Diversifying Your Worldbuilding: a gender identity post by Claudie Arseneault

Once again, I’m giving the floor to Claudie Arseneault! You might remember her from the Wings of Renewal blog tour, where she talked about solarpunk science fiction. Today, she’s here to share some gender-based worldbuilding and some important ideas about rejecting stale norms, from her upcoming fantasy novel City of Strife. Take it away, Claudie!

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Diversifying Your Worldbuilding : How I Integrated Nonbinary Identities into Isandor’s Pantheon

A disclaimer: This is not a How To post. As a cis person, it’s not my place to say how one should or shouldn’t build to include nonbinary representation. But I wanted to share a look into how I approached worldbuilding to avoid excluding nonbinary identities from the world’s history.

When I first set myself to deepening the worldbuilding around Isandor, I knew I wanted flexibility to invent and create as I went, without the constraints of a) having established too much, or b) a rigid structure. This was particularly true of pantheons, as I’ve always loved polytheist fantasy worlds where each god had a handful of domains and no more. So I started building with the following structure: six core deities (Water, Air, Earth, Fire, Creation, Destruction), and demigods (mortals who, through remarkable connection to their domain, ascended to a divine status).

As I went to design each more precisely, however, I quickly fell into old patterns.

Should the Water deity be a man or a woman? What of each race? How can I avoid reproducing stereotypes of high fantasy worldbuilding?

Well, for one, I could fling “man or woman” into a fiery dumpster and never think like that again.

I have always felt like how you build your pantheon reflects how your universe exists—what is its “natural” state, and if gender is a social construct, it makes little sense for divine beings who existed at the dawn of times to start with one.

So, Decision #1 : all six core deities are essentially agender. There are gendered representation and titles for them, as varying cultures have focused on different aspects of each of the six core deities and their vision of them evolved through time. This is why Myrians refer to Keroth as ‘Firelord’ and imagine them as a thin white man, despite the much more common depiction of them as large and black. Decision #2: all of these six core deities use singular they/them, no matter the depiction.

This normalized the use of gender-neutral pronouns in my universe, or at least opened the door to it. I worried about dismissing neopronouns but quickly realized I had the rest of the pantheon to build, and demigods would all have been actual people before.

Decision #3: include nonbinary demigods with neopronouns to legitimize those, too. The first of those became Ren, the Luck deity, who comes up a lot in City of Strife (one of my central character is xir priest). Ren is bigender; xir gender switches between man and woman, and xe is known to have described it like the flip of a coin–you never know which you’ll get, or how long a stretch can last.

 

Beyond Ren, I knew I wanted to keep race-related deities. An elf watching over elves. A halfling for those. But since I didn’t want to build a pantheon for each race, I decided these demigods would be the very first leaders of their race. Thus, when the elves were created (elves of all skin colour), their leader was Alluma, the Elven Sheppard, and since this is the beginning and genders weren’t a thing, Alluma doesn’t have one either. The point here is that when I decided there would be no gender binary at the dawn of time, I naturally created space for nonbinary people. It’s even the most logical step!

I didn’t want my only nonbinary representation to be deities, though, so Decision #4: City of Strife also features a nonbinary character. They have a minor role in the first book, but the two other novels give them more pagetime.

Finally, Decision #5: there are at least two cultures in the world that have a completely different relationship to gender than male/female binary. They’re not really in Isandor except for brief mentions for research (I need to do more) and practicality (Isandor happens all in the same city and it’s FAR from them) but it seems to me that, if everyone started from the same no-gender ground, there was no way they’d all construct the same dichotomy–not unless it was imposed (lo and behold, the regions who have it all fell under one of two Empires through history).

It’s easy to worldbuild based on what we’ve always known and read, but it’s such a wasted opportunity to do better. Inclusivity isn’t just a single character. It goes deeper than that, to the very root of your universe.

This exercise taught me to question my worldbuilding reflexes. We live in a racist, homophobic, cissexist (to name a few) world. We’ve all read racist, homophobic, and cissexist fiction. The universes we create are, by consequence, racist, homophobic, and cissexist. Undoing that takes time and energy, it requires long reflexion, a hard look at yourself, and constant listening to the communities you’re trying to do right by.

And even then… Chances are I missed something. I’m still learning–I will always be learning. But building the structure of Isandor’s pantheon and diverging from the binary was fun. Breaking apart cissexist tropes opened great possibilities while still keeping some aspects of old-school high fantasy I wanted, and I hope the end result is a universe where my nonbinary readers will feel not only acknowledged, but welcomed.

If you want to check out the novel itself, it comes out this February 22nd! (LINK) And if you want more authors who do great things reinvestigating certain worldbuilding tropes, I suggest B.R. Sanders. Their novel, Ariah, contains rich cultures with various forms of family structures and approaches to romance and sex.

Feel free to share any cool ways you broke a problematic trope in your worldbuilding, too!

 


 

Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Québec City. Her long studies in biochemistry and immunology often sneak back into her science-fiction, and her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders. The most recent, City of Strife, comes out on February 22, 2017! Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!


Transcription work: my new challenge

I haven’t had a day job for a while. Food service isn’t known for providing a stable life for its workers, and I’ve had an exceptionally bad run of jobs throwing me under the bus after 2 or 3 months. What’s a writer to do?

Well, I stumbled into a freelance gig as an online transcriptionist, so there’s that.

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My desk is a real mess. You might even say it’s a sty! Thank you, remember to tip your waitress.

The work is pretty simple: listen to an audio file and type down all of its discernable English speech (using clean formatting, punctuation and speaker tags). I turn in my work and, if it meets the QA checker’s standards, I get about 50 cents per minute of audio.

The listening part is … weirdly entertaining? Even when the audio file is a subject I’m not really interested in, like legal texts. Listening in on these random speakers reminds me of sitting in a coffee shop, eavesdropping on strangers — which isn’t creepy as long as you’re doing it for writerly purposes, right? Right …?

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“You’d make a GREAT minor character.”

People’s speech patterns are a tricky thing to capture in fiction. What sounds like “real conversation” in a book isn’t actually realistic at all, because real conversation often proceeds faster than our brains can manage. Listen to any casual conversation and you’ll hear a lot of “um”, “well”, stumbling on words, starting over, and other indicators that we’re trying to wrangle our thoughts into coherent order.

Transcription pays close attention to that. I was told in the style guide to remove false starts and other word-sounds that aren’t contributing any meaning. No problem! That’s editing! I’ve done several novels’ worth of that! Economy of words means that every phrase has its place.

My biggest struggle right now is speed. The QA checkers are giving me high scores on accuracy, so now, I just need to complete more than one file per hour and maybe I’ll be able to earn minimum wage.

But hey, whether or not this transcription work is a practical way to pay the bills, it’s definitely a workout for my writer muscles.


How animals view us

I like thinking about non-human beings — obviously enough, given the subject matter of my writing. There are so many possibilities, ranging from magical/genetically altered “talking animals”, to anthropomorphic beings who look and behave like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Tons of possibilities there.

But you know what else is interesting? The way ordinary Earth animals react to humans, right here in our present-day world.

Because it’s not as simple as “humans are scary apex predators, always flee from them”. We’ve domesticated dogs and horses. Cats are commensal, which is a fancy word for choosing to hang around with humans. Even rats, a long-time nuisance animal, have found a niche as pet fancy rats who can be as beloved as any family dog.

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I’ve kept rats as pets before, and honestly, they’re delightful. (Photo by Ellen van Deelen.)

What about animals we don’t consider pets, though? Even when they’re not sharing our homes, animals share this planet with us. They watch our daily lives, and we watch theirs. Sometimes, kind-hearted humans will use our particular skill sets to rescue an animal — and this doesn’t go unnoticed in animals’ collective awareness.

There are many recorded examples of distressed animals approaching humans, seemingly asking for help. A fox cub with a jar stuck on its head; a mama duck whose ducklings are trapped in a storm drain; a raven with porcupine quills embedded in its face; a wild dolphin tangled in fishing line. Even sharks — which are often thought of as soulless monsters — seem able to understand that humans can be benevolent.

This discussion between Tumblr users makes an excellent point: as animals watch us, they notice that city-dwelling humans don’t really behave like apex predators. User Roachpatrol says:

raccoons and possums and foxes and crows all succeed in an urban environment because they’re opportunistic and observant. and almost none of them would have observed us pounce on one of their species and then start eating it, you know? a lot of them would have observed that we scream and chase them out of wherever we don’t want them to be, but other animals are territorial too. but there’s a number of situations where humans feed whoever’s bold enough to take them up on the offer, and we do tend to pull garbage off of other animals as soon as they slow down enough for us to catch. ‘a human got me but nothing bad happened’ is a much more frequent thing than ‘a human got me and tried to eat me’.

Tsfennec and Sapphicaquarius add that there’s a remarkable parallel with the way humans imagine mysterious fantasy creatures — for example, fairies/fae.

Of the stories I’ve read, the food of the Fae, its origins and effects, are often strange and/or obscure.- Just like our food to most animals.

The Fae are strange beings that seem to know weird things that give them power or an edge over us.- Just like us to animals.

The Fae work and live by strange rules also often nonsensical or obscure to us.- Just like us to animals.

The Fae can easily obtain vast amounts of things we consider rare/precious/desireable, and have no problem with dishing it out wantonly for no other reason than amusement.- Just like us to animals.

The Fae sometimes are amused by having us around, but only on their terms and IF it amuses/intrigues them.- Just like us to animals.

This line of thought is so interesting to me! When humans imagine interacting with other intelligent species, we don’t have a lot to go on. Just our relationships with the animals in our environment. So what if a dragon/fae/god/etc. represented a higher tier of power and awareness? What if humans were the animal in the relationship, forced in our moments of desperation to approach those higher creatures and hope that they’ll be merciful?

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Meeting The Neumenon by Edvige Faini

It would be an inversion of our normal power dynamics with the animals around us. It would be a frightening, exciting — yet somehow familiar — frontier. And that’s what fantasy/sci-fi is all about.


A sample of Repast (A Story of Aligare)

As I post this, Anthrocon is wrapping up for another year. I wish I could have attended, but I was there in spirit — through my two short stories included in FurPlanet‘s new releases! My work appears in ROAR 7 and Gods With Fur.

So here’s a sample for ya. Repast ( A Story of Aligare) is meant to stand alone, although if you’ve read Remedy you’ll recognise a few faces. And if you’re new to my human-free world of Aligare, you might want to check out the Aligare Lore section of this blog.

 

Repast

(A Story of Aligare)

by Heidi C. Vlach

Mama said there was a legend about the gods giving out names. Long ago, when the land was new and the first trees were stretching toward the dome of the Great Barrier, the mortal peoples were nameless. That was unfitting for gods’ children. The Great Ones discussed and disagreed, and in the end used their vast power to poke dimples into the peoplekind’s inner essence. Not enough to hurt, only enough to make people want to prod that spot inside themselves. Smooth it over. Maybe fill it with something.

That something, Mama said, was a name. It was different for each peoplekind. The aemets — the betweenkind folk, both furkind and insect — got one given name, and held their family name close so they always had company. The korvi — dragons of the skies — got one given name, and kept their clan name, too, for something to be proud of. And then, Mama said, came their own ferrin race. Some ferrin were happy with one given name. One didn’t always fill them up, though. So Mama’s mother gave her two names so she could pick between them once she was grown, and Mama did the same for her own kits.

Choosing one’s name was a summoning of strength and levity, a sure way to feel right in one’s own fur. Mama smiled, her whiskers folding up fond, and said she was eager to see which names her kits would pick. Or maybe they would find a third name. Wasn’t that right, Vivia Ava?

The twinkling in Mama’s eyes was a thunderbolt through Vivia Ava’s chest. A patch of longer fur — adult fur — was spreading wide across her shoulders and she still had no earthly idea whether she was Vivia or Ava. Neither sat right in her mouth. Neither pretty name, selected by her love-strong parents, felt like the one she should ask folk to call her by. But if even great Ambri thought she should pick for herself, then there couldn’t be any shame in it. Gods, supposedly, knew best.

When Vivia Ava started exploring the oak forest by herself — though always within smelling distance of home — she took the solitude as a chance to mumble sounds. She listened to her own tongue smashing her names into new shapes. And soon enough, she began telling folk that she was Vivia Ava, call her Vee.

Vee left home soon after her adult fur filled in. She put on the scarf Papa gave her — the gold- patterned one that brought out the green in her eyes — and she left the oak forest behind, following the trade roads and their trace scents of travellers, until the oak trees gave way to plains grass and eventually, cornfields ushered a town into view.

This place was Greenway, a large village made up of mostly aemet people. Aemets were as green as their plantcasting magic and every two-legged step came smooth. They gathered together just like the corn they grew, slender and angular, and they smiled down at Vee like they could sense promise wafting off of her.

It was a fine enough town to live in. Vee chose a maple tree on the outskirts of town to make her nest in, after promising her aemet neighbours she would do no harm to this child of the plant goddess. No sap drawn, and no wood broken away unless it was diseased or dead. That was a reasonable allowance to make for folk of another kind; Vee would be uneasy, too, she supposed, if her goddess’s storm clouds were able to burn or bleed. And more importantly, great Verdana didn’t mind people or creatures eating her seeds. There would be meals of maple keys in Vee’s future.

As much as Vee’s neighbours guarded the trees, they still needed wood for their hearths, to cook food and ward the night’s chill away. Vee gathered fallen branches, at first, and she traded them for juicy cobs of roasted corn. As months passed, her foraging took her farther and father afield, out past the farmers’ plots and into the forest so she couldn’t smell the town’s latrines or woodsmoke anymore.

The maple forest had a greener tang to its scent than the oak forest back home. Fewer whiffs of basilisk and cavebird’s scents. Fallen leaves becoming pungent earth. More thrushes’ and jays’ cries and a more robust voice to the wind. After an hour’s quick journeying, the ground sloped upward into the rocky foothills of Hotrock Volcano.

And with each trip, Vee found things. Trinkets more interesting than firewood or seeds: she found treefruit, and pebbles glittering with minerals, and wood bent by the wind’s persistent presence. She even found a rock-clinging lichen that looked like musty leather scraps but was actually worth an eightday of hot meals.

“What can you make of that lichen?” Vee asked the town seamstress, around a mouthful of scalding but delicious pigeon stew.

“Oh, wait until you see it,” the seamstress enthused. “It makes a truly striking shade of pink dye. If you find me more of this, there’ll be more stew for you — wager on that.”

And that was when Vee realized that she had a line of work: she found herself a name and she could find other things, too.

She dug more intently under leaf litter, and climbed higher up the Volcano. Each day, her scarf filled with mushrooms and pebbles as she bore wind-carved sticks between her teeth, and there was never a day Vee didn’t look forward to the search. After all, why would gods put so many things into the world if peoplekind weren’t meant to find it?

“My, but you’ve got a talent for this,” one merchant told her. He was Syril, a red-feathered chatterbox of a korvi, part of some far-spread family who had made their mark in the land — and more importantly Syril was always delighted to see what Vee had found. “Wager four apples on it, the gods have given you a gift, friend!”

Vee tilted her head up at him. “You think it?”

“I do!”

“Do you know anyone who’s looking for forest goods right now?”

Syril chattered off a list of names — a long list, seemingly folk who had asked for herbs at any point within the last eightyear. But just as irritation was making Vee’s tail flick, Syril’s eyes bugged wide. “Oh, and I nearly lost this bit of news in my dustbin of a head! There’s a fellow right here in Greenway looking for inkwork supplies.”

“What sort of supplies?” Like any trade, inkworking had more nuances than Vee had strands of fur.

Shrugging, waving his arms so his bangles clattered, Syril said, “Oh, different things, by the sound of it. The fellow is Welsken — old aemet man, married into the Tennel family? Not quite a hermit but certainly a rarer sight than a rainstorm. I came upon his daughter, Clematis—”

Whom Vee already knew: Clematis kept an eclectic vegetable garden and she was happy to buy all the herb and shrub seeds Vee could find.

“—and do you know what my dear friend Clematis told me? That Welsken is looking for some particular bones.” Syril squinted, his voice lowering slight. “Grazing creatures’ bones — and only wild ones, no farmed horses or any such thing! I keep a goodly stock of trinkets and rabble in my pouches, gods see that I speak the truth about that, but I had nothing within a shade of what Welsken wanted. He wouldn’t even take a bargain on pigeon bones!”

People that discerning usually had the barter goods to back up their tastes. With her ears folding thoughtful, Vee nodded. “I cover a lot of forest when I’m foraging, I’m sure I can find what he needs. Where can I find this fellow?”

The next day, with a scarf full of new treasures, Vee began following Syril’s suggestions. She went first to find Clematis, lolloping on four quick feet down the town’s main road. Daybright winked through the tall maples; neighbours walked between houses, made with the aemet technique of boards tied gently around tree trunks. As the leaf canopy thickened, the path led to the Middling circle, that sacred aemet place full of pungent stacks of rotting plant trimmings. Clematis wasn’t there — just three farmhand ferrin dumping a bucket of vegetable peels — and so Vee headed for the next most likely place. Clematis kept Greenway’s Middling circle and oftentimes, she guided folk to the Garden.

Vee had visited the Garden once. It was a gathering of large, etched stones propped up tall, each one kept company by flower-speckled patches of daisies and yellow gelsemiums. The stone etchings were pictures of the gods — flat depictions of the stories Vee knew, cool and motionless rock that was nothing like a storyteller’s voice.

But that was why Clematis spent time here, telling the stones’ tales. Today, she was explaining a stone to two other aemets Vee had never seen nor smelled before.

“And after the rain stopped, great Ambri came down from the thunderclouds to see the result of her work.” Clematis was fiddling with her braids as she usually did, smoothing them around her antennae’s bases in a way that never satisfied her. “Her mighty lightning had filled the quartz stone with electric magic, so she had electricstones to bury for later. But there had been a tree too close to the strike point. One of Verdana’s children, now blackened and smoldering.”

Blunt-barbed aemet fingers gestured to the stone, to its chiselled sketch of a bird-like Ambri with her head bowed before a stick of a tree.

“So,” Clematis went on, “Ambri sought out her mighty sister. She fluttered through every treetop until she was in the calmest heart of the forest, and there she found Verdana, our mother of green.”

Vee stifled a sigh: this part of the legend always dragged on when aemets told it. But after long moments talking about the lush-leafed haven Verdana lived in and the clean air filtering through the leaves, Clematis got to the point.

“Ambri and Verdana talked for four weeks, though more like the wink of an eye to the gods. Verdana said that her flora were fragile; that was the beauty of them. Sometimes the other elements would harm plants, but that only made ash and charcoal and, eventually, new soil to nourish new life. Lightning was no enemy of plant life. Why, not even Fyrian’s ever-hungry fire was truly an enemy.

It was then that Ambri called out to her same-element children, the larks and swallows in the sky and the lizards creeping under rocks. Birds came and alighted in the trees, and lizards lined the clearing — and ferrin people came, too, peering out from leafy branches.

Let the land know that lightning might do harm, Ambri said. Folk needed to mind thunder’s rumbling warning, and seek shelter. But though it could wreak destruction, Ambri’s element tried always to do good, as well.

The birds took off, chattering the message to all who would hear it. The ferrin nodded to their High One, and took the message into their hearts. So it has been, ever since.”

The visitor aemets touched their palms together in quiet applause, like they might break the atmosphere of the Garden. Clematis looked bright-eyed with her own storytelling, but thankfully she turned a glance to Vee; the visitors drifted away toward the next story stone.

“Good day, neighbour,” Clematis told Vee. “You need something?”

“Your father is Welsken Tennel — is that right?”

“He is.”

Her tone carried a heavy but; Vee’s fur prickled with possible unwelcome.

“I don’t want to bother him for no reason,” Vee added, “but I’m told that he’s a calligrapher? I found some plantkind bones he might like to trade for.”

“Oh,” Clematis relented, “that’s a different matter. I’ll take you to him!”

Every town had its hermits. Folk who decided that their best friends were quiet and solitude. Folk who hid themselves like moles. Welsken wasn’t quite one of those — but Vee wouldn’t have known his face or his scent if she had to find him on her own. All she knew was the kind-tongued gossip about him, and the seamstress’s set of ink-painted clay dishes that she said were Welsken’s handiwork.

Clematis led her along a narrow path at the back of the Garden, through rustling boxwood and sumac. They came to a house surrounded tight by hazel bushes, its wooden walls hardly visible through the meshed leaves.

Clematis rapped her blunt-spined knuckles on the door pole. “Father? There’s a forager to see you, with some bones for trade.”

Silence answered. Nervousness sparked electricity under Vee’s skin and she reined it in: her ears fanned forward at the faint scuffling of movement within the home. Welsken’s footfalls approached and stopped before the door curtain. Hesitating, maybe. Or considering. Vee had always wondered what aemet people’s airsense could actually show them, other than a mound of fur and whiskers.

Finally, the door curtain was whisked aside — by the shortest adult aemet Vee had ever seen, his posture so stooped that his tunic hung like an empty sack. Faded brown eyes mirrored his tacked-on smile. He seemed rusty at meeting guests.

“Suppose we can talk for a moment,” Welsken said.

Clematis hummed a satisfied note. “I can’t stay, is that well with you? Travellers are viewing the Garden right now.”

“Go,” Welsken grumbled mild.

Then Clematis was gone and he was lifting the door curtain, waving Vee inside.

The close-walled home smelled like its waxy-skinned resident, and burned cornstalks and dust. Beside the central hearth pit, there was plenty of room and Welsken and Vee to sit — but any other visitors would have had to sit on his bed and he didn’t seem like the sort to offer it.

“Ah, humph. Something to eat?”

“No, thanks.”

For half a heartbeat, Welsken smirked. “Good. I’d rather see to business, if you don’t mind.”

————————–

Vee and Welsken’s story continues in the Gods With Fur anthology, available through Furplanet.com

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What’s up with Heidi, May 2016 edition

Boy, it sure has been a while since I posted! I’ve been quietly working at a lot of things.

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A rare picture of me, hard at work and contemplating making a chin-waxing appointment.

 

But, yeah. You’ll see some new work from me in the coming months — work such as:

  • Reason (A Story of Aligare) will appear in the ROAR 7 anthology. The ROAR series is an ongoing production of FurPlanet, and this year’s theme is “legend” — a perfect fit for the Aligare races and their storytelling traditions. ROAR 7 will release this July.
  • Repast (A Story of Aligare) will appear in Gods With Fur. Another Furplanet production, this anthology is helmed by long-time furry historian Fred Patten, and it explores animal/anthropomorphic gods in their many forms. Another solid fit for the Aligare series and its non-human peoples!
  • I’ll be attending What The Fur? 2016 in Montreal, Quebec this coming weekend. I’ll be selling paperbacks of all my books, plus some one-of-a-kind paper maché sculptures. I also contributed a furry spy story to the conbook.
  • This June, I’ll also be selling my books at Graphic-con,which is Sudbury, Ontario’s new SFF convention. The con was a huge success its first year, with attendance outstripping the venue’s size and causing long wait times to get in. I’m looking forward to being a part of it this year, in its much roomier location.

 

That’s all I’ve got for now. Photos and release dates will be forthcoming!


Why do dragons have hoards?

One of the more enduring ideas of Western-style dragons is that they hoard things. Gold and treasure, most typically. It’s a mental image I have from childhood, where I read The Hobbit in 4th grade and attempted to redraw the cover art of Smaug coiled around his mountainous heap of gold.

I had this paperback version. Wrote an extremely simplistic book report about it.

This is the cover variant I read, and it’s the first mental image I have when anyone talks about The Hobbit.

 

More recently, Smaug’s hoard was brought grandly to life in the Hobbit movies, where the coins in Smaug’s hoard were painstakingly computer animated to spill across his scales. Fans are trying to estimate the worth of Smaug’s hoard, and it seems like no one can agree on the dollar value except to say that it’s astronomically high.

Why did this traditional idea of gold piles come about, though? Why do dragons hoard treasure?

In a basic historical sense, dragons were found alongside gold. Or, at least, that’s what our ancestors would have assumed when they dug up precious minerals and ended up finding dinosaur fossils. We’re a species compelled by stories, so people would have made up stories about these ancient, reptile-like beasts who were always found deep in the earth, near gold.

It’s logical enough that dragon hoards are meant to represent greed. Western dragons are classically portrayed as greedy beings of pure evil. They’re thought to have hoards just because that’s what dragons do: dragons simply sit on their treasure and revel their ownership of it, as opposed to a rich human who could use their wealth to build things, provide for the poor, or otherwise improve society.

Feel free to insert a joke about the 1%, Donald Trump, or similar.

Feel free to insert a joke about the 1%, Donald Trump, or similar.

 

In stories where a dragon hoards treasure, that treasure can doubles as a reward for the human hero. Anyone brave enough to slay the evil beast can claim its hoard as their own — although Norse and Germanic stories often specify that a dragon’s treasure is cursed, dooming any human tempted to be as greedy as the dragon. Maybe the curse would be dispelled by giving the gold away to needy people, or similar acts of charity? That would make narrative sense.

Okay, so the greed metaphor works when dragons are depicted as evil monsters. What about more benevolent dragons, though? More recent fantasy stories acknowledge that dragons are interesting creatures and they might make good allies to humans — so why then would a dragon covet gold and treasure? What motivation would they have to collect it?

I grew up watching The Flight of Dragons, in which dragons need a soft bedding material that can’t be accidentally set on fire. Gold serves this purpose well.

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Other franchises suggest that dragons are just fond of shiny, pretty objects, or they like the idea of owning valuables to impress others with. And why not? That’s why we humans wear pretty jewelry or expensive watches. It’s why we consider a golden crown to be headgear for an important, royal person. It’s not such a stretch to think that other intelligent beings would feel the same way about rare, precious metals.

 

I tend to think that lifespan is a factor, too. Dragons are generally imagined as long-lived beings, able to watch human dynasties come and go like the tides. They have more than enough time to build up a collection of money and valuables. Maybe dragons want savings for the same reason human beings want savings: to look after themselves and their loved ones in the inevitable hard times to come. Whereas short-lived creatures wouldn’t be as concerned about what the world will be like 50 years from now. I’ve never made this idea explicit in my Stories of Aligare, but the dragon-like korvi people have the longest lifespans of the three peoplekinds and they’re also most interested in the earth’s mineral riches, and they’re most likely to have a stash of metals and gems in their homes just in case. That’s not a coincidence.

Peregrine liked to think he could endure a little work. He had tempered himself in the mines, hauling rock until his body balked at the thought of more, until he felt like spent ashes all over and he still needed to cross the plains home. Fyrian hadn’t intended his sky-child korvi to break rock, but they did it anyhow. Someone needed to provide.

     -Remedy (A Story of Aligare), Chapter 9

And the whole reason I wrote the Serpents of Sky collection was to spin lots of different dragon scenarios. Dragons guarding gold to save humans from their own greed. Dragons who physically manifest the concepts of greed and chaos and destruction. Dragons whose close-guarded treasures let them bend time and space. Even a dragon whose precious stash is just cream and sugar to put in their coffee.

In short, there are lots of reasons dragons might hoard gold. It’s one of many traits we can get creative with, and reinterpret as we see fit. If you haven’t seen the Unusual Dragon Hoards artworks by Iguanamouth, I highly suggest taking a look — it’s a cute series where dragons sit possessively on piles of stuffed animals, spoons, comic books and other unexpected treasures. Golden hoards are just one more way for dragons to capture our imaginations.


The inspiration behind Wings of Renewal

Today’s post is a guest post by Claudie Arsenault, editor of the upcoming anthology Wings Of Renewal. It’s a collection of solarpunk dragon stories — and hey, any interesting spin on dragons has my full attention! But what was the inspiration to combine eco-positive science fiction and dragons? Take it away, Claudie!

 

2015-08-12 solarpunk anthology front titles

 

The Inspiration Behind Wings of Renewal

Ever seen an image so stunning you just had to write something about it? Read about a new technology that sent your mind spinning with possibilities? I think most writers have felt the thrill of sudden inspiration at one point or another, the solid desire to produce fiction, right there and then, based on something heard or seen.

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Solarpunk does this to me all the time. Might be why I love it so much! There’s something about the Art Nouveau aesthetics, the incredible sustainable techs, and the marvelous gardens attached to it I just can’t get enough of.

So today I wanted to present three of the inspirations that went into Wings of Renewal, a solarpunk dragon anthology I curated with my friend and co-editor, Brenda J. Pierson.

 

China's Great Green Wall

  1. The Great Green Wall

Let’s start with a cool, currently-occurring African initiative, shall we? The Great Green Wall is a project to plant a long and wide line of trees all along the Sahara’s southern edge. Its goal is to prevent further desertification, and to help communities in the area. The initiative goes well beyond planting trees and includes programs on ecosystem management and the protection of local heritage. As a whole, it seeks to mitigate climate change and improve food security for the local communities. The picture is of China’s very similar initiative, called the Great Green Wall of China.

And I mean, when you look at it, the Great Green Wall is huge undertaking by eleven African countries (Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and Chad), aiming to create a more sustainable and stable world for the communities involved. You hardly get more solarpunk than that! It’s no surprise, then, that defending the Wall against a terrible forest fire is at the center of Fighting Fire with Fire.

 

Fog Basking Beetle or Darkling Beetle (Onymacris unguicularis) drinking, Namib Desert, Namibia

  1. Darkling Beetles and water condensation

Did you know some beetles can condense dew onto their body and get their daily hydration from it? That’s how the darkling beetles manage to live in the desert! Now give this to a creative writer, and suddenly it’s not a tiny beetle with this ability, but a huge dragon! How much water could one create? Seven? A dozen? Enough for sparkling oasis with a thriving ecosystem? Why yes! That’s the setting in Lost and Found.

 

natasha-long-prosthetic-leg-by-melissa-ng

  1. 3D-printing

Solarpunk isn’t all about adding greenery to the desert. A lot of it revolves around making cities sustainable and accessible living places. 3D printing is a huge part of ‘accessible’ as it allows prosthetics to be created at low costs and high speed. And nothing says these can’t be beautiful and badass! So as a personal fan of everything 3D-printing can bring to a solarpunk universe, I was thrilled when the protagonist from Summer Project not only had prosthetics, but worked in a shop building some.

If you haven’t heard of E-Nable, watch this video! It explains how the organization uses volunteers with 3D printers all over the world to bring cheap (as in, low-cost) prosthetics to people who couldn’t afford it otherwise.

 

dragonsight-by_Donato_Giancola

  1. Dragonsight, by Donato Giancola

The last is not so much solarpunk inspiration as a painting at the center of Wanderer’s Dream, one of the last short stories featured in Wings of Renewal. But it’s a perfect example of what I mentioned at the beginning: sometime an image has a story, or a setting is too charming to refuse. And that’s what happened with Dragonsight and Maura Lydon.

 

So those are some of the inspirations that went into Wings of Renewal, but there are way too many for me to fit all today! I mean, what about vertical gardens? Beekeeping? Tree-shaped solar panels? Everything else I’m forgetting? Between, stunning aesthetics, world-changing goals, and sweeping technologies, solarpunk has all the inspiration you need.

Wings of Renewal launches on October 25th, 2015. You can preorder through Nook, Kobo, and iBooks right now, or add it on Goodreads. Amazon ebooks and paperbacks will be available on launch day.


That adorable octopus

In case you hadn’t heard the news, a new species of octopus was discovered this summer — and it’s really cute.

 

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Just look at that squishy little guy! The webbing between its tentacles gives it a bouncy swimming pattern, and the flappy little fins on its head are for steering. One of the scientists studying this new species has proposed calling it Opisthoteuthis adorabilis because of its adorable appearance. (At the time of posting, I couldn’t find word on whether the name is official.)

Mostly, I just thought my blog readers should see this octopus. Octopuses are neat! But adorabilis is also an interesting contrast to otherworldly-looking oceanic creatures, like nudibranchs and anglerfish. The sheer variety of life on our Earth should never be forgotten.


We don’t all need to be diamonds

First things first: a personal update! Yeah, I’ve been quiet these past few months, mostly because my job situation went belly-up while I was finishing Tinder Stricken. When I say that, I mean the boss thought it was fine to give me zero hours per week.

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I quit with extreme prejudice and focused solely on Tinder Stricken. After the book launch at What The Fur? 2015 — and a few merciful days of sleep — I got job hunting and found another prep cook position, one with plenty of working hours and lots of physical demands that leave me tired after work. I haven’t had much energy left over for freeform essays. That, and I simply didn’t feel like I had anything to say on this blog. I’m a big advocate of not talking just for the sake of it.

But anyway, here I am with a blog post! Because I read a metaphor today that stuck in my throat like an awkward segue, or perhaps a rock.

We Don’t All Need To Be Diamonds

I subscribe to some book bargain mailouts and today, this testimonial caught my eye:

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Not because I have any particular interest in Robin Hobb or G.R.R. Martin, but because a series of fantasy novels was described as “diamonds in a sea of zircons”. That turn of phrase saddens me.

We use diamonds as a metaphor for greatness and they are pretty remarkable stones (if not as rare as we often think). But it’s all too easy to keep barrelling past a love of greatness, right into the thought that only the #1 greatest things ever matter. Only the blockbusters and runaway hits are worth noticing. Only the hardest gemstone on Earth is worth wearing or considering beautiful.

It ties into my thought that “typical fantasy” should be an oxymoron. Sure, it’s sad to be a zircon, a material with nowhere near as much merit as the stone it mimicks. There are few things more disappointing than a fantasy story that’s clumsily imitating a better book. But when we’re considering minerals, we have more to choose from than just diamonds and zircons, just as there’s more to the fantasy genre than who writes the grittiest political coup. We’re not limited to winners and losers — why, just look at the variety out there.

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There are minerals for every purpose. Mountains of them, both literally and figuratively. There are quartz crystals for your watch components, and granite that’ll look great as a polished countertop. Quartz and granite are common, humble minerals that will never measure up to a diamond — and why should they? Olivine isn’t the most glamorous stone group around, but if you like how your peridot earrings look when they catch the light, then who cares?

This metaphor is particularly personal for me because I associate Remedy, my first-published novel, with amethysts. At the beginning of the story, Peregrine is a miner who brings home mostly amethysts. These stones aren’t ideal for common useage (clear quartz is preferred, since it’ll take any and all magical charges), but amethyst has its place in Aligare society. It’s perfect for darkcasters. Brightcasters can’t use it and that’s fine; it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with either the caster or the stone. We all have our tastes and alignments, that’s all. Remedy is my own handful of natural amethyst — amethyst that a New York editor once told me would never be a diamond, so I should rewrite it. No, thanks. I happen to like quartz formations.

It’s great to write a classic-styled epic fantasy, or wear a diamond. But as with all things, the world needs variety. I tell myself this every time I read or write a story. There’s plenty of room in the fantasy genre for jasper and amber, and even room for an old piece of petrified wood if it manages to shine.


A reading from Tinder Stricken (and some updates)

First thing: Tinder Stricken is now available in print-on-demand paperback form. The books are 6 inches wide by 9 inches high, a wide, thin book that’s easier to hold open than the pocket-sized bricks Stories of Aligare novels. You can buy a copy from my Createspace storefront or from Amazon proper.

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Not sure I’ll ever get tired of sticking this cover art into my blog posts.

 

Second thing: All of my works are now available from Openbooks.com. It’s a new ebook site that features pay-what-you-want pricing, not necessarily paid up front — so you can read an book before deciding how much to pay for it. It’s a model I like for its inclusivity. Don’t have a lot of money and don’t want to waste it on a book you might hate? No problem!

Openbooks also allows sharing ebook files — so that you can share with your friends the same way you’d lend them your purchased paper books. I encourage sharing! Piracy worries are, if you ask me, an excessively neurotic fear of the inevitable.

 

The titular thing: I’ve recorded myself reading an excerpt of Tinder Stricken! Sort of like a casual book-reading event that everyone in the world can attend. Here’s Chapter 1 (and I hope to do some more chapters later):

Got thoughts on any of the above things? Share in the comments!