The relationship between an author and their characters can be surprisingly complicated. It isn't just a matter of making up a name, age, and gender, plugging in a few personality traits, and then making them do what you want. No, when you've done it right, the character actually takes on a life of his/her own.
Usually this is a good thing, but not always.
So I'm working on the draft of book 2 of the Daughter of the Wildings series. Silas Vendine is one of my favorite characters ever, but, well, things have not been all bunnies and rainbows.
Sometimes a character is smarter than you. This happened the other day. Silas is supposed to consider some facts, come to a conclusion, and then embark on a course of action. Seems easy, right? Well, he got through the considering all the facts part, then came to a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CONCLUSION from the one in the story outline! And to make things even worse, it was a much more logical conclusion than the one I wanted him to come to!
In short, my character had seen something that I had completely missed. Panic ensued - was I going to have to trash my whole outline and start over again? I calmed myself down and worked it through, and happily realized that things can still proceed as planned, just from a different (and much more interesting) angle. So, ok. Good boy, Silas.
Then yesterday, Silas is on the trail of a bad guy, and can't find a sign of him anywhere. I'm going, "What do you MEAN you can't find anything? YOU'RE the big-time bounty hunter!" and Silas is going, "Um, nope nope, can't do that, nope." (Imagine Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome Bounty Hunter saying this in the best Goofy voice you can think of. That's what it was like.) So I slogged through my 2000-word quota for the day, desperately trying to think of good reasons why Mr. Big-Time Bounty Hunter is clueless (remember, he's not just an awesome bounty hunter, he's a MAGICAL awesome bounty hunter), then when I finally finish for the day he goes, "Ha ha, just joking, I picked up on something way back there, let's go back three days and start all over again."
I don't like to kill off major characters, but sometimes it's tempting.
The writing session today started with evaluating how much of yesterday's hard-won word count can be salvaged after this revelation from Silas that he actually knew what he was doing all along, and fortunately the damage isn't too bad. Just a matter of deleting or re-writing a few paragraphs, and it's fixed and we can move on.
So, Silas, buddy, you get a reprieve this time. But watch youself after this. *evil grin*
In other news, A Cure for Nel, and Other Stories, is now available for Kindle on Amazon. The regular price is only $0.99!
Finally, I'll leave you with my Daughter of the Wildings mood music:
Danger Days, by My Chemical Romance, with just a dash of Green Day, Dire Straits, Social Distortion, and Muse.
When I first started writing Urdaisunia back in the early 90s, I was interested in really really ancient civilizations. I also wanted to write something that wasn't in the usual medieval-European-influenced fantasy setting. Ancient Sumeria fit the bill perfectly. It's so old it makes Ancient Greece and Rome look like whippersnappers, and had a rich and influential culture and level of development. The physical setting (read about my fascination with desert settings here) offered a lot of possibiities for conflict, and I also found the Sumerian pantheon and mythology fascinating. And then there was the idea of a great and ancient civilization falling into ruin, which is also full of possible stories. We didn't have the internet back then, or at least not in its current form, where you can find out anything about anything with just a few clicks, but we do have it now, so here are some links to things that have inspired Urdaisunia.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has a long-term exhibit called Iraq's Ancient Past with a lot of pictures and information about Sumeria and the archaeological work that has been done on the sites there. The headress of Queen Puabi, which inspired the headdress of Shairu-Az in Urdaisunia, is the third picture down. Here is more about Queen Puabi, including a video of some museum workers dressing a mannequin in the headdress and jeweled cloak that were found on Puabi's remains in her tomb. Also on the Penn Museum site is a feature where you can make your name in cuneiform. The picture on this post is my last name the way the Sumerians would have written it.
You can see more of Queen Puabi's headdress and jewelry at Sumerian Shakespeare. The site also has images and translations of Sumerian writings.
The International World History Project has an extensive section devoted to Sumeria. You can read a rundown of the gods and goddesses, a summary of Sumerian history and culture, and a section of the creation myth which gives a sampling of the divine soap opera the gods and goddesses had going on (a major influence on Urdaisunia!).
And, of course, we have to have ziggurats. The first and third pictures were particularly influential in how I envisioned the Royal Palace and the Temple of Ar at Zir.
A few more odds and ends: some ancient ships, and some Bronze Age swords. In Urdaisunia, these are the swords the Urdai used before the Conquest; the Sazars' swords are a new model and were inspired by Japanese katana.
Urdaisunia was only loosely inspired by Sumeria, so don't look to the novel for any kind of historical accuracy. But it was a fun world to play in, and I'll probably go back to it someday.
Finally, let me leave you with a musical tribute to the ancient world:
So, why does a fantasy writer have a photo of a desert as the header image on her blog? (Gorgeous photo, isn't it? It's of Wadi Rum, or the Valley of the Moon, in Jordan. The photographer, whose work can be seen at stock.xchng, has taken photos of deserts all over the world.) [Update: since replaced with a new picture, but still of the desert.] Where's the enchanted forest, the elves and dragons and fairies?
I've lived almost my whole life in a desert area, and have a love/hate relationship with the desert. On the one hand, I love green and trees and rivers with actual water in them and seasons, and I hate the heat. Hate, hate, hate it. On the other hand, there are green and trees and water and season in the desert, they're just a lot more subtle, and you have to learn how to see them. The desert can be spectacularly beautiful, or spectacularly ugly, at first glance, but as you observe it more, you uncover more layers and depths. Things are hidden here, buried, waiting until conditions are right to come out in the open. We may not get spectacular fall foliage (though if you're down by the wash, you'll see some beautiful yellow cottonwoods), but you can tell it's autumn by the color of the light on the mountains.
Though the desert might look barren, it's actually teeming with unseen layers of life. Plants and animals have adapted to the unforgiving conditions, to take in what's available when it's available and conserve as much as they can, to defend themelves, to wait patiently through the heat and drought until the cool of evening, or the cool of winter, or the rainy season, to come out and show themelves. Humans, also, have managed to survive in the desert for thousands of years. Some civilizations still exist, others lasted for hundreds or thousands of years and then died out or suddenly disappeared.
The desert has secrets, and power, and history, and beauty, which unfold themselves to those who are open to seeing it. Desert scenery varies widely, from endless stretches of sand to thick growths of cacti, desert trees, and wildflowers. The challenges it presents for survival are unique, and the cultures that grow from it are uniquely adapted to the demands of life in the harsh conditions. When you look at it that way, what more magical setting could there be for fantasy? Or one so rich in possibilities? But it doesn't seem to be all that common in fantasy novels, perhaps because a lot of fantasy is still based on a medieval-Europe-type setting. This isn't univerally true, though, and seems to be changing more in recent years. A few novels that I can think of right off hand that take place, at least in part, in a desert setting are The Tombs of Atuan (Book 2 of the Earthsea series) by Ursula K. Leguin (one of my childhood favorites), Empress (Book 1 of the Godspeaker Trilogy) by Karen Miller, and two of the four novels I've read so far in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson: Deadhouse Gates and House of Chains.
In my own writing, I also frequently use desert settings. Urdaisunia is entirely set in a desert land, and significant events in Chosen of Azara and The Lost Book of Anggird also take place in desert areas. I can't envision these events taking place in any other environment. There's just something about them that demands the harsh environment and layers of mystery of the desert. Although not all of my novels feature desert settings, if I had to think of a landscape that most nearly represented my writing, it would be the desert.
Okay. So what about the elves, fairies, and dragons?
Well, for some reason, they never seem to make it into my novels. But that's another blog post for another time.
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