Worldbuilding: Magical & Mundane

There comes a point in creating a magic system you have to decide: What is magical and what is mundane?

When I say magical there I mean the sort of magic that is hidden and reverent. The sort of magic that is spoken about in whispers and veneration. This is the magic kept secret and passed down and down and down until it is as much myth as magic. The magic that, despite being as real as anything else, has passed into legend.

Then there is the other sort of magic, the sort of magic imbued in everything a character does. It is in the sweep of a hand and a muttered word to light a fire. It is in the quick stitches to fix a pair of socks. It is in the glimmering songs sung to a child. The second nature magic. The everyday magic. This isn’t the magic beholden to a wizard in a secluded tower.

This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive– far from it. Instead, when creating a magic system for your world you need to find the line. Is your world the sort of place where you can hop down to the general store for a magically-imbued potion, or is it the sort of place where magicked healing is myth, a legend, something for your protagonist to search for?  Or can they go to the general store so some ailments, but others are far outside the reach of a local hedge witch’s power? It’s the middle ground– the magical mundane if you will.

My personal tastes run as magical as mundane. I love it when magic is within everyone’s grasp, not something confined to ivory towers, or blood, or some fated destiny. I’d much rather a story where magic runs through the world as immutable as life and death. Magic is not confined to that destined party of three who will save the world, it is with everyone, a force for all rather than a few. However, that’s just me.

To give yourself a grasp on where your line between the magical and the mundane is try a day long writing activity. Here is what you are going to do. For one day write down absolutely everything you do. Write down the minutia of your day. Seriously, if someone else was to read this account of your day, I would want them to think the phrase horrifying detail, then back away slowly.

At the end of your day, sit down with your list of activities and consider one of your WIP’s magic systems, then write down how a character would go about that in your world, what level of magic or mundane would they use for it.

For a quick example, let’s go with what is probably the first thing on people’s lists: waking up. My guess is you do this by an alarm clock or a phone or a combination of both. How do people in your work in progress wake up? Is it through mundane means, magical means, or magically mundane means?  I’ll use an example from one of my WIPs. Pulling from the victorian tradition of knocker-ups and combining it with some magic I’ve got some magically mundane ways of waking up. Rather than having people use sticks or batons to use slam onto doors to wake people up, used the fact that fire magic is prevalent in the area. The magicked up knocker-ups use itty bitty fireworks at windows to wake people up. Not the greatest job in the world, but not bad for a young mage in training.

You might be surprised at the solutions you come up with for everyday problems. How does your world deal with public transportation? Who makes bread? How is grain ground? What is your world’s sewage system? Is there a way to recycle? Where do clothes come from? Who mends them? Constantly ask yourself, could a character do this with magic? Then ask yourselves would a character do this with magic?  Are there systems in place for that? Is magic or mundane the answer?

I’m not saying that you need to include every single one of these in a story, unless you want to create a 10,000 page monstrosity of worldbuilding. However! Worldbuilding is in the details as much as it is in your hand drawn maps and your nation’s power structures. Worldbuilding is in the everyday. So if you want to show how magic permeates every aspect of life, than give us some examples. Show us the background of a rich, fully thought out world.

 

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Writing Activity: Acrostic Playlist

Are you a music-enjoying nerd avoiding actually writing by looking through the writing tag on WordPress while pretending that counts as writing? Then I have the writing activity for you!

First choose a word from your work in progress. It could be a theme, a character’s name, a prominent object, your magical MacGuffin, or what have you…. For the examples I am going to use GUARDIAN, an Important with a capital I word from my Stone Spoken series.

Next, prepare your word with each letter on a separate line like so:

G

U

A

R

D

I

A

N

We will be doing an acrostic poem with a twist! If you can’t remember what an acrostic poem is from your school days, it’s a poem where the first letter of each line also spells out a word or short phrase.  Our twist here is that it is an… ACROSTIC PLAYLIST!

Rather than a line you make up, attempt to find a song title for each line. The best of these acrostic playlists will make a poem, musically match your work in progress, and have thematically appropriate lyrics. If you manage even one of those you are doing great. Good luck!

You can thank some insomnia for this boredom-bashing activity. As always leave a comment with your poem or link to your post if you want! I’ll give you two examples, both based on Guardian. 

Musically Thematic:

Gryphonheart

     by Jo Blankenburg

Unforgiven

     by Two Steps from Hell

Above and Beyond

     by Audiomachine

Rise

     by John Dreamer

Dream Chasers

     by Future World Music

Into Darkness

     by Thomas Bergersen

As One

     by LiquidCinema

Never Back Down

     by Two Steps from Hell

 

Bonus Challenge of Thematic Lyrics:

Gatekeeper

     by Aisha Burns

Until We God Down

     by Ruelle

All is Well

     by Austin Basham

Rescue My Heart

     by Liz Longley

Dear God

     by Lawless

In the Shadows

     by Amy Stroup

A Quiet Darkness

     by Houses

Need the Sun to Break

     by James Bay

 

Getting to Know Your Characters: New Year Edition

A writing exercise I enjoy is to pretend you are chatting with your characters. Imagine you are on an interview with them, out for coffee, or whiling away the hours in a park. Have a conversation with them. Let you be you and them be them.

Sometimes this can be done all in your head. Do you have a long bus ride? Start interrogating your characters about their life choices. Just don’t miss your stop. Other times, you might benefit from doing a free writing while thinking about this. Let your words and thoughts flow. My general advice for this is not to think too much. Go with your first instinct with a character’s answer. You might be surprised.

We’ve had a list of backstory related questions once upon a time, but let us begin this year with some New Year inspired questions.

  1. How do you celebrate the New Year?
  2. Do you have any traditions you do not celebrate anymore? Alternatively, how has your celebrations changed?
  3. What is your reaction to the phrase New Year, New You?
  4. Where do you see yourself at the end of this year?
  5. What goals did you accomplish last year?
  6. What goals did you not accomplish last year?
  7. How would you have approached last year differently if you could go back and do it again?
  8. What year would you consider your best year, and why?
  9. Is there anything you want to change about yourself this year?
  10. What does a new year mean to you?

 

Worldbuilding Aside:

While we are on the topic of the New Year, stop to consider how you arrange your year/time if you are writing speculative fiction! Is a year religion based? Season based? Celestial based? How do your characters measure time and dates?

100 Books, 100 Quotations – 2017 -Addendum

I ended up with 15 extra books this year! Here are the bonus 15 in addition to the first 100 in the last post. Now onto 100 more books for this year!

  1. Room by Emma Donoghue — “God’s yellow face isn’t coming in today, Ma says he’s having trouble squeezing through the snow.”
  2. The Emotionary: A Dictionary of Words That Don’t Exist for Feelings That Do by Eden Sher, Julia Wertz — “emote + spiral / Emotal / v. to feel, think and judge oneself in rapid succession, ultimately causing immobility”
  3. She, Myself, and I by Emma Young — “Right now, she is in a coma. Her body is intact, but her brain is dead. I have essentially the opposite problem. We’re two halves of a person.”
  4. The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag — “I think we have much to learn from each other.”
  5. Swords, Sorcery, and Sundry by Mina MacLeod – “He once knew an assassin who would give speeches in such situations, or worse, puns.”
  6. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt — “I can’t believe it. My experiences with endless frustrations and having to work on things for so long has actually paid off.”
  7. Catmas Carols by Laurie Loughlin and Gemma Correl — (to the tune of We Three Kings of Orient Are Chorus) “Home is heaven. Home is good./ Home is where we get our food./ Why go out for christmas parties? / Frankly we’re not in the mood.”
  8. The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George — “The KINGDOM OF WEIRDNESS will be a paradise of freedom on earth in which joy and happiness and clean forests and other unbesmirched kinds of nature reign and now one judges anyone else and eventually everyone will see how VASTLY SUPERIOR Weirdness is to quote unquote ‘normalcy’ and quote unquote ‘normalcy’ will wither away.”
  9. That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston — “Though it might have appeared pure politics to officially recognize all religions practiced in the Empire as part of its Church, the practical effects have been far-reaching. From Islam–the most numerous– to individual indigenous groups in Australia, we serve better when we talk like grown-ups and avoid petty squabbling.”
  10. The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill — “See the leaves on her horns? We gradually harvest them to make a special brew.”
  11. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones — “The rule was: Lose your temper, lose a customer. She had just proven that rule. It troubled her to realize how very enjoyable it had been.”
  12. Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling — “As the weeks passed, Alec realized that aside from certain rapidly diminishing ethical qualms, he had never been happier.”
  13. Witches of America by Alex Mar — “I want to grasp the moment when that confidence becomes conviction; to know what it’s like to believe, without doubt, that you hold the key to the Mysteries, that you are capable of magic. I decided to press deeper, to try to discover just what that faith this built on.”
  14. How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake — “I used to love this lighthouse. It always seemed so magical when I was six or seven, but you can only hold your own mother’s hair back while she pukes up vodka so many times before you get a little disenchanted.”
  15. Project Semicolon: Your  Story Isn’t Over by Amy Bleuel — “The semicolon was chosen because, in literature, a semicolon is used when an author chooses to continue a sentence, rather than end it. You are the author and the sentence is your life; you are choosing to continue. This book is filled with examples of people who chose not to end their sentences.”

100 Books, 100 Quotations – 2017

Last year I began a 100 books/100 quotes a year challenge to get myself out of a reading slump and to read outside of my preferred genres and age ranges. I continued this challenge into this year and just hit my 100 books!

I’ve slowly been poking at Goodreads to figure out how that all works, so you can follow me over there (authorialfuries) and keep watch for new books in that new little sidebar I added here. I’ll learn the ways of bookish internet eventually, I promise.

Before I drop the 100 books in here, let me mention some reading highlights this year. This was the Finally Reading V. E. Schwab Year and loving A Darker Shade of Magic as much as people were telling me I would. She also happened to do a signing at a bookstore near me and I was able to go! Totally worth the hour drive! Something I would suggest of literally anyone if they get the chance.  I went away wanting to write again. Looking back, this year seems to be the Year of Exciting Book Signings since I had the opportunity to see Roxane Gay! Once again, if you ever have the chance, listen to her speak and read everything you can. Both were wonderful, engaging signings. Bonus: Roxane Gay commented on our Toast totes and it was everything. I suddenly understood the phrase To Fangirl deep, deep in my heart..

Onto the 100 books!

(Note: I’ll add a new post at the end of the year to see how far past 100 I can read.)

  1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely — “We tried to edge our way a little closer to the front line, and with all the camera crew hovering, and people watching us on their TVs back home, I wondered if anybody though what were doing was unpatriotic. It was weird. Thinking that to protest was somehow un-American. That was bullshit. This was very American, goddamn All-American.
  2. Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand — “Sometimes before you can give someone help, the person has to ask you for it, because they have gotten really good at hiding what hurts them.”
  3. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan — “He is a prince, and I am a frog. A hairy frog that is due for an eyebrow wax and breast reduction, with a sexual orientation that will get this frog imprisoned sooner or later.”
  4. Beast by Brie Spangler — “I can’t be the prince, can’t be a bodyguard, definitely do not want to be the Man, and now even being a friend feels all shot up with holes. Don’t quite know what that leaves me, but it feels like nothing.”
  5. Yes Please by Amy Poehler — “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate.”
  6. The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne — “Before my brain could catch up with my mouth and shut it down, I said it. The idea. The only possible solution.”
  7. Gamer Girl by Mari Mancusi — “But now the elf princess had turned into a pumpkin. Prince Charming had faded into the virtual night. Reality had set back in. I felt like crying, but I was too proud to allow the tears to fall.”
  8. The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Abigail Halpin — “Or he could be attacked by a bear or he could freeze to death, but those are endings that don’t usually happen in kid’s books. Adult books are probably different because they don’t worry about terrible endings.”
  9. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab — “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
  10. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab — “She bent most of the rules. She broke the rest.”
  11. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab — “Anoshe brought solace. And hope. And the strength to let go.”
  12. The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman — “I hope none of you are here for answers. Authors are notoriously bad at answers. No, that’s not right. We’re not bad at them. We come up with answers all the time, but our answers tend to be unreliable, person, anecdotal and highly imaginative.”
  13. The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose — “In winter, when they’re gobbling down the suet dough I mix up for the birds I want at my feeders, I think of a starling as nothing more than a capacious digestive tract propelled by a set of triangular wings.”
  14. Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes by Brian Nicholson and Sarah Huck — “Not everyone has the time, yard space, fertile soil, or inclination to plant a tree, but everyone can learn to appreciate and cook with fresh fruit. When you crunch into a crisp apple on a blustery fall day, or eye a basket of burnished nectarines, part of what you consume is the grower’s story.”
  15. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss — “‘I am a myth,” Kote said easily, making an extravagant gesture. ‘A very special kind of myth that creates itself. The best lies about me are the ones I told.’”
  16. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman — “‘Because,’ said Thor, ‘when something goes wrong, the first thing I always think is, it is Loki’s fault. It saves a lot of time.’”
  17. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner — “I hadn’t wanted to be a soldier. I’d become a thief instead, to avoid the killing. See where that had gotten me.”
  18. Bestiary by Donika Kelly — “Love Poem: Pegasas/ Foaled, fully grown, from my mother’s neck,/ her severed head, the silenced snakes. Call this/ freedom.”
  19. Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke and Hangry by Samantha Jayne — “They say in your twenties/ each moment is priceless/ if each moment isn’t/ an existential crisis.”
  20. Love is the Pain of Feverish Flowers by Kwon Cheonhak, translated by Kim Hana — “I will send with the wind/ the thing which will be gone with the wind”
  21. Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 200-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week by Ursula K. Le Guin — “Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses.”
  22. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas — “Calaena hit the landing, ran for the tomb door, and prayed to gods whose names she’d forgotten, but who she hoped had not yet forgotten her.”
  23. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis — “That look said, without the need for words: You will never be impressive enough to be worthy of my attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any fireballs to belch into this woman’s face in answer.”
  24. The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab — “My thumb traces over the words, The wind is lonely.
  25. The 13 Clocks by James Thurber — “‘I hope,’ the Golux said, ‘that this true. I make things up, you know.’”
  26. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard — “So I had put together a portfolio, written my artist’s statement– an activity that always made me feel like I was writing some strange manifesto that had nothing to do with why I actually wrote– and sent in my application.”
  27. Get it Together, Delilah! by Erin Gough — “Uh-oh. When I start noticing the length of shadows on the floorboards, I know I’ve entered that psychological state my father likes to call the Self-Pity Parade. It begins with a hypersensitivity to tacky cliches of despair like long shadows and howling dogs.”
  28. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Novel by Mark Haddon — “I find people confusing. This is for two main reasons. The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words.”
  29. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald — “Ever now and again a pair of big gray eyes peeped up over the edge of the book, like a prairie dog sticking its head up to check whether the coast was clear.”
  30. It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt — “This is what it looked like when the sun finally came up. I was tired, we both were, but we did it anyway.”
  31. I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Gretchen McNeil — “What was wrong with everyone?”
  32. The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey, illustrated by Sfe R. Monster — “Being despised is exhausting.”
  33. To the Sea by Cale Atkinson — “It’s not everyday you meet a friend.”
  34. Siren Sisters by Dana Langer — “Like most of our family stories, I don’t know all the facts and details. It’s the curse of the youngest sibling.
  35. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella — “The truth is, if you don’t communicate with anyone new, ever, at all, then you lose the knack.”
  36. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell — “It would please Lafayette that the pleasant patch of grass bearing his name is where all sorts of splittist, foreign and domestic, routinely air their grievances. After all, the only reason a there’s a statue of him staring at the White House is because as a teenager he defied his father-in-law’s edict to settle into a boring job at the French court, explaining afterward, ‘I did not hesitate to be disagreeable to preserve my independence.’”
  37. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy — “That night when I replayed our introductions over and over in my head, I realized that he didn’t flinch when I called myself fat. And I liked that.”
  38. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor — “‘Tribal’: that’s what they called humans from ethnic groups too remote and ‘uncivilized’ to regularly send students to attend Oomza Uni.”
  39. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson — “The Dowayo people of Cameroon in Africa have special forms of pottery for different people (a child’s bowl would look different from one belonging to a widow), and there are taboos against eating from another person’s designated food pot.”
  40. Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar – “Sherzad stepped back. ‘I’ll miss you. Remember to sleep where you can see the stars, baji. No matter what you’ve been through, the lights in the night sky will always sooth away the day’s pain.”
  41. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson — “That night I can’t sleep. I can’t stop thinking about how I’ll never experience what Livvy’s experiencing tonight. It’s a biological impossibility so unfair it makes my entire body throb.”
  42. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill — “It was the first lie she ever told. Even though the words were true.”  
  43. Cinder by Marissa Meyer — “With a yank of the last wire, her foot clattered to the concrete.”
  44. Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall — “I have– I hate myself even as I think the word– a crush.  I have a crush on my best friend. I have become a teen rom-com cliche. There is no hope for me.”
  45. Wrecked by Maria Padian — “Her roommate shakes with silent sobs. Haley just holds on. She doesn’t know how long.”
  46. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher — “I watched her go. I felt a bizarre mixture of friendship, lust, fear, pity, lust, confusion, panic, and lust.”
  47. Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman — “I’m not sure exactly how she will interpret this request as a personal attack, but I’m sure she has it in her.”
  48. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp — “I never realized that courage was so terrifying.”
  49. 10 Things I Can See from Here by Carrie Mac — “There would be no keeping calm and carrying on. There would be panic, and reeling backward.”
  50. A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind: How to Be “Normal” in Your Twenties with Anxiety and Depression by Emily Reynolds — “I felt like my identity was so wrapped up in my unhappiness that I wouldn’t be anything without it. If I was happy, or at the very least not unhappy, there’d be nothing to me.”
  51. The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, Illustrated by Annie Wu — “We call ourselves the Hell Hath Club. There’s a lot of us. We’re mostly very beautiful and very well-read and very angry. We have seen some shit.”
  52. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown — “The whole being-gay-and-a-preacher’s-daughter thing comes with some weird mixed messaging– Jesus Loves You. Well, maybe not you. It’s been a constant internal struggle, having grown up in a religious household, desperately wanting to believe in the great goodness all around me, yet hearing so much hate even when my dad did his best to shield me.”
  53. The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash — “I smile down at her. ‘Then I wish I was in one of your stories.’ And who wouldn’t wish that? Certainly everyone here– dressed up as aliens, and wizards, and zombies, and superheroes– wants desperately to be inside a story, to be part of something more logical and meaningful than real life seems to be.”
  54. Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley — “Now he knew it to be absolutely true: He had a friend. And he was terrified of her.”
  55. Draw The Line by Laurent Linn — “Like blood, ink is miraculous. Whether confined in a pen or free on a brush, it spreads and builds, giving my drawings life.”
  56. How To Success!: A Writer’s Guide to Fame and Fortune by Corinne Caputo — “Delete unnecessary clutter words like “a,” “and,” and “the.” Grab the Reader’s Attention.”
  57. D.I.Y. Magic: A Strange & Whimsical Guide to Creativity by Anthony Alvarado — “As you mosey along, divide up the length of the walk, block by block into the different eras of your life.”
  58. Wretched Writing: A Compendium of Crimes Against the English Language by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras — “prose, purple: Purple prose– the art of writing prose so ornate, so flowery, and so overweighted with frills that the reader not only gets exhausted but also feels as though he o she is being smothered in highly scented velvet curtains– is a time-honored hallmark of wretched writing.”
  59. Writing Monsters: How to Craft Believably Terrifying Creatures to Enhance Your Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction by Philip Athans — “Monsters are scariest when they’re revealed in pieces, and scarier still when revealed slowly.”
  60. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman — “Spoons are excellent. Sort of like forks, only not as stabby.”
  61. Pukawiss the Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke — “Just when you thought she was done with her tirade, she’d hit you with a prolonged diatribe, wrapped in a sermon, and topped off with a tedious dose of scripture.”
  62. Haffling by Caleb James — “ ‘There is no fair,’ I said. ‘It’s just a made-up thing.’ She looked at me. There were tears in the corners of her eyes. ‘I know that, but someone your age shouldn’t.’”
  63. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli — “She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day.”
  64. Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman illustrated by Divya Srinivasan — “One day a tiger came to the palace. He was huge and fierce, a nightmare in black and orange, and he moved like a god though the world, which is how tigers move.”
  65. The Pants Project by Cat Clarke — “Sexist. Dumb. Unfair. Even the moms agreed with me. Mom said she hadn’t worn a skirt since her cousin’s wedding back in the nineties.”
  66. The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian — “I tried to distract myself from my anger by taking out a notebook and a pencil, and beginning a family tree.”
  67. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness — “The indie kids, huh? You’ve got them at your school, too. That group with the cool-geek haircuts and the thrift shop clothes and names from the fifties. Nice enough, never mean, but always the ones who end up being the Chosen One when the vampires come calling or when the alien queen needs the Source of All Light or something.”
  68. A World of Cake: 150 Recipes for Sweet Traditions From Cultures Near and Far by Krystina Castella — “Cakes are rich with meaning and symbolism, inspired by the celebrations that surround them.”
  69. The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich — “Death by incineration is a thing of nightmares, but life for a successful Love Interest isn’t exactly a happily ever after. After winning, the Love Interest needs to be a perfect partner to prevent his Chosen from ever moving on.”
  70. Perfect 10 by L. Philips — “The witch sits across from me, gnawing on Cheez-Its, practically bouncing up and down with excitement on the cafeteria bench.”
  71. Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica — “He had had enough therapy over the years to come away with the idea that everyone was fundamentally neurotic.”
  72. A Daughter of No Nation by A.M. Dellamonica — “Being married to a slave-owning, sociopathic, court-appointed killer might make me pissy, too.
  73. Autoboyography by Christina Lauren — “But if a tree falls in the woods, maybe it makes no sound. And if a boy falls for the bishop’s closeted son, maybe it makes no story.”
  74. The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso — “America’s first apple trees were planted from seeds, cuttings, and small plants brought by the Jamestown settlers to the New World in the early 1600s.”
  75. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon — “Dimple thought of Insomnia Con, of Jenny Lindt, of SFSU, of Stanford. Of all the things she’d jeopardize if she called Ritu auntie a backward, antifeminist blight on democratic society.”
  76. The Thing with Feathers by McCall Hoyle — “It’s depressing how my dog is a better human being than I am.”
  77. Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones — “Time to come forth and fight.”
  78. Best Enemies by Jane Heller — “Cardinal rule in publishing: Never tell an author the truth.”
  79. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer — “It would be easy to abuse a person when they never recognized it as abuse.”
  80. Poison by Sarah Pinborough — “What was this need to be seen as benevolent? If you were going to be cruel, then admit it. Embrace it. Anything else was just self delusion and weakness.”
  81. Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, Katie Kath — “You know that chicken I told you about? It can use the Force.”
  82. Geekerella by Ashley Poston — “Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite.”
  83. Carrie Pilby by Caren Lissner — “I can spot an underemployed lazy intellectual anywhere.”
  84. Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn — “Was that personal growth or insanity?”
  85. The Best Man by Richard Peck — “We thought he was weird. He thought we were weird. It was great. It was what multiculturalism ought to be.”
  86. Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee — “‘Awkward’ — what an awkward word. It sounded like the cry of a giant scraggly bird. AWK. WARD. AWK. WARD.”
  87. Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee — “I never knew how to answer this. Because the question really was: SO ARE YOU GOING TO DIE? And usually I wanted to answer: YES, I AM. EVENTUALLY. AND SO ARE YOU, IDIOT.”
  88. The Colour Thief by Gabriel Alborozo  –”Zot wanted that color too…”
  89. Inked by Eric Smith — “Growing up as ‘the orphan with the mysterious past,’ I’d become accustomed to those kind of looks, and the whispered bits of gossip, surrounding me and my grandmother, just two outcasts living on the outskirts of town.”
  90. The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith — “Your name isn’t Robert Jordan and you’re not writing the Wheel of Time series. Short and sweet, my friend.”
  91. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs — “White Knight Trolls can sometimes morph into Nice Guy Trolls who believe that women are just vending machines that you put Nice into until Sex falls out. They are mistaken.”
  92. A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, illustrations by Chris Appelhaus — “A round hound, a grey dog, a round little hound dog. / A greyhog, a ground dog, a hog little hound dog”
  93. Basic Witches: How to Summon Success, Banish Drama, and Raise Hell With Your Coven by Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman — “The greatest one-word spell: “no”
  94. The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla, Julie McLaughlin — “Now when you ask, ‘How are you, Charlie?’ I will say ‘Fine,’ even if I’m not fine, even if I know this amazing thing about starlings that would fascinate you to hear, instead of just hearing the boring old word: ‘fine.’ But if that is what people want, then fine. Okay. I’m fine.”
  95. Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan — “I try to imagine her with a name i associate with Swiss cartoon characters or a famous supermodel- not my twelve-year-old Korean best friend.”
  96. The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle — “Quinn, your life story is starting to turn into a documentary that people would walk out of because it’s both too sad and too slow.”   
  97. Into White by Randi Pink — “Black skin was filled with so many barriers, so many restrictions, so many.”   
  98. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani — “That pashmina will allow women to see their choices. You shall no longer be bound by fear.”
  99. Slider by Pete Hautman — “If you ever feel the desire to be completely and utterly miserable, I recommend two pizzas followed by an entire head of raw cabbage, eaten as quickly as possible.”
  100. One Mixed-Up Night by Catherine Newman — “Shh, I thought at my brain, because I was never going to get any sleep with it making so much noise.”

Worldbuilding: Healthcare

If your character broke their leg how would they mend it? If they have a cough who would they see to heal it? If they had depression who could they talk to? Would they staunch their own wounds and hope for the best?

Healing can be confined to the few.

Healing can be given to all.

Your world, your rules.

Medicine can be easily accessible or it can be only for the the wealthy. There could be an underground for doctors and nurses. Healing could be taken from the people as a punishment. Medicine could keep people compliant– given out only as a reward. How does your government heal their people? Or does the government ignore the needs of its people?

Who has the power?

Sickness could shatter a person’s wealth as much as their health– keeping those without money from seeking out what they need. A cure could be too expensive for the common people. What do people sell to afford their life? What is the cost of just one band aid?

If you are writing a book with magic, is healing in the hands of magic-users or in the hands of scientists, or somewhere in between? Witches could brew up a potion to alleviate cramps. Wizards could charm a prosthetic to grow with a child. Mages could ward against malaria. Sorcerers could spell against seasonal affective disorder. Healers could treat gender dysphoria, sculpting bodies by magic.

Is the child mortality rate high? Is a pregnancy ripe with fear for the mother and the child? Is birth control accessible to all who need it? Is it available to people who are biologically female or male?  Hidden in back alleys, mages script a morning after spell because it’s disallowed by the crown. Witches create coven of midwives. Wizards draw protective runes across bellies.

Is mental health seen as a stigma? Do empaths work as counselors guiding their patients? Or are people left to suffer in silence, their minds betraying them, while pretending nothing is wrong?

Consider what sort of world you want to build.

What sort of world do you want your story to unfold in?

 

Worldbuilding: Birth, Death, and Cake

Imagine the scene: You, face alight with a fiery glow. Light flickers across your face, eyes closed in concentration as you focus your will. Onlookers chant in cadence. A rhythmic beat of friends and family surrounds you. Sibilant syllables flow around you hissing out your name. You take in a breath– a single breath. The chant grows. You release your will and your breath together. Smoke curls up in soft coils in front of you. Finally, finally the chant fades away. Taken up into the void by swirling smoke. You dive forward, glistening knife held in your hand, to begin the yearly sacrifice. You devour what is before you. Your year begins anew.

Or, you know, a traditional American birthday.

Cheers.

Unless you are a celestial being spawned from of primordial ooze, you have a birthday. I suppose even if you are a celestial being spawned from primordial ooze, you have a spawned from ooze day. You have a reason to celebrate coming into this world.

I recently read Krystina Castella’s A World of Cake: 150 Recipes for Sweet Traditions From Cultures Near and Far. In addition to some delightful recipes, the book is peppered with anecdotes of cake and culture across the globe. It seems inevitable, almost, to devote some time to the inexorable link between cake and birthdays, birthdays and cake. I will just say: CAKE. Personally, I almost always have a chocolate cherry cake for my birthday. Although this year, I might shake it up a bit because this book is wonderful and try something new.  (Update: I made tiramisu.) There are all sort of connections between food and life– food as a wellspring of life crops up in the inevitable traditions linking food and celebrations together. Bounty. Harvest. Plenty. Life. All these words, ideas, reasons to celebrate, fold together into life events. The tradition of marking a birthday crosses borders across the world.

The bookend to life, I suppose then, would be death. Food continues into death as well. Let us return to cake. When all else fails, always return to cake. We have celebrations with birthday cakes, name day cakes, quinceanera cakes, but cakes and food are not contained only to birth and life, but to death as well. A Thai tradition is to create a cookbook to share the deceased favorite meals and recipes with family and loved ones after their passing. We cannot forget the pan de muerto, sweet anise and orange flavored breads, made in the time leading up to Dia de los Muertos. The bread of the dead is eaten by loved ones and shared with the dead.

There are few things we can say cross all borders.  Food is one of those few things that connect us all. There is a unity to the people standing around a cake waiting for someone to make that first slice. There is a unity in handing out a piece of a whole to everyone in a family, to everyone in a community. There is a unity in food.

Writing Prompts, Writing Tropes: THE SEER

Let’s write up a character study today. The only caveat is that this character is a seer, an oracle, a soothsayer, a psychic, a sage, a clairvoyant, a ????.  They could be believed by others or they could be ignored by others. They could believe in their own powers, or they could be the most skeptical of their powers. However, they need to use one of the ten powers of divination listed. How do their powers affect how they see the world? Go as literal or as figurative as you want. Funny or serious. Whatever genre you please. Go write a character today.

  1. Cybermancy – Divination through computer
  2. Geloscopy – Divination through laughter
  3. Hydromancy – Divination through water
  4. Moleosophy – Divination through moles on the body
  5. Phyllorhodomancy – Divination through rose petals
  6. Pyroscopy – Divination through burning paper
  7. Tyromancy – Divination through cheese coagulation
  8. Ailuromancy – Divination through observing cats
  9. Alectryomancy – Divination through chickens pecking through grain
  10. Crithomancy – Divination through food, often bread

Writing Prompts: Summer Solstice

Today is a great day. Today marks the fact the days are going to start getting shorter. Come back to me chilly winds of autumn and winter. I am weary of such disgusting heat and it hasn’t even gotten that hot yet this year (where I live). Mostly, I cannot wait for the sun to set at a more reasonable hour, I say as I look outside at the bright 9:00 p.m. sky. Following up from the first line prompts for the Spring Equinox, I figured I’d keep it up and do a whole set this year. Have a dozen.

  1. Even on midsummer, she thought, the sun should set.
  1. Elderflower blossoms swirled atop his tea.
  1. “Gather herbs at the most potent,” they said, “on noon of the longest day.”
  1. A wreath of flowers drifted from her hands to rest on my head.
  1. The picnic lasted as long as the day.
  1. “Y’all can whine about the heat all you want, but I’m having a feast.”
  1. I lit the family fire for the first time.
  1. “And you thought building our own Stonehenge was silly,” he said, surveying the lopsided creation.
  1. She dressed the darkest on December 21st, but the brightest on June 21st.
  1. “I thought maypoles were put up, in you know, May?”
  1.  We watched the earliest sunrise crest the horizon, the lights painting the sky in a way we could never describe again.
  1. Quicker and quicker and quicker the dancers leapt around the fire; the crackling flames chased their steps.

Let’s Talk Names

Imagine, if you will, a person. This person has hope and dreams. This person has a past and a future. This person has a style and a voice. This person is one in several billion.

This person is… a person.

This person is your character and they need a name.

Imagine, if you will, a person. This person has hope and dreams. This person has a past and a future. This person has a style and a voice. This person is one in several billion.

This person is… a person.

This person is your character and they need a name.

If you could listen in on my writing process you would know that some video game boss music is playing right now and it is apt. Nothing puts me in more of an exhausted haze then trying to name the characters I will spend years with. This post may have something to do with a character’s fourth name change in five years. Nothing sounds right! I gave naming power over to one of my sisters and just told her to pick something because I’ve hated every version of her name.  She’s pleased she named a queen. I’m pleased I don’t have to think about it any more. It’s a win-win.

However, we can’t always outsource our naming responsibilities.

Let’s talk about reality for a moment. We don’t choose our name. At least not in the beginning. You get a little older and you can do whatever you want, but there at the beginning the naming falls into your caregiver’s hands. For something that is so pivotal in our lives, it isn’t our choice, not really.

With naming comes histories, expectations, and futures all rolled into one.  It’s a lot packed into just a few syllables. Consider your name. What does it say about you? Perhaps even more interestingly, what doesn’t it say about you?

I’m going to take a moment to deconstruct the name I’m most familiar with– mine. You’ll see most of it up in the website bar. Here it is in all it’s glory: Nicole Faith Getson.

I’ll start with the last name. Getson. There aren’t that many of us around. The story is that Goetz needed to be softened. Changed. Melted into the melting pot. The family adopted a different, Americanized version of the name. Goetz turned into Getson.

On to the middle name. When the first act of your life is almost dying, you end up with the name Faith. There are a whole category of these sorts of names. Names that mean things: Faith, Chastity, Honor, Charity, Grace, Hope, Justice, Patience, etc.. Virtue names echoing a puritan past. These names are a far cry from some names used in the past. If we were actually were Puritans in 1600s my name would have ended up being Safe-On-HighHere is another fun fact about my family: we aren’t particularly religious. When people hear my middle name, I get strange looks. Yes, indeed, I’m a walking misnomer! (Hi Mom! *waves* I can already feel your phone call. Talk to you soon. While I’m in the parentheses here, I’ll go ahead and paraphrase this phone call from my mother for you: “You can have faith in many things other than a higher power, including yourself.” Thanks Mom!)

Let’s move on to the first name– Nicole– the name most people everyday know me by. The name that is shouted to get my attention. Something I’ve learned over the years is that people assume my nickname is Nikki. It’s not. It’s Cole. If you need my name to be shortened, please refer to me as the combustible rock, thanks. Yes, yes, I know that is spelled coal.

I have the added bonus of a masculine nickname as a woman. My name takes people aback. I hear refrains of: “Are you sure it’s not Nikki?” The many years living my life assures me that no, that is not what my name is. I’ve also been told on multiple occasions that I am not a Nicole.  Every once in awhile a person will then rattle off a list of names that seem more like me. Emily usually ranks high on these lists and I am not sure why.

Please do not do this to people.

I REPEAT: DO NOT DO THIS TO PEOPLE.

A baby naming book is within arm’s reach of my desk. It hangs out on a side table beside my desk. It’s always there, hovering just out of my sight line, lurking, waiting for the next character for me to name. Waiting for me. Staring at me. Coming for me. This is why sometimes instead of trying to come up with names I send an email out to my Naming of Random Things Think Tank (PATENT PENDING) and they get to come up with a side character’s name, because I just cannot.

*boss music crescendos*

Names are a touchstone to a character. It’s often one of the first things we think of when considering a character it helps encompass all that makes them… them.

A character of mine changes his name half a dozen time over the course of one of my books. Being a poster child for identity crises, he uses these names to reinvent himself over and over and over. Each name settles him into a different culture and life. He switches his family name from first to last and back again. He changes how the vowels are pronounced. He changes where the emphasis is, all as he figures out who he is and where he fits into the world.

There is also a lot to unpack in a name. People don’t appear one day at the beginning of their most interesting plot points. They were born and given a name, maybe they changed their name, maybe they have a nickname, maybe they gave up their family name, maybe and maybe and maybe… there are so many options here that give a glimpse into both a character’s backstory and the world.