D.B. Jackson is the pen name of an award-winning author of twenty books —..
D.B. Jackson is the pen name of an award-winning author of twenty books — including epic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies, media tie-ins, and a book on writing — as well as more than a dozen short stories.
Time’s Demon, the second volume in The Islevale Cycle, my time travel/epic fantasy series, came out last week. The reviews have been very nice, with SFFWorld saying that the book is “about as perfect a second book in a series as a reader could hope to have.” I have been blogging about the book a lot, and thought I would take advantage of this small lull in the blog tour to give you a review of where I have been so far. Below you will find a list of my appearances to date for the release. As I make more stops on the tour, I will alert you to those as well. In the meantime, I hope you will take a few moments to check out these posts and interviews. Thanks, and enjoy!
Today I welcome Patrice Sarath to my blog. Patrice is one of my fellow Angry Robot writers, and she has a new book coming out today! The book is called Fog Season, and it promises to be another excellent release from a gifted author. In today’s post, Patrice writes about world building. Enjoy!
Building a City from the Ground Up
When I was developing the city of Port Saint Frey, the setting of my secondary world fantasy series, I wanted the city to feel real and lived in, in a way that would draw in readers so they could feel like they were visiting the place themselves. While Port Saint Frey is an amalgam of San Francisco, Baltimore, and Bath, England, I was inspired by Charles de Lint’s Newford. De Lint is a master at creating place, and Newford has the dimensionality of a real city. It lives on after the reader closes the page. That’s what I was aiming for with Port Saint Frey.
The best way to achieve that kind of real-world effect is by presenting your worldbuilding in small, significant details that illustrate how your characters interact with their world. So, in my secondary world, late Regency, early Victorian era, there are water closets and sewer systems and neighborhood water pumps. There are cobblestone streets that are detrimental to horse’s hooves. There are oil lamps, filled with whale oil (old technology) or camphene oil (new technology and highly flammable). There’s a shopping district, a coffee shop where the dealmaking is done (based on Lloyd’s of London in the UK), the docks, the slums, the warehouses, the posh neighborhoods. And instead of writing paragraphs of description, I fill in the details about how my characters are impacted by their world.
They turn an ankle on a cobblestone. They have trouble sewing by a low lamp. They use a water closet or they encounter raw sewage in a slum. They are snubbed in a fancy shop. They rob their friends at gunpoint at a public house.
These small details are far more effective at making a world feel lived in than all the backstory in the world. When you do research to create your fantasy world, even though the majority of that research will stay in your head, it informs the small bits that make it onto the page. You should always know more than your readers do about the world that you’ve created. The more real it is to you, the more real it will be to your readers.
One of the best things I ever did was draw a map of Port Saint Frey. This has saved my bacon a number of times, because once you can go to the map and say, “how do I get my character from Point A to Point B,” and you can see at once that the character has to take Kerwater Street out to Chandlers Row and take a right onto Barrell, then you know your city has taken on a life of its own.
But world building should do more than set the stage or the scene, or provide a physical sense of place. World building should illustrate character and motivation and history and nuance. Again, it’s how characters interact with their world and are impacted by it. In that sense, world building drives plot.
The following scene from Fog Season takes place in one room, but from that one room we get exposition, impact, decision making, and consequences. One room, one conversation — a world happening around the characters, and yet it is pivotal to the plot and to the characters.
The gray light of Fog Season could scarcely be distinguished from noon or evening. Abel lay entwined with Elenor Charvantes, the second assignation in as many days. She drowsed in the crook of his arm. He cursed himself for a fool. This was too dangerous; Doc would kill him if he knew. And though he was not afraid of Jax Charvantes for himself, he knew the lieutenant would be brutal to Elenor if he found out.
He was restless, jumpy. As carefully as he could, he slid out from under her and left the bed, the cold air a slap against his nakedness. In the bed, Elenor murmured, but continued to doze. Abel went to the window and looked out. It was midday but the streetlamps of the fog-shrouded city were nothing but smears of light in the mist. Some other light caught his eye. Red and yellow flames from across the city, high on the western headland. Abel frowned and looked closer. Fire.
“Aren’t you cold?” said Elenor sleepily behind him.
“It feels good,” he said, without turning to her. What could be burning so high above the city?
“What are you looking at?” She was fully awake now. Her bare shoulders almost glowed in the dim lamplight. Her hair had fallen from its prim bun and was tousled and wild. She was lovely and he was an idiot. She got out of bed, wrapped in the blanket, and peered out the window. Her gaze sharpened. “My God. That’s the Saint Frey place.” Almost as soon as she remarked upon it, the fire dwindled, and finally disappeared. The mists closed in as if there were nothing there.
“Oh, my goodness. I hope no one was hurt. Madam Saint Frey lives alone, mostly, but I understand her niece has been living with her lately. Oh, there are the bells. The firetrucks are on their way.”
Abel could hear them now too, the clangor rising up to the third floor of the Bailet. Elenor put her arms around him, pulling him inside the blanket with her. He closed his eyes, the sensation of her desire overwhelming him, overpowering his nerve endings.
“I’ve often thought that it would be a wonderful thing if my friend Tesara married Jone Saint Frey,” Elenor mused, her cheek resting against his shoulder. “They’ve always liked one another. He could get away from that awful mother of his, and Tesara would be happier, I know it. But then again, I haven’t seen Jone in society at all these past months. But they used to be thick as thieves at the salons, not six months ago. I’m sure his mother put her foot down – the Saint Freys tend to look down upon merchant families.”
Interesting, Abel thought. Interesting that a girl who had extraordinary capabilities and powers should like a boy who had not been seen in society for months. Interesting that his mother should stand against the match. And interesting that her house should catch fire.
“I have to go,” Elenor said, sighing against his skin. He turned to face her, and she rose on tiptoes to kiss him. He felt himself helpless under the onslaught of need, hers and his. “Elenor,” he began, knowing it was no use.
“I know. It’s not safe. I know. I won’t come back here. We’ll think of something else.” She was trying to be brave; he could tell. She gave him a smile, touched with rue.
“We will,” he promised, cursing himself for his own weakness. He had to end it, for both their sakes, and at the same time he knew he would not be able to withstand her.
She dressed quickly and wrapped herself up against the cold, her scarf muffling her face. He made sure the hall was empty before she left his room and scurried down the hall to the stairs.
Abel dressed and went downstairs to the Bailet dining room for an early lunch, nursing a glass of beer along with a thick garlic and beef stew, and instead of wondering how to find Trune and kidnap the Mederos girl, he spent his time trying to determine the best way to protect Elenor Charvantes from her brutal husband, and still be able to see her. And still, in the back of his mind, he wondered about the fire at the Saint Frey mansion, so quickly put out, and its odd, almost inconsequential connection to Tesara Mederos.
Patrice Sarath BIO
Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos and Fog Season (Books I and II of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the series, Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet.
Patrice is the author of numerous short stories that have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Black Gate, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and many others. Her short story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” was included in Year’s Best Fantasy of 2003 compiled by David Hartwell and Katherine Cramer. Her story “Pigs and Feaches,” originally published in Apex Digest, was reprinted in 2013 in Best Tales of the Apocalypse by Permuted Press.
Patrice is an avid horsewoman. She also enjoys bike-riding and hiking the woods and trails outside Austin.
Sure, these criticisms come in the context of someone saying, “Hey, I love this story, and I want to pay you for it. In real money.” So, thinking about this rationally, we should be able to process the editor’s feedback with this underlying praise in mind.
But we’re writers. We don’t necessarily do rational. And given the chance to fixate on praise or criticism, we will invariably choose the latter. Pathetic, I know. But it’s a living…
I recently completed revisions on TIME’S DEMON, the second novel in my Islevale Cycle. Almost immediately after finishing them, I began editing submissions to the upcoming anthology from Zombies Need Brains, TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED, which I’m co-editing with Joshua Palmatier. So for obvious reasons, I have had revisions and the editing process on my brain.
When we talk about craft, we usually focus on elements of initial creation – world building, character building and development, plotting, structuring and pacing a story or novel, and all the pitfalls we encounter when writing our stories. And certainly those are topics worthy of vigorous exploration.
The fact is, though, the purpose in working on all of those things is to sell our story or novel. And should we be fortunate enough to do so, pretty much the first thing we will be expected to do is revise our manuscript in response to an editor’s concerns and criticisms. So doesn’t it make sense to turn some attention to that part of the creative process?
Receiving editorial feedback on something we’ve written can be incredibly difficult. Chances are, if we submitted a story or novel for consideration at a magazine or anthology or publishing house, we thought the story was pretty good to start with. So hearing that it has flaws – in certain cases significant, pervasive flaws – often comes as both a shock and a blow. Sure, these criticisms come in the context of someone saying, “Hey, I love this story, and I want to pay you for it. In real money.” So, thinking about this rationally, we should be able to process the editor’s feedback with this underlying praise in mind.
Jacket image for TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED, edited by Joshua Palmatier and David B. Coe
But we’re writers. We don’t necessarily do rational. And given the chance to fixate on praise or criticism, we will invariably choose the latter. Pathetic, I know. But it’s a living…
Kidding aside, accepting editorial feedback and turning it into a positive revision process is one of the greatest challenges we face as writers. Especially early in my career, I found that my own reactions to criticism from editors ranged between two extremes. At times, I reacted with a knee-jerk defensiveness: “They just don’t understand what I’m trying to do with my story. If they were better readers, they’d get it, and they’d see that there’s no problem here.” At other times, I internalized it all and allowed it to feed my lingering imposter syndrome: “Yeah, they’re right. This is shit. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I have no place even attempting a story this complex or ambitious.”
Of course, both extremes had little basis in fact. My editors understood perfectly what I was trying to do with my story. There were just elements of it that I hadn’t handled well. Which didn’t mean that I was a shit writer. It meant I was human. My story wasn’t perfect. But it was good, and with my editor’s help, I could make it even better.
The emotional health in that previous paragraph was pretty alien to me early in my career. Sometimes it still eludes me. But it’s what I strive for when I receive editorial letters. So, here are a few things I try to keep in mind when trying to turn editorial feedback into effective revisions.
1. Editors are not our adversaries. The reality is that at times we find ourselves thinking of editors this way, in part because the editor-writer relationship is something of a hybrid. It’s a business relationship. Editors buy our stories and books, and at times we want them to pay us more than they’re willing to shell out. But it’s also an artistic collaboration. Our editors want our stories to be as good as they can be, just as we do. Every margin comment and line in an editorial letter is intended to help us get the most out of our narratives and characters.
2. A second set of eyes helps. No matter how much experience we have, or how good we might be at editing our own work, our stories will ALWAYS benefit from another reader’s perspective, especially if that reader is a professional in the field. We can’t possibly anticipate every problem with the things we write; we’re just too close to the material, the emotions, the creative process. Distance is our friend, and almost by definition, another reader brings that distance.
3. Our initial reaction to criticism is not necessarily our most productive reaction. I read through editorial notes the day I receive them. But I never respond until I’ve let myself process them for a day or two or three. Often I find that my first response to certain criticisms is to disagree, but over time I start to see what the editor is getting at. I generally wind up agreeing with 90% or more of the feedback I receive, although on that first day I probably agree with less than half of it.
4. I find it helps when I ask myself why I’m disagreeing with one point or another. Am I being overly sensitive? Am I too attached to a certain turn of phrase or narrative moment? Or is there really something vital here that I don’t want to sacrifice? A good editor will make clear up front that suggested wording changes are just that: suggestions. Early on, my first editor would cross out what I had written and put in his own wording. And sometimes his wording sucked. But when I talked to him about these instances, he said, “I don’t care if you use my wording. That’s not the point. I just want you to look for another way to say this.” Once I understood that he was pointing out problems rather than trying to make my book into his book, I found his comments much easier to take.
5. Sometimes we do have to fight for our artistic choices. There are times when editors get it wrong, and our way really is the right way. And in those instances, we have to hold strong for what we believe in. I try not to do this too often, because, as I say, we are all prone to defensiveness, and I want to be certain that I’m not opposing changes for the wrong reasons. But there have been times when I have had to stand firm on points about which I felt strongly. And a good editor also knows when to back down.
6. The revision process can be tremendously satisfying. Insights from a skilled editor can make the difference between a book that is just fine and one that is truly excellent. I try to approach revisions with my ego as much in check as possible, my mind open to possibilities I might not have considered before, and my commitment to my original artistic vision foremost in my mind. That last point is key. Clinging to my original vision does not mean resisting change. My original vision and my original wording are NOT the same things. Indeed, sometimes my writing carries me away from that first inspiration, and it takes the input of a perceptive reader to get me back to it.
Be open to new ideas, to the possibility that the current draft might not be the best possible draft, to the notion that the person pointing out where you can improve your story really does have your best interests at heart. Do these things and you might find, as I do, that revising a manuscript is every bit as gratifying as creating one.
Tomorrow, Thursday, September 27, my blog tour promoting the release continues with a post at the site of my dear friend Stephen Leigh. Again, I will be discussing the writing of time travel.
On Friday, September 28, I will be visiting the blog of friend and wonderful writer Stina Leicht. My post for Stina’s blog is about world building for the Islevale series.
On Monday, October 1, I’ll be doing a Q&A with fellow Angry Robot author Patrice Sarath at her site.
Tuesday, October 2, is release day, and I’ll have an essay up at Black Gate — a continuation of my “Books and Craft” series, on key craft elements of classic books. I’ll be discussing Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy, which has long been one of my favorite works. In fact, I intended my world for this new series, Islevale, as an homage to Earthsea.
Wednesday, October 3, I will be doing another Q&A, this one with another friend, Bradley Beaulieu.
And on Thursday, October 4, I will be at the site of Joshua Palmatier, author and editor extraordinaire, as well as the founder of Zombies Need Brains. Joshua and I have worked on several short fiction projects together, and I wrote a story for him that is set in Islevale. The story is called “Guild of the Ancients.” It appears in GUILDS AND GLAIVES, and anthology Joshua co-edited with S.C. Butler.
This is a big day in my world. Today saw the official pub date announcement and cover art reveal for TIME’S CHILDREN, book I in The Islevale Cycle, my new epic fantasy/time travel series. The series is being published by Angry Robot Books. The first volume will be out on October 2 and will be available as a trade paperback and also in all electronic formats. You can preorder here.
As a bonus, you also get to see the jacket art for TIME’S DEMON, the second book in the series, which will be out in May 2019. Follow the link.
I love these books. I think they represent my finest work to date. I hope you enjoy them, too. As more news about the releases becomes available, I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, you can read excerpts from the books in my newsletter. There is a sign-up link in the menu along the side of this page. Not only am I providing book teasers, I’m also running monthly giveaways. You can win a free, signed copy of one of my books just by subscribing. Pretty cool, eh? So what are you waiting for? Follow the link! Check out the art! Subscribe to the newsletter! And please enjoy!