the level of his chin. He examined her wings, still now, blue-veined, silvery, rounded like bee-wings, sprouting from her back.

“Oh, I am all right,” he said. “And how are you?”

She smiled, revealing white pointy teeth.

“And what are you?” he added.

The wings fluttered and she rose into the air, stopping when her eyes were level with his.

“I am named Trippany. And you are an Iruk?”

“That is so, my pretty flying girl. But from what nation do you hail? For, assuming you are real and not an illusion, I have never seen the like of you.”

Her tone grew solemn and proud, the words coming like a speech she had rehearsed. “I am an envoy from the House of the Deepmind in Larthang.”

That might make sense. Larthang was far away and strange, known to be a land of great mages. Who could say they had not bred such creatures as this by their magic?

“That is odd,” he said. “You do not look Larthangan.”

Her mouth quirked in a half-smile. “My people are the drell. You know … how Larthangans look then?”

Suddenly, Eben realized this was leading into dangerous territory. He rubbed the back of his head. “Well, of course. Their trading ships sometimes sail these waters.”

The lady seemed to sense his secretiveness—and was having none of it. “I seek the Cloak of the Two Winds,” she stated flatly. “Do you know where it can be found?”

Eben tilted back. He forced himself to show a puzzled frown. “Why no …  How should I know such a thing?”

Of course, he did know. The Cloak was in the possession of the witch Amlina. She, along with three of Eben’s former mates, lived in hiding at a farmstead in the hills half a day’s journey from here.

The lady floated a bit higher, glaring down at him now. He hoped she could not read his thoughts

“I’ve head tales of it,” Eben muttered casually. “A great thing of magic, is it not? Stories have reached this port that it was stolen some time back, taken from some great witch of Tallyba who has slain in the battle.”

“Those same tales reached Larthang,” the bee-lady said. “Some of them say the Cloak was stolen by  a witch of Larthang, in league with warriors of the Iruk folk. Others say that same witch used the Cloak to scatter a Tathian fleet … at an  island called Alone.”

Eben shrugged, wondering if he should reach for his knife. He would hate to kill this lovely creature, but he was sworn not to reveal Amlina’s hideout. “You seem to know more about it than I do.”

“I am not so sure.” the lady peered hard into his eyes. “You are Iruk. And you were heard in a tavern last night, boasting that you had seen an entire Tathian fleet blown away by magic.”

Casually as he could, Eben slipped his hand toward the knife handle. “I don’t remember saying that. To be honest, I’ve been told I am a terrible liar when I’ve had too much to drink.”

She eyed his hand on the knife hilt. “I see. Perhaps also you lie at other times?” She flew higher, floating out of reach. “So then, you cannot help me find the Cloak?”

“I fear not.”

“You … disappoint me. But I shall keep looking.”

The angle of her wings changed, and she looped away, higher into the air. Light flashed, and Eben thrust up an arm to shield his eyes. When he looked again, the lady was gone.

Eben wiped his forehead and heaved a deep breath. He glanced suspiciously up and down the alley.

Had the winged lady been real? Certainly the conversation was too prolonged for a simple drunken dream. But perhaps she was a vision, sent by some sorcerer or witch to interrogate him? Amlina had said that many mages would seek the Cloak of the Two Winds, once it became known that it was loose in the world.

Eben vowed to be careful … and avoid so much drinking.

excerpt © 2019 by Jack Massa, All Rights Reserved

You can learn more about the world of Glimnodd here.

Or check out the first two books on Amazon:

World-Building for Fantasy – Three Tips

Creating worlds for fantasy and science fiction is a topic beloved by many. And, of course, there is plenty of excellent advice available online. Two of my favorites are Brandon Sanderson’s “Rules for Magic”  and this series by the excellent Brenda Clough.   There are even dedicated tools you can use, such as the highly-regarded World Anvil.

But imagining an entire world is no easy task. For all the great resources available, writers often struggle. In this post, drawing on examples from expert authors, I’ll provide three tips for setting up a fantasy world that is both imaginative and unique.

1. Story Before World

World-building can be great fun. It can also be a rabbit hole. Many people spend endless hours defining every nook and nuance of their world—history, climate, geography, sentient races, religions, magic, technology.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But if you want to write fantasy stories, you need to put the story first. Put your focus on the primary elements of story.   Who are your characters? What are their goals? What are the obstacles to those goals? How will they seek to overcome those obstacles? Let all your world building efforts be driven by those questions.

Take for example The Queen’s Poisoner by popular author Jeff Wheeler. The story takes place in a pretty standard medieval-style world (with a few unique and intriguing elements). But the focus is first and foremost on the characters—as we follow our young hero Owen through the tribulations of being held hostage in the castle of a tyrant king. The history, politics, and other background information are revealed gradually and always in terms of how they relate to the dramatic story.

Or consider the massive and massively popular The Name of the Wind. Patrick Rothfuss constructs a complex and richly-detailed fantasy world. But again, the setting is only gradually revealed in the midst of dramatic action. In this case, we are presented with multiple narratives—the first, a framing device that introduces the hero, then multiple sequential stories as the protagonist relates his history to the “Chronicler.” This is also a truly epic example of story construction.

2. Make It Distinct

For all the efforts spend on world-building, many writers fall into the trap of imitation. All too often readers find themselves in worlds that seem like copies of Tolkien or Dungeons and Dragons: orcs, witches, werewolves, elves, dragons, shapeshifters, vampires…

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But the best fantasy worlds have something that makes them unique and special.

In The Name of the Wind, we find (among other things) a complex set of “arcanist arts” (including Sympathy, Sygaldry, Alchemy, and Naming) which function according to precise scientific laws.

Or take NK Jemison’s award-winning The Broken Earth Trilogy. In Book 1, The Fifth Season, we meet the orogenes, a unique kind of humans with the power to sense and tap the tectonic forces of the Earth. These books might best be called science-fantasy, since the orogenes’ powers are linked to a biological explanation. But the author’s depictions of how these powers feel and are experienced are nonetheless fantastic.

In world-building for my own novel, Cloak of the Two Winds, I tried to imagine one thing to make the setting unique. The world, Glimnodd, is a place where arcane arts have been practiced for ages. Part of the legacy of all this witchery is that magic winds blow over the seas, changing water to ice or ice to water. Yes, I came up with that on my own!

3. Make it Relevant

Fantasy is escapist literature, and I’m all for it. But unless a story is relevant to readers, they won’t care about it. And for a fantasy story to be relevant, the experience of the world and the characters must be relatable.

In other words: What about the current state of our world does this fantasy world portray?

I learned this lesson when a friend read an early draft of Cloak of the Two Winds. The freezewind and meltwind in the story were created in ancient times as a kind of pressure-release. So much magic and sorcery were practiced that their cumulative effects had plunged the world into chaos. To keep the world in balance, the two winds now bleed off excess magic energy.

In the story, the Cloak of the title can control these magic winds. But it has been stolen and is being misused by a mad sorcerer intent on bringing the world back to chaos.

What about all that is relatable to our world? I didn’t realize it myself until a friend referred to the story as involving a “climate emergency.” In our world, overpopulation and technology are threatening us with chaos. Perhaps technology, wisely applied, will help us restore the balance.

As another example, consider Jemison’s The Fifth Season. The treatment of the orogenes by the dominant humans is relentlessly horrible—and depicts how oppressed people are and have been treated throughout history. The depiction is powerful and brutal. Jemison herself discusses this in a thread on her Twitter feed.

Best of All Possible Worlds

So, if fantasy writing is your thing, consider these three tips to make your world-building and your story as great as they can be.

  1. Put the Story before the World
  2. Make the World Distinct
  3. Make the World Relevant

Let me know what you think.

Books mentioned in this post:

The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Fifth Season by NK Jemison

The Cloak of the Two Winds by Jack Massa

A Priestess of Aphrodite, Part 2

In last month’s post, we introduced Berenicea, one of the main female characters in The Treasure of the Sun God. She is a prosperous hetaera (courtesan) and also a Priestess of Aphrodite.

As mentioned last time, because of the historical circumstances of the ancient world, I found it challenging to create women characters who are both realistic for their time and relatable for a contemporary audience.

The challenge was brought home to me in the reactions of some of my beta readers to Berenicea. One woman had a hard time understanding the character, and in particular thought the scene between her and Thalia (see last month’s post) added nothing of value to the story. Another reader, a man, found Berenicia “too good to be true” and said that she read too much like “a male fantasy.”

“Aphrodite of Rhodes”. Statue of the Goddess rising from her bath, copy of a work from the Hellenistic period. source https://www.theoi.com/Gallery/S10.16.html

 

Responding to Beta Readers

Of course, every reader is different, and it can be hard for a writer to know when to make changes based on beta feedback. But when more than one reader finds a similar problem with a character or plot point, it tells me I’d better examine the issue.

In this case, at least two readers were not finding my priestess understandable or sympathetic. When this happens, I think the writer needs to take a close look at the character and “imagine harder.”

Re-imagining the Priestess

Who was Berenicia in my mind?

Her type of character was based on historical sources: an accomplished hetaera, a mistress and companion to leading male citizens. But she is also more than that. As a teenager, she heard Korax sing of how he saw the Goddess of Love within her. That moment changed her life, and set her on the path to become a priestess. In her mind, being a priestess means embodying her ideal vision of the goddess she serves.

A theme of the whole Conjurer of Rhodes series is that the immortals can only act in our world through human vessels. Berenicea conceives of herself as a vessel for the Goddess of Love. She strives each day to embody that ideal and express love for everyone.

Aphrodite and Adonis. Attic red-figure squat lekythos, ca. 410 BC. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=530718

 

Rewriting the Scene

With these thoughts in mind, I rewrote the scene where Berenicia speaks with Thalia. Here is the revised scene, with the changes in bold. (You can compare this to the original scene in the previous post.)

Standing on the harbor quay, Berenicia pours a libation and speaks a prayer to Aphrodite. She asks that the goddess bless the men of the Rhodian navy who have just sailed off to war, and asks particular protection for two men she loves, Korax and Patrollos. She is overheard by Thalia, a young noblewoman who is the sister of Patrollos and betrothed to Korax.

At last, she turned to leave. But along with her servants, someone else watched her, a small young woman with golden hair and eyes red from crying.

“That was beautiful,” she murmured. “I am Thalia.”

“I know who you are, my lady.”

“I knew that Patrollos and Korax both love you. But I did not realize how you also love them.”

Berenicea smiled. “You did not think a woman like me capable of such love?”

“No … Please forgive me, I meant no insult.” Thalia started to withdraw.

“Wait.” Berenicea approached her. “I took no offense.”

Thalia peered into the hetaera’s eyes. “May I ask you a question, priestess?”

“Of course.”

“Mistress Thalia! Your parents sent me to find you.” One of the woman servants from the House of Philophron called from a few yards away. “It is time to go home now.”

“Tell them I will be there in a moment,” Thalia said.

“Mistress, you should not be speaking with … that woman.”

“I will come in a moment. Go!”

The servant scowled but turned and bustled off.

“What is your question?” Berenicea asked.

“Why are they both so in love with you? You are very beautiful, of course. But so are many other women. I feel there must be more to it.”

“They are my friends, but they are not in love with me, not in the way you mean. Patrollos responds to the goddess, because she loves him so much, loves his weakness as well as his strength. And Korax—Well, he just needs a place to rest his head.” She ended with a fond smile.

But Thalia frowned in confusion. “I do not understand you.”

Berenicea sighed. “They do not love me, but the goddess within me. I am simply her vessel. She is what most men seek in women. Because, whatever love men bring, she blesses it and makes them feel it is wonderful, and that it is enough.”

“But, then … is there nothing for you?”

“Oh, yes.” Berenicea said. “There is service and sacrifice, but also much joy. Because I feel Aphrodite’s love inside me every day. And she loves the whole world.”

Thalia blinked and shook her head. “I am no priestess, and I could never be so selfless. I fear no one will ever love me the way Korax loves you.”

Berenicea stared at her, as if listening to a whisper. “I suggest you pray to the goddess. Ask her to fill your heart. I feel that … First she must teach you to love yourself. After that, well, you may be surprised.” Smiling kindly, she caressed the girl’s hair with both hands, then bent and kissed her forehead. “I give you her blessing, dear child.”

The priestess straightened, to find Thalia’s eyes shining with fresh tears.

Excerpt from The Treasure of the Sun God (c) 2019 by Jack Massa


Results

I sent the revised scene to the two beta readers mentioned above. Both of them felt it was an improvement, and that it gave them a clearer picture of Berenicia.

What do you think, gentle reader? In the context of an historical novel, can you relate to a priestess who strives to live the ideal of loving the whole world?

Aprhodite with Swan, from Rhodes. Source https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Aphrodite_swan_BM_D2.jpg

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Learn more about the Conjurer of Rhodes books

Find The Treasure of the Sun God on Amazon.

A Priestess of Aphrodite, Part 1

In the Conjurer of Rhodes books, I tried to create characters who are not only well-rounded and interesting to a modern reader, but realistic for the times in which they lived. This is a challenge for every historical novelist.

Women in Antiquity

When writing about the ancient world, it’s especially challenging with women characters. Greece in particular, was notoriously patriarchal. Wives were essentially treated as chattel, and women for the most part were either wives, slaves, or prostitutes. (See Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves – Women in Classical Antiquity by Sarah B. Pomeroy.)

Yet free women did have certain legal rights, and wives had considerable power within the home. Prostitutes (hetaera) might be educated and independent, and could rise to social prominence. It was not uncommon for hetaerae who began their lives as slaves to earn their freedom and become quite wealthy.

Hetaera at a Symposium, source https://www.ancient.eu/article/927/women-in-ancient-greece/


From Slave Girl to Priestess

Berenicia, one of the main women characters, fits into that category. When we first meet her (in flashbacks in Book 1) she is a flute girl, of Celtic heritage, red-haired and lovely. A slave in the house of a well-known courtesan, she has just come of age and become a prostitute.

When our hero Korax sings a hymn to Aphrodite and makes it plain that Berenicea has inspired him, the girl feels the stirring of the goddess within her. She begins to believe she can become more than simply a slave girl, and thereafter asks her mistress to train her as a priestess.

The degree to which sacred prostitution existed in Greece is controversial, although it seems to have been well-established in other ancient cultures. (See “Sex in the Service of Aphrodite, Did Prostitution Really Exist in the Temples of Antiquity?” and also “Ancient Greek Temples of Sex.”)

We also don’t know a lot about the priestesses of Aphrodite and their position in society. However, given the evidence we do have for Greece (especially Corinth) and the fact that during the Hellenistic period— when the Conjurer of Rhodes books are set— there was considerable influence from Eastern cultures, it seems plausible that a young courtesan in Rhodes might also become a priestess of the Goddess of Love.

A few of the books used to research the Conjurer of Rhodes series.

 

Courtesan Meets Future Wife

What would such a woman be like?

When we meet Berenicia again, in The Treasure of the Sun God, she is in her early twenties. Both a priestess and hetaera, she is beautiful, educated, and a patroness of the arts. She owns her own house and entertains a select group of clients. She is the lover of both Korax, who has returned to Rhodes, and his rival, Patrollos.

In a key scene, Korax and Patrollos have just sailed off to war. A crowd has gathered to watch the departure of the fleet. As the citizens disperse, Berenicia stands on the dock, pours a libation, and speaks aloud a prayer to Aphrodite, asking that the goddess may protect both of the men she loves. She is overheard by Thalia, who is the sister of Patrollos and betrothed to Korax.

Here is the beta version of that scene.

At last, she turned to leave. But along with her servants, someone else watched her, a small young woman with golden hair and eyes red from crying.

“That was beautiful,” she murmured. “I am Thalia.”

“I know who you are, my lady.”

“I know that Patrollos and Korax both love you. But I did not realize how you also love them.”

Berenicea smiled. “You did not think a woman like me capable of such love?”

“No … Please forgive me, I meant no insult.” Thalia started to withdraw.

“Wait.” Berenicea approached her. “I took no offense.”

Thalia peered into the hetaera’s eyes. “May I ask you a question, priestess?”

“Of course.”

“Mistress Thalia! Your parents sent me to find you.” One of the woman servants from the House of Philophron called from a few yards away. “It is time to go home now.”

“Tell them I will be there in a moment,” Thalia replied.

“Mistress, you should not be speaking with … that woman.”

“I will come in a moment. Go!”

The woman scowled but turned and bustled off.

“What is your question?” Berenicea asked kindly.

“Why are they both so in love with you? You are very beautiful, it is true, but is that the only reason.”

“They are my friends, but they are not in love with me, not in the way you mean. Patrollos adores Aphrodite through me, because she accepts his weaknesses as well as his strengths. And Korax—Well, he just needs a place to rest his head.”

Thalia frowned in confusion. “I do not understand you.”

Berenicea put a hand on her shoulder. “My dear, men adore me because I give them my adoration. Whatever love they bring, I bless it and make them feel it is wonderful, and that it is enough. That is the secret of Aphrodite; she welcomes all offerings with an open heart.”

Thalia’s face was solemn. “I understand your words. But is it really that simple?”

Berenicea lowered her eyes, amused. “Simple to say, less simple to do. But if every wife practiced this secret, even a little, there would be less work in the world for hetaeras.” She caressed the young woman’s hair. “May the Goddess bless you always, my lady.”

Excerpt from The Treasure of the Sun God (c) 2019 by Jack Massa

 

Readers’ Reactions

When I sent the novel to beta readers, their reaction to Berenicea, and to this scene in particular, convinced me I had a problem. What the readers had to say, and what I did about it, will be the subject of the next blog post.

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Check out the Conjurer of Rhodes series here.

Five Ways to Show Backstory:
5. Sprinkling Exposition into a Scene

This month we wrap up our series on conveying backstory in fiction without losing dramatic momentum.

Review: What We’re Talking About

In the Introduction to the series, we discussed the elements of dramatic writing as described by Jerry Cleaver in his book Immediate Fiction. As illustrated, these essential elements are

  1. Conflict, defined as character want/goal plus obstacle
  2. Action by the character to deal with the obstacle.
  3. Resolution, success or failure, leaving the character closer or farther from their goal.

All of this is supported by

  1. Emotion. To identify with your characters, readers must feel for them.
  2. Showing, the crucial method of presenting the story.
Five Elements of Storytelling, adapted from Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver

Again, we’re defining backstory as all of the background information a writer needs to communicate so that readers will understand a scene. This might include descriptions of settings, the characters’ past experiences, motives and psychology, and past events that are not shown on stage.

The problem we’re exploring is how a writer can convey all of the backstory without losing the reader’s interest in the immediacy of the drama.

Technique #5: Start a Scene Then Drop in Sections of Backstory

This is a technique that is often employed but not often discussed. As a reader, once you start noticing it, you’ll see it is used often.

Basically, the author starts a scene in the present, ideally with an emotional hook to engage the reader. Then after a few lines, the narrative skips back to reveal backstory. This is not a flashback, just bits of exposition sprinkled in, usually from the point of view of the character that we are following in the scene.

Essentially, the writer drops a scene in the reader’s lap, gets them involved, then steps back here and there to explain the backstory.

Example from Kim Stanley Robinson

Science fiction and Fantasy typically require the author to cover a lot of backstory—specifically, details about the world in which the story is set and how it differs from our world.

This example is from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, an epic, award-winning novel about the colonization of the Mars. The scene takes place on one of the first colony ships, right after launching. One hundred carefully-selected colonists are celebrating.

In Torus D’s dining hall, they mingled in a kind of cocktail party, celebrating the departure … Maya wandered about, sipping freely from a mug of champagne, feeling slightly unreal and extremely happy, a mix that reminded her of her wedding reception many years before. Hopefully, this marriage would go better than that one had, she thought, because this one was going to last forever … Maya turned down an offered refill, feeling giddy enough. Besides, this was work. She was co-mayor of this village, so to speak, responsible for group dynamics, which were bound to get complex. Antarctic habits kicked in even at this moment of triumph, and she listened and watched like an anthropologist, or a spy.

“The shrinks have their reasons. We’ll end up fifty happy couples.”

“And they already know the match-ups.”

She watched them laugh. Smart, healthy, supremely well-educated—was this the rational society at last, the scientifically-designed community that had been the dream of the Enlightenment? But there was Arkady, Nadia, Vlad, Ivana. She knew the Russian contingency too well have to have many illusions on that score. They were just as likely to end up resembling an undergraduate dorm at a technical university, occupied by bizarre pranks and lurid affairs. Except, they looked kind of old for that sort of thing …

Excerpt (c) 1992 by Kim Stanley Robinson

What Do We Learn Here?

This passage, part of a longer scene, drops us into the middle of the action. We’re in the viewpoint of the psychologist Maya, and each action and snippet of dialog is followed with her reflections— which provide much backstory about Maya, her colleagues, and the mission.

  • We learn about the colonists and how they were selected.
  • There are different international contingents, and we learn something of the character and behaviors of the Russian contingent in particular.
  • We learn Maya’s role, and her concerns about it. Notice the comparison to a wedding reception. This skillfully connects a context with which the reader is totally unfamiliar (a spaceship community) with something very familiar (a wedding party) which has common emotional associations.
  • We also find out that Maya’s marriage did not last, and that this group community has to last forever. For these folks, there is no coming back from Mars.
  • Finally, the comment about ‘the rational society dreamed of by the Enlightenment’ links this story of a future time with an earlier period of human history. This reflection on big-picture philosophical/historical ideas is something that quality science fiction can do in a way no other kind of fiction can.
Using This Technique

Using this method in your writing takes some practice. Begin by searching out good examples in writers whom you admire, and analyze them carefully.

Some tips:

  • Start the scene with an emotional hook. Engage the reader on the feeling level.
  • Be clear who the viewpoint character is. See the scene from their point of view and note their responses to each bit. As these responses arise, describe them and link them to the necessary backstory that the reader needs to appreciate what is going on.
  • Keep the chunks of backstory small.
  • Finish the backstory exposition no later than halfway through the scene. Then write the rest of the scene—like all of your scenes—to show conflict, action and resolution.
Your Turn

This concludes the series on conveying backstory in fiction. I would love to know what you think about this and previous posts.