Look Upon My Works and Despair

It’s been a busy month here in the Gravelands. Finishing “Corpses and Cognac,” planning what I’m going to write afterwards, starting a new job, preparing for the holidays, and somehow finding time to be social all in there. It’s a lot to juggle, but it comes with a feeling of progress, the knowledge that this is the way things are supposed to be going. The outline of life falls into place.

The outline for “Corpses and Cognac,” on the other hand…well, let’s just say we’ve reached that stage of the draft where you question everything. I’m doing my best to set those doubts aside, get the book done, and leave all major edits for Draft 3. Doing a complete rewrite for Draft 2 has fixed most of the problems I was having with the book, but a complete rewrite does come with the price of introducing its own problems. Especially when the first draft took 2-3 years to write, and Draft 2 is almost complete at about 6 months or work—about the time it took me to write the space-fantasy novella. That’s pretty good time for me, even if it doesn’t feel that way!

What I want to talk about today is something I’ve been struggling with in this draft—and every draft of every story I ever write. It’s figuring out how much of the logic and mechanics of the world I explain to the readers.

Yes, it’s important to create the rules of one’s universe. To know how things are supposed to work, and the fallout of what happens when a wrench is thrown into those inner workings; as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, consistent internal logic is key to keeping the plotholes away. I also talk a lot about building the details for one’s world, and that falls in here too. I’ve got documents and charts detailing how Arcadia functions and its connection to our world and “Moonworld” in the Deadly Drinks series, faux-scientific notes on magic and culture overviews for other series. I can even say I’m proud of these ideas. They’re unique, and once some of the facets are realized, the implications it casts on some of the characters are…well, in typical me fashion, rather wicked. Mwahaha.

That’s where the balance comes in. What I may think of as evil genius, a reader may find dull or confusing. What I would cast as a revelation in the plot may actually distance others with all the talk of theories. And even if I find a fascinating, exciting way to pull back the curtain and reveal the inner machinations of my work…what do I sacrifice by removing that sense of mystery?

We’ve all seen it in stories, where we suddenly break from the plot for a lecture on the rules of magic or how a strange monster can be entirely explained by science, or even just a whole chapter on the history of Special Noble Family we’re never going to see again. Heck, it’s the trap many prequels fall into, trying to explain how the world-state of the original came to be instead of letting the viewers’ minds wander. (Solo, you were fun, but why? Fantastic Beasts…just, why?!?) People like to poke holes at mysteries. It’s the fuel for numerous head-canons and fanfics, and it allows everyone to cast their own lens on a story. Not that everything should be done for sake of fandom, but sometimes, it’s the mystery more than the reveal that leaves people thinking afterwards, like those twist endings that imply a fate but never confirm it.

I’m sitting at my laptop, staring at one scene in particular. It’s a big reveal conversation at a diner, metaphorical action placed in the food and movements of cutlery like all those literary short stories that get paraded around in English classes. There are fun metaphors involving barracudas too, because I can’t let things get too drab and droll. It reveals a key facet about the universe, one that changes how the protagonists interact with a certain group they’ll continue to encounter throughout the series.

I’m torn between throwing it at my beta-reader and sobbing “How do I make this work?!” and just taking a blowtorch to the entire conversation. It’s a big reveal. It changes a lot of dynamics. There are also a lot of nitty-gritty particulars. But is it right?

If worse comes to worse, we’ll see where Draft 2 leaves me once I’m finished. Then I can look back and determine if the reveal strengthens the story, or leaves it weak under the pressure of me heaping my ideas onto it and shouting “But isn’t this COOL?!” into the wind. Maybe it’s the doubt talking.

Or maybe, dear readers, I’m longing to hold onto mysteries too.

~Dorian

The (Late) SpoCon Report!

Hello again, dear readers! Can you believe it’s almost October? “Corpses and Cognac” nears completion, this blog is now a year old, and…I’ve been so busy that I forgot to post for two months. Woops.

So, with the adage of better late than never, time to finally talk about SpoCon! Which was…all the way back in August, wow. Not only is SpoCon the primary fantasy/scifi convention for Spokane and the surrounding area, but most of its proceeds go toward supporting local libraries and schools. I was already heading up to Washington that month anyway to visit family, so I figured I’d swing by!

SpoCon took place from August 10th through 12th, at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel. The art show and dealer’s room was on the first floor, while the panels were split between the first and third floor. My table was located in a hallway right outside of the dealer’s room, which brought us some nice traffic (and later, a great view of all the cosplayers heading to the costume contest). I brought my romantic partner with me this time, who helped run the table whenever I had to speak on a panel. A chainmail jewelry artist was on one side of our table, and the other was for Oneshi Press, a small group of wonderfully creative comic artists and authors.

I’ll be brief with discussing numbers, because I’d rather talk about the panels. I sold 19 books at the convention itself, each with 8.8% sales tax included. While me and my partner’s admission was free thanks to being a panelist, I did have to pay $100 to get my own table to sell books at. Otherwise, I could’ve left some books at the “Marmot Market” and let them sell it at a 20% commission. My personal sales did end up covering the table fee, but since I was a little late getting my hotel room, it didn’t quite offset that cost.

However, even if I didn’t make as much sales-wise, I did get to speak on seven different panels! I got to cover a wide variety of topics, so let me discuss each of them in detail…

  1. The Magical Menagerie

If there’s one thing I love to write about, it’s weird creatures, so it was a great topic to kick the convention off with! We discussed everything from researching monsters from different cultures, helping people figure out how to utilize certain creatures in their plots, and what the most useless creature we’d ever heard of was—which, if anyone was wondering, mine is the Squonk.
Also, kudos to the Thor and Loki cosplayers who interacted with the panel in-character almost the entire time. You two were hilarious.

  1. Ideas: Where Do They Come From?
    This was a fun panel about the different ways authors plot their books. Half the panelists were pantsers, the others were plotters, and I seemed to be the halfway point (I try to plot, and then meander a bit from there). We also discussed our inspirations, how we get ourselves unstuck, and so on.

  2. Terribly Funny
    This panel was specifically about the use of humor in horror fiction. Unfortunately, one of the panelists wasn’t able to make it, so we just had two new-to-panel authors with no direction. It became a discussion on different kinds of humor and theories on plot pacing in general, plus forays into improv theater.

  3. Creating Memorable NPCs
    One of my two panels on tabletop RPGs. While the point of this was about what makes NPCs stand out, it also became about different styles of running a game, which became a pantsers/plotters debate like in the (outlining) panel earlier. Our general consensus was that there are a number of factors that can make a character stand out, but sometimes, the strangest things—like a random radio DJ or a nut-throwing squirrel—will stand out to the players.

  4. Building a Campaign
    This was one of the two panels I suggested for the convention, and I was joined by two members of the RPG Research team. We discussed different techniques to keep players interested in a tabletop RPG campaign, from the planning stages to in-between sessions.
    This panel has actually been recorded for the RPG Research’s talk show; it should be available for the general public soon, or now for those who want to support them on Patreon.

  5. See You, Space Cowboy
    Here’s the other panel I suggested for the convention, which was about colonization in science fiction. My original idea had been to discuss how often colonization is forced into scifi narratives, from shows like Star Trek to games like Mass Effect Andromeda. However, the panel instead became a discussion on the viability of actually colonizing planets in our near future, with me focusing on the moral and societal aspects and my fellow panelist covering what we’d need for supplies and staffing. We also covered how corporations may come to lead the space race, different ways to get people to survive the trip to new planets, and so on.

  6. The Writing Habit
    This one was specifically about staying dedicated to writing. This was a bit of an odd panel for me, seeing as I haven’t worked with deadlines until this year, and I had far less time as an author compared to the other authors. Perhaps the only panel where I didn’t talk that much, but it was interesting hearing everyone’s different routes to authorhood.

There was also some miscommunication involving a writing workshop, but that was the only hiccup I experienced the entire convention. Everything else was run rather smoothly, and both staff and con-goers alike were all in friendly spirits.

All in all, while SpoCon wasn’t the most lucrative convention, I garnered a lot of interest by participating in panels—and learned quite a bit myself. I was also able to finally meet Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman, the masterminds behind Defcon One Publishing (who’ve published a few of my short stories over the years) in the flesh. I actually learned about SpoCon from one of their blog posts, so thanks for inspiring this adventure in the first place!

Now that I’ve confirmed that I survived the convention, I’m going to burrow back into my writing again (as well as preparing the upcoming writing comic, slowly but surely). “Corpses and Cognac” is coming together nicely, and seeing all the support for Bones and Bourbon helps inspire me to make this the best sequel I can.

Also, since it turns out today is the one year anniversary of this website…here’s to a great start, and to even better (and maybe more consistent) blog posts next year. Thank you all for your support so far~!

~Dorian

All in the Family

First off, a near-last minute announcement: I will be attending BayCon in San Mateo this Memorial Day weekend! If you’re anywhere in the Bay Area during that time, feel free to stop by my table to say hi and get your copy of Bones and Bourbon signed! (And if you don’t already have a copy, don’t worry—I’m bringing plenty to sell~)

Before I busy myself with travel preparations though, it’s time I return to form around here and resume ranting about storytelling and worldbuilding! Considering that it was Mother’s Day last Sunday, I’d like to dwell to a favorite topic of mine: families. Specifically, how to NOT kill off your protagonist(s)’s families and leave them all to be sad little orphans.

By now, we all know the main appeal of making characters orphans. It removes an authority that would normally look out for them, so young characters can get into dangerous adventures and schemes without worrying about what their parents will think. Introducing a family and then killing them off establishes a call to action, signifying that our heroes can never fully return home. As a bonus, it means less characters to juggle, and we won’t be asked by our relatives if they’re the real-life counterparts to these fictional family members.

Except now it’s so common, it’s almost a joke. Doubly so if it’s a fantasy story, young adult characters are involved, or the protagonist is from an idyllic village. If the parents aren’t already ~mysteriously absent~ in the beginning, expect for either their tragic death to be the catalyst for the plot, or for the protagonist to chase after any clue that hints at where they’ve gone.

But what if…we don’t kill off the parents (or the adopted mentors/guardians who stand in for them)?

In Bones and Bourbon, I not only keep Retz and Jarrod’s parents alive (or at least conscious and not entirely dead), but our antagonist Nalem’s family also plays into the plot. In most of my other planned stories, I’ve also plotted to keep as many protagonist parents alive as possible. What started as a challenge in avoiding sad orphan characters has become an exercise in the different ways mothers and fathers (and other non-gendered parental figures) can influence a character’s story.

Parents can add a slew of exciting complications for our characters. They can bring years of experience that the protagonists lack, though conflict may arise if this experience clashes with what the protagonists discover (such as in Danny Phantom, where the titular character has to hide his ghostly powers from ghost-hunting parents). How they treat their children can reveal backstory without necessitating a break in the narrative for a flashback. They may have their own struggles that can factor nicely into a subplot; if your chosen one is still alive and trying to be a hero, what if we also see their parents trying to survive or stand tall against the encroaching threats? And this isn’t even going into parents who actively work against protagonists, or other such possible drama.

Plus, from a worldbuilding perspective, allowing parents to live in your unique speculative land also gives you room to examine how families exist in your setting. Does a household contain only immediate family such as children and parents, or does it include extended relatives as well? Who raises the children, and how do they interact when the child becomes an adult? How many parents even are there, in settings with normalized polyamory and/or additional genders?

This isn’t to say that every parental character has to occupy a major role. In Bones and Bourbon, Erika Gallows only features in a few phonecalls and flashbacks in her sons’ story, but her presence still shapes not only how they grew up, but ups the stakes for her sons. If they don’t survive to reunite with their mother, it’ll break her heart…or, since she’s a huldra, she’ll go on a vengeful rampage. Even that small influence has a huge impact on the story, to say nothing of the chaos of facing one’s father or realizing the wicked immortal’s parents have had an equally long time to look after him and scheme.

A number of novels I’ve read recently have utilized parents to wonderful effect in their plots. An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows includes multiple parents in its cast, including a family with three generations of matriarchs who help each other and ruin each others’ schemes in equal measure. Uprooted by Naomi Novak has a young woman whisked away from her family to assist a wizard—but it is her connection to her parents and hometown that allows her to grasp the implications of all the sorcery and conflicts around her. The various protagonists of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series have their parents and their grandparents to contact for advice when their supernatural research and adventures goes pear-shaped—and those family members even get their own spin-off stories!

This isn’t to say that there are no stories for orphans, for characters who grow up with no one but themselves or the families they make for themselves. However, there are ways for heroes to be born despite—or even because of—having parents survive to rear them. It’s like the difference between Batman and Superman; one fights to avenge the parents he lost, and the other, to make his surviving parents proud. I’ve seen plenty of Batmen in my fiction; I’m yearning to find a few more stories starring Supermen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a trip to pack for. And when I’m done? I’m going to call my mother to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

~Dorian

New Release: Bones and Bourbon

BonesandBourbon-f500

The cover art for Bones and Bourbon

(Before we begin: In all the release excitement, I wrote this post and then forgot to…actually post it. So the book’s been out for a week and a half, not just yesterday, and the space novella edits are done. But let’s rejoice and pretend this came out in a timely manner, yes?)

It’s finally here! As of yesterday, Bones and Bourbon has officially released! (Which also means I can now italicize it instead of marking it with quotations!…yes, I’m even excited by little things like this.)

Release day was busy, preparing for upcoming events (hopefully to be announced later this week) and spreading the word about the release. Not only has there been a lot of buzz already, but the book is currently sitting at over 4/5 stars on Goodreads, AND the paperback is already sold out on Amazon (though it seems to still be available through Barnes & Noble. I’d say that’s pretty good for an opening day!

On top of that, the bookmarks I ordered for Bones and Bourbon have arrived!

Bookmarks, front and back

I’d considered business cards, but decided on bookmarks because they’re more useful and memorable. I don’t know about you, but I tend to recycle business cards after a time unless it’s for someone I particularly want the contact information for. But bookmarks? Everyone needs bookmarks, seeing as they disappear all the time. I ordered plenty, so expect to see me handing them out at any events I attend.

Exciting as publication is, it’s just the first step in the exciting world of being an author. There are still events to set up, interviews to conduct, and of course more writing to be done. The rest of my free time this week will be spent polishing the space novella for submission; the content is ready, I’m just adjusting word usage and such due to what I’ve learned from the copyediting phase of Bones and Bourbon. After that?

It’ll be time to start the next draft of book two. You know, just in case Bones and Bourbon continues to do well and readers want the next book in the series.

I’m glad we’ve been able to start the next step in this journey together, dear readers.

~Dorian

 

To First Drafts and Beyond!

First, a victory announcement: I just finished the first draft of my novella for NineStar Press’ “Lost” collection! It has polyamorous alien space pirates versus mad scientists and totally-not-dinosaurs! During at least the last five thousand words of the book, I listened to nothing but Meat Loaf’s discography, and everything is glorious!

The novella also ended up clocking in at almost 35,000 words; the collection requires between 30k and 120k, but I erred on the shorter side so I’ll have plenty of time to edit before the April 30th deadline. This was a new challenge for me, since I usually either write novels that are over a hundred thousand words, or short stories that tend to be under ten thousand. Thus, today I’m going to discuss the process of creating this novella, and how it differed from my usual methods (and what tended to be par for the course.)

First, I had to settle on an idea and an overarching plot in the first place. Other than the length, the only requirements were that characters were somehow lost, and that LGBTQIA+ romance be incorporated into the story. As I mentioned in the Valentine’s blog post, I’m not as inclined toward writing romance outside of pre-established relationships, so I bounced around a couple different ideas; a superhero and supervillain who get lost together and team up to escape while falling for each other, a demon trying to help a failed cultist after a ritual goes wrong, etc. But the idea I kept coming back to was an old sci-fi staple; getting lost on an alien planet. I already had a story in mind for a space fantasy setting, but with a long plot and an entire spaceship crew’s worth of characters, I figured it’d be too bloated to cram into a novella.

What I COULD do, however, was write a prequel in the same universe. And I already had a relationship set up to explore; one protagonist’s parents, a polyamourous quartet of space sirens (the Psyrens discussed over here) who were feared and revered pirates before being scattered across the galaxy. Of course I could have these pirates crash onto a bizarre alien planet, and what could be more romantic than four alien pirates who are all in love with each other? I busied myself with plans for what alien planets would be most interesting for these pirates to get lost in—and how to make sure my plots didn’t replicate pre-existing Star Trek episodes (thanks Mom!)

Next came the outline, a process I rigidly cling to even though I always deviate from the outline halfway through like a swiftly-derailing train. I’d already settled on having two protagonists, separating the pirates so they had to find each other and a way to escape, so I had to create two storylines that would meet at the beginning and end, and figure out how to have them mirror each other. It sounds like a complicated juggling act, but thankfully writing the “Deadly Drinks” series, which alternates between the Gallows brothers’ POVs, prepared me for doing it on a smaller scale. The main difference between outlining the two was that I didn’t mark when I would switch protagonists; I rigidly stick to chapter length and alternating in “Deadly Drinks,” but I elected to be looser about scene length and when POV switches happen in this piece.

Then comes perhaps the most necessary part of my process: writing and deleting a series of false starts. I’m not the sort who can actually write scenes out of order, and it often takes me a bit to set my train of plot on the outline track, so to speak. For this novella, the false starts led to an entirely new outline; where I’d originally planned to touch on the quartet early in their pirate days, I decided to go earlier and strengthen the romance aspect by having the story be about how three of the pirates find the fourth member of their spacefaring quartet. All I had to do was answer all the questions this brought up—why wasn’t their fourth member on their alien homeworld, how do the pirates reunite, how can they escape afterwards—and the plot practically wrote itself from there.

I had also originally planned to maroon my dear pirates on a frozen planet with a blood red sun (requiring characters to snuggle for warmth, which is the height of romance in the elements, right?) and hidden underground tunnels where most of the fauna actually survived to avoid all the snow. But between images of classic sci-fi art and a few hours of wandering through “No Man’s Sky,” I decided I wanted to explore the terrors of an alien jungle instead. I decided to keep the expansive network of underground tunnels, but what would the tunnel-dwellers be hiding from? Giant, hungry megafauna, of course. (Perhaps I’ve been playing too much Magic the Gathering, with the recent cards involving Pirates versus Dinosaurs…) And then what if there was intelligent life hiding in those tunnels, unnoticed by spacefarers overhead because the signals were blocked by being underground? That means a chance to introduce *more weird aliens!*

See, that’s perhaps the most important part of writing: there has to be something enjoyable about it. We authors joke about how much writing and editing equals suffering, but if you don’t enjoy the story or its purpose, then what’s the point? Even if they don’t all make it into the final draft, I always make sure I have a few key concepts or scenes in my stories that I want to explore, like a cool fight or examining the details of a magic system. Or, in this case, designing weird aliens who are relatable and “human”, even if they grow mouths instead of scar tissue and can control others with their singing. Yes folks, Psyrens are bizarre, even when they aren’t pirates.

While I had challenges writing my first novella, figuring out issues like pacing and how much information to include or discard, it was also a lot of fun. More room than a short story to add plots, sub-plots, and extra character development, but without the time investment needed for a full novel. Plus, I’m literally writing a classic sci-fi adventure and all the ridiculous twists that entails, but with polyamorous alien pirates. What’s not to love?

I’m taking a few days off from it to celebrate its completion (returning to a for-fun project instead to keep my writing chops up), and then I’ll go back into editing with a clear head. Should all go well, it’ll be ready by the April 30th deadline, and will hopefully release with the rest of the “Lost” collection. We’ll see soon enough~

~Dorian

Star Studded Settings

I don’t usually give much thought to celebrities (I only recognize a handful, if we’re being honest), but today marks the second year David Bowie’s been gone, and just a little over a year since Carrie Fisher’s passing, so I’ve been mulling over the concept a bit. It’s an impressive concept, to be so well-known and loved (or hated, in some cases) that your mere existence affects the social landscape, that people who’ve never met you have had their lives changed by your work. I know I cried when Bowie passed, and nearly did again during a certain scene with Fisher in The Last Jedi.

Naturally, I got to thinking: how does the role of a celebrity affect fictional worlds? Of course, there’s the celebrity as a character in their own right, from royalty in need of rescuing, or the childhood hero who doesn’t quite stack up to the legends. Instead, I began thinking of the celebrity as a part of setting; we create the specific royalties and pantheons for the worlds we create, but what about those folks the populace looks up to? Perhaps more importantly, what do your characters think about such celebrities, even if they never chance to meet?

Consider a couple ideas…

  • First off, what kind of celebrities might exist in your setting? Are they similar to those in our world, such as musicians and actors? Is it a fantasy world where adventurers are praised? A paranormal romance where werewolf wrestling is a key sport in the occult underground? Fans arguing over which of their favorite space diplomats have initiated more successful first contacts? Consider your setting’s culture and values, and use that to determine what its people would be fans of.

  • Need to showcase the passage of time and its effects? Use news about your celebrity. Say a tyrannical government is cracking down on free speech, so suddenly the concerts of everyone’s favorite musician is being canceled, but those in the gossip chain heard that he can now be found at a hidden speakeasy. Or a politician fell from grace during book one, but a calamity struck in book two and she helped with the reconstruction efforts, so she’s now back in the people’s good graces by book three.

  • Social events follow celebrities like felines to catnip, and these can be great scenes to showcase a different side of your character. What would force them to end up at a dance, a playwright’s newest show, a high-stakes competition crowded with onlookers—or are these events your characters would visit willingly? A celebrity’s influence can also cause such events to show up suddenly. Imagine a team of crackshot thieves are prepared to hijack a vehicle full of money when it hits a planned route; how do they react when a celebrity suddenly passes, and now the route’s been changed to make way for the funeral procession?

  • A celebrity’s opinions can have great effect on their fans, for good or ill. Say your characters are trying to enact social change, such as a good ol’ fashioned revolt and overthrow of the fantastical government. What will they do if the local celebrity disapproves and the public turns against them? Or if the celebrity approves, and now the rebellion’s ranks swell with more new members than they know what to do with?

  • Connected to that last point: consider how fervently devoted some fans are for their celebrities. Simultaneously consider events like pilgrimages made to the home of Elvis Presley, or the artwork of Carrie Fisher as a Saint (may she protect us and remind us to take our meds, amen). What if there is a celebrity who garners as much belief as a god in your setting…and if there are actual gods in this setting, what are their opinions on the matter?

  • If nothing else, there’s always the celebrity as good old-fashioned metaphor. Is your protagonist’s favorite dancer a beacon of hope, believing that no matter how dark things get, life still goes on so long as the dancer keeps moving? Perhaps the dancer represents a rogue’s lost dreams of what they could’ve been in another life—and if the rogue then realizes they’re still just as dexterous and nimble due to their lifestyle, or that their time adventuring has made them just as famous? Now you’ve got some growth and character development.

I’m sure there are plenty of other uses for famous folks in your fiction, and this isn’t even touching upon them as characters in their own right. That’s part of a celebrity’s allure, I think; the fact that their fame can say so much about a world without them speaking a single word.

Now if you’ll excuse me dearests, I’m going to bury myself in David Bowie’s discography for the rest of the day. Maybe watch The Blues Brothers again so I can see Carrie Fisher wielding a rocket launcher. It’ll be a good day.

~Dorian

Spice Up Some Worldbuilding

Just about every living thing, real and imaginary, relies on some form of consumption to survive. Most beings we write about require food and water to survive, and even characters who don’t—say, robots or beings with photosynthesis—will likely notice the food sources of those who do. It’s a point of reference that we as humans all share, and something we all think about when realizing we never actually got a dinner plan set up. Er, not that I’m speaking from personal experience here…

I didn’t used to think about food much, mostly because I was a picky eater, from a picky family with an even pickier sibling. I had my small staple of foods I would eat, and this didn’t really improve until college. (Well, once I learned how to cook and our cable was cut down to just the Food Network, if I’m being honest.) Part of the issue was that I never realized the limitless potential of food, from how the ingredients combined to realizing that spices and condiments can in fact improve a dish—yes, I ate everything plain, meaning it took me over fifteen years to try sauce on my pasta. I told you I was picky.

Not only have I come to appreciate food in real life, but I’ve started thinking about its place in fiction. At least 98% of characters need to eat after all, and what they choose to munch on says a lot about them, and also the world they live in. What foods are readily available and what’s in high demand? Do folks need a certain amount of wealth or status to eat certain foods, or are there reasons to avoid certain ingredients? How is the food hunted, harvested, or otherwise created, and then who actually prepares the food?

If your story is set in our world (past or present), the answer shouldn’t be too difficult, though you may need to research details outside your experience. Since Deadly Drinks is an urban fantasy series, I haven’t had to figure out much for Bones and Bourbon in terms of food—mostly figuring out what a lamia might eat, or what poorly-paid paranormals can afford. But while food isn’t as noticeable as alcohol in the series, it does come up in terms of where (and when!) characters are from. Left to their own devices in the kitchen, ancient evil spirit Nalem is going to gravitate toward different flavors than a Japanese/Brazilian furaribi, and both will be drastically different from the alchemy-laced Germanic meals that the Gallows brothers are used to their parents cooking.

(It also means that when I travel to a city for book research, I have a good excuse to try different restaurants to figure out where my characters might end up eating. See, writing has its perks!)

Science fiction rooted in our current technology can also have an element of research to it, though since the future is not definitive, it can still be played with. If your setting takes place on Earth (or a terraformed planet), how does technology help or hinder the growth of food? Details like what economic classes can afford “real” food, or watching rebel forces try to grow their own gardens inside an urban landscape, can help ground such a setting with efforts taking place in our own world. Meanwhile, space fiction has its own complications, such as how to keep food for long voyages, or discovering what’s edible on an alien planet.

The more fantastical you get, however, the more worldbuilding you have to do in order for everything to remain logical. Otherwise, you’ll just raise further questions: if you mention a character is drinking blue milk on a desert planet, readers are going to wonder where this milk came from and why it’s blue. Same goes for other aspects of your setting: a large army on the move needs some sort of food, a walled-in city either needs farmers within its borders or some way to import supplies, and that super cool fortress hidden in a volcano still needs to get water if the king of darkness doesn’t want his servants dying of dehydration.

One of the fun settings I have in the works is King’s Oak, a fantasy setting where an entire city-state nation is built into a giant tree, which is planted where four powerful leylines meet, causing it to be split between all four seasons at once and rotating them accordingly. The setup is fantastical, but I’ve put a lot of thought about the imports and exports of this city, including the food.

One can’t exactly set up swathes of farmland in the branches of a city, and there’s only a small sea for fish that’s shared with a neighboring country, so I decided most of the meat comes from birds or lizards, and insects are actually used as a common source of protein as well. As for plants, from fruit trees to wheat, I realized that they could be spliced onto King’s Oak itself, and thus almost every surface of this setting can be used to host plant life. Plus, with the seasons rotating along different parts of the tree, different quadrants can host unique plants, such as a wetter quadrant being host to what could be found in our rainforests. Because of all this, I can include both mundane and “exotic” ingredients in one place; who’s up for some grasshopper pancakes?

Hopefully, this post has given all of you some food for thought (pun fully intended) on what you read/watch and write in your own stories. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a dinner to plan.

~Dorian