I have started a wiki! After months of deliberation on the subject, I decided to jump in and just go ahead and do it. It’s terribly addicting, I’ve found, and a little overwhelming. Having never put much of this stuff down, it’s been sloshing in my head, and I’m a little staggered at the sheer number of red links.

So, if you happen to be intrigued and would like a little more of a window into the world of The Aldersgate, you can visit Alderwiki. Most of the articles are currently in the barest of states, and some are even replete with spelling errors, etc. I am ashamed to admit my pitiful spelling capabilities, that I blame entirely on the advent of the spellchecker; in this instance, the built-in Firefox spellchecker doesn’t like the wikia forms, so…

Check back often, and hopefully it’ll start to look better soon (and be equally informative!).

We writers sit in strange rooms. These rooms are often in our minds–some are well-lit, others dim; some forested, others desolate expanses in the driest of deserts. And though it may appear at first glance that these rooms are somewhat quiet (at least mine are at first), it is not so.

I sit in these rooms, and I wait. I close my eyes, I listen. That’s how I write.

First come the names.

Very rarely is it any other way. The names of my characters almost always come first, and with the exception of my first novel attempt, once the names are whispered, they do not change. Oh, sometimes I have to find the name, in a little bit of a goose chase–I know what it looks like, feels like, but can’t quite get the sound down–but I find it in the end. And then I write it.

Words are consumables for me, akin to the most inspiring foodstuffs. It’s not just the way the word sounds, really, it’s the weight that it carries with it. I’m an etymology nut, and even when I pick a name (even if I’m sure of it) I’ll inevitably spend an hour or two scraping what meaning I can from it. Take the name Maelys. Maelys is French, Breton (so, by extension an “ancestral” name for me) and it is the feminine form of “prince” or “chief.” The name is perfect because, as I’ve noted before, Maelys’s inspiration was in no small part Elizabeth I of England, who was a sort of self-styled prince. The name is strong, has a diphthong… just pleasing all around. Also, with a wrong pronunciation it could be read “Malice” – and hey, that’s kinda cool.

Brick and Cora’s names came at the same moment. But I knew those were shorter nicknames. Brickley is actually a version of Berkeley, meaning “birch tree meadow” – and, for those of you among my readers who might be interested in trees would realize that, of course, the alder and birch are in the same family. Cora is short for Coralie which has a few possible meanings including “coral” and “maiden”. Either way I liked the whole connection to the sea and the rather feminine connotation (she is my shield maiden of sorts). And further, seeing as this is a Neo-Victorian steampunk influenced sort of tale, the name Coralie sounds as if it’s from a century past, which works.

And the rest? Emry was easy. I first used the name Emry in a snippet of something I wrote in college; Emry is a version of Emrys. And Emrys is one of the names Merlin goes by. Merlin/Taliesin was a bard, and Emry is a bard. Emrys means “immortal”. Along with the name Gawen, this is a completely shameless gank from Arthurian legend.

The last one I’ll do is Sally Din. This name is more of a play on words, and one of my favorite historical figures, Saladin. I was doing some research, thinking about the Anglicized “Saladin” (truly it’s Salah al’Din, or some variant). At the time Sally Din appeared in the first draft, she cornered Brick and emerged out of the hot desert, smelling of dust and sweat, peeking over her dark specs. I knew she was a female knight, and the name had to be strong, and carry with it authority. Sir Din sounds cacophonously beautiful, and Sally is a name I’ve always liked–it speaks both to her strength and her gender. As for Sally the name, it means “princess” and is a variant of Sarah; though, at least as far as I know, there’s nothing remotely royal about Sally Din. So I guess it’s ironic.

So, suffice it to say, I like names. The rest of the names all have stories (Sylvan is “forest”–yet he hates the woods), Libelle–Libby’s proper name–means dragonfly in German and French, and Ellinora was named after Eleanor of Aquitaine (a very, very distant relation of mine).

Here concludes a look into my naming processes, one of the oldest pursuits of humankind. And although names are important, it seems that some imagine that we are beyond our names, that our names do not define us–we are what we are. And that’s true to an extent; but I do still believe in the power of names.

We name, and we un-name. We ascribe and we subscribe. Names are a fascinating business. As Juliet famously lamented:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Photo by Ricce

Photo by Ricce

What is time? If you’re writing SF/F, steampunk, or any other fictionally odd genre, it’s a question you may find yourself wondering. How would time differ from one place to another? How do we measure time? What would cause a shift in time?

Some writers choose to think far outside the box, using different “turns” of planets, and other methods to distinguish what parts make up an hour/parsec/etc. For the mathematically inclined, the study of the measure of time can be endlessly fascinating–and even from a linguistic perspective it’s a whole ton of fun. Our own world has plenty of wonderful history on the subject!

Initially in The Aldersgate, I didn’t consider time to be much different than our own. Earena is very like earth in size and shape, and distance from the sun (the year is a little longer, but not by much). So in the first draft, everything in minutes, seconds, hours, that’s sort of thing. As the steampunk aesthetic started to make itself more apparent, as well as the reigning Queen’s obsession with machinery, I thought I’d use a “tick” as a minute and a “turn” as an hour–like in a clock. The second hands, technically, tick as well, but so do the hour hands in older technologies. I like it anyway!

One of my pet peeves in fantasy literature in particular has to do with the language of the year. How many books have you picked up that say, “he was eight summers old at the time,” or, “she had already lived eighty winters.” Yes, seasons are important and, yes, it works as a method of time. But it’s hackneyed, folks.

I honestly haven’t used a substitute for the year yet, because I need to do more research into the effects of two moons on a planet  like ours. I imagine messing with tides, and phases would change the way that people perceive of time a bit. I do know that when the moons are both at their fullest, it’s Spring–hence the whole Blooming Day theme in the first few chapters. Moons, of course, have all sorts of wonderful mythological connections to women, so there’s that too. I just need to pick an astrophysicist’s brain for a while, and then I can come up with some concrete answers.

At any rate, whatever choose to do with time, make sure it’s consistent throughout, and make it your own. Time is a fascinating subject–real and imagined–and is often a small detail that, when done right, can really help transport your readers into another world.

If you’ve followed along at all in The Aldersgate Cycle, you’ll have seen some immediately obvious instances where gender matters significantly, mostly noticeably in the shortage of women spoken about in the first few chapters. It’s this shortage of women that’s driven Queen Maelys to retrieve all the young women from the Continent and bring them to Hartleigh Castle in Queensland for safekeeping. I don’t think this was a particularly overt feminist statement on my behalf, rather a situational fact that helped drive the story along, and answered a question I had: What if there weren’t enough women? I still ask plenty of related questions, and I’m not certain I’ve answered them all yet, but I’m working on it. In fact, the entire structure and culture of my novel is, in many ways, directly connected to that main question.

I don’t think feminism is a good descriptor of how I view the world. It isn’t as simple as that. Through my travels, friendships, and experiences, I’ve come to see gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation in a rather different light than I once did. I decided, in light of the difficulties still existent in our world, to say something important on the subject, but in a decidedly fantasy setting.

You see, it isn’t just the lack of women that drives much of the novel. Because, laying in bed at night some year or so ago, asking myself many of the questions related to the shortage of women (why so few women born? what do people think?) I came upon a surprising answer. It’s not that children are any less frequent, but that something else is being born. Fraternal twins are a common occurrence in Earena, and boys often grow up with brothers their same age. However, it isn’t always the case with girls.

More often than not, twin births of the non-male variety end up with one girl and one ungendered baby. And by ungendered, really I mean non-sexed. These babies are literally lacking in any distinguishable sex characteristics.

Being inspired by high-minded Victorians and their like, the unsexed children–called Sibs, short for Siblings–are not considered citizens in any capacity, regardless of rank or relationship. Society has deemed that any human incapable of furthering the species is a non-entity. For three centuries this led to an entire class that bordered on slavery and, in some cases, worse. This is also tied to theories of the construction of the Other, of course, but that’s another post altogether I’d think.

What the Sibs are now, and where they reside is something of a mystery (at least to those of you who aren’t me, or who’ve read the first draft). But their story is at the heart of The Aldersgate Cycle, an undercurrent that propels much of the narrative, but often unseen.

You can imagine the questions I have to ask myself when writing the Sibs. But it’s something I take time to do, because I want to do it right. I don’t want it to be comfortable, because it isn’t–but I want to do it justice above all. (And this is not to mention, of course, the culture at large’s general acceptance of homosexuality–considering there’s such a surplus of men, you can see how that might be convenient.) The Sibs as a culture are probably my proudest achievement to date, in some ways being the ultimate steampunks (complete with tattoos and plenty of amazing inventions).

I also had to consider how to refer to non-gendered people in terms of language. I spent days researching, and finally turned to Middle English for inspiration. I ended up with the following:

he = she = hea

him = her = hean

his = hers = heas

In the third case, it’s pronounced “HEY-ah”. At first it was decidedly awkward to write. In spite of my attempted unbiased approach, I found that I would still think of individual Sibs as either more female or more male, and slip into the usual pronouns. But now, as I work through the second (and in some cases third) draft, it has become quite natural and comfortable. I’m quite happy with the results.

I do believe in the power of literature, especially that which requires we suspend our disbelief just a little. It’s one “what if” removed from our own world, true, but one that lends an important voice to my narrative. My opinion may not be agreed upon by everyone, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I try not to come across as pedantic or judgemental in my telling, and rather, simply want to put the question to the reader and ask: “What would you do, in a world like this?”

from Chapter Ten: Below

“They’re Sibs,” Emry chimed in from next-door. “Or so they’ll have us believe.” He hardly sounded convinced, and Cora wasn’t sure what to make of that.

“And we have names, and proper pronouns, thank you very much,” replied the Sib. “My name is Ezz. And you can call me hea. Not he nor she but hea. Not his or hers, but heas. Not to him, or to her, but to hean. That’s the basics. Heas, hean, hea.” It sounded like “Hey-ah”.

Cora frowned, trying to process Ezz’s little grammar lesson. “So you’re neither…”

“Neither male nor female,” Ezz replied, folding heas arms over heas chest. “Which I’m sure is terribly difficult for you to even conceive.”

So, we’ve established that religion isn’t easy. It’s neither easy to pull of, nor is it easy to convey. But it’s something that many SF/F writers find necessary. It succeeds to a variety of degrees, I think, but most of all it does bring us closer to a culture that is not our own. Even if we aren’t particularly religious ourselves as readers, we can understand the impact religion has on a culture.

Now I’m writing about the other religions in the Aldersgate Cycle. Aside from the non-religion of the state, there remain vestiges, especially in more rural districts of the Territories and, further north on the Isle of Mor. As well, a second culture of people, known as the Sibs have their own connection to the old gods, one that they posit has gone unbroken since the Great Collision (the cataclysmic event that happens 400 years before the story starts).

Have I lost you yet?

Both those on Mor and the Sibs have a nearly identical pantheon. Both their societies are ordered by seven clans which, on the whole, coincide with gods and goddesses, though have slightly different names. I’m personally fascinated by a variety of mythologies, and having studied the Elder Futhark (Norse Runes) recently, it has certainly influenced the names of the clans (which happen to coincide with the first six letters of the Rune alphabet–not that original, perhaps, but it works for me at the moment).

Beyond that particular pantheon, there are other movers and shakers. Lee Renmen, a Knight of the Order of the Asp has fashioned himself a kind of shamanistic priest, dedicated to rediscovering the life-force of the earth through nature, experimentation, and dream visions. He does not worship gods as we would understand, but rather worships the manifestations of nature, something completely self-discovered. His story is long (too long for a post here) but he’s a fascinating character. His influence on the Order of the Asp has turned it into a quasi-religious Order.

In his own words:

“After the Great Collision, nothing in this world was the same. The old religion was forgotten, replaced by a faith of cold, stone churches, and silent gods who had turned their backs on us. This was false—this religion was a religion of lies. It was no surprise that the people turned to the Dranists; they had been praying to gods that did not exist. We had all forgotten…

“But I have spent ten years in the desert. I have listened to the stories of the old crones; I have spoken with the Tenders at their business. I have tasted the rain, I have smelled the first blood of the hunt spilled on the hot sands. The gods, they have come to me; they have whispered in my ear and directed my steps. We are all but shadows and whispers in their wake, my friends: shadows and whispers.”

I’m behind writing for World Building Month, and as such, I thought I’d take a stab at one of the more difficult subjects for the next few posts: creating religion.

First, I should mention, I’m not a planner. World building to me is 90% observation, 10% creation. That is, I don’t write every detail down in a notebook, I don’t spend hours planning. It just kind of happens. Not to say that’s the best approach, just the only way I know how!

Religion is a sticky subject, real or imagined. When you’re dealing with belief, you’re walking into extremely difficult territory, because belief really can’t be quantified. It’s a factor that for some, has nothing to do with logic or reason or proof, and everything to do with emotion, intuition, and experience.

The most important question to answer when you’re writing a novel that includes religion is to what extent society is involved with religion. That said, is there an official religion? Is there separation of Church and State? Are certain religions banned/restricted/forbidden?

You may, however, find yourself asking a different question: how is religion in general treated by the State? For instance, in my own novel, religion is highly discouraged by the Monarchy. In a word, according to them there is no religion. After a long “golden age” of the Church, a set of beliefs that included an original pantheon of seven gods, there was an upheaval headed by a woman named Drana, who was a high advisor to the Queen. To use an excerpt to elaborate:

Kaythra had many theories. But very few the Queen would like. As her mother before her, Maelys was a staunch Dranist—a philosophy which regarded the belief in gods, or God, as the instrument of weaker minds in desperate times. Dranists believed that they, not gods, were capable of the greatest accomplishments, through science, medicine, and technology. So, the arts had flourished in the last two-hundred years as the Dranists held the throne. Temples were destroyed, and all mention of religion was expunged from the law. Practice was not forbidden, but over the decades it was continually associated with thieves, the lowerclass, and outcasts.

“You recall when Drana the Philosopher decreed far and wide that if she could find one man or woman with proof of the gods, with absolute proof, that she would forever lay down her ways and convert—become a cleric, or somesuch?”

“Of course,” Maelys said, her lips twitching into a tight-lipped smile. “You know very well I have studied the Dranist texts all of my life. It was called the Calling—and no one who came to court provided any insight into the mind of the gods other than garden variety magic, superstition, and parlor tricks.”

“It is said,” Kaythra continued, slowly. “That the shaman among the Soderon thought long and hard about whom to send to Queensland, to prove the Queen and Drana the Philosopher wrong. They were prepared to send their greatest shaman, a woman by the name of Me’san, to Queensland, when a vision was granted to their shamans—a vision of a future. There they saw the shores of Queensland dry and empty of fish, and the deserts of Soderon teeming with life.”

Maelys made a disgusted face, but did not interrupt Kaythra.

The High Counselor took a deep breath, measuring her friend’s patience. “Me’san did not go visit Drana the Philosopher; she convinced the king of the time, Alsanir, that if she were to do so, the vision of the future—a future victory for the Soderons, would be lost.”

“And they believed her,” Maelys said.

“And they still do,” Kaythra continued. “I know your opinion of the Soderons is… lacking, to say the least. But they are a deeply religious people, who believe their long suffering difficulty in siring females has come to an end, through some ritual I could not understand for the life of me.”

“Ritual?” Maelys said. “They aren’t sacrificing people, are they?’

Kaythra, though brought up as a Dranist (and the current Counselor to Queen Maelys herself) has her own understanding of the people of Soderon, whom she has just returned from visiting. Maelys, however, cannot remove herself from her vantage point, and so, there’s a bit of tension.

I try not to make judgements based on my own opinions of religion, but rather let the story tell the opinions of the character. I think if done correctly, the right combination of elaboration and sensitivity can bring about religion in a very complete, very convincing way.