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Of Magic and Mythical Creatures

For the second post of “What is Gunpowder Fantasy” I’ll be discussing the use of magic and mythical creatures in the sub-genre. (The bulk of this post taken from my guest post at A Way With Worlds)

Magic

Magic has been in fantasy from the very beginning of modern Fantasy. C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkein both made extensive use of magic in their worlds.

So it would be natural that Magic would be another element of traditional fantasy that can be used to connect your Gunpowder Fantasy to the bulk of Epic Fantasy.

The exact nature of your magic system is up to you, but there are a few major points that you need to address when you’re building a magic system.

First, and with everything in your world, you have to make sure that you are consistent. If magic works one way at the beginning of the book, it needs to work the same way in the middle and at the end.

The Prevalence of Magic is usually one of the first aspects that I approach when I am building magic into one of my worlds. How common are magic users within your world? Are there mages and witches and wizards in every town and village? Or are they rare? Or is magic thought to be extinct except to a very select few?

One aspect of your world that will be affected by the Prevalence of Magic within your world, and one that not everyone considers when they are building their world, is the Impact on the technology of your world. If magic is extremely common, then technology will develop differently and perhaps more slowly than in a world where magic is rare or nearly extinct. Why develop improved weapons when everyone can cast a fireball with their minds?

Something that will affect and be affected by the Prevalence of Magic, is the Source: how does one go about becoming a magic user. Is it a natural gift? (Here you can increase or decrease the prevalence of magic by deciding on how common the gift is.) Is it a knowledge based system that only requires study and how common are the books that teach magic? Is Magic only gained through some ritual and how difficult are those rituals to perform? Lastly, can magic only be gained through some accident or event? This particular source would be best paired with magic that is very rare as accidents can’t be controlled.

With the Prevalence and Source of Magic decided, another aspect that must be approached is the Energy of Magic. What gives the user the ability to cast their spells? Do your magic users have to carry talismans of power? Do they need to draw their energy from themselves or from the people around them? This can be another factor in the Prevalence of Magic. A system that is learned by anyone is all well and good, but if it relies on certain talismans that are very rare, then very few will be able to learn.

Limits of Magic is an aspect of your system that is very important. Magic systems without limits can become boring quickly if there is nothing to keep magic users in check. Even stories where the magic users seem to have unlimited power should have some weakness, otherwise the story can’t progress.

Limits can come in many different forms, several of which are similar to the Source of Magic and can tie into Prevalence. Your magic system can be limited by Knowledge: mages must learn spells and those scrolls or tomes can be rare. You can limit your magic through the Energy of Magic: if the mage has to draw from their own energy, at some point they should become exhausted and unable to cast new spells. You can use other magic-users as a Limit: anyone who grows too powerful or too reckless can be put down by other magic users.

An aspect of your magic system that is more open to personal interpretation is Divisions of Magic. This aspect isn’t integral to the system, but can add flavor to it. You can have your divisions “hard”: magic users can only draw from a single school or aspect of magic. Soft divisions allow magic users to draw on any aspect that they have access to (this ties into your Source and Energy categories).

The magic system that I use in my Griffins & Gunpowder universe is rather limited. I would rate it as “Rare” Prevalence: only a certain, random portion of Elves are born with The Gift. This covers both the Prevalence, Source and Impact: technology in this universe has advanced to rifles and early steam power. Magic users can draw from energy within themselves, and can “store” this energy beforehand to have ample supply, and some can draw on the energies and emotions of those around them.

Magic users in the Griffins & Gunpowder universe are limited by both energy and knowledge. They will quickly burn through even the largest “stockpile” of energy and must study spells to perfect them. This is further complicated by the fact that magic users have a Major and Minor aspect that are randomly drawn from one of the four divisions: Shadow, Light, Life and Death. Books teaching each of these aspects are rare and the magic users have to learn prerequisite spells before they can learn more advanced selections.

So, when planning a Magic system remember to maintain consistency and consider each aspect of your system and how it impacts the other aspects and your story in general.

 

Mythical Creatures

I was considering folding this discussion into the “Settings” part of my little series here, but I decided to give Mythical Creatures their own quick discussion.

Dragons are probably the best known mythical creatures used in Fantasy. They’re iconic. But there are many other types of mythical creatures that can be used to tie your Gunpowder Fantasy to mainstream Fantasy.

Going through the Pantheon.org Beastiary is a great way to find mythical creatures that could fit into your world.

You can use these mythical creatures as they were originally believed to be or you can turn the stereotypes on their heads and use your mythical creatures in a completely different way. I would suggest keeping the more popular mythical creatures at least vaguely similar to their more popular myths, but it’s your world.

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What is Gunpowder Fantasy?

Several of the blog tour stops that I’ve been hosted at recently have asked “What is Gunpowder Fantasy?” It’s not an established sub-genre, so this question is definitely understandable. My short answer sums it up very well: Elements of epic fantasy (magic, mythical creatures, elves and vast scale) combined with rifles and railroads. But that only begins to scratch the surface of what Gunpowder Fantasy is, and what it’s capable of.

 

Setting

One of the things about Gunpowder Fantasy that can connect it to traditional Epic Fantasy is the setting that you build for your story. Traditional Epic Fantasy usually takes place in a medieval setting, with castles and kings and knights. In the Griffins and Gunpowder universe, the nation of Ansgar has been stagnated by a millenium of peace and prosperity. Castles dot the landscape, home to lesser lords and nobles. The King holds court over their people and pass decrees without consulting their advisors.

Other nations in my world have more 19th century cultures: open towns, railroads and industry. But the main part of the story remains true to settings typical of Epic Fantasy.

Setting will likely be one of the first things that you establish when you bring new readers into your world. I try to pepper aspects of Epic Fantasy with some of the more unique elements that Gunpowder Fantasy introduces to them.

You want to make sure that your setting will support the storyline that you’ve developed. For me, this meant changing the size of the world when I decided to go ahead and use steampower as a method of transportation. My original nation of Ansgar was barely a thousand miles long; with the addition of railroads to facilitate travel, my storyline would have been severely compressed. So, I stretched the nation out.

 

Scale

Another aspect of Epic Fantasy that you can carry over into Gunpowder Fantasy is scale. Epic Fantasy is known for telling stories of massive events that bring nations to their knees, of world-changing events that sweep up everything in their path. You can use the economy of scale in your favor, to give the readers something that they can equate to Epic Fantasies they may have read.

Scale can also help you set up a world that plays host to many different stories. If you design a world that is rich in history and populated by many nations, there’s no end to the number of series and stories that you can build on your world.

The world of Zaria is huge. Dozens of nations, both large and small, struggle against the elements, against each other and even against themselves across the face of the planet. The Ansgari Rebellion series will only touch on one part of this massive world; other series and stories will tell the tale of different nations, different characters.

 

Stay tuned for the next post on “What Is Gunpowder Fantasy?” in which I’ll discuss the use (or not) of Magic in Gunpowder Fantasy and  introduce some of the concepts that become available when you write Gunpowder Fantasy…

History as Inspiration

When I first started building the world of Zaria, I was just putting ideas together to see what worked. I weeded out the ideas I didn’t like and added new ones.

Once I had fully (well, I thought fully) developed the two halves of my world I started to see two patterns developing in the two story lines.

One half of the world was developing in a manner that loosely followed the events of World War 2. A nation that invades its smaller neighbors, a coalition of nations (including one across the sea) that join together to stop their common enemy.

On the other side of the world, the nation of Ansgar and the trials that it goes through are somewhat similar to the American Civil War (there are some very noticeable differences). It was made even more acute by the fact that the Ansgari-Rebellion series (name-in-progress since I decided to use my original idea “Griffins & Gunpowder” as the universe name) uses technology that was used in the American Civil War. I’m a huge American Civil War history buff, so it really doesn’t surprise me that my subconscious worked this into my world.

And I’ve decided to use the similarities to draw inspiration from the battles and events of the American Civil War, albeit with a decidedly Griffins & Gunpowder twist. You’ll just have to read it to see… The Hydra Offensive is at 8k words and counting!

Finger on the Trigger

I got Cerberus back from the editor and he approved of the changes that I made to improve the flow and cut down on the clutter. All I have left to do is review the 2nd pass of edits, send it back for formatting and then it’s ready to go to Amazon.

Having just released the three accompanying short stories (you can check them out at the Products page) the initial nervousness of releasing isn’t as prevalent. I am slightly nervous in that once Cerberus is released, I’m going to go into full time promo-mode.  For the short stories, I’ve limited myself to a twitter blast here and there and a couple of facebook posts. Other than that, I’ve let them sit. And it shows: their ranking is abysmal.

They were never meant to be leaders, and they didn’t cost much to produce, so if they do pick up sales off of Cerberus’ coattails, all the better.

Additionally, 10 other Authors and I recently launched the Guild of Dreams. It’s a joint-blog where we’ll be posting on themes (sometimes) and generally doing cross-promotions.

You can click the link to take a look and follow our twitter hashtag #guildofdreams.

Humble Beginnings

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but with my first set of Griffins & Gunpowder short stories getting ready to launch and The Cerberus Rebellion so close to publication, I thought I would revisit the flash in the pan that started it all.

This short piece of fiction was written on my phone, though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when. It was probably during a slow point at work when I had the chance to type it out in Google Docs.

It was done in April of 2011 and for about 4 months, it just stewed. Finally, in August the story took off. So, without further ado, here is the short story that was titled “Griffin Steampunk”.

The hunting party rode slowly along the low rolling hills, buffered from the wind and light drizzle by their thick, fur lined cloaks. They had been riding in the fields and hills for the entire day and had yet to see any of the prey that they sought.

There was sign everywhere along the low hills that there were Griffins in this part of the country, but neither the party scouts nor their hunting hawks had come up with anything.

“My Lord,” one of the riders shouted from the hilltop. “Griffins, about three lengths ahead. A whole flight of them!”

“Lead the way, Alvars!” Lord Thomas Collins, Baron of Shadow Ridge, shouted to his armsman.

The hunting party turned, their large horses climbing the hill with little effort, following the scout. Armor clattered as the riders picked up speed, their cloaks flapped behind them as they road hard toward the flight of griffins that they had been tracking.

As the party neared, they slowed to a trot. Griffins were notorious for having impeccable hearing and for maintaining a keen watch when they were away from their avaries.

“Armsman, bring me a rifle!” Thomas shouted to the back of the party. While swords were the primary weapon on the planet Gregorov, rifles were the hunting weapon of choice. One of Lord Collins’ armsman dismounted and pulled the long gun from its holster at the horse’s side.

“My Lord,” the armsman handed his lord the weapon as Thomas dismounted from his horse.

“Thank you, Vance,” the baron said as he flipped open the caps on the scope.

The rifle, a meter long, weighed at least ten kilograms and was of the finest make on the planet. Thomas had used the rifle since his tenth birthday, though he had to use a mount until he could carry the weapon himself. Now, he hefted the barrel with no trouble and brought the stock to his shoulder.

The scope was high powered, it brought the beasts so close that Thomas could seen the individual feathers on each of the beasts. The male Griffins were covered in spikes, the females were smooth backed. Males were much larger than their mates, but were less valuable as trophies because of the ungainly spikes.

Thomas settled on one of the females, stalking along the side of the hill with her ears pinned back against her skull. Thomas held his breath and settled his sights on the beasts’ chest and flicked off the weapon’s safety. He braced himself against the ground and squeezed the trigger.

The rail gun thumped as it spit the the bolt of metal at supersonic velocities. It took mere seconds for the round to reach its target and Thomas could hear the screams of the other Griffins as they lifted into the air. The hunting party lowered themselves as much as possible: a flight of angry Griffins was nothing to be trifled with. The beasts circled for a few minutes before they finally drifted toward the cliffs, retreating to their avary.

“Let’s go see what we’ve got!” Thomas shouted as he handed the rifle back to his armsman. The party remounted and took off at a gallop towards where the Griffins had been.

The party had stopped at nearly a full length from the flight of Griffins, so even at a full gallop it took almost ten minutes for them to reach the corpse of the majestic beast that had been their target. The scouts arrived first, their smaller horses were faster than those of the armsmen and nobles, and they circled the corpse slowly. Even as he approached, Thomas could tell that the scouts were talking to each other about something.

As he approached, Thomas quickly realized what had the attention of the scouts. The corpse of the female Griffin had fallen where the beast had stood, but there was something else. Laying in a small stone circle were a trio of baby Griffins. Their wings were still tucked back against their bodies, a sure sign that they were not yet able to fly.

“What should we do with them, My Lord?” One of the armsmen asked.

“Griffins are dangerous animals, My Lord,” Thomas’ master-of-arms suggested. “We should put them down.”

“My lord,” Thomas’ advisor interrupted. “Griffins could be a great asset. When fully grown, they could support riders. And even if we can’t ever train them, their wings could be clipped like a trophy hawk and they could be prize animals. Imagine walking into the King’s Palace with a trio of Griffins at your heels. Everyone would respect your power and wealth.”

“Alexander,” Thomas looked to his oldest son, and most accomplished horse trainer. “Do you think that you could train these beasts to carry a rider?”

“If there is a beast that cannot be trained to take a rider, I have not come across it yet,” Alexander nodded. “They won’t be of size to take a rider for at least nine months, and in that time we could train them to be hunters.”

“Very well,” Thomas nodded. “We’ll take them back to the castle.”

And from that, the Griffins & Gunpowder universe was born. It just goes to show how far a story can wander before it finds its home in your head. Have you ever written down a quick idea and had it morph into something very different before you finally started writing it in detail?

That One Day…(Creativity, Brainstorming)

…When ideas flow like water.

Yesterday, I woke up and started getting ready for work. I started the Keurig machine (best.investment.ever), went downstairs to feed the cat and went back up to start the second half of my travel mug of coffee.

As I was standing there, my brain starting working on why I should introduce Orcs to my world (inspired by Satis’ comment of having a purpose for having a race present).

So my mind wandered a little bit down that track and Bam! an idea for another series set in my Griffins & Gunpowder universe (that would make 3). I liked the idea so I opened up my Evernote app and tapped out a few quick details and started off to work.

It’s about a ten minute drive to work and I wasn’t even halfway there when another G&G series idea slammed me. And then another. And then a third.

I was incredibly excited! I just had four new series ideas come out of nowhere, essentially tripling the number of series I could work with in my universe.

As soon as I got to work, I fiendishly tapped my ideas into evernote and then got to work, but my brain was still buzzing with creative energy and my stories started to add details and ideas to themselves.

And then another series wandered along and made itself known.

I think that I can honestly say that yesterday was one of the most exciting and creative days I’ve had in a while.

Have you ever had a day when your brain won’t shut off and the ideas come out so quickly?

Breaking the Fantasy Race Mold

When I was first building the Griffins & Gunpowder universe, I had considered leaving out the typical fantasy races, if for no other reason than to avoid the typical “elves live in the woods and are good with bows, dwarves live in mountains and like to mine things” tropes.

I finally decided to bring Elves into the mix, but I decided that there would be two different nations of Elves. While the nation of Lot’Mai-Ron is more of a typical Elf situation, they live in a heavily wooded area and are more neutral/stand-offish, the nation of Laine is a sea power. The captains of Laine are treated as Kings aboard their ships and are prone to piracy and smuggling because of their better sailing skills.

Now I’m considering bringing Orcs into the scenario, but not as the typical bloodthirsty idiots that they are portrayed as throughout most fantasy.

I’m thinking about bringing the Orcs into the scenario as the people of a collection of city-states that were once a powerful republic but collapsed under the weight of corruption and the sheer size of the government needed. They have devolved to a collection of independent city-states that occasionally go to war with each other.

I’ll keep them somewhat war-like in that some of these city-states will be the home to renowned mercenary regiments.

I could even make it so that some of the city-states were humans and were conquered by the Orcs and integrated into the Republic before regaining their autonomy when the Republic collapsed.

What do you think? And how do you handle the Fantasy Race trope? Do you embrace it and have tree-hugging elves and dirt-eating dwarves, or do you rework your races so that they have some variety?

Blog Tour

Today, I signed up with Goddess Fish Promotions (interesting name, no doubt) for a series of Blog Tour stops.

I decided to go with the more economical route of a “Book Blurb Blitz” in which my book and a blurb will be posted on 5 blogs in the middle of August. That will be followed up by a Review Tour where I’ll be featured and a review will be posted on 5 blogs during the last week of August.

That will be followed up with an interview blog tour of 2 weeks (10 stops, each weekday) across the first and second weeks of September, which will run into the two promotions I’ve signed up for with two of the larger e-book promotional sites.

Hopefully, combined with a LibraryThing giveaway I hope that this will provide enough buzz for a bump in sales to get the ball rolling.

Things I Did Last Week

Week in Review:

The last week has been a flurry of activity as I near the completion of The Cerberus Rebellion and prepare to move it into the Alpha/Beta Read stage.

In preparation for that, and knowing how busy a lot of the editors and cover artists are, I contacted a couple of editors and cover artists.

I decided to go with heavycatweb.net for my cover. They sent over the initial sketches for the cover and I have to say that it is very impressive and I am looking forward to the finished product. They offered to add the title and artist name to it for an additional fee but why do that when my lovely wife is prefectly capable?

After getting some quotes, I decided to schedule Nick at everything-indie.comfor the beginning of June. That gives me approximately six weeks to finish the last 5 chapters of The Cerberus Rebellion, get it through 2 or 3 rounds of reading by myself and then a round with beta readers.

Speaking of beta-readers, my uncle agreed to beta-read for me and I’m very excited about that because he’s a great writer and will definitely give me great feedback.

Finally I secured a map artist (Jared @ The Red Epic) to create a map for both the world of Zaria and a more detailed map of Ansgar.

If you’re reading this post then you’ll have realized that I’ve moved to a new site. Gunpowderfantasy.com is official and the home of my new blog. On top of that, today I started a wiki that I’m going to spend some time filling in to provide background information and to keep all of the character bios straight for readers.

Warning Spoilers will abound: Gunpowder Fantasy Wiki

What’s On Tap:

Right now, I’m working on getting The Cerberus Rebellion finished. I’m going to spend as much time this weekend working on the last five chapters.

I’m going to go through 1 read-through with Scrivener (the software I use to write) so that I can make on the fly changes.

Second read will be on paper and I think the third will be using a text-to-speech program.

I’m also working on securely long-term arrangements with my editor and artist to try and reduce the cost of production.

If all goes well, I should be releasing The Cerberus Rebellion at the beginning of July, which gives me some time to get a head of steam before my planned promotions on 9/14!

How Many Points of View?

As I was planning out The Cerberus Rebellion, I had to make a decision on how many Point of View characters I wanted to include.

I had already concluded that I would be writing in third-person limited. I have written some short stories in first person and I have a couple of pen-on-paper novels written in third person omniscient, but right now 3rd Limited is where I feel comfortable. I like how 3rd Limited allows you to show a character from a different point of view by having them appear in someone else’s POV chapter.

Part of my goal in writing The Cerberus Rebellion is to tell the story of how the events of the book, and ultimately the series, affect my main characters.

I wanted to avoid the overwhelming number of points of view (especially as seen in the Song of Ice and Fire novels by George RR Martin) while at the same time telling the full spectrum of my story.

I’ve decided to start my first novel with 4 main points of view. I was going to include some secondary POV characters for one-shot chapters but decided that those stories could be used for short stories or novellas at a later time (kind of how David Weber fills out information through his anthologies).

How do you decide on how many POV characters to use? Do you think more than 1 is too many or do you like to see multiple sides of the story?