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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Virginia Kantra on World Building

When you write paranormal romance, people talk about the world of your stories.

“A paranormal world that moves with the rhythm of the waves of the tide.” – Suzanne Brockmann
“A breathtaking new world.” - Lora Leigh
“A haunting new world of passion and danger.” - Nalini Singh

Which is wonderful! Except then you run the risk that people will actually ask you about your world building. I get asked, and I laugh. Actually, I cough nervously and try to pass it off as laughter.

I read books, published books, books I admire, with glossaries, charts, character notes, and prologues that set up these imaginatively conceived and beautifully executed worlds.
And that’s just the finished product. Talk to the authors, and they’ll tell you that in the writing stages they create even more elaborate lists, fact sheets, family trees, species traits, and special powers that would make a dungeon master drool. (“My hero is a fourth level Paladin with a Sword of Light and the ability to see in the dark when the moon is full.” Or whatever.)

All those charts and lists and notebooks are positively inspirational. Except…I don’t do them.

My story pitches to my editor go something like this:

ME: So, I thought I’d do this police chief on an island in Maine, okay? And he’s on the beach and he finds this beautiful naked woman who’s been attacked.

EDITOR: You want to write another romantic suspense.

ME: Um…No. Not exactly. I was thinking maybe the woman—the victim, you know?—I was wondering what would happen if she weren’t human.

EDITOR: Okay. What is she?

ME: Well, there are these Celtic folk legends about the selkie…

EDITOR: The what?

ME: Immortal beings who take the form of seals in the sea and take off their pelts to come ashore as beautiful naked men and women.

EDITOR: Naked is good.

ME: Yeah. So anyway, I thought maybe the heroine—Margred—would be selkie.

EDITOR: Your heroine is a seal.

ME: Well. Sort of. Except she comes ashore as a human for sex.

EDITOR: Sex is good.

ME: Usually.

EDITOR: So where does she live when she’s not on shore?

ME: I’m not sure.

EDITOR: Who attacked her?

ME: I don’t know yet. But I think it may be another elemental who wants to pin the blame on humankind.

EDITOR: Go for it.

Every detail, every plot twist, every complication after that, is driven by the characters and their situations.

I do try to incorporate as much original source material as I can. In Children of the Sea, I used the Orkney ballads of the selkie

(“I am a man upon the land; I am a selchie on the sea”)

and structured the trilogy around an old sea shanty, “The Keeper of the Eddystone Light.”
(“of this union there came three…”)

Obviously, since all the details grow organically out of a basic premise—and then I’m stuck with them later on!--I try to keep things simple. As the characters and the series go on, however, new layers, new complications, and new dangers develop. And I wouldn’t have it any other way! In Sea Lord (May 2009), the underlying reason for the attack in Sea Witch (July 2008) is revealed. Who knew? And the prophecy in Sea Fever (August 2008) has a new and devastating twist.

I hope readers enjoy discovering the world of the children of the sea along with me.

Virginia Kantra
*Leave a comment for your chance to win a signed copy of SEA FEVER, Virginia's 2nd release in her Children of the Sea series. *


Amie Stuart said...

>>EDITOR: Naked is good.


I'm SO GLAD I'm not the only one who worldbuilds like this--though admittedly I'm new to worldbuilding (outside of contemps).

Kellie said...

Sounds like you have a pretty great Editor! I loved Sea Witch and can't wait to read the rest of the series!

WK said...

Great post Virginia!!!

Wanna give us hints on Sea Lord?


Carolyn said...

Virginia: Loved both Sea Witch and Sea Fever. I was particularly intrigued by Margred--as a selkie, all human emotions are foreign (and rather distasteful) to her. Sure, some heroines are prickly (like Regina in Sea Fever), but at least deep down most of them want love. How did you manage to navigate (pardon the pun) making Margred believable in her world, while not turning off readers in the real world?

Virginia Kantra said...

Wendy, thanks for the welcome!

Amie, I'm coming at this from the standpoint of a contemporary writer as well. One of the challenges of the series has been to balance the accurate, believable, police procedural details of my pragmatic New England setting with the sensual, timeless, magical world of the selkie.

Kellie, Awww, thanks so much!

Sea Lord. Hmm. Well, it's Lucy's story--Lucy and Conn's--and it draws on both the Hades/Persephone myth and Beauty and the Beast. It's hard for me to judge my own work (particularly when I'm still writing), but there is a LOT of sexual tension in this one. Oh, and you can read a teaser excerpt in the back of Sea Fever.

Carolyn, thank you, thank you! I don't know if I did make Margred completely accessible. Some reviewers love her (Dear Author, Errant Dreams) and at least one really did not (All About Romance). As a writer, you really just have to write what seems authentic to you.
I tried to show how Margred was truly, truly changed by her love for Caleb as she comes to "see" him first as an individual and then as someone she cannot live without. You can track that progression by the way she uses his name and by the way they have sex/make love.

Irene said...

Virginia, I'm glad selkies change into human form to make love.
In my imagination, making love to a seal would be weird, unless I was also a seal.
These little things hang me up. But you don't have to build the world beforehand, if you put the paranormal individual in the familiar world, all you have to deal with is the strangeness he/she feels. Heh heh
You can do anything you set your mind to.
That's where it all happens, anyway.
Thank you for being so "real".

Virginia Kantra said...

Irene, I am totally with you! The selkie legend comes from a totally different place than modern paranormal shifter stories. You've got to think "fairy tale" for it to work. Do I wish sometimes that I was writing sleek black beasts prowling through the jungle instead of being stuck in Sea World?

Well...No. Because I love the old folk tales, so human at their heart. The original selkie stories were created out of very human needs: the lonely sailor, the woman who lost her love to the sea, the unmarried village girl afraid to name the father of her baby.

Selkies are sex and magic, combined with the mystery of the sea. The mythology I created as backstory for my world/my series is that when God created the heavens and the earth, divided the sea from the dry land and made fire, "elementals" came into being as each element was formed--the children of the sea, obviously, but also the children of air (angels), the children of earth (sidhe or fairfolk), and the children of fire (demons). So the selkies are not animals but elementals, part of God's First Creation who can assume different forms.

Mujerluminosa said...

Hi Virginia,
I'm so happy to see you here blogging -- very cool. I can barely wait for your next installment on the COS series. ISITMAYYET?!!!
Thanks for sharing how you wrote these books -- they're fantastic. As I've said before, they are atmospheric, lyrical, dark, and lovely!
Thanks again,

Carol said...

Thank you for the gread post.

Virginia Kantra said...

Stephanie, you're the best! No, it's not May...

Carol, thanks for posting!

Good luck in the drawing, everyone.