QSFer Ginn Hale has a new Queer YA Fantasy book out:
eBook On Sale for just $2.99 from 9/11-9/16
Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.
But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions.
However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a Dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.
Cadeleonian Series Volume One
Guest Post – Hands on Research in Fantastical Worlds
Often when the subject of research is brought up, fantasy authors will cite books and museums, or recount interviews and hours spent pouring over old newspapers, police records and magazines. You can almost hear the microfiche whirring around them and smell musty pages.
To be honest I love that stuff myself. Original sources can be incredibly important to a book, particularly if it’s set in an alternate history or if the plot relies on real events or people. (The Long Past & Other Stories was such an undertaking and required volumes and volumes of reading, just so that I would feel comfortable about the elements of mid-1800’s history that I chose to change.)
But fantasy stories set in entirely original worlds are another matter. There isn’t source material to reference. You as the author are building the world and you make the rules. Of course you can “base” your world on a real setting or on real events but the more originality you employ the less likely you are to find corresponding references to search or site. But then that might not be the sort of research you really need to do.
For example, when I was writing Lord of the White Hell, I read a great deal about Jewish populations in Al-Andulas, (or Spain as it would be called after Christian conquest.) I also studied Isaac Newton’s life and early ideas of science. I looked into candy-making, medieval Iranian cooking and the first steam-engines, (the ancient Greek aeolipile, which when considered along side the antikythera mechanism really makes me think that bronzepunk came quite close to actually happening.) But I wasn’t researching these things so that I could simply copy and paste political systems or trivia into my book. In fact almost nothing came directly from history.
That’s because I was researching something more elusive than facts; I wanted to build a kind of mental dictionary of feelings, thoughts and experiences, from which to create my world and write my novel.
Which sounds weird, I know.
But think of it this way, after you’ve traveled to a new place you don’t think back on it as a series of statistics or still photos of artifacts. Your idea about the place is filled with living experiences and sensations. Maybe you recollect it the flavors of spices that pervade the dishes you ate, maybe you can still feel the uneven surfaces of the cobbled streets beneath your feet. Perhaps the smell of rain falling across sunbaked limestone returns to you to that distant land.
Any number of sensations might evoke places or times past.
My point is that living in a setting, engages your senses. Evoking those sensations can bring a setting or experience alive as no amount of reference material alone can. It’s those key sensations that I—and a lot of fantasy authors— need to experience, so that I can share them with readers.
But of course I can’t just book a cruise to Cadeleon and tour the Sagrada Academy while school is out. I can’t even pop open Google Street View and virtually eyeball the vivid mosaics lining the streets of the Haldiim district in Analeto.
But what I can do is walk similar winding roads, as the dust coats my boots. I can wander through open-air markets, I can clean horse stalls, and recreate recipes for adhil bread, (or beg my wife to do it, since she’s a far better cook than I am.) I can run as hard and fast as possible through snowdrifts, as Kiram must do. I can feel the bite of exhaustion in my side and understand his desperation. I can listen to the different calls of crows and study the way their shadows pass overhead.
All of this is research, because all of it will go into building the settings, the scenes and the characters of the book. And in the end, if I’ve done it right, readers won’t wonder what sources I checked, or why I included any particular detail. They won’t be aware of any of the effort that went into constructing this flight of fancy. They’ll simply enter the world of the book and let it come alive around them.
“The White Tree is here.” Javier strode to the center of the circle of gnarled trees and dropped to his knees.
“But there’s nothing there.” Kiram frowned at grassy clearing.
“I’m here.” Javier smiled up at him and then lifted his hand to Kiram. His fingers were gashed. Streaks of his blood stood out like dark strokes against his pale skin. “You’re here.”
Kiram came forward and laced his fingers with Javier’s.
“Don’t let go,” Javier told him.
Then Javier placed his free hand on the ground and bowed his head. He whispered a Bahiim word again and again. White sparks flared over his fingers. Where they struck Kiram’s skin a hot, pulsing sensation flared up but then faded at once to a dead cold. Javier’s entire body tensed and his voice grew rough with the force he pushed into each word.
Above them the jays shrieked and swirled and then, as a mass, they dived. Kiram hunched over Javier, shielding his face. If Javier noticed he gave no sign.
Kiram felt the wind of hundreds of wings descending and steeled for their impact. A single sweep of talons clawed across his bowed neck and then an explosion of white fire ripped up from Javier. A wave of intense heat washed through Kiram. The jays screamed and then went suddenly silent. All around Kiram the world burned away and strange forms rose from the waves of power emanating from the white hell.
A curling gray smoke hung where brambles had once formed dark walls. Where twisted oaks had stood, now thirteen tangled black knots loomed up. Like crooked fingers opening from huge fists they unfurled the way the simple letters of Calixto’s diary had opened. But these trees were far more complex. Every twig and branch twisted into forms of script. Roots erupted and surged forward like black eels, all of them swimming straight for Javier’s extended hand.
A blinding white symbol glowed from beneath Javier’s fingers. As Kiram watched it grew more intense, turning Javier’s flesh luminous as a paper lantern and casting shadows of the bones of his hand. A trembling, electric sensation shot up from Javier through Kiram’s arm. The sensation grew painfully hot but Kiram hung on.
Cold, black roots slithered over Kiram’s feet and ankles as they swarmed up over Javier’s outstretched hand. They writhed up his arm and for a horrifying moment Kiram thought they would engulf Javier, but as they touched his skin, light scorched along their tangled lengths and shot up into the surrounding trees.
In moments all thirteen trees were ablaze with light. Their writhing branches traced glowing golden script into the air and the symbols seemed to take flight, spreading over the brambles and woods, then filling the sky. The symbols shone like stars and then fell like snowflakes.
One drifted down to Kiram’s arm. It looked like the symbol for protection. It felt like the lightest kiss against his skin, and then it melted away leaving Kiram feeling somehow safer and stronger, despite the fierce heat rolling over him.
All around the symbols settled, illuminating the surrounding wilderness, and suddenly Kiram realized that this was the White Tree: the entire glade, lit and luminous with blessings.
Still kneeling at his side, Javier didn’t seem to see anything. Kiram felt tremors of exhaustion rocking his muscles.
“Javier, I think it’s done. We should go.” Kiram tugged at Javier’s hand. “You can stop now.”
Javier raised his head. The black shadows of his skull and teeth showed through his luminous, pale skin. Blinding white fire filled the hollows of his eyes. It was as if the face of death leered up at him.
Kiram jumped and almost lost his hold on Javier’s hand.
“Javier!” Terror lifted the pitch of Kiram’s voice. “Close the white hell! Close it!”
The jaw of the skull dropped as if to speak but only white vapor rose from the gaping mouth.
Award-winning author Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and their ancient, evil cat. She spends the rainy days admiring local fungi. The stormy nights, she spends writing science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring LGBT protagonists. (Attempts to convince the cat to be less evil have been largely abandoned.)