Monday, July 7, 2014

Selah Janel: Five Things I Learned Writing OLDE SCHOOL

Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.

Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.

Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians.

1.World building in any form is soul-consuming, especially if you are a passionate, detail-oriented, perfectionist. 

I’d been used to the headaches of urban fantasy world building and somehow I had it in my head that coming up with this whole new realm from scratch would be so much easier because I was inventing all the rules.

This was a stupid, idiotic thought and I don’t know what evil gremlin whispered that into my ear one night, but it is LIES. ALL LIES.

No matter what, world building is going to eat you alive, especially with the first book of a series. You’re never going to please everyone. Some people want only a little detail, others want everything down to the fungus under your lead character’s toenails. Finding a good way of figuring out what goes in and how to put it in without a massive info dump was trial by fire for me. This was the first time I’d ever attempted anything so big, and because I like things to be tight and immersive, I condemned myself to utter agony because I am an overachiever. I will not go into how many edits I did to make sure certain characters’ dialects stayed true through the books and didn’t bleed over into other age brackets or types of characters. Not only did I have to set rules for the technology but also the politics, the mythology behind the politics, a somewhat reasonable backstory for the lead character, and a whole mythos for magical entities that weren’t supposed to exist. Plus I made it even more fun by making sure that certain characters never spoke in contractions, certain characters only used certain terms, and since it was a fairy tale world I wanted their vocabulary for objects that might be in our world to stay true to theirs (ie spectacles instead of glasses, mechanical quills instead of pens).

It didn’t matter how many notes I took. It didn’t matter how much sense I thought I was making at any given time. I had to revamp whole chunks of things nine thousand times and pray that things still were realistic for the world, but weren’t going to punch anyone in the face with all the detail-ness.

This. Was. A. Nightmare. I am still recovering and my brain may never fully stop screaming at me for all this.

2. Creating my own slang was AWESOME. 

On the flip side, developing a pop culture world for Kingdom City was hilarious and kept me laughing. I love that they have their own horror franchises. I love that they have their own dating sites. The thing I love most though is the slang. Whether it’s the standard ‘By Fate!’ or ‘Spindles and briars!’ or reference to Snow White’s frilly knickers and poisoned corset, I absolutely love those bits. ‘Bluebeard’s Balls,’ may be my pride and joy. When I was younger and watching The Tenth Kingdom on television, I was enamored by all the weird phrases the trolls would yell out, and I was determined to pay backhanded tribute in this series (and there may have been a weird, healthy sense of competition with The Tenth Kingdom phrase ‘suck an elf’, as well). I was writing some scene with Ippick and was struggling for an appropriate curse that would make sense. My hands just started typing and when I read the screen I just died. I don’t know why that phrase is so hilarious to me, but I love it. If I only become known for adding to the troll curse word pantheon, then I will absolutely be proud of that.

3. It is amazing how many horror elements are close to fairy tale elements. 

No, seriously. I don’t know at what point I realized this, but I’m fairly convinced that many versions of Cinderella must have worshiped eldergods. We’re talking ladies who talked to trees, who talked to dead animals, who made bargains with dead animals, who tossed stuff around that grew into barricades that their adversaries couldn’t cross. I don’t care what realm or universe you’re from, that is either sparkly and magical or creepy as all get out. Plus, the stepsisters were willing to mutilate their feet for love, there are conditional bargains with magical entities, there are elements of cannibalism in some of the stories…the genres line up way too well to not play with that. You don’t even have to get into the obvious “well fairy tales are violent” argument. There are so many other elements that, in the right mindset, read like Lovecraft.  I may have turned things on their heads, but I stand by it and now you will never convince me that some of those ladies weren’t secret cultists of some sort.

4. It is amazing what my publisher lets me get away with. 

I fully went in thinking I was going to have to defend a lot of the more unconventional scenes. If anything, all I had to do was tighten things up so they played out a little easier.  I had been dreading trying to explain things like why this little bird might be this ancient entity but it also talked like an eloquent, archaic pervert…segments like a particular diner scene that start in one direction and just exploded into something else, not to mention all the little side comments from Ippick. The story turns on a dime multiple times, revealing more and more layers, and I wasn’t sure if the press would go for it once they actually saw what it was. Plus there was all the slang innuendo, antiquated that’s what she said jokes, odd pop culture references, and characters that change allegiances like they change clothes. I shouldn’t have worried. Seventh Star fully embraced the book and offered nothing but encouragement. I really started writing this because it was what I wanted to read. I was entertaining myself, actually laughing out loud while writing some scenes. I’m pleased that pretty much all of those elements got to stay and that people have embraced them. Of course, knowing that they’re behind me just means I’m going to have to try harder to needle them…

I’m also learning that I’m very comfortable writing ridiculous male characters who say whatever they want. Ippick and Clyde are two of the easiest characters for me to write and I gleefully enable them. I’m not sure what this says about me, but maybe I’ll have more thoughts on this by book 2.

5. “Silly things” or “guilty pleasures,” when used well, can rock a book. 

I will admit that the editing process for this was overwhelming on top of all my cohesive world building. This taught me that I will never be ashamed for all the chocolate I eat when I get to a point like that if it keeps me from bludgeoning myself with my laptop. Seriously, many bags of chocolate chips never saw a cookie because of this book and I have no regrets about it.

Also, I do get a lot of eye rolls for my PBS addiction and my tendency to watch every British comedy or drama on the station. These shows saved my mind so hard in some ways. I had wanted Kingdom City to sound “different” and, honestly, the thought of fantasy characters talking with mid-American slang just didn’t work for me. I’m not saying my dialects are all that great or should be seen as tribute to Doc Martin, Sherlock, As Time Goes By, or Call the Midwife, but I think listening to different accents, dialects, and slang over and over helped me develop the sound of Kingdom City. Please do not hunt me down, British people. I mean it as a compliment, truly.

Likewise, I think my geeky love of pop culture helped flesh out the world somewhat. My love of Jim Henson’s fantasy films and shows gave me courage to develop the world. He attacked Dark Crystal, The Storyteller, and Labyrinth with such a passion, turning them into full-bodied worlds…if I hadn’t had that example growing up, I don’t know that I’d be remotely willing to try to shoot as large as I did for world building Kingdom City. A childhood of growing up exploring fairy tales of all sorts gave me a much better background to work with than if I had tried to go in and purposefully write a “fairy tale story.” I usually never work with any kind of character reference or avatar, but I definitely had some unexpected voice references for Clyde and Paddlelump that freed up my stressed mind to really dive into those characters, have some fun, and make them who they were supposed to be.


Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. The many people around her that supported her love of reading and curiosity probably made it worse. Her e-books The Other Man, Holly and Ivy, and Mooner are published through Mocha Memoirs Press. Lost in the Shadows, a collection of short stories celebrating the edges of ideas and the spaces between genres was co-written with S.H. Roddey. Her work has also been included in The MacGuffin, The Realm Beyond, Stories for Children Magazine, The Big Bad: an Anthology of Evil, The Grotesquerie, and Thunder on the Battlefield. Olde School is the first book in her new series, The Kingdom City Chronicles, and is published through Seventh Star Press. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to hold their own.

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