A Magical World View
Posted by Nancy Northcott Jun 21 2012, 12:50 am
Sven asked me the other day how I decided to use the Okefenokee Swamp as part of my mage series world. ”Swamps aren’t the first thing most of us think of when someone mentions romance,” he pointed out.
I couldn’t argue with that. As the comments on my post last month demonstrated, most of us assume swamps smell and are muddy and buggy and generally icky. Not very romantic, all in all. But swamps are also dark and mysterious and full of hidden life–spooky if not romantic. So I figured I’d put spooky with romantic and see how that worked.
Our brainstorming group was meeting, and I explained I was tired of writing books nobody knew what to do with–historicals set in Restoration England (If you didn’t know that was 1660-1685, you have a lot of company!), contemporary romantic suspense written in first person snarky, a medieval with a fair amount of history in it. Since paranormals seemed to be on the rise, I wanted to meld my love of fantasy with my love of romance and action and see if I could knock a ball over the center field fence instead of hooking it into the left field seats all the time.
I wanted the book to have a dark tone since I was reading a fair number of dark paranormals and liking their mood. I wanted to set the story in the South because I’m from there, still live there, and I love the small towns and most of the people and our various rapidly disappearing accents. Also, research would be easier.
“I’d thought of using the Okefenokee Swamp as a backdrop,” I said, envisioning dark and mysterious and spooky rather than smelly and buggy and icky. ”I haven’t been there since I was little, and I don’t remember much about it except my mom was afraid snakes would fall down on the boat. But it sounds cool.”
“The energy in swamps is very different,” Cassandra said, and she’s right. A swamp feels different from an open field or a lake. It’s kind of something in between the two. So we all talked about swamps and dark energy until we had a basic outline.
Sometimes I like to start with the characters, and sometimes I prefer starting with the problem. This time, I had basic hero/heroine ideas already, so we started with the world because it was to be the broad canvas for what I hoped would become a series.
Any writer using a fantasy world has to figure out how that world works. What is the magic based on? What are the rules? What is the price the user pays for wielding magic? If there isn’t a price, I find the story pretty hard to believe. There are various kinds of vampires and shifters on bookstore shelves today. They share a lot of similarities because of their common folkloric roots, but they also have differences that set them apart. I wanted my mages and their foes to be different from the others (there weren’t many at the time) in the market.
So I wanted a nature-based magic system, and we kicked ideas around for one that would require recharges. That was as far as we went, moving on to characters and conflict, though various flying emails refined the concept over the next few months.
Earth, air, fire, and water are traditional fantasy magic components. Add spirit, and you can find similar concepts in Wicca, which is probably where the fantasists drew inspiration.
While those are are all components of my system, they aren’t prominent yet. They will be farther down the road. The mages draw energy from sunlight and from any life around them, always careful not to draw enough from any one life form to injure it. That’s a rule.
So is the requirement that they protect Mundanes (people like us) first and foremost. That’s what gets Val into big trouble and leads to Griff rescuing her.
They like forests and swamps because there’s so much life around that they can recharge safely. They draw power from the natural world and expend it with every magical feat they perform, some more difficult than others. That’s how it works. Draw too much, expend too much without a recharge, and they’re in trouble. That’s the price part.
One thing that makes swamps and the landscape near them spooky, at least in the southeast, is Spanish moss (that gray stuff hanging off the tree above right). It isn’t really either Spanish or moss. It’s a plant that grows on other plants but makes its own food out of the air and rain. It can be used for upholstery, packing material, floral arrangements, insulation, and a home for small birds. All that’s great, but I like it because it’s spooky, even in the daytime. I’ve also thought of some other uses for it, also down the road in the series.
There’s a popular archetype of the loner hero, an outcast from society, seeking justice. The hero of Renegade, Griffin Dare, is hiding out, seeking to unmask a traitor and prove his innocence. So I gave him a place out from town, on the outskirts of the Okefenokee Swamp. The isolated location is a perfect place to take Valeria Banning, the mage sheriff (or Shire Reeve) and try to win her trust after he rescues her.
But I also wanted Griff to have a life, not to be isolated, even though he’s the mages’ most wanted criminal and keeps dangerous secrets. So I gave him some mage allies and a small, eccentric town where he could move freely under an alias. I grew up in a small college town, with my grandfather telling me stories about quirky people who lived there before I was born. I treasure the memories of walking around with him and listening to those stories.
People in Wayfarer tend to be into metaphysical or New Age ideas and to accept each other’s oddities, including Griff’s tendency to be secretive. In Renegade and throughout the series, we’ll see how important the town is to him and his friends.
Yes, I know most small town settings are cozy and generally peaceful. I did hook that one a bit left.
Of course the mages need their own social structure, so I gave them a gathering place that’s also a base of operations, the seat of their regional government, and a school, and called the complex The Collegium. The officials there grow suspicious of Val after her encounter with Griff and generally complicate their lives.
Every suspense/action story has to have a villain. This one does, too, with an ongoing trouble caused by humanoids kind of based on the things we used to envision hiding in the closet on a stormy night. They’re called ghouls, and we’ll talk more about them later.
And there, pretty much, is the world. I thank Donna, Jeanne, Cassondra, and Joan for their input. The swamp is mostly backdrop. Some of the story takes place near it, but not actually in it. Some of the action is set in a forested state park, some of it’s at the Collegium, and much of it’s in and around Wayfarer.
If you missed the blurb about the book last month, you can find it on my website.
Are you from a farm, a small town, or a big city? Which of those do you prefer? Would you prefer escaping into wild lands or staying in civilized places with shopping centers or coffee shops? Do you prefer sunny or spooky settings, or a mix?
Posted in Okefenokee Swamp, Protectors, Renegade, worldbuilding