Going through my folders in search of another blog post entirely, I came across this one and decided I really ought to repost it. Not sure just when I wrote this, but it still holds largely true. Minor edits to bring it up to date have been applied. Enjoy! 🙂
The Creation of Uniqueness
I’m often asked what made me decide on a desert setting. My usual response involves a blank stare and a fumbling attempt to make “I haven’t the foggiest” sound like a rational answer. (I didn’t know I’d ever need to answer that question, so I didn’t keep notes!) On better days, I talk about how my writing group, many many years ago now, complained that my story was set in a boring, Standard- Euro- Medieval- White World.
To fix that, I started asking the Big World questions: where and how life developed, who the various gods were, what happened to atheists, who the vegetarians were as opposed to who raised cattle (and where to find bacon, cheese, chocolate, and coffee–very important items to the development of civilization, as far as I’m concerned!), why humanity had moved from point A to point B, and why nobody had done the equivalent of the route-to-China schtick.
(Short answer on that last: I was feeling lazy and didn’t want that complication. I knew that wouldn’t fly as a reason, so I had to come up with a plausible reason why travel to date had been restricted to the one large continent. That reason is not mentioned anywhere in the Children of the Desert series, mind you, although it is hinted at during the end bit of Fires of the Desert. I may or may not reveal it in subsequent series, or in special mini-stories along the way. But it’s in my Secret Background Notes. Mwah.)
Back to the question of uniqueness. Essentially, I referred to the many excellent guides scattered across the Internet about the worst fantasy mileu tropes, cross-checked my writing against those, decided which ones needed changed, inverted and rearranged what I could, and came up with plausible reasons to keep the rest. There was no point to developing a totally unique inn and tavern setup, for example, or a different kind of beer, wine, or tea. Those are backdrop items that really don’t need a whole lot of tweaking to work, and if I messed with that basic trope, I risked distracting the reader from the action. Instead, I focused on the strange creatures like firetail birds, gerhoi, desert lords, ha’ra’hain, and ha’reye, along with the cultures and characters, to make the world stand out.
In Guardians of the Desert, the servant/kathain cultures from north to south are set in sharp and deliberate contrast. In the south, the servants see themselves as a valued part of a noble household, and kathain–personal servants to desert lords–are highly respected. In the north, servants are often little more than disposable creatures to kick when one is displeased, and kathain, as such, don’t exist–the closest equivalent is a high-class prostitute, which is hardly a respectable profession in northern eyes.
Likewise the views on women in general are very different from one culture to another; however, the south is hardly innocent of misogyny. Darden and F’Heing Families are, overall, less than kind to their females–but they are willing to accept women who fight past the preconceptions and prove themselves strong enough to run with the boys, if you will. That’s not quite as progressive as Aerthraim or Scratha Families, which are matrilineal and ruled by women, but it’s considerably better than the (currently) rigidly patriarchal Northern Church rules.
Religion, as Deiq observes in the opening chapters of Guardians, has run through some interesting permutations over the years. The southlands began with a very different attitude toward the gods than what they have today, and the northlands are even more muddled–which I plan to explore in more depth in the next series.
That next series, by the way, will return to that original manuscript that set everything in motion. I’m tremendously excited about the prospect of fixing what was broken with that book–and about the prospect of working with Tank as he matures, walks out of a seriously unhealthy relationship, falls in love for the first time, and staves off a civil war in the northlands. Oh, and he discovers he’s a father, too, which totally screws with his head in all sorts of ways.
But before I get to that, I have to finish the Children of the Desert series, which is now five books (it started out life as a trilogy). On the good side, four of the books are already written; Secrets of the Sands, Guardians of the Desert, Bells of the Kingdom, and Fires of the Desert. So you can enjoy those while you wait for book five–and I’ve begun putting out some short side-stories to help fill in some of the rich background and backstory driving events in the main books.
Ah, but I still haven’t answered the question of “what made you choose a desert setting?” Well, I truly had very little developed by way of world building when Idisio first strolled onto the page. When Scratha grabbed him, and I asked myself what made Scratha so ominous, the term “desert lord” just sort of showed up on the page. So I had to develop a desert culture that would have feasibly produced someone as catastrophically bad-tempered as Scratha. Then I had to figure out why Alyea would go south with such scanty knowledge as to what she was facing (besides being young and easily manipulated, that is); developing the immense suspicion, plots and politics between north and south kicked off a whole new set of details and questions.
I suppose at some point it began to seem like something of a shame not to use all this amazingly cool information I was putting together. So Scratha threw in the towel and went south, dragging Idisio and Riss along.
Events took on their own direction and momentum from there. I had to run fast enough to keep up with the weird stuff I was writing, and provide rational or at least plausible reasons for it to be happening. So the best answer I can offer is this: I didn’t choose the desert setting. It chose me.
But it’s been a damn fun ride so far–and certainly a unique one!
The Children of the Desert series is currently available in both print and ebook form through ReAnimus Press. Samples of my writing from those and other projects can be found here. Feel free to catch up with me in real time on Twitter–but be warned, my feed is largely political at this point. 🙂