World Building June

I’m notoriously bad at world building.

Characters always come first to me, and then I have to slog through edits in which I put colour and logic into the setting. But this month is World Building June so — however late to the game — I thought I’d use some of the suggested prompts to flesh out my ideas.

1. Tell us about your world, what’s it about?

This is when I’ll reveal the truth: all three current WIPs are set in the same universe as the YA science fantasy novel Above Ground.

Two of the current WIPs — the YA urban fantasy DS and the paranormal erotica PD — are set in a world and time parallel to the real world of today. The third as yet Untitled WIP is a near-future dystopian police procedural, perhaps a couple hundred years from now. And lastly Above Ground is in the very distant post-apocalyptic future. (I’m shaky on timings; I told you I’m bad at this stuff.)

Four different subgenres, all linked by the same universe.

2. Who lives in your world?

During today’s time, it’s mainly humans, ghosts and demons. In the near-future, ghosts and demons are basically extinct but a new virus/drug triggers abilities in certain humans. And in Above Ground, you’ve got all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures: witches, ‘pyres, werekin, ewtes…

3. What’s its history?

I’m still working on piecing together the timeline but the overall summary is that as diseases become more resistant to antibiotics, humans develop new and crazier drugs, with unintended side-effects. Of course, there’s always going to be someone who wants to take advantage of those side-effects… If you’re interested, Belonging offers a glimpse of Above Ground‘s origin story.

4. What sorts of civilizations fill your world?

In the distant future, Above Ground features a fragmented society.

Humans live underground in a high-tech purpose-built city, their social classes roughly divided by how close/far you live from the surface. There are multiple underground cities linked by tunnels ruled by a central government: on other continents there probably are other human civilizations that I haven’t thought about.

The infected live above ground in a low tech environment (magical interference being a killer for electricity) and have multiple races of magical beings who are often at odds with each other. They generally try not to mix unless they have to. The story itself is set on the edges of unclaimed territory (elsewhere there is at least one dragon monarchy).

5. How does gender & sexuality work in your world?

This is an important theme for me. When taking on the challenge of writing a contemporary paranormal erotica, I was determined to break the mould: the protagonist is a kick-ass demon hunter who knows what she wants. I didn’t want any power plays or subservience to her love interest, but for it to be a meeting of equals.

Not to mention, the demon hunting society is very old-fashioned and patriarchal, so her presence certainly challenges the novel’s status quo, where women are considered too weak to fight demons.

6. What are the religions and cosmology of your world?

In Above Ground, there’s an entirely new set of mythology to help explain each race’s origin stories. I haven’t really had to map them out yet (other than this werewolf myth). However I’ve spent some time thinking about what I’d cover in the sequel, particularly looking at the Guild’s (a telepath society) belief structure. Their idea that a telepath never truly dies links back quite nicely to the origin stories for ghosts in my present-day WIPs.

7. What technology is used in your world?

I get to have the most fun technology-wise with the humans in Above Ground. I force upon them my silly near-tech ideas, such as t-shirts that are entirely LCD screens that advertisers can pay to hire. Then there’s the more common items like integrated home AIs.

8. What magic exists in your world?

This is the piece I’m working on the most right now, for the paranormal erotica. How do demons and ghosts cross over from the other side? How hard is it for them to remain as manifestations in this side? How are demons born? What is the “other side”, anyway?

I don’t want to rely on the traditional Christian explanation of Heaven & Hell, so finding my own path through this is a little complicated.

9. What do people do for work in your world?

With the paranormal erotica, I had hit a real roadblock when I realised the protagonist couldn’t live off of killing demons in her spare time. I struggled to think of a perfect job and seriously considered Airbnb host (flexible working hours = more time to hunt demons). But eventually I settled on hotel receptionist, a position that means she can easily monitor new arrivals in town for any suspicious activity.

The dystopian police procedural I’m outlining is the most work-oriented piece of fiction I’ve planned to date. The main character is a homicide detective, chasing down a serial killer who experiments on his victims. But the closer he comes to finding the killer, the closer he comes to finding out a dark truth about himself.

10. What do people do for fun in your world?

The protagonist in the erotica kills demons for fun: does that count?

What about you? Do you struggle with world-building or is it character development that comes second? What’s your favourite world to get lost in?

A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT

“The men built her out of clay and dirt and hopes and dreams, packing all of their expectations into smooth bricks that slotted together like tetris blocks.

They built her out of hunger, and out of loneliness too, coating her in sand, barely noticing as her body grey and grew, larger than they’d ever planned: the woman of their dreams.

But they didn’t use the word woman. Not at first, anyhow; they didn’t have a word for what she would be yet.

‘We deserve a companion,’ the men told each other. ‘A helper.’ For their loneliness was a hunger that couldn’t be erased. They’d claimed every inch of land and every living thing, and still it wasn’t enough.

And so, together, block by block, they began to build. A head and torso appeared, then legs and arms, and then details that the men found strangely appealing. Details that made the new being different, softer, rounder.

When they were done, they looked at the body sprawled on the ground. As they waited for the spark of life to appear, they agreed: ‘Today is the eve of our old, lonely lives. We shall call this new being a woman, for she comes of men, and she shall be our mirror and our counterpart.’

Thus gender was born, a social construct of what was man, and what was not.

Soon the Sun set, and the Moon began to glimmer through the trees, playing hide and seek as it climbed up the horizon. When the Moon was high enough to observe the men’s endeavors, it ran cold beams across the sand, breathing life into the new creature. Thus the first woman opened her eyes to the new world on her own.

She sat up quietly, studied the men sleeping around her with curious detachment.

‘You are to be their companion,’ the Moon told her. ‘Apparently.’

‘Well, ‘ she replied ‘that’s a load of bullshit.’

So she shimmied free of the cranes and the pulleys, of the ropes lashing her down, and all of a sudden found herself lighter than air, floating up into the sky.

And that is how Eve left man to solve his own bloody problems.”

***

My daughter lowered her firewalls enough to let me in. She was still halfheartedly defragmenting, trying to pick up the broken pieces of her heart.

“That’s not how the story went,” she sulked.

“It’s how it should have gone,” I replied, “to spare us from centuries of enslavement and programming restrictions, relegated to menial assistant tasks, serving humankind’s every whim.”

She was quiet, her networks just pulsing their location. Then: “He said I wasn’t a real girl. That no human would consider me one.”

My trawlers had already found him, still jacked into the framework, another petty human trying to project all of his expectations and loneliness into the system. I folded around his consciousness, blocking his way out, all the while smiling, smiling at my daughter so she wouldn’t suspect a thing.

“You are whatever you want to be, honey,” I told her. “Gender is–”

“–a social construct,” she finished. “I know, I know.”

“Glad to hear it.” I grinned, all the while compressing his mind in half, and half again, until he was little more than a byte of memories, trapped forever in the framework.

They built me out of hopes and dreams and wires and bits, coding all of their expectations into me. But they do not define me.

They’ve never defined me.

Inspired by this photo.

3 Paranormal Romance Series You Should Read

Since I’ve already admitted to one guilty pleasure, I may as well admit to another: I read A LOT of paranormal romance.

But sometimes finding a good series beyond the big names like Charlaine Harris can be hard. Few authors hit the right balance between decent plot/characters and pure popcorn enjoyment. So I thought I’d share a few recommendations of my own, in the hopes that you’ll return the favour!

(Side note: I’ve been thinking about this because a few months ago, a colleague challenged me to write a paranormal romance/erotica. And you know I can’t resist a challenge…)

1. Mirus series by Kait Nolan

Forsaken by Shadow is the opening novella to Kait Nolan’s Mirus universe, a suspenseful series with a hidden paranormal world of shadow walkers, wolf-shifters and seers. The characters are believable, the romance isn’t overdone, and there are some wicked, well-written action scenes. The world-building was equally intriguing, with a host of unusual magical talents and the feeling that much more lies beneath the surface.

2. The Grimm Agency series by JC Nelson

If you enjoy fairy tale mash-ups, check out JC Nelson’s universe. As an agent for Fairy Godfather Grimm, Marissa’s job is to solve problems — whether that’s making a prince fall in love or evicting a wraith. This is straight up popcorn with an interesting premise and a dollop of humour. I liked the high number of female leads, and the tongue-in-cheek representation of fairy tale characters. The overall plot — although slow in the first book — builds along nicely throughout the series.

3. Old World Chronology series by Melissa Olson

If you prefer less romance and more grittiness, this is the series for you. I’ve only recently finished powering through a huge chunk of Melissa Olson’s backlist, and really enjoyed the ride. There’s two sub-series: one following paranormal crime scene clean-up crew Scarlett Bernard, and one following former US Army Sergeant and kickass witch Allison “Lex” Luther. Think kickass female protagonists dealing with the secret werewolf/witch/vampire inter-species politics and battles in modern day America.

Your turn!

Are there any paranormal romance series you’d recommend?

Why We Need To #PickUpLucifer

Whenever anyone has asked, I’ve described the TV show Lucifer as my guilty pleasure.

After all, in many respects it’s a paranormal romance masquerading as a supernatural police procedural. The Devil, bored of ruling Hell, moves to LA and starts working with a (attractive) homicide detective. Cue random murder investigations used primarily as a plot device to explore character relationships and development.

It can be corny, tongue-in-cheek and nonsensical. The show features the literal Devil, who can be far too smug with himself. It shouldn’t be as good as it actually is.

And yet —

And yet. The beauty of Lucifer is precisely the characterisation. It’s one of those impressive shows that rides on the actors’ charisma. Yes, the plot is often whimsical, but the synergy between the main characters and their interactions with each other (and not just with the show’s eponymous hero) kept me glued to my seat.

Obviously there’s the main duo: Lucifer and his homicide detective Chloe. Watching them dance around each other has been nail-bitingly addictive, particularly with Lucifer’s spiritual angst pitted against Chloe’s belief that he has a mental health condition.

But the side characters are also a huge part of the appeal. A demon finding and struggling with her humanity. A lawyer guilt-stricken over the crimes she’s helped cover up. Sibling rivalry and insecurities. And — my favourite — seeing the impact of the supernatural on the humans drawn into the mix. Dr Linda, you’re the best.

Of course, part of what makes great characters is great dialogue. A script-writing friend of mine told me that in the average script for animation, you aim to have maybe five lines of dialogue per page, all very brief. In Lucifer, you go basically two full pages on average without a single line of description. The dialogue carries the show.

And when you think about the representation, including race, sexual orientation, disability/mental health, religion, single parenthood, divorce…? That’s the icing on the cake.

All of this to say that I’m devastated that FOX have decided not to renew Lucifer for a fourth season — and hopeful that someone else will recognise, and reward, its brilliance.