Worldbuilding: Atridia

© Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (aka @Snarkbat)
© Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (aka @Snarkbat)

For me worldbuilding is the most fun and best bit about writing (it’s also my Achilles’ heel, my one weakness). Of course, Atridia has been around a while (it even gets destroyed in my short story “The Breaking of the Circle”, albeit briefly) and it, or rather some of its inhabitants (Amel, Kella and others) had a role to play in The Parting of the Waters. Writing that told me several things about Atridia and its culture for later use:

  • They are beginning to explore the universe, the Juran Elaspe being a prototype ship and the first one to leave the Sirian solar system.
  • Taborin is the centre of Atridian culture but it’s not a democracy. The best comparison would be North Korea.
  • Same-sex relationships are taboo and Amel, in particular, has a really big issue with his daughter, Kella, being gay (oddly falling for an alien doesn’t seem to bother him at all).
  • Homosexuality is a mental illness on Atridia, treated with crude attempts at conversion therapy and, if the subject isn’t cured to the satisfaction of the auditors, they can be euthanised. It’s also believed to be communicable, like an idea, but also genetic and travels in families.
  • There is a translation matrix (the beginnings of what will eventually become the Union’s neural rig) but it’s hit and miss.
  • The Atridians are a curious people, looking for others in the sea of space but they also want to be important and powerful.
  • Science is their religion, administered by the Directorate. It strictly controls information, censoring anything deemed inappropriate.
  • There are three genders, with the Ubani, or progenitors, vital to the continuation of the species but segregated and strictly controled by the Directorate. No one remembers why, at least not regular folks like Kella.
  • Creativity is viewed with suspicion and strictly controlled.
  • The neighbouring planet, Arcadia, is simultaneously Occupied and also independant and known for its medical advances/export of doctors.

So I started expanding on things. I wanted to know who Juran Elaspe was and why Amel was so upset by Kella’s choice to live amongst the Kashinai, unable to interbreed with them but finding family regardless. Time to worldbuild and write.

The awesome @snarkbat posted this photo of a statue in a Swedish park and the colouring of the metal/the dress immediately pinged my ‘hey, Atridians look something like that’ sensor. I had this image of a humanish race with copper-coloured skin, maybe a little lighter (Kella, for example, tailless as she is being not-Kashinai, can pass for one of them in a temple hakashari). There’s a difference in the odd organ, the number of fingers (I need to check the specifics/hire an assistant) but as photo-inspiration goes this is as close as is.

The dress just seals the deal.

I’m assembling a Pinterest board with imagery and also thinking about music. For example I’ve found two tracks which really jumped out of me (I get a lot of them via Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature, it’s actually really useful). The first I told you about when talking about expanding “When the Stars Fade” into a longer piece, probably a novella. This song makes me think of Jaada, specifically due to a lyric which talks about rewriting scenes, something she as an author is able to do—except she’s writing what amounts to historical fiction and the Narrative demands honesty, even when writing about things she’d rather change (in this case specific to her past life as Kadjat).

The second track is below:

In my head, this song perfectly sums up Jaada’s relationship with Tobai Estus, a narssasistic who slowly takes over control of Jaada’s life, attracted by her fame and her creativity but envious of it. He eventually gets his revenge after ‘suggesting’ the pair return to Atridia from the Ceipheian city of Serani where Jaada has spent her entire life so he can take up a specific post. Atridia doesn’t pride creativity and though Jaada is able to work as a teacher, it’s not the same. As she tries to reprioritise her life, he gets upset and the deterioration of their relationship ends a month later when he burns her books (a symbolic act as well as a physical desecration of her work) and then reports her to the auditors of the Hall of the Mind, which leads into my currently unsold story “The Mystic of Room 316” (which I plan on expanding into its own second person ‘chapter’ of the book).

Jaada’s incarneration then forces her to confront and learn to control her abilities, something she’s not able to do until Bry and Chaya break her out (mentioned briefly in “The First Day and the Last”, sanctioned by the highest powers due to Jaada’s ability to create unstable micro-realities). It’s in the two to three-ish years between that and the establishment of the Union/Atridian Commission to look into the Directorate that she has to learn to wield her abilities. As a teacher on Mnemosyne, she learns to inspire others but that’s only half of her ability and getting broken out of the Hall of the Mind, it wasn’t just to save her life and soul, Jaada is needed and her abilities, well they’re rare.

The true learning, that happens during The Broken World as Jaada works for the Commission. It forces her to learn about the Narrative (her name for the thread of reality that passes through linear time and allows her to tell true history from the fiction created by Atridia’s fallen government) and access historical information that no one remembers, except for the universe. This ability, it’s not oracular like the Voices of Aia on Coronis, but it’s a similar ability except governed by words rather than sight. The Divided Land (and a more formal report) is the result because, on most world, fiction is easier to believe than cold, hard facts.

By the time she publishes When the Stars Fade, Jaada’s in full command of her abilites (and will probably write more stories about other lives suppressed and whitewashed from history) but this is the one which important to her. Because it was hers. This is her way of healing, as writing “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” was mine.

Now to find more music, more images and write more words. Wool and Fallout are big inspirations for parts of both The Divided Land and The Broken World. Oh and everything about viruses that Seanan McGuire has ever written. On that note, it’s time to get back to the words!

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When the Stars Fade: Expanding the Short Story

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I liken writing to being a jigsaw puzzle. With anything—a short story, a novel—you have the corners and sometimes the outside pieces but the middle is a hole, an absent picture you have to piece together.

I wrote “When the Stars Fade” a couple of months ago and only as I’ve gone through more drafts and several rejections have I realised that there are several components to the story which makes it bigger than 7500 words.

  • Hesri’s relationship with her eventual murderer, Meiku
  • Kadjat’s romantic relationship with Hesri, their marriage and Kadjat’s widowing.
  • Meiku’s execution and how this affects Kadjat.
  • Hesri’s faith in the Ubani, the Mortal Gods, and Kadjat’s agnosticism versus Meiku’s suspicion/atheism.
  • Kadjat’s application to the Space Program and the process involved with her becoming an astronaut.
  • The winnowing of the other applicants.
  • Nadir, his secret and Kadjat’s discovery of it.
  • Her decision, not that she actually gets to make one, the moral quandary, however remains.
  • The shuttle disaster and Kadjat’s demise in space.

I also know several other things, such that this is a story written in-universe by Jaada Serani after her world for the Commission investigating the Directorate, after she learns to use her abilities as a wild muse.

I usually find a track and this one, well, it perfectly reflects Jaada’s perspective given her relationships, with Tobai in her present and, as Kadjat, with Hesri and Meiku. This one sums up her desire to rewrite history, to change her past, but this is tempered by the knowledge that she’s a muse, not a god:

When this story came back from being critiqued, the one thing the group wanted to know more about was the Ubani. This story, which will probably be a novella, is about pieceing together the world between The Mortal Gods and The Singularity, the two parts of Jaada’s novel The Divided Land. This is a world after war but before chaos, there’s a unique status quo coupled with a desire to find a way out of the cycle of violence.

The faith in the Ubani is strong, even in Taborin, but science is rising. Oh and there’s a planet to colonise … of which Jaada’s failed mission is the first tentative step.

The story itself is set decades before the Singularity and is going to help me fill in important holes needed to make sure there aren’t any in the Atridia Duology. After all, jigsaws do come with pictures to help you put the pieces together and this story is not onlu Jaada’s attempt to deal with her own demons but it’s my way of making sure nothing is left out and the world will be all the richer for it.

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Reworking “Sun Glass” Into “The Demons in the Dark”

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I’ve spent the past two days tweaking “Sun Glass” and turning it from a secondary world story into something closer to sci fi, to space opera. Oh and nixing 1250 words. I got it down from 9250 down to just under 8k. I also renamed the story as this isn’t the same tale anymore. I’m currently going with “The Demons in the Dark”.

The World of Three Moons has long been a haven for humanity, for the last survivors of a Chinese ship called the Hubei. Yet it is also a strange world, inhabited by more than just humans. Demons stalk the darkness, shadows with gemstones for eyes, who tear all those they come across into pieces and devour their unlived days. They are also becoming more powerful and no one knows why.

Hu Xia is living a double life, pretending to be her dead brother Jin. Now a master glassweaver, she is tasked with serving her village, creating a magical momument out of moon glass which will protect them through the long nights.

Then a mandarin steps into her life and changes it forever.

Lin Cui is convinced the demons’ rise in power is connected with his distant ancestress, the first glassweaver, Shao Jian. He is convinced Shao Jian lies buried in the a village deep in the forest, forgotten and abandoned, and that with her corpse lies the ability to  ward off the demons permenantly.

Together Xia and Cui will discover the truth about their history and the glass magic that stops the demons in their tracks—and Xia will find out precisely what happened when her brother was devoured.

There’s a particular place I want to send this, as my previous story died in its tracks. I’ve run it through speech in Scrivener, I’ve tried to catch any errors and I’m hoping, once I’ve done a final pass, it’ll be good to send out. I just hope it passes muster and is the right kind of story for the anthology I want to submit it to.

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The Balancing Act: Finding “Solace”

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My self-worth isn’t great right now. I’m trying to write but it’s like getting blood out of a stone. My brain screaming at me that I’m a terrible writer, that the two rejections I had this week were personal and signalled my ultimate failure as an author. I cringe at the thought of sending more stories out and yet there’s a call coming up that I’ve promised myself I’ll submit a story to.

After the name-changing of the other day, I had a temporary high which means, of course, my mood was always going to crash back town. It’s not as bad as it was a couple of weeks ago but it still feels particularly dark at times. I can find fractured moments of happiness in Disney movies and the Game of Thrones rumour-mill, listening to certain pieces of music and eating things which are bad for me. Though I do have a bag of carrots in the fridge that I’m sharing with the hound.

Yesterday I didn’t write a word all day. Instead, I wasted time on the internet, reading and posting until it was time for an appointment on the other side of town. I took the bus because I couldn’t face the walk from either of the two routes I can use, I even arrived early because it was better than lingering in Starbucks for another half an hour.

Of course, I could have slept in, I could have been kinder but I’m a creature of habit. I did, however, walk back into town, past the barky German Shepherd Uni hates. We had lunch, which was cheap and filling (bonus points to the fact I was craving cabbage and new potatoes). We capped off the day with an epic 99 that took me back to my childhood. The seller even made Uni a micro 99 which she definitely appreciated. It was exceptionally warm and poor Un, well she’s getting fluffy again.

As part of my run of jobs on Monday, I booked her a slot to be clipped for the summer. It’s expensive but worth it, she’s already feeling the heat and it’s only just gone from sub-arctic rain to a few, precious, glorious days of summer. She’ll thank me in two weeks. In the meantime, I’m carrying water and her bandana, even retiring my jacket because denim and heat, they don’t play well together.

My big focus for this week is the short story I need to write. It’s a space mermaid story and I’m hurrying to get it done not because the call is coming (it’s at the end of the month) but because I want to have my crit group look the story over first. I have a better idea of the storyline for “Solace” but my desire to write, it’s still not easy. Plus the deadline is making it much harder, inducing a panic that I won’t be done by 1st July.

This annoys me as normally deadlines are my fodder, my fuel. The trick is, of course, to go back to what MRK taught me in the short story class I did. Outline the story, write down what happens and then, when my muse returns in a coffee-fueled flood, do the story. Worse case, as long as it’s done by Wednesday, the group won’t be too put out but I still feel bad. We each understand everyone has problems writing sometimes and this week, it’s my turn.

I want this story to be good, though. I want to love writing it, the desire is there, but my mood flattens it. I want to nip to the garage, buy a pint but I can’t afford to lose either the money in my purse or the addling of my brain. So I’ve put on Game of Thrones and am trying to outline, hoping that will help. At least I now have a much clearer idea of the antagonism in the story and the ending.

That’s something and, right now, I’ll take anything I can get.

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Let’s Try This Again: The Fractured Era and The Broken World

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It has a title page, ergo it must be real!

Opening up my timeline file got the juices flowing, I’m not sure if I’m ready to actually start yet but I have ideas. I’m basically planning to write The Fractured Era and The Broken World together. However there’s also another component to this called The Divided Land, I’m not sure if it’s a novella or a story within a story (probably in TBW as Jaada, the protagonist is an author) but I do know it focuses on a war between north and south and the creation of a manufactured disease. Oh and the creation of the Atridians’ third gender, the Ubani, as well as the religion which elevated them to the state of ‘mortal gods’.

Timelining is allowing me to fill in gaps I didn’t even realise were there, wonderful spoilerific bits and pieces which allow me to answer questions I did have. Names mentioned in passing have back story, purpose and a reason for being remembered. I knew, for example, the Directorate had staged some kind of coup but had no idea why or how. Similarly, I knew the Ubani were a recent addition to the Atridian species, looked upon with derision and blamed for the near extinction of their race, but didn’t know why.

TFE and TBW are easier, both have plots revolving around the secret history of their own civilisation, a sanitised history a la 1984. Except, by the point Jaada gets involved in the second book, the dying Directorate has done such a thorough job no one has any idea what’s truth and what’s their version of history. Juran, on the other hand, is torn between his work and his curiosity about the Ubani, the worst thing anyone can develop an obsession on during the period in which he lives. That and falling in love with your best same-sex friend. Except Juran never thinks of himself as gay, he’s just in life-long love with his closest friend, something which transcends friendship and isn’t necessarily reciprocated to the same degree.

Juran, on the other hand, is torn between his work and his curiosity about the Ubani, the worst thing anyone can develop an obsession on during the period in which he lives. That and falling in love with your best same-sex friend. Except Juran never thinks of himself as gay, he’s just in life-long love with his closest friend, something which transcends friendship and isn’t necessarily reciprocated to the same degree. Juran’s story was never going to end well. Especially not as his name lives on, longer than he does, in the form of the first Atridian starship which is given his name in memorium of his work on it.

Jaada is straight but has been burned by love. Her boyfriend turned jealous and burned her books, seeing her committed to a mental hospital for the crime of loving writing more than she loved him. By the time of TBW, she’s free of him and the Hall of the Mind but the scars run deep. Now officially a resident in a city on another planet, it’s only when the newly-elected representative of her homeworld seeks her out and asks for help, recognising what Jaada is, and how she can help Atridia account for its sins in order to deal with a shiny new future.

I’m planning on posting excerpts (usually out of order) on my Patreon under the $20 tier. I’m not doing this to restrict access but I do want people to want to see this stuff. Plus the money will help me write the books, covering my expenses while I work but also giving me an audience, which is the most important part. I work better knowing people are there, that they want to read the books.

I’m looking forward to getting started, properly, on this project. I have so much rough work that now I have a stable outline, it’s going to see much scrapped but that’s not a bad thing. The story is there, it just needs transcribing and polishing.

 

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Giving Patreon a Second Chance

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I wanted a chance to really interact with my small but growing fanbase. I also wanted a place to put random short stories, pieces of short fiction and detail my novel writing process. I’m about, once my mood lifts, to start The Fractured Era and The Broken World, the Atridia Duology. I’m not normally a fan of paywalls but I also want to try a longer term form of crowdfunding, with videos and all the secrets of how I write.

Even a dollar helps so please do check out my Patreon page now. Pledges go out on the first day of the month but I’m asking for monthly amounts so a single pledge will get you a lot of content, plus having people who want to read my stuff, it keeps me motivated. Right now that can only be a good thing.

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Read The Elissiad Now for just 99¢!

My short story from Alt.History 102 is now available as a standalone for the reasonable price of 99¢/p.

“The Elissiad” is set in another version of Earth where Rome fell to Hannibal and a stranded alien ship appeared above the ancient city of Carthage. It’s my first foray into alternative history and I couldn’t have done it without three years of Classics.

Here’s the synopsis:

What if Hannibal Barca and his elephants crossed the Alps and destroyed Rome? What if Carthage became a new Eternal City but with the bread and without the circuses? 

Now the city is home to two aliens stranded on Earth who have adopted the personas of the native gods in order to repair their vessel—while accidentally uplifting humanity in the process.

Welcome to the day Carthage learns the truth about their ‘gods’.

You can pick a copy now on Amazon.

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New Short Story: “When the Stars Fade”

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I’ve been wanting to write a space story for a while and Kadjat Suru was mentioned, off-handedly in two other Ashteraiverse stories: The Fractured Era and “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul”. Both Teiru and Juran know the name as being one of the pioneers of science, in Kadjat’s case she was a noted Atridian mathematician who specialised in launch trajectories and she was also the first person from her planet to die in space.

“When the Stars Fade” was always her story and began with a single line: My name is Kadjat Suru, I’m the first and I’m alone.

I discovered several things about Kadjat, primarily that she was married to a woman named Hesri and that relationship which pushes her to join, at her boss’ insistence, the space program as an astronaut. By Juran’s time, her life has been sanitised (same-sex relationships having been banned under the Directorate and partially blamed for the near-collapse of society during the Singularity) and it’s known she had a spouse but Hesri’s name and gender were wiped from the history books.

Kadjat became a loyal member of a fake past where she went into space for the advancement of science, willingly giving her life to prove it was possible to leave the planet. In reality her mission was the first step in a much larger plan, to colonise the neighbouring planet of Arcadia. But none of this is public knowledge by the time of Juran’s birth and only the Ubani remember her wife even existed.

Of the two of them, Hesri was the religious one and a follower of the Ubani sect, the religion which grew up around the progenitors who also serve as the Atridian’s third sex, needed to carry children until they’re ready to be born. This ability has turned them into mortal deities and being blessed by them is seen as a sign of good fortune, especially during weddings and naming ceremonies. By the time of The Fractured Era, however, the sect has been banned and no one remembers what Ubani actually means, much less their former place in society, except the persecuted progenitors themselves.

Kadjat remembers Hesri telling her about the Ubani belief that souls are the stars in the sky. After her wife’s death, that throwaway comment is behind her desire to go to the stars and see if she can find Hesri there. She doesn’t believe she’s literally there, of course, but it becomes Kadjat’s motivation to do the impossible. Except things go wrong and the story concludes with the tragedy that secures Kadjat’s memorium in Atridian and Union history.

Now to let it rest and get the final pass for edits/tweaks while I figure out where to send it.

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The Ashteraiverse: Writing Aliens without the Alien

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I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction lately, some of which I knew from the start were set within the Ashteraiverse, except it’s not obvious unless you recognise certain characters. Most of the time I try to avoid giving characters recognisable species or appearances, it’s just not important and I’m not a very visual person anyway. Many of these stories could pass as secondary worlds or futuristic sci fi but I never once reference these characters as human because they aren’t.

I’m being careful not to send them to anyone who might think they’re secondary worlds because that would be misrepresentation. This is an important thing to me because I want to make this stories stand alone but also be part of a larger canon. So while the civilisations and planets are definitely not Earth, it’s not always obvious if the protagonists are human or not. I like it that way … the species isn’t important, the stories are.

“When the Stars Fade” is the story I’m currently working on. It started out purely from referencing Kadjat Suru as the first Atridian to go into—and die in—space. I mentioned her as part of Teiru’s litany of names in “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” and she’s one of the many pioneers of technology and science that Juran Elaspe thinks of during The Fractured Era (my next novel project). I just had this line in my head which said:

My name is Kadjat Suru, I’m the first and I’m alone.

Until she started talking, I didn’t even realise Kadjat was female. I did know, however, that this story is set maybe a hundred plus years before the colonisation of Arcadia and perhaps two centuries before the Singularity, the cataclysmic event which sees Atridia embrace technology and sees their governmental system subsumed by the nefarious Directorate. This is how my characters tend to speak (and why I’m sure I’m just channelling people in another dimension or something), telling me the story as we go.

Kadjat is remembered almost like Laika from the Russian Space Program—except she was never supposed to die. The story is a meditation on life and death, especially as Kadjat only became an astronaut after losing her wife, Hesri, who was brutally murdered by a former boyfriend. Becoming the first person to go into space gives her something to focus on and her progenitor, her birth parent, raised her on stories of the stars which have lingered through her life. Now she gets to be the first person to go beyond, to where the stars shine.

“The Mystic of Room 316” is set on Atridia. I want to say it’s a contemporary story but I’m not all that sure, even if the final scene takes place on Mnemosyne (and so after the Gathering of the Races). In truth, I’m not one hundred percent sure but it feels like it could either be set in the period just after the Gathering or far into the future around the time of Contact with Earth (or at least a little before). It doesn’t matter, it’s not about that, it was inspired by my Bipolar diagnosis and my—albeit misguided—fear of sectioning.

The main character, Jaada, isn’t mentally ill, at least not when she was was admitted thanks to the malicious conniving of her ex. The problem is that she has abilities which don’t place nicely when medicated (she’s a Muse, albeit a wild and mortal one). Being confined to a ward and medicated makes her abilities turn inward and rather than inspiring others, she begins to lose the ability to tell reality from the worlds built in her head … and then begins to create unstable realities of her own, albeit ones unable to last more than the span of a dream.

“The Technopath and the MMO” is the only story so far actually set on Earth, it’s also straight sci fi set in the period after the Esper Registration Act is brought into force (and just after Contact in August 2015). I’m still writing this and it’s a lot of fun as I’m an old school MMO player. Daniel, the protagonist, is a normal kid who doesn’t realise he’s a technopath and gets hooked on an MMO called Empires of Eternity. Oh and he starts leveling his character in his sleep which means I have to finally figure out how a gaming server can tell the difference between a computer logging onto the net and a human brain.

“Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” is set on Coronis and Elara, the smallest world of the Alcyone system of the Pleiades. This one is definitely the most recent of the tales and I’m pretty sure, regardless of the ending, Teiru is going to reappear somewhere along the way. This was one of those stories I wrote to exorcise demons and, stuff like this, it helps. Plus I really wanted to write another story featuring Kalafia (the computer program from The Parting of the Waters), this time fully sentient.

I have other stories in mind, these are just the most recent. Also, I really need to get back into writing something novel length before I lose the skill entirely. Next week, I think, and we’ll start The Fractured Era. I have a larger Moleskine all ready for it. Yes, that sounds like a plan.

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