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Monday, March 31, 2014

Dive into Worldbuilding! Hangout topics for April

Get ready for April Worldbuilding hangouts!

April 3: Disability and Accommodation in Worldbuilding (glasses? wheelchairs? etc.)
April 10: Stina Leicht discusses the worldbuilding in her novels Of Blood and Honey and And Blue Skies from Pain

April 17: Supernatural Powers and their Origins in Worldbuilding

April 24: NO HANGOUT (I'm going camping!)

I hope to see you there.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Literacy and Technology - a Dive into Worldbuilding! Google+ hangout report with VIDEO

Last week we had a wide-ranging conversation about Literacy and Technology. I was joined by Reggie Lutz, Glenda Pfeiffer, and Christian Stiehl.

To start off, I wanted to establish basic broad definitions for literacy and technology. Literacy we talked about as reading and writing, of course, but also as a special skill set that marks people considered "educated." This isn't necessarily restricted to reading and writing. Technology, similarly, is a broader category than just computers and electronics as we often think of it; it also includes things like forks and pencils - tools for literacy.

Glenda mentioned how historically we have lost technologies at different time periods. Christian said that we can be inspired by looking at Roman ruins, but it's interesting to think about how at a certain point, people didn't remember how to do the things that the Romans had once accomplished. I spoke about the book How the Irish Saved Civilization. This book talks (among other things) about how many critical works of scholarship were copied and preserved by Irish monks while the rest of Europe suffered such plague and upheaval that most of this work was lost.

We asked what kind of special literacies have been possessed by the poor, or by farmers - people we wouldn't necessarily associate with literacy in the classical sense of reading and writing.

Writing systems in Sumer were originally used to do things like track shipments of food and other commodities, giving merchants the ability to surpass human memory. The Inca used knot-tying for the same purpose. Christian mentioned that knot-tying (in hair) was used as a language by Patrick Rothfuss in his books, so the opportunities for worldbuilding are certainly rich! Christian noted that the Etruscans sent their letter forms up to the Norse, but the fact that the Norse used wood to carve letters on instead of paper or clay changed the forms of the letters. Paper and wood are technologies that have critical influence on letter forms and how writing is accomplished.

The invention of the printing press is often cited as a major transition between the literacy of the few to the literacy of the many. This is a critical change in societies, and it is worth asking whether it has happened in your fictional world (and if so, when!).

Reggie talked about cultural literacy in her dragon shape-shifter novel. There is a form of human cultural literacy (including reading and writing) which is possessed by the dragons who can change into humans, but not by the older dragons. Since the dragons' long lives mean these different types coexist, it gives rise to interesting conflicts.

We also talked about post-apocalyptic scenarios. Often you can find instances where literacy is considered archaic - not a survival tool but valuable to preserve past knowledge. This got us onto the topic of "oral literacy" - specifically, the use of conceptual tools like rhyme and meter to help people preserve their memory of literary works. We asked "What happens when people have been reading and have lost their oral skills?"

Glenda noted there is an economy of being taught to read. If children work, when do they have time to learn reading? Would they learn instead by song? Are children apprenticed as scribes? What do you do without a printing press to preserve your written heritage?

Christian spoke a little about scribal notation in Latin - basically, written shorthand to speed up the process of writing, such as using a special symbol to denote the character sequence "prae." This kind of shorthand allowed scribes to save on valuable parchment.

I spoke briefly about literacy in my Varin world. This is a place where tree fiber is not available in sufficient quantity to create paper, so paper is generally made of fibers similar to cotton or hemp, and is therefore very expensive. Reading has a different significance for the undercaste who are not taught in schools. It is a self-defense skill for people who often are manipulated by bureaucrats with hard-to-understand papers that must be signed, and individuals can earn money by reading for their friends who are unable to read. For an individual on the verge of starvation reading can mean the difference between life and death.

Back in the real world, druids apparently had beliefs about writing things down, saying "books can lie." There was a belief that books could not be held accountable for their veracity in the way that people could. In this time period, oaths were of extreme importance.

We all thought it would be an interesting challenge to write a story set in an all-oral culture. There would probably be storytellers, and messages would be memorized. Story mechanics so often rely on messages being carried on paper that it's interesting to think about how one might avoid such things!

I mentioned how performance changes a language. Similarly, recopying changes a manuscript. Writing can slow the process of language change somewhat, but not entirely, as we see in English spelling! At one time it was common to spell English words in multiple ways (even perhaps admired!). Sometimes things were capitalized in unusual ways as well. Was this intended to provide emphasis? Was it an influence from German (where nouns are capitalized)? In science fiction and fantasy, capitalization often indicates that something has a larger cultural significance. Glenda said she reads capitalized words as proper nouns within the story world.

We spoke for a few minutes about literacy tools in story writing and what they can allow you to do. For example, I talked about italicization of words in a story. Sometimes this is used for emphasis. Sometimes it's used to indicate internalized thought. Other times it can be used to indicate that a word is foreign. The style in which it's used is not uniform. In "Cold Words," I wrote the story as if every person in it were speaking the Aurrel language, and the English narrative was a translation. Therefore I used italics only for English words that were *not* translated into Aurrel, such as friend and spaceport.

Reggie mentioned how we talk about people as being "literate" but also "computer-literate." We wondered whether on a farm one could conceivably talk about being "plow-literate." What is your form of literacy? How are people marked as accomplished?

Christian talked about how Charlemagne instituted policies and spent lots of money to spread the skills of literacy - quite late in his life, in his 50's and 60's, he started trying to learn to read and write himself. His efforts led to the invention of lower-case (minuscule) characters.

We talked about writing by hand. The value of handwriting in our society is in decline - but writers often feel that they can write more effectively on paper. Typing skill has to some degree replaced handwriting in importance. Will there be a time when cursive is used only for signatures? I mentioned how word processing had changed the use of kanji characters in Japanese, because the computer will bring up a number of kanji options as you type, and you only have to choose which one is correct. This has led to a decrease in the productive knowledge of kanji, even though receptive knowledge remains high.

Our tools change the way we use our brains.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this fascinating chat! And here's the video... This image makes me laugh because I have my eyes closed. I hope you enjoy it!

Please feel free to join us at 11am PDT today to talk about Matching Culture with Character Motives.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Using foreign language in your story - the balancing act!

I love to use non-English languages in a story. To me, a foreign language behaves like a form of music - it creates mood and atmosphere for the readers who don't understand it, and it further creates a layer of meaning for those readers who do understand it. I take much the same philosophy toward foreign language as I do toward alien language: the more you use, the more alien the story feels; the less you use, the more familiar the language feels.

With a story like "Suteta Mono de wa Nai (Not Easily Thrown Away)," it's really important to me to have a point of view that suggests a person who is inside the Japanese perspective. That means using a lot of English, which might seem ironic. Making a mostly English narrative feel Japanese is all about exploring the other aspects of the Japanese point of view, like metaphors, attitudes, culturally grounded phrases and opinions, all of which can be accomplished in English. That English narrative creates a scaffold into which Japanese phrases can be embedded without having to be defined.

When the context surrounding a word is strong, the word does not need translation.

But what constitutes a strong context differs for different people. I, personally, could totally fail to provide any scaffolding context at all and still appreciate what those words are doing, which means I have to guess in my first draft which ones will be easily deduced by others and which ones won't.

Also, it depends on who is reading it.

Say, for example, with the identity of Naoko's grandmother, also known as Obaa-chan. A lot of people do know that phrase; a lot don't. In this instance I relied on Grice's Cooperative Principle of Communication, the Maxim of Quantity which says "say as much as, and no more than, is required." At the start of the story, there is one character hearing voices. The voices mention she has a grandmother. Then the single character refers to someone named Obaa-chan. Conversational logic tells us that Obaa-chan has to be her grandmother, because only one other flesh-and-blood character has been mentioned, and that's her grandmother. Right? Right.

But it's not that obvious for everyone (at least one of my readers mentioned feeling this way).

Just because something makes sense to you, that doesn't mean you can count on every reader to put together the same logic. Conversational logic depends a lot on our previous knowledge and experience!

It's just like when I hear someone saying a sf/f character name that I wrote down, and saying it in a way I consider "wrong." Who's to say that's wrong? It's what was on the page, filtered through their own phonological interpretation of the spelling. I decided long ago that it was up to them how to say it and I could explain the "real" pronunciation if asked, but didn't really have to.

When you are working with an alien language that nobody knows, you can be certain that nobody knows it. But when you are working with a foreign language, it's a different kind of balancing act. Some people know it, and some don't. More importantly, these people come to a story with different attitudes.

Some people are content to let foreign language act like musical accompaniment, and some people feel like they want to know the meaning of every word. The writer is usually standing somewhere in between.

In my own early drafts of "Suteta Mono de wa Nai (Not Easily Thrown Away)," I discovered something I hadn't expected. A reader with no knowledge of Japanese at all was perfectly happy to let the Japanese function as musical accompaniment so long as the English parts of the story made sense, and deduction could reconstruct the meanings in critical spots. A reader with lots of knowledge of Japanese was content to see a level of redundancy in the piece because they knew that not everyone would know all the words they did. A reader with some knowledge of Japanese, but not enough to understand all the words used, was discontent with not knowing all those words and wanted to see stronger scaffolding.

Once you move out into the world where a large number of people are reading, this selection of reactions diversifies. I've heard the no-Japanese reaction a lot, I've heard the lots-of-Japanese reaction a lot, and I've heard multiple different versions of the some-Japanese reaction. My sense is that a person's reaction will be very individual, not only dependent on how much Japanese they know, but how much they want to know, how much they personally expect others to know, etc. This will be similar (with some variations) no matter what language you choose to use.

This is all part of sending a story out into the world. Every reader reads a story differently. Every reader brings different expectations. So how much Japanese is too much? How much scaffolding is too much? It's a tricky balancing act. As a writer, all you can do is respond to critique to a level that seems reasonable based on what you know about your beta readers, and then trust that later readers will read it in their own way. Because they will - that's what reading is.

It's something to think about.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fantasy Cartography with Christian Stiehl - a Dive into Worldbuilding! hangout report with VIDEO

Last week, Christian Stiehl joined us for a great discussion of Fantasy Cartography. He is an experienced amateur cartographer who recently won a fantasy cartography contest at with a map he shared with us during the hangout. I'll show you a copy here so you can enjoy it, but click here if you want to take a closer look!

He told us that he loved getting lost in National Geographic maps as a kid, following mountain ranges and rivers, and getting lost in them. He also loved fantasy literature like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit which had maps that came with them. Then he moved into running games as a Dungeon Master which allowed him to have more opportunities to make maps. He learned how to make isometric maps, which I'll explain a bit more below. He also found online communities for map-makers, including and his website, for learning about more of his projects, is at

Christian told us that when you are starting a map, it's important to understand its purpose, i.e. what it will be used for (a book? a game?). An author wants to use a map to help describe the contours of a world. Sometimes, Christian notices the shape of the paper the author used behind the shape of the map (he gave Westeros and 8.5"/11" paper as an example). Naturalism would encourage people not to try to use the corners of their paper! Maps help authors a great deal in determining what kind of journeys are possible and how long they would take, and how difficult they would be. They are very useful in keeping chronology straight. On a more linguistic note, Christian said sometimes people use overly similar names for islands, etc. He did talk about how he loved the way Ursula K. LeGuin's The Tombs of Atuan offered readers a dungeon map!

When making a map, he often starts with a pencil sketch, but he likes also to use ProCreate on the iPad, because it allows redo/undo, and it allows layers. He also uses Photoshop and Illustrator, but emphasizes that many different computer programs can be used to create maps, including GIMP and MacPaint. I mentioned that I have used Excel to create maps of buildings in my Varin world, and Glenda mentioned using GIMP. Another technique you can use is zooming in on areas of Google Earth, then reversing the land and water, or using mashups of two different areas, in a way similar to that of worldbuilders who take different inspirations for climate and geography. I mentioned how Janice Hardy combined the city of Venice with Lake Victoria, one of the Great Lakes of Africa, in her series The Healing Wars. Apparently Scott Lynch uses Venice as a model for his city in The Lies of Locke Lamora. One very sophisticated map that is out there is a "dive-in"  map of Terry Pratchett's city of Ankh Morpork.

Karen spoke about when maps are important, and explained that she would have liked a map while reading China Mieville's The City and the City. She guessed that perhaps maps were not as expected in books for adults.

Christian took issue with the "paper-thin" argument some people make that maps are a clichéd idea and indicate some kind of fault with a book. Especially in secondary world fiction, a map can be very important to help readers supplement their (necessarily nonexistent) background knowledge. When we work with the real world, much can be taken for granted and need no explanation. You can "bootstrap" a story by showing its background - and if you don't do so, that can sometimes lead to lack of engagement on the part of the reader.

I argued that it is important to show the uniqueness of your world in a map, and to use a visual vocabulary that does not imitate Tolkien so readers won't get the wrong idea. Maps and cover art can establish a visual style for a novel that can endure over a long period of time.

Glenda noted that a map can provide a lot of important information that might otherwise be a tedious infodump in text form.

Christian has heard the argument that only if a map actually exists as such within the story narrative should a book have a map. I would call this a "frame-internal" map, but we agreed that this is a pretty strict rule and should not be necessary. On the other hand, if you are creating a map of your world, it would be a good idea to figure out what form maps might take within the world. Don't make your map look like it is on parchment if there is no parchment in your world! Match the map to the worldbuilding, because mismatch or anachronism will throw people out. The map must feel like it belongs.

We finished our discussion with a question I raised about how to create a multi-layered map of a city with several levels, and Christian dug into the question a bit, talking about how to create isometric views, which are views that create a sort of forced perspective and allow for a feeling of depth rather than a simple top-down approach. If you were to look at Paris from a balloon at 3,000 feet, things would be at an angle, and you would see vanishing points in the perspective. The isometric view does not use vanishing points, but it does vertically compress the image to force a sense of perspective. He thought it would be most likely that he'd compose each level of the city on a different map layer, and make sure to create a special way of marking connection points between them.

Christian, thanks so much for coming and sharing your insights! Thanks also to Glenda Pfeiffer and Karen Rochnik for attending. Today, in just over an hour, we'll be gathering again to talk about Literacy and Technology in Worldbuilding. I would love to see you there!

Here is our video of the discussion:


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brad Beaulieu and the Lays of Anuskaya - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout report with VIDEO!

Brad Beaulieu joined us to talk about his trilogy, The Lays of Anuskaya. The three books in the trilogy are The Winds of Khalakovo, The Straits of Galahesh, and The Flames of Shadam Khoreh. They tell an epic fantasy story about a changing world. Prince Nikandr discovers a boy who might hold the key to healing a blight, but he isn't the only one who wants to unlock the boy's secrets. He spoke to us about his worldbuilding.

He started by describing his maps. He uses "Fractal Terrains" mapping software to generate a world, then raise and lower land masses. In the case of this trilogy, he wanted a place that would be cold and inhospitable, and used Russia as a basis for one of the major cultural groups because he didn't want to use Europe. He wanted the place to feel new, but not completely foreign, so he modeled it after Muscovite Russia with gunpowder and magic, and used Russian for the names (often looking at maps of Russia for place names). The Russian-based group isn't the only one in this world, so he also looked at Persian and Turkish.

I asked him if it was always a trilogy. He said he thinks of stories in terms of trilogies, having absorbed the style from much of his previous reading. That said, he didn't know at first precisely where it was headed.

Brad explained to us the metaphor of the writer as architect vs. gardener. Brandon Sanderson, he explained, is an architect who plans out the structure of everything very carefully. George R.R. Martin is more of a gardener, who plans a bit and then lets things grow. Brad describes himself as more of a gardener, but he does want to know where the story ends up. He sometimes uses snowflake plotting, which allows you to expand a very short description of a book idea into larger and more complex structures. He says he tends to write up to a turning point, then reconsider his plan and re-plot as necessary.

He sees history, cultures, and conflicts as the bedrock of a story, and says that the story will be unstable if those elements aren't there. Characters are born from culture, and experience societal and familial pressures as well as pressure from friends. If he runs into sticking points, he goes back to character and cultural grounding to exploit points of tension.

I asked him if the world develops as he goes, and he said he uses exploratory drafts to try out voice, explore the world, and find out what is cool about it.

As an example, he told us a little bit about a new project he's just finished, about a pit fighter in a Tales of Arabia-like setting who goes about bringing down the 12 Kings of Sharakhai. There are gods of the desert, who are real, and meddle in human affairs. He said that he didn't know what the gods were doing at first, but that it clicked for him mid-book.

He likes to look for ideas all over the place, including Inspiration Midnight, NPR, or outside sources. He combines ideas and collects images of swords, costumes, jewelry and faces. Trawling for images often inspires him. He also feels inspired by musical playlists that keep him in the right headspace.

He told us a bit about the magic system in his trilogy. Rules are very important to him; magic needs to be a natural part of the world, not arbitrary. The series has more than one type. Elemental magic involves the summoning of spirits of water/fire/air/life, but the magic is changing, and using it is becoming more difficult. There are also ships made of magic wood that fly along ley lines, and a form of telepathy where women of the islands, the "matri" (mothers) can submerge themselves in cold baths and communicate through the ether, astrally projecting and detecting magic. He said that part of the process of development was simplifying his system. Magic and the plot affect each other organically.

For 12 Kings, he wanted the magic to be "easier" and took inspiration from Thieves' World. The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy has few magical artifacts, but 12 Kings has gifts from the gods, and blood magic. He's also working on a middle grade project in an Endor-like environment with treetop villages, and lynx that fly like flying squirrels. Kids in this world can glide with wing-cloaks.

Reggie asked how many different forms Brad has written in (books, plays, collaborations). Brad said he started with novels, and then took a number of conferences and workshops where he began networking. He then started playing with the idea of short stories, because though short and long forms aren't the same, some elements of skill translate well. It's easier to play with ideas in short form. 7500+ words is a typical length for his short fiction. He's written one comic book script, and tried a couple of collaborations.

Christian picked up on Brad's thoughts about sources for ideas, and suggested 'This American Life' on NPR and the Moth Radio Hour. These are true stories, 15 minutes long, and they have a lot of variation.

Brad suggested that going out and asking people about themselves can be really fascinating and give you unexpected ideas.

Christian asked Brad about his experience breaking into the field. Brad said he wrote something in college that he never finished, then wrote three trunk books. He tried to publish after the first one but got no answers, only form letters. So he started attending conventions and conferences, including Pike's Peak Writer's Convention and Colorado Gold (from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers). He went to workshops as well, including Viable Paradise in 2003, Writers of the Future, Orson Scott Card's Boot Camp in 2005 and Clarion in 2006. He has even run his own workshop at this point. Networking helped him a lot and got him connected with his first novel publisher, Nightshade Books. He got the rights back to his trilogy from Nightshade after the first two books and ran a Kickstarter for the third, having already run one once for his short story collection. He says that in order for Kickstarter to work it has to be "the right project," but that it's a great option and helps to test the market. He feels he is a hybrid traditional/independent author.

Brad says writers have a strange combination of self-consciousness and overconfidence. He urged us to enjoy the steps along the way, to be proud, market ourselves. There is no avoiding pain. He told us he still has a day job in IT, writing at night and on weekends.

Thanks so much, Brad, for joining us, and thank you to everyone who attended! I hope to see many of you again this Thursday.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Let's have more than just "kickass," please!

My son has started reading a book where the protagonist is a young girl who is a pirate. And boy, is she tough. She can fight, drink, swear, etc. etc. and he finds her delightful. This is all well and good. But we see so many kickass girls these days. And while they represent progress in the fight against entirely male-centered stories, they are only one part of the picture.

I have spoken before about how a strong character is not necessarily a violent one. I firmly believe that the battle has not been won when we allow women to take on "male characteristics"* - because until "female characteristics"* are also valued in all kinds of characters, feminism still has an important job to do.

*These are stereotypes, of course. It's shorthand, and highly inaccurate, to call toughness/roughness "male" etc. These views are nonetheless common.

In my writing right now I am exploring some female characters who fall in different places relative to these stereotypical views.

Kitano Naoko, from "Suteta Mono de wa Nai (Not Easily Thrown Away)," (Clarkesworld 90) is a Gothic Girl cosplayer. She's not kickass, though - that's not what her story is about. Kicking butt won't solve her problem - just as it won't solve a lot of tough real world problems like the one she's facing. She needs patience, self-knowledge, a trust in her ability to make good decisions, and the ability to accept the possibility of failure without being destroyed by it. I'm convinced, though, that she finds strength by the end of her story, and a greater understanding of her relationships with the people around her.

Hub Girl, from the forthcoming "Mind Locker," (Analog July/Aug 2014) is a slum kid and hacker in a world where the internet is in your head. She's got a lot of attitude, swears a lot, and has to put on a brave face because she's surrounded by people she can't trust. She's not a big person, though, and when she fights physically she tends to lose. She protects herself with her ability to hack into other people's systems if they threaten her. She also leads and coordinates a large gang of kids. I suppose you could call her kickass in that she has the ability to take care of herself. What makes her story compelling to me, though, is when she feels softness toward particular characters, like her father, or her friend Fisher - that's when you understand what is most important to her, because that softness shows what she really cares about, even when she's disguising it to protect her reputation.

Pelisma, from a work in progress called "Soul's Bargain," is a woman who has always defined herself by her work as a cave engineer, who values herself for what she's able to accomplish for the people of her underground city. In the twilight of her life, she's questioning her faith, and questioning her own abilities, trying to determine what is most important to her as she goes blind and becomes more vulnerable. In the end, though, her determination is going to take her to a place she didn't expect. She'll have a decision to make, to fight or yield, and she'll discover that yielding accomplishes things that fighting won't.

What are you working on? What are your female characters like? Do they have goals? Where do they find their strength? There are so many possibilities here, and we need to keep exploring them. I also want to see more male characters who don't deny their softer strengths (and of course, everything in between).

It's something to think about.


Monday, March 10, 2014

More guest blogging, chez Harry Markov: I discuss writing advice!

I have another post out today, at the blog of my good friend Harry Markov. He asked me to talk about pieces of writing advice that I had found less than useful, and why. So I discussed eliminating filter words, and show don't tell. Go here and check it out!


Guest blogging chez Janice Hardy: How to Use Foreign Languages (Real or Imaginary) in Your Novel

Today I'm blogging over at Janice Hardy's Fiction University, answering a question about how to handle a language barrier between two populations. Check it out here!


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Religious Privilege - a Dive into Worldbuilding! hangout report with VIDEO

We had a fascinating and widely ranging discussion about religious privilege with Pat McEwen, Reggie Lutz, Che Gilson, Lesley Smith, and Glenda Pfeiffer.

I started us off by talking about the historical role of religion in education and literacy. Becoming a nun was one way that women could drastically change their social roles.

Lesley mentioned the translation of the Bible into English. When the learned folk in the priesthood were only speaking in Latin, that effectively cut off common people from ownership of their own faith. Pat mentioned that the Chumash people had a special language for priestly privilege within the context of an oral religious tradition, so the use of language being a sign of religious privilege isn't confined to written contexts.

Reggie noted that privilege also exists within religion-internal hierarchies and between religions where society perceives some religions as more acceptable than others. Here in the US we get Christmas and Easter holidays but there is no expectation that the high holidays of other religions get honored in this way. Using vacation becomes a form of privilege or bias. Many countries show a similar civil alignment with a particular religious calendar, and it's not surprising to see this appear in a fictional setting. The privilege of the Anglican church in England was part of what caused people to emigrate to the American colonies.

Mention of God and religion is also made on coinage and in the American Pledge of Allegiance, but this was a much later development due to the perceived encroachment of "godless" communism in the 1950s.

Here is a link to thirty examples of Christian privilege.

When you are dealing with fiction it can be tricky to create religious privilege from an internal perspective, because when religion is built into a society from the ground up, it can be somewhat invisible. There are religions which assert themselves everywhere, but it's always good to look for more subtle aspects of religious influence. It's also valuable to consider what other religions might be around. Pat told us that there was an active temple to Athena in the Balkans (former Yugoslavia) up until the 15th century, meaning there were pagans in the area. There were also Jews.

Uniformity of religion is created by certain historical factors, but it usually isn't complete. (I often try to have characters question their own belief systems, and interact with them in personal ways). Diversity of religion leads to more complexity.

There is also syncretism, meaning the view that many beliefs can be held at once. Japan was known for its syncretism. Pat agreed that some of the new religions of modern Japan also show syncretism. Buddhism and Shinto coexist and mix. In the Buddhist temple of Sanjusangendo, many of the guardians of Kannon are Hindu deities that have been adopted into the Buddhist pantheon. Che noted that Hinduism itself ended up with so many gods because they were adopted from local religions.

Religions change over time. They are both strengthened and altered through practice. Christianity often co-opted or translated things into their tradition, such as the ancient Pagan holidays. Some entities who had been deities became saints. There is a difference in attitude between syncretism and assimilation, however.

Some saints have actively contributed to mythologies and the expansion of religious canon. Pat told us that Saint Columba was a Catholic missionary in Scotland and invented the Loch Ness monster as a water demon that had attacked his companion and was banished by the name of Christ.

Many religions have a centralized body perceived as the head of the religion which is responsible for defining its tenets and excluding heresies. However, new beliefs continue to arise and sometimes will break off from the old.

I have sometimes seen science fiction where a corporate entity is used for swear words or portrayed as if it has become a deity. I usually don't find this convincing, because religious beliefs are very resistant to change at their core, and generally it seems as though not enough time has passed, or that there is not sufficient justification for the switch. (So if you are going to do this, think through how it might have happened!)

Pat brought up a really important topic. Religion is not just a feature of a society, but also carries out a lot of its critical social functions. There is the issue of religious charity, which is sometimes contrasted with government charity. But more than that, religion was an organizing force that brought communities together to rebuild towns and muster incredible resources, like cathedrals that take 500 years of community work to build. It often would bring together people who might otherwise fight. Religion has a moral function and also supports and codifies societal cohesiveness. Membership in this community can be very important. Religious groups have also provided sanctuary for people who needed it. A cathedral can be a social message. It also holds the history of a group of people (this can be very valuable for worldbuilding purposes). Lesley also mentioned that the stories that bring a religious community together don't necessarily need to be written down, as when stained glass windows tell a story for children or others who can't read.

My guests recommended these books: Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearne, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Angels in America by Tony Kushner.

We talked about learning and religion. School was always a rest from work in the fields. Some religious groups like monasteries or convents were supported by the community and in this way allowed men and women to pursue learning. At other times, Pat noted, these religious communities had to be self-supporting because there wasn't a lot of excess economic activity.

We asked whether religion was unifying or dividing, and whether this had changed over time. It can have both effects simultaneously. There have been religious wars throughout history, and also there have been large cities where people of different religions can come together and learn from one another and/or have friction. Both Glenda and Reggie noted that religion is often used as a justification for war, but that we shouldn't neglect the underlying causes of war, which are often economic.

I recommended these two books, which have terrific melting-pot cities with very religious diverse populations: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin and Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

Pat told us a fascinating historical story about how in the Balkans, a tithe of young Christian men was taken to Turkey and brought up as Muslims. These men were trained as soldiers but then became viziers in the Ottoman empire. They were called Janissaries (and now I want to read a story about them!). Che noted that these weren't the only men brought up in Turkey (Charlemagne was apparently one).

Dietary recommendations came up. Usually we conclude that there were historically sound reasons for the dietary recommendations to be instituted, but then over time they become a way of marking membership in the religious group. Originally, though, they may have had to do with food safety (as Reggie noted, some hoofed animals have pretty nasty parasites) or with what kind of food consumption was more economically viable. It may also have been designed to stop overconsumption or extinction of certain species.

Thank you all for the fascinating discussion! I hope to see you tomorrow at our 10am hangout with author Brad Beaulieu.

And here is the video:


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Come see me at FOGcon!

So, FOGcon is coming up this weekend! Are you going? I am!

The theme this year is SECRETS. I love this theme. Here's how they describe it:

Science Fiction has a long history with secret identities, secret hideouts, secret societies, even secret worlds. So who decides what is secret? How do we keep secrets? How do we discover what is secret?

I'll be there on Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8th. My schedule is as follows:

Friday, March 7
Salon A/B
4:30-5:45pm Fantastical Secret Histories
Fantasy has a tradition of secret histories: hidden bloodlines with entailments of powers, old grudges that are inconveniently revealed, and age-old prophecies that finally come to bear. What kinds of secrets are more interesting to read about? What about their revelation makes them exciting?

Friday, March 7
Contra Costa Room
8:00-9:15pm Reading, with Cassie Alexander and 
Come hear my current Clarkesworld story: Suteta Mono de wa Nai (Not Easily Thrown Away)

Saturday, March 8
4:30-5:45pm Ultra Super Party Fun Revision Time
Salon C
Okay, maybe it's not quite that fun. Many writers dislike the revision process. How can you learn to be a better reviser? What are you looking for in early revisions versus late revisions? How many passthroughs should you take on the work? Should you revise the story sometimes after you've circulated it and it hasn't sold, or is that a trap? How do you know when you're done? How about REALLY done? Are there some balloons we could have to cheer us up?

It should be a great time. I hope you can come!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dive into Worldbuilding - Special Schedule this week, and March topics!

Welcome to March!

If you haven't had a chance, check out my story which is up this month at Clarkesworld - especially fun for those who love Japan! Here's the link to Suteta Mono de wa Nai (Not Easily Thrown Away)

Now, onto the Hangout Schedule!

We're kicking off this week with a visit at 10am PST from the super-cool author Brad Beaulieu, who will be chatting with us about worldbuilding in his series, the Lays of Anuskaya - The Winds of Kalakhovo, The Straits of Galahesh, and The Flames of Shadam Khoreh. Here is a picture to tempt you!

Here is the complete schedule for the month:

March 6th - Special Guest Author Brad Beaulieu discusses his Lays of Anuskaya series (10am PST)
March 13th - Fantasy Cartography with special guest Christian Stiehl
March 20th - Literacy and Technology (11am)
March 28th - Matching Culture and Character Motives

I hope to see you there!