I’ve often told the story of how the short story “Pimp My Airship” started as a joke gone awry on Twitter. When the story was actually requested, I had to build a world. The main criticism the story received was that there seemed to be a lot of world that the reader barely gets to see in the five-thousand-word story. When I fleshed out the origins of the Star Child, it led to the novelette “Steppin’ Razor”; and a throwaway line about “the Five Civilized Nations of the northwest territories and the Tejas Free Republic” led to the novella Buffalo Soldier. I won’t lie, the criticism still followed me. Perhaps they had a point about how much world I can compact into a story. That’s because my favorite part of the writing process is worldbuilding since that’s when I really get to play. For Pimp My Airship, I allow myself plenty of room to build out my world. Its creation centers around three areas: Continue reading
When I conceived of the Andan faction of the hexarchate, I saw them as beautiful, rich, and cultured. In particular, I saw them as the people who weaponize culture. Raven Stratagem depicts a major Andan character for the first time, and while she’s somewhat atypical (she went into special ops against her mother’s wishes), she hasn’t entirely escaped her early training.
Years ago, when I was in college, I borrowed some of my boyfriend’s Robotech tie-in novels. I went online (as one does) and looked up more information on Robotech on the internet, and found an interesting essay that questioned the novels’ portrayal of singer Lynn Minmei and her songs as a cultural weapon. I’m sorry I can’t link you to the essay; cursory Googling has failed to turn it up and, as it’s been something like fifteen years, I have no idea if it’s even still on the web. Continue reading
One of the joys of writing novels over writing for the screen is that your budget is infinite and your imagination is unfettered. You don’t have to worry about the cost of the number of suns your planet orbits around, nor about the practical effort required to have half a dozen alien races, none of whom conform to a basic upright and bipedal morphology, appear repeatedly and interact with your human characters.
In Down Station, when I blew up London – which in and of itself is a somewhat technical task, involving setting fire to the Underground and melting the streets around Mayfair – I needed somewhere for my survivors to run to. That somewhere was Down, which has more in common with Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Julian May’s Pliocene Earth than it does C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. I wanted Down to be both eerily familiar and surprisingly different: you can, of course, read the Books of Down and not worry about what happens under the bonnet, but as the author, that’s exactly what I had to do – open it up and tinker with the engine until I was happy with how it all worked. Continue reading
In the beginning, there was the protagonist, and the author saw that it was good.
My worldbuilding process starts after the creation of the protagonist, never before. I write novels to tell the story of a person, not the story of a world, and all of my novels have sprung from a first impression of the main character. For The Empress Game trilogy it was an image of Kayla holding a kris dagger in each hand, fighting another woman in a pit while criminals cheered her on.
Once I have that first impression of a character, the worldbuilding begins. Who is she? (The exiled princess from a rival planet) Where is she? (Hidden on the slum side of her hated enemy’s border planet) Why is she there? (Trying to raise credits to buy passage back to her homeworld) And, most importantly, why is she special? Why are we telling her story, and not someone else’s? Continue reading
I was a teenager when I walked through my first snowfield. The snow was artificial, of course. It was winter in Australia and the snow machines sat on the side of the fields, like fallen barrels.
The High School I went to took us up to the snowfields on an excursion. To be honest, I can’t tell you why. It’s strange, but over the years, I’ve forgotten the reasons for all of the excursions I went on in school. Like an amnesiac super soldier, I can’t explain to you why I was in Canberra in 1990, or in Melbourne in 1989. It would be nice if I was part of a secret cartel of child assassins, but in all honesty, I suspect we were just there because our parents needed a break. Whatever shadowy deal the school did with our parents (as schools everywhere do shadowy deals with all parents) the deal was made to take us up to snow fields in June. There, we rode ski lifts up to the top of a mountain that none of us could ski down. Later, we rode the lifts back down. Continue reading
Are there supermarkets? Specialty groceries? Farmers markets? Hell, do people even bother cooking at home? Does everyone crowd into the same diners and cafés? Are there bistros and bars? What does your city look like at breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What time do those meals start?
I can ask and answers those questions about my current city (Santa Monica, California), and I’m going to start asking them next month when my family moves to Seattle, Washington. I can do the same with cities I’ve visited, and I can get a surface understanding of that neighborhood. Food is the thing that unites all humans. We all have to eat. How we eat, however, is open to interpretation. Continue reading
I was digging through ancient emails the other day when I came across an old plan for my novel, The Machinery. After admonishing myself for never cleaning my inbox, I decided to take a look and was struck by how different it was from the finished book. In fact, you would be hard pushed to recognise it as the same story.
This is probably true of many novels, but in my case, it stemmed from how the story developed. In the past, when I’ve had an idea for a book, I would come up with the narrative thrust, the main characters, the general setting. I’d have a hazy picture of what was going to happen and where it would take place. With The Machinery, it was different: all I had was the premise of the novel, and I had to build from there.
The conceit of The Machinery is based on the existence of an omnipotent machine, which chooses the leaders of society. They could be anyone at all, adult or child: the Machinery picks them as they are the best suited to their particular roles. There’s only one problem: it seems as if the machine is breaking. Continue reading