QSFer James L. Wolf is stopping by the QSF blog to talk about his new book, The Artifact of Foex, and about reincarnation:
Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Time Fluidity
Reincarnation is one of the central tenants of my new book, “The Artifact of Foex,” and the upcoming Flame Cycle novels in general. Did I lose you with that sentence? *Whew* Oh, good. Reincarnation is one of those woo-woo topics many people in the Western world avoid on principle. If you just had a vivid memory of the smells of sandalwood and pot when you thought about past lives, you probably aren’t alone.
Certainly, reincarnation is extremely important to several major world religions, including my own. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it.
Using reincarnation as a writing tool is a fantastic way to deepen characters, emotions and relationships. Not to mention delving into a type of immortality in which death plays a central role. In “The Artifact of Foex,” some of my characters—the Flame—remember their past lives in detail. This means their long-term relationships are really long term; when they relate to one another, they recall everything that has happened between them over the centuries.
Usually the only sub-genre where these sorts of relationships happen are vampire novels. I’ve always admired the intensity of those relationships, especially as they unfold over a long series of books. When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I was especially intrigued by Anne Rice’s vivid scenes of 18th century and Roman-era vampires interacting. Yet there is something a little flat about vampires. They can be involved in the present time period, but they didn’t grow up in it. Character wise, they are not vulnerable.
Thus, reincarnation. My characters can, and do, die. In order for them to regain their memories, they must navigate childhood and adolescence all over again with fuzzy, half-formed ideas of who they once were. One of my rules—and like any world-building exercise, reincarnation must have consistent rules—is that Flame do not remember their past lives until they go through an initiation process.
Opportunities for plot and storyline-based tension abound. Anything that stops a character from initiating will motivate them to take action, because they will want to know what happened in their own past. Characters can also have a difficult time if their current identity is ideologically opposed to their true, inner self. These sorts of potential plots can’t happen with creatures like vampires trapped in time like bugs preserved in amber.
There is another bonus, too. Reincarnation allows me to navigate history with the same characters. I can kill off a character in one novel only to have that character be the protagonist of the next. It is not complete freedom, but it sure comes in for a chewy, fascinating second place.
Want to give it a try? A few writing tips:
Make a set of rules and stick to them. There is nothing more disappointing than stories where world-building rules are slippery and inconsistent. If you’re going to break your own rules, you’d better know in advance why it is possible, and build up to the reveal with relevant foreshadowing.
Create a timeline. I know the background of each of my main characters and often refer back to my notes. You’ll want to be intimately familiar with the history of our world, plus your own world if you write speculative fiction.
Unlike time traveling stories of “Doctor Who,” reincarnation moves in one direction only. You cannot have characters using modern words and technology before they are invented. There was a time before the wheel, let alone the cell phone, and doctors didn’t use anesthesia until very recently.
Along a similar vein, your characters are citizens of their world—and time period. We know our world is round, but past peoples did not. They can be wise about some things we hold true in the modern world, but definitely not everything.
Finally, allow yourself to explore. I have no idea what has passed between some of my characters, but their reactions to one another give me clues. I can feel potential stories in the making when two characters snarl or hug one another. Reincarnation allows for character-driven plots, no mistake.
Good writing and reading, everyone. “The Artifact of Foex: A Flame Cycle Novel” can be found at ForbiddenFiction.com, online or in print.
About the Book
When Chet, a graduate student of archaeology, is invited to show a gorgeous woman named Journey around their summer dig site, he has no idea what he’s in for. For one thing Journey isn’t a woman: she’s Flame, one of the reviled, shape shifting, gender-fluctuating people of Uos. Then Journey uncovers a deadly secret in the dust. Chet must run to keep up with spies, murder, long-lost magic, and a romantic dream embodied by a 332 year old man who holds the key to absolute power on the world of Uos. (Other, M/F, M/M)
Chet realized he was shaking. Hard as he looked, he couldn’t see it anymore. Would he ever get another chance to see Rory again?
Knife sighed and sauntered back toward the hotel. He wasn’t going fast enough to lose Chet, yet there was something about his body language that was chilling. Repellent. Chet followed him, rubbing his arms, cold from the inside out. He knew only one thing: Knife had lied, earlier. Rory had said Pelin couldn’t do something, and Chet assumed that meant she couldn’t destroy the Raptus. Why had Knife lied?
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me what that was all about.” Chet’s tone sounded whiny even in his own ears.
“Not particularly, no,” Knife said pleasantly. He opened the hotel doors for Chet, ushering him inside. “You ran out of the room without your key, didn’t you?”
Chet had. He scowled, feeling like a child caught sneaking after bedtime. “I still don’t see what my girlfriend has to do with any of this.”
“You mean your ex?” Knife still appeared calm, but a slight sharpness had crept into his voice.
Chet hadn’t told him or Journey about their relationship. Had Rory said something? Abyss, his whole life had turned upside down. He had no control over where they went next… where were they going, anyway? Knife had spoken of Flame Council members scattered across the world.
“So, where do we go now?” Chet said as they started up the stairs. At a leisurely pace, no less.
Knife turned and, without warning, slammed Chet into the wall. Chet yelped—then his air was cut off. Knife held him by the throat in a secure manner. It felt like a practiced move. Chet’s body was supported, his weight distributed evenly, yet he was unable to defend himself or breathe.
“You will say nothing of what you just heard. Do you understand?”
Chet nodded frantically as best he could. He was held a moment longer—long enough to understand he wasn’t in control—then released. Chet crumpled over, coughing and gasping, tears running down his face.
“You may have been sheltered all your life, but this isn’t a game. Time to grow up, Chet Baikson.”
“Abyss! Why on Uos…” Chet looked up with watering eyes as he felt for bruises on his neck.
Knife turned and started up the stairs; Chet realized he had to follow. The Raptus made it so. It had changed everything. Still, Chet couldn’t help bucking at the enforced order of silence. “What if I do say something?”
Knife paused and Chet tensed. He turned slowly and Chet scrambled away, but not too far. He couldn’t go far on the invisible leash. Knife finally smiled. “I was under the impression you’re a smart guy, Chet.”
There was a long pause. Very long. Chet could feel his face growing hot. “Um. I like to think so.”
Knife nodded. “Just so.” He turned away again.
This time Chet followed without the backtalk. But he couldn’t help asking while Knife was keying their way into the hotel room, “So where are we going?”
“We need to find Oak, the first Flame Council member on our list.” Knife kept his voice down, but he was by no means whispering.
Chet glanced around the hotel room. The lights were off, but the curtains were pulled back from the glass doors, letting in the glow of streetlights. Alas, it was too cloudy for Elderbeth—the enormous gas giant which Uos followed doggedly in her orbit around the sun—to lend more light. Nevertheless, he could see Journey was awake, sitting cross legged on the bed. Fenimore still seemed to be asleep. Or at least he was snoring.
“Where would we find Oak, then? Maansterdam? Plainsdaugheau? Some Pantheon forsaken island? The arctic circle?”
“We go to Semaphore University. Your university.”
Chet shot him an incredulous look. “There are no Flame at Semaphore.”
Journey smiled at Chet and extended a hand. “Come to bed, sweetie. Tomorrow may be a long day.”
Chet stared at her, his stomach sinking. The Flame wouldn’t explain—they were definitely in on this together—and he had to go along anyway. Whether he wanted to or not.
Forbidden Fiction: Click Here
Amazon: Click Here
James L. Wolf is a Story Editor and author at Forbidden Fiction. He has often wished he could change from one gender to another on a daily basis, depending on his mood. As it is, he chose to change his pronoun only once, transitioning from female-to-male. James lives with a talkative cat in the San Francisco Bay Area.