We’re chuffed to bits to have author Ginn Hale joining us today on the reboot tour for her novel Lord of the White Hell, the book that introduced the Sagrada Academy, the Hellions, and the Cadeleonian world. For fans of epic fantasy this series is a must-read, so enjoy Ginn’s guest post and be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win an e-copy of the book.
Building Worlds For Us All
World building—particularly in the fields of science-fiction and fantasy is often mistaken for just drawing a couple maps, tweaking chemistry, or coming up with alien races, dragons, systems of magic or a means of faster-than-light travel.
But in reality, world building involves more than just creating the physical parameters of a story’s setting. World building requires that authors craft the details and themes of their texts so that they multiply to create a feeling of wholeness—of a vast reality that stretches far beyond the bounds of the story. These details can appear as anything from how the world’s populace depict their own and each other’s histories to what foods and colors are seen as appealing and which are not. It frames characters’ struggles and lends their actions validity.
Even the way characters respond to something like laughter can become an aspect of world building.
Done well, it shapes readers’ experiences and understanding of the events and actions being described. It makes a book feel real enough to evoke laughter or tears. It can reframe values and morality.
That’s powerful stuff. So it’s no surprise that all fiction authors build worlds for their readers. (Some are more subtle about it than others but we all peddle constructed realities.)
Many non-fiction writers also rely on world building when they attempt to evoke times past or nations far away. And world building even pops up in science volumes, such as What if the Earth had Two Moons where the author, Neil F. Comings, includes vignettes of what social and cultural life might be like on alien planets created by altering the physics of the earth. World building—on a micro level—appears when a translator chooses to use an idiom that don’t exist in the original text but that capture the ‘spirit’ of the piece.
Really, world building suffuses all writing.
Subtle world building is so ubiquitous that it often goes unnoticed—sometimes even by the authors doing it. They may not think about why they chose the word ‘thug’ to describe one person but opted for ‘scamp’ for another but unknowingly they are making decisions that add up and inform the whole of the world they describe. A world that their readers will inhabit— if only for a short time.
In fantasy and science-fiction we are often so fascinated with the overt world-building—all those gleaming dragons and interstellar space ships—that we can fail to notice the smaller aspects of constructed realities. Like where are all the People of Color? Why are so many of the villains physically or mentally disabled? Why are all the female characters so powerless? Does the only queer character have to die?
Absence and indifference, too, can be a kind of world building. But the realms they create—purposefully crafted, or not—are deeply alienating to many people and when they are amplified over thousands of books (not to mention across television, films and games) they grow vast, oppressive and disheartening.
On the other hand, when diversity suffuses a text it can create a haven both for those who are often marginalized and for readers who want more than the same story told again and again.
That was my thought when I decided to revisit the old trope of the “school story” in Lord of the White Hell. I wanted to write—and to read a story where the New Student in the Old School isn’t straight and white but a queer Person of Color. (Because frankly, that identity reflects the world I live in and the communities all around me.)
Of course, to imbue Kiram Kir-Zaki’s story with resonance, I turned to world building, to craft both the Cadeleonian society, (with their love of horses, battle and bravado) and the Haldiim, (a matriarchal community where merchants and scholars hold sway). Before young Kiram could even step out of his carriage onto the grounds of the Sagrada Academy—much less meet his future friends and enemies or battle a mysterious curse—he and his classmates had to possess knowledge of themselves as well as ideas about each other, their histories, religious beliefs and accomplishments.
All of which probably sounds about as interesting as a 200 page treatise on brachial patterns in lichen growth.
And it would have been had it been all dumped out in dense paragraphs of exposition. Instead, I tried to weave information into the world around the characters—into their clothes, their language, the art surrounding them and even their favorite foods and books. The world building is buried in the characters’ identities. It’s how they argue, how they think and, how they fall in love.
Obviously, I’m not the only fantasy author who employs world building in this way. Far from it. In fact there are so many great authors creating lively, diverse worlds right now that making a comprehensive list is impossible. That said, I feel that readers couldn’t go wrong by checking out the works of any of these writers: Joyce Chng, N.K. Jemison, Nnedi Okorofor, Saladin Ahmed, Rhys Ford, Nisi Shawl, C.S. Pacat, Tenia D. Johnson and Jordon L. Hawk.
I also recommend exploring anthologies for a taste of beautifully varied world building. These are a three of my favorites.
The Sea is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia—Edited by Jamee Goh and Joyce Chng
Mothership, Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond— Edited by Bill Campbell
The New Voices of Fantasy— Edited by Peter S. Beagle
I wish you all happy reading across the multitude of fascinating worlds out there!
About the Book
Title: Lord of the White Hell: Book One
Series: The Cadeleonian Series Volume One
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Release Date (Print & Ebook): August, 2010
Length (Print & Ebook): 362 pages
Subgenre: High fantasy, school story, YA/NA, epic fantasy
Blurb: Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.
But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions.
However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a Dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.
Sale info: Lord of the White Hell will be reduced to $2.99 from 9/11 – 9/16.
“The White Tree is here.” Javier strode to the center of the circle of gnarled trees and dropped to his knees.
“But there’s nothing there.” Kiram frowned at grassy clearing.
“I’m here.” Javier smiled up at him and then lifted his hand to Kiram. His fingers were gashed. Streaks of his blood stood out like dark strokes against his pale skin. “You’re here.”
Kiram came forward and laced his fingers with Javier’s.
“Don’t let go,” Javier told him.
Then Javier placed his free hand on the ground and bowed his head. He whispered a Bahiim word again and again. White sparks flared over his fingers. Where they struck Kiram’s skin a hot, pulsing sensation flared up but then faded at once to a dead cold. Javier’s entire body tensed and his voice grew rough with the force he pushed into each word.
Above them the jays shrieked and swirled and then, as a mass, they dived. Kiram hunched over Javier, shielding his face. If Javier noticed he gave no sign.
Kiram felt the wind of hundreds of wings descending and steeled for their impact. A single sweep of talons clawed across his bowed neck and then an explosion of white fire ripped up from Javier. A wave of intense heat washed through Kiram. The jays screamed and then went suddenly silent. All around Kiram the world burned away and strange forms rose from the waves of power emanating from the white hell.
A curling gray smoke hung where brambles had once formed dark walls. Where twisted oaks had stood, now thirteen tangled black knots loomed up. Like crooked fingers opening from huge fists they unfurled the way the simple letters of Calixto’s diary had opened. But these trees were far more complex. Every twig and branch twisted into forms of script. Roots erupted and surged forward like black eels, all of them swimming straight for Javier’s extended hand.
A blinding white symbol glowed from beneath Javier’s fingers. As Kiram watched it grew more intense, turning Javier’s flesh luminous as a paper lantern and casting shadows of the bones of his hand. A trembling, electric sensation shot up from Javier through Kiram’s arm. The sensation grew painfully hot but Kiram hung on.
Cold, black roots slithered over Kiram’s feet and ankles as they swarmed up over Javier’s outstretched hand. They writhed up his arm and for a horrifying moment Kiram thought they would engulf Javier, but as they touched his skin, light scorched along their tangled lengths and shot up into the surrounding trees.
In moments all thirteen trees were ablaze with light. Their writhing branches traced glowing golden script into the air and the symbols seemed to take flight, spreading over the brambles and woods, then filling the sky. The symbols shone like stars and then fell like snowflakes.
One drifted down to Kiram’s arm. It looked like the symbol for protection. It felt like the lightest kiss against his skin, and then it melted away leaving Kiram feeling somehow safer and stronger, despite the fierce heat rolling over him.
All around the symbols settled, illuminating the surrounding wilderness, and suddenly Kiram realized that this was the White Tree: the entire glade, lit and luminous with blessings.
Still kneeling at his side, Javier didn’t seem to see anything. Kiram felt tremors of exhaustion rocking his muscles.
“Javier, I think it’s done. We should go.” Kiram tugged at Javier’s hand. “You can stop now.”
Javier raised his head. The black shadows of his skull and teeth showed through his luminous, pale skin. Blinding white fire filled the hollows of his eyes. It was as if the face of death leered up at him.
Kiram jumped and almost lost his hold on Javier’s hand.
“Javier!” Terror lifted the pitch of Kiram’s voice. “Close the white hell! Close it!”
The jaw of the skull dropped as if to speak but only white vapor rose from the gaping mouth.
About the Author
Award-winning author Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and their ancient, evil cat. She spends the rainy days admiring local fungi. The stormy nights, she spends writing science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring LGBT protagonists. (Attempts to convince the cat to be less evil have been largely abandoned.)