Issue #150 View in browser
July 10, 2020

What's in this newsletter?

  • Recent Goings On
  • For the DenNerds: Bloodwitch Paperback Release!
  • For the Daydreamers: How They Write a Novel, Bonus Lesson
  • Upcoming Events

Recent Goings On

As many of you know (but some of you might not) I gave birth in early June. It was a long (36 hours!) but beautiful labor. Pushing out baby was the most empowering moment of my life.

Unfortunately, twenty minutes after that, everything went sideways due to a rare complication called placenta accreta. I hemorrhaged and lost over half my body's blood in about 20 minutes. My organs started to fail.

I am lucky to be alive.

A seemingly innocent decision my husband and I made last fall—to go the "big city" hospital an hour away for delivery—is the only reason I'm currently still here. If I'd gone to my local hospital, they wouldn't have had the necessary staff or resources.

Not every woman is so lucky. In fact, postpartum hemorrhaging is still terrifyingly common. As I talked about on instagram, the US has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world, and that rate increases dramatically for women of color, especially Black women.

We need to do better. Please, consider contacting your local policy makers and demanding they do more to protect pregnant and postpartum people.

Or, if you can spare the money, donate to Every Mother Counts, whose mission is exactly that: improving maternal health.

What I'm Playing

What I'm Reading

What I'm Listening To

For the DenNerds:
Bloodwitch Paperback Release in 5 days!

Yay!! The Bloodwitch paperback releases July 14! It has some extra content at the end too...

Such as the prologue + first chapter of Witchshadow. AND a cut scene from Stix's POV in Bloodwitch. So you know you want to buy a copy...😏

And if you want a SIGNED copy, then you can order that from Schuler Books. I'll personalize too! Learn more here!

To everyone who has already ordered, thank you!! These are weird times, I know, and I really appreciate the support—as do bookstores and publishers!

For the Daydreamers:
How They Write a Novel, Bonus Lesson: Geography & Magic Systems

Since I have a newborn (and some new physical and mental trauma—FUN TIMES) to deal with, I reached out to a friend of mine whose brain makes mine go 🤯. In a good way. She is one of those brilliant people who knows about everything and also seems to have done everything—and boy does it show in her writing!

Kristina Pérez is a half-Argentine, half-Norwegian native New Yorker who has spent the past two decades living in Europe and Asia.

With a PhD in Medieval Literature from the University of Cambridge, she has taught at the National University of Singapore and the University of Hong Kong. As a journalist, she’s written for many international news outlets.

If that's not impressive enough, she's also an author + agent, and I was so thrilled she agreed to give me her take on world-building for today's newsletter.

Take it away, Kristina!

Read the rest of this series: 

Part 1: Ideas + Research

Part 2: Building New Worlds

Mappa Mundi: Geography and Magic Systems

First off, thanks to Susan for inviting me to talk a little bit about how I approach world building in her newsletter. 

Being a medievalist by training, I have spent a lot of time poring over illuminated manuscripts and the maps that defined the perimeters and parameters of the Middle Ages. The physical edges of the world as someone in twelfth-century Europe would have understood them, for instance, had a direct impact on how they viewed the structure of their society and their place within it.

Danger was to be found at the edges, in the margins. Danger—but also magic.

When I start creating a new secondary fantasy world, I think of a medieval scribe looking at a fresh sheet of vellum and delineating the world into the known and the unknown, filling the blank spaces with dragons. Consciously or not, the scribe was demonstrating where the magic in their world was to be found.

The Medieval Latin mappa mundi (“map of the world”) is the origin of our English word “map”—mappa literally being the cloth on which maps were often drawn at the time.

Fantasy worlds are by definition fantastical, meaning that they operate by a different set of magical rules from our own. In order for the reader to suspend their disbelief and become fully engaged in a fantasy world, the rules of that world must be clearly articulated and they must make a certain amount of logical sense.

In my experience, exploiting the geography of the world I’m creating lends itself to developing the most coherent magic system.

When I started drafting the first book of my Sweet Black Waves trilogy, for instance, I knew that since it was a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult legend, which is Celtic in origin, that I wanted to incorporate the concept of the Otherworld from Celtic mythology and folklore.

This belief held that there was an Otherworld separate from ours inhabited by gods and other immortal creatures that could be reached beneath hills, through the sea, or sometimes by just accidentally wandering across an invisible Veil. This division between the human world and the Otherworld was the first line I needed to draw on the map of my world and the foundation of my magic system.

If you think of the Greek pantheon with the gods sitting atop Mount Olympus orchestrating and interfering with the human world below, you start to see a pattern through most world mythologies in the division between the realm of mortals and the real of deities.

Do the gods/spirits in your world dwell on lofty perches or beneath the ground? This is the first decision you need to make.

In Sweet Black Waves, the next dichotomy I set up was between the land and the sea. The heroine of my trilogy, Branwen, is the lady’s maid to princess of an island kingdom called Iveriu which has been at war with the kingdom of Kernyv across the sea for generations. Branwen’s parents were killed by the raiders who terrorize the shores of Iveriu and the sea is therefore associated with danger and death by my protagonist and her countrymen. In contrast, Branwen and the other women in her family possess a natural healing magic that is rooted in land itself.

To embody this conflict, I created two primary deities drawn from Celtic mythology. In Irish legend, it is the goddess of the land who chooses the rightful king; her body is literally the island of Ireland and she represents its sovereignty. Éire—the name for Ireland in the Irish language—in fact evolved from the Old Irish word Ériu, which is the name of this sovereignty goddess. The Goddess Ériu is consequently the font of both magic and political power in Sweet Black Waves’ kingdom of Iveriu (in which I have also incorporated her name!)

But if Ériu is the goddess who imbues Branwen with her healing magic, who tempts her with the more destructive facet of her power?

That honor goes to Dhusnos who rules the Sea of the Dead, which you’ll see on the map lies between Iveriu and Kernyv. In the eleventh-century manuscript, Lebor Gabála Érenn (“The Book of Invasions”), which is an Irish pseudo-history, we learn that a human male named Éber Donn offended the goddess Ériu and he was subsequently drowned in a shipwreck and buried on an island that becomes known as Tech Duinn (“the House of Donn”).

Etymologically speaking Donn also means “The Dark One” and there is evidence that he was long considered to be a god of death. The House of Donn therefore may have been viewed a place where souls gathered before moving on to the Otherworld.

For my purposes, this long-standing dispute between Ériu and Donn, between the land and the sea, established the perfect duality for my magic system. This fight between the dark and light, nurturing and destructive sides of Branwen’s magic—and her heart—propels her throughout the trilogy.

There are many more Celtic gods and supernatural entities (whom I call “Old Ones”) than I could possibly incorporate into my world or than would be necessary to include. When constructing your own pantheon, it’s important to remember that all elements of your world building should serve the story in some way.

Once you’ve drawn these first big lines on your map, you can have fun with the landmarks—rivers, forests etc.—in filling in the texture of your world and magic system.

When you were a kid, did you ever go on adventures in the woods, stumble across a cave and come up with stories about the troll who lived there? Okay, maybe that was just me, but the point is that you and your characters can have fun fleshing out the details of both your physical and magical worlds at the same time.

As the world builder, you are both the mapmaker and the magic-maker, so have fun with it! I can’t wait to see what you create.

Thank so much for sharing all your scholarly insight, Kristina. 😊 I love how your training shines through in you approach to story—just as my science background sneaks through into mine!

And don't miss Kristina's next release, Bright Raven Skies, releasing August 25th! There's a preorder campaign going on too, so be sure to check that out.

Upcoming Events:

I have nothing planned right now, but stay tuned!

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Buy my books! 📚
Thank you for reading! Have a fabulous weekend, friends!

Susan Dennard
110 West 40th St.
Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018

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