Sunday, December 25, 2016

Marshall Ryan Maresca and An Import of Intrigue

Author Marshall Ryan Maresca joined us to talk about his latest book, An Import of Intrigue. He explained that this is the fourth book he's written in this world, and the second in the series - he's got two series going on concurrently, and a third series will be coming out in March! Wow.

The fantasy world we spoke about is called Maradaine after the largest metropolis in it, though the nation itself is called Druthal. Druthal is a parliamentary monarchy, because Marshall said he didn't just want to copy and paste a British monarchy. So they have elections and parliament representatives. He wanted to keep a "street-level" perspective on this world.

Series one is The Thorn of Dentonhill followed by The Alchemy of Chaos, and they feature a magic student who becomes a vigilante. The second series is The Murder of Mages followed by our featured book, an Import of Intrigue, which involves inspectors investigating magical murders.

I asked Marshall about the magic system in his world. He said it wasn't logical; that some people were born with magic but that it wasn't genetically predictable. It usually manifests at thirteen years old or so, and the mage must be trained. Mages are pressed into training at a "circle," or a legally defined society of mages. If you are not trained by a circle, you are outcast and can become a target. In this world, trusting magic is new; two hundred years earlier, mages would be burned at the stake!

Minox, one of the main characters, is an uncircled mage. He was adult when his powers manifested and was already working in the constabulary. You can't be circled and in the constabulary at the same time, because circled mages distrust the constabulary, thinking they will be locked up for disturbing the peace. Minox has to be careful with his use of power because he's not fully trained. Marshall says he's a bit like a bull in a china shop. People at the police station call him "jinx" and don't trust him.

The other main character, Satrine, is an excellent inspector but unconventional. They respect and like each other, and each one gets point of view time. Book 1 only had two points of view, but Import of Intrigue has more points of view. Marshall says point of view is an element of trust with the reader, because you must be honest with the reader. Part of the point of having multiple points of view was to show that these characters have a life outside of their jobs.

I asked Marshall about the maps that accompany the book. He designed them himself, and says he worked on maps while thinking about the book. He's made maps of the city, of the country, and of the world. He creates them with photoshop. He started working on them more than twenty years ago, so he says there are lots of photoshop layers!

Maradaine is located by a very large river estuary, in a very protected port. There are islands before you get to the sea. Culturally, it's got a lot of people who have traveled from other regions, and it even has a neighborhood of foreign enclaves. He worked on linguistic background for five foreign cultures. 

"Trade" is what he calls the language of the Druth culture. It's a small piece of what was once a larger empire, and the language is shared by all the other regions which were once a part of this empire. Trade is rendered in English in the book. Marshall says he has a friend who is studying linguistics who helps out with particular linguistic aspects of language design. The first step for him is deciding on the phonemic inventory, or the list of all the different sound concepts used in the language, or "all the sounds I feel like I can make." He thinks about how to express those sounds in a consistent way using English letters, because he wants the languages to look different from each other, and also not to resemble particular Earth languages. Then he moves on to the distribution of sounds and the rules affecting them.

Marshall really enjoys linguistic work. He told us about a different project in which the main character's culture has three different languages contributing to its basic vocabulary, which he says causes weirdness.

An Import of Intrigue includes a pronunciation guide in the back.

The Fuergan language comes from the east of the Keiran empire.  It uses aspirated sounds like hr and hs at the starts of words - mostly names and a few nouns appear in the book. This is a language with many complex familial terms that come from a system of complex marriages. A Fuergan noble is the murder victim, and the Fuergan mourning ceremonies are featured. This language is foreign to the point of view characters. Marshall described it as a copyediting adventure trying to get all the languages correct and internally consistent, but says at least he can ascribe it to character error if anything comes out not quite right. He has extensive notes on language and transcription rules. Different cities have to reflect the language rules of their area.

Morgan asked where he starts with the language. Marshall said he starts with the country names. He names them first, and then uses those names as a basis to inform the language concept.

Druth history and language change also factor into the language. Pockets of the original pre-Imperial Druth language still persist in the form of place names. These names tend to resemble French a bit more. He created them first, then backformed the language from them. We agreed that one of the traps of conlanging (creating new languages) is over-regularization of the language. He said he was always frustrated that the Bajorans of Star Trek only ever seemed to eat hasparat.

Because he uses points of view who are outsiders to these foreign languages, he can do more with those languages in the book.

Culture and language navigation are the key to solving the mystery. It's a puzzle he created deliberately. The writing that accompanies the body is Lyranan, and the Lyranan language uses structured logograms where rotation of them changes their meaning, so each block of symbols can have four possible meanings. The Lyranans who read it weep at the poetry but find it impossible to translate with its full import. On the other hand, the knife with the body came from somewhere else!

It was great to have Marshall Ryan Maresca visit the show - thanks, Marshall! The book is out, so go find it and explore all of its coolness.

Dive into Worldbuilding will resume on January 4th, 2017 at 10am Pacific. Our author guest for January will be Laura Ann Gilman, who will be talking to us about The Cold Eye, the sequel to Silver on the Road, which she discussed with us this year, here.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016


We had an interesting discussion of friendship. The word "friend" can be used for many different kinds of relationships. Acquaintance, classmate, just people you frequent, or very close friends, or Facebook friends, etc. Hangouts and Skype increase the list of who we can be friends with. You can be friends via letters or emails, too.

Is your appearance (i.e. face to face meeting or video) necessary for a friendship? We said no. You can develop a friendship via other means (telephone, letter, email). If the appearance gets added in later, it can sometimes cause surprise or a feeling of disorientation, as I described when I first met my email/phone friend Janice Hardy face to face.

Is friendship a commodity? Sometimes it can seem that way. It appears also that Middle Grade fiction requires the author to take a stance on friendship.

Tight narrow age groups, such as in school grades, tend to restrict friendships. Siblings can cause you to make friends across age groups. These restrictions relax once you are outside of a heavily age-stratified social environment.

Who are you allowed to be friends with? This is an interesting question, because lots of people try to restrict their children's friendships on the basis of various factors such as race, class, gender, or even caste. Can men and women be friends? Of course they can - the very asking of that question reflects negatively on the beliefs of the person asking it (I'm looking at you, Harry). Sometimes you can feel forced into a friendship because your parents are friends with someone else's parents - or sometimes those friendships can become an unexpected gift.

In some cultures, there is a sense that neither of the two members of a friendship has higher rank than the other. In others, that is not the case. France has the formal and informal pronouns vous and tu, and they used to be used based on status even within a friendship, but the criteria for their use have changed and now are more indicative of solidarity rather than rank. Japan has the concept of senpai and kohai, which usually indicates age or year in school. The senpai is older or more experienced and has things to teach the kohai.

Sometimes people try to control their friends by making them compete for favors.

Can you be friends with a parent or a direct caretaker? Perhaps, or perhaps not, depending on the cultural definition of a friend and the nature of your relationship. Maybe, as in some cultures (e.g. a culture in the Kalahari), you can be friends with your grandparent before you can be friends with your parent, because it skips a generation. The degree of control that the parent is expected to exert over your behavior has a lot to do with the answer to this question.

How well do you keep in touch with friends? Can you be friends in one context and not in another? What kind of contexts?

What can you discuss with a friend? Are there topics (like politics or religion etc.) that you avoid in order to keep the friendship? How much trust do you have? Do you feel safe with your friend? What can you talk about without suggesting romantic interest?

You can create an echo chamber in a group of friends who all agree. At the same time, this can be a safe place for people to air their feelings. Whether it's potentially harmful depends on the link to evidence.

Sometimes friends can argue about things they agree about, exploring nuance or carefully defining terms.

Where can you talk with friends? Hallways? Stairwells? Restaurants?

Do you live with friends? How does that change your relationship? How do politeness expectations differ? How do you negotiate the maintenance of your shared environment? Is there a place you can go if you have to be alone because you can't stand it any more? What impact does that have on the others?

How do you get  your basic-level psychological needs met in a friendship?

Do you have an obligation to air grievances against a friend? Some friends expect each other to "read minds" and have the other person notice that they are disgruntled. This can lead to friendships breaking up.

Power and money complicate friendships.

Would friendships be stronger in an empathic or telepathic society? Would they be fewer?

I talked about the question of friendship in my story "Cold Words." Because rank is so important to the alien Aurrel, the alien protagonist Rulii has great difficulty understanding the word friend and struggles with his relationship with the human Parker throughout the story. Each one has things to offer the other, and each one admires the power of the other, so neither one wants to take a dominating stance. It makes Rulii feel as though the relationship is uncomfortably intimate. The Aurrel define the relationships of "huntmate," a person who shares a goal or project with you, and "littermate," a sibling, and "consort," or boy/girlfriend/spouse.

Needing companionship is adaptive, because people can survive better in groups. Vulnerability is important though it also can cause trouble.

There are friendship bonding rituals and procedures. How would another society define those?

Do friends have nicknames for each other?

Thank you to everyone who attended. Today I'm interviewing guest author Marshall Ryan Maresca about his new book, An Import of Intrigue. Next week on December 14, we'll be discussing in-groups and how they are defined, and what kinds of names and habits they have to mark themselves. Join us!