A podcast by three fantasy authors who love to overcomplicate their writing lives and want to help you do the same.
Episode 121: Brave New Worlds, ft. FONDA LEE and MELISSA CARUSO
1:05:39When you've put your heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into building a world -- what happens when you then have to leave it behind? Most SFF authors will, at some point, close up their work in one world and start building a new one, but that comes with its own set of challenges! You know the old world so well; it's become comfy and familiar. The new world still has all its work yet to be done, and while it has the shiny lure of new discoveries, it also may seem daunting to start the process of figuring out how a world works all over again. In this episode, Fonda Lee and Melissa Caruso re-join us to discuss shifting focus from one world to another! Where do you start? How different do you need the world to be? We also chat about not just the mental challenges of clearing out one world to make room for the new one, but the emotional challenge of pulling yourself away from a place you love and know so well! Our Guests: Melissa Caruso writes books of murder, magic, and mayhem. Her published fantasy novels include the Swords & Fire trilogy (THE TETHERED MAGE, THE DEFIANT HEIR, THE UNBOUND EMPIRE) and the Rooks & Ruin trilogy (THE OBSIDIAN TOWER, THE QUICKSILVER COURT, THE IVORY TOMB), all from Orbit Books. Her debut novel was shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar Award in 2017, and her books have received starred reviews and made countless Best Of lists. Melissa is a tea drinker, larper, and mom, and lives in Massachusetts with her video game designer husband, two superlative daughters, and assorted pets. Fonda Lee is the author of the epic fantasy Green Bone Saga, consisting of the novels Jade City, Jade War, and Jade Legacy, along with a prequel novella The Jade Setter of Janloon and a short story collection, Jade Shards. She is also the author of the science fiction novels Zeroboxer, Exo and Cross Fire. Her most recent work is the fantasy novella, Untethered Sky. Fonda is a winner of the World Fantasy Award, the Locus Award, and a five-time winner of the Aurora Award (Canada’s national science fiction and fantasy award), as well as a multiple finalist for the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Oregon Book Award. Her novels have garnered multiple starred reviews and appeared on Best of Year lists from NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, and others. Jade City has been translated in a dozen languages, named to TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Fantasy Books of All Time, and optioned for television development. She has also written acclaimed short fiction and been an instructor at writing workshops including Clarion West, Viable Paradise, and Aspen Words. Fonda is a former corporate strategist and black belt martial artist who loves action movies and Eggs Benedict. Born and raised in Canada, she currently resides in the Pacific Northwest.
Episode 120: World Bibles and the Gospel According to Tolkien
1:11:12When you're creating tomes of information about your world -- spreadsheets of demographics, maps at every level of geography, tomes of lore -- how do you keep tabs on it all? How much can you keep in your head, and how much has to be written down, codified, and carefully tracked? In this episode, we explore our tools of worldbuilding. We use all sorts of different methods and platforms, some of them physical and tangible, others entirely digital. From nebulous notions of "the world is like this" to a fully indexed world bible, the methods vary! Like so much else in writing, this isn't a thing where there's One Right Answer that will Unlock the Mysteries of Successful Publishing: it's all about finding what works best for you, your habits, your preferences, and even for individual projects. In other news: If you're a Hugo-nominating type person, you've got til the end of January to become a member of Glasgow 2024! (If you weren't a member of Chengdu 2023, that is; if you were, you already have nominating privileges!) We think we had a pretty great year in 2023, and if you think so, too, we'd adore it if you became a member and thought of us when nominations open.
Episode 119: Worldbuilding Philosophy and Practices
1:15:25Why do we worldbuild the way that we worldbuild? The start of a new year seems like a great time to take a zoomed-out view of how we do this thing that we do. In this episode, we consider, contemplate, and cogitate on the major concepts that guide our worldbuilding. Why is it important to us? What parts of it are important for us, and help us find our story and develop our characters? Too, how do we worldbuild in a way that reflects the glorious weirdness of humanity? How do we ensure that our cultures don't seem like monoliths? How do we show individuality within the collective? And since it's resolution time, we also share some of our goals, intentions, hopes, dreams, and aspirations around worldbuilding and writing!
Episode 118: Passing the Torch
1:13:15In this final episode of 2023, we have a momentous announcement! Rowenna Miller is stepping down as a full-time co-host of the podcast, because... well, life! It happens to us all sooner or later. But fear not! Rowenna will still be joining us from time to time, and she's still working with us on the Traveling Light anthology. And we're welcoming an amazing, fantastic, glorious new co-host! Please give your attention and accolades to Natania Barron! Who's Natania? Well, listeners may remember her from Episode 72: This is Cerulean, Right?: Fashion, Politics, and Power. Natania is a fantasy author, fashion historian, Arthuriana expert, and all-around awesome person! So as we say farewell to Rowenna as a full-time host and welcome Natania, we also discuss the very concept of eras, epochs, and other meaningful periods of time. What gives an era its flavor, its vibe, its aesthetic? How much of it gets defined by a ruler, a dynasty, or celebrity figures? How much of that is real, and how much is illusion or a carefully crafted fiction? When it comes to your worldbuilding, do your characters think they're part of a defined period? Are they trying to consciously create one? Do they look back to an idealized past? And how do you communicate that to a reader? Join us for the discussion and get to know our new cohost Natania! [Transcript TK]
Episode 117: More Queries and Quandaries
1:11:33It's another listener Q&A episode! Many thanks to the folks who submitted their questions! In this episode, we tackle some things that can block and stymie your worldbuilding, how to approach research that's not really in your preferred milieu, and some details about how we interact with our guests. Also, learn what your hosts' favorite holiday pies are! No one asked us that, but we're telling you anyway. [Transcript TK]
Episode 116: Choosing, Presuming, and Decision Fatigue
54:16Worldbuilding is great! You get to make all the choices! On the other hand... you have to make all the choices. "Choose, don't presume" has long been our ethos on this podcast, but does choosing always mean making the weirdest possible choice? Does every choice have to Make A Statement? Does an "anything goes" approach to worldbuilding actually make things harder than setting some boundaries for yourself? In this episode, we talk about how we decide where to focus our worldbuilding energy, making sure the worldbuilding serves the story (even if that means flavor, not plot!), and how to untangle your worldbuilding when it's perhaps gotten away from you a bit. [Transcript TK]
Episode 115: When Not Writing Is Writing, ft. MUR LAFFERTY
1:08:35Everyone knows that writing is writing. And everyone knows that authors are super great at finding things to distract us from our writing. But under what circumstances is not-writing essential to writing? Guest Mur Lafferty joins us to explore the underpinnings of the writing process! From research and concept-noodling to moodboards, playlists, and other creative expressions, what non-writing things feed into our writing? How do we know when we're doing something productive and when we're distracting ourselves? And how can worldbuilding, itself often a non-writing piece of writing, benefit from our other non-writing time and activities? [Transcript TK] Our Guest: Mur Lafferty is the author the Midsolar Murders series, Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Hugo and Nebula nominated novel Six Wakes, The Shambling Guides series, and several self pubbed novels and novellas, including the award winning Afterlife series. She is the host of the Hugo-winning podcast Ditch Diggers, and the long-running I Should Be Writing. She is the recipient of the John Campbell Award for best new writer, the Manly Wade Wellman Award, the Best Fancast Hugo Award, and joined the Podcast Hall of Fame in 2015, its inaugural year.
Episode 114: The St Crispin’s Day Special, ft. ANNA SMITH SPARK
1:20:07When the glorious hero calls for his allies to follow him into battle... why should they? And how can that hero convince them? In this extremely-niche-themed episode, guest Anna Smith Spark joins us to explore the interplay of language and leadership! In fiction, we love a great, rousing speech -- but how realistic is that stirring moment? (And do we care if it's realistic, or do we follow the Rule of Cool?) What's left when you take out the flattering lighting and the emotionally manipulative musical score? Well, you've still got language -- and language can do a lot, not only for your character dynamics, but also to reflect the values of the society you've built. And maybe it's the place of speculative fiction to investigate the virtues and truths that just might be worth dying for. Bonus: Because Cass did promise there would be handouts: a rhetorical analysis of the St Crispin's day speech, courtesy of Cass's mentor, Ralph Alan Cohen. And if you really want to hear Cass give the speech... you can. [Transcript TK] Our Guest: Anna Smith Spark lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a PhD in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website www.greatworks.org.uk. Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher and fetish model. Anna's favourite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at sff conventions wearing very unusual shoes.
Episode 113: Trust Your Instincts, ft. SEANAN MCGUIRE
1:10:04A lot of work and thought can go into worldbuilding, but sometimes, you just have to go with what feels right. In this episode, guest Seanan McGuire joins us to explore how writers can make the most of their worldbuilding flow and lean into their personal resonance. How can writers develop worldbuilding instinct? Why does worldbuilding come easily to some writers but require more conscious effort for others? When should you trust it to its core, and when might you need to temper it with a bit of a double-check? [Transcript TK] Our Guest: Seanan McGuire was born in Martinez, California, and raised in a wide variety of locations, most of which boasted some sort of dangerous native wildlife. Despite her almost magnetic attraction to anything venomous, she somehow managed to survive long enough to acquire a typewriter, a reasonable grasp of the English language, and the desire to combine the two. The fact that she wasn't killed for using her typewriter at three o'clock in the morning is probably more impressive than her lack of death by spider-bite. Often described as a vortex of the surreal, many of Seanan's anecdotes end with things like "and then we got the anti-venom" or "but it's okay, because it turned out the water wasn't that deep." She has yet to be defeated in a game of "Who here was bitten by the strangest thing?," and can be amused for hours by almost anything. "Almost anything" includes swamps, long walks, long walks in swamps, things that live in swamps, horror movies, strange noises, musical theater, reality TV, comic books, finding pennies on the street, and venomous reptiles. Seanan may be the only person on the planet who admits to using Kenneth Muir's Horror Films of the 1980s as a checklist. Seanan is the author of the October Daye urban fantasies, the InCryptid urban fantasies, and several other works both stand-alone and in trilogies or duologies. In case that wasn't enough, she also writes under the pseudonym "Mira Grant." For details on her work as Mira, check out MiraGrant.com. In her spare time, Seanan records CDs of her original filk music (see the Albums page for details). She is also a cartoonist, and draws an irregularly posted autobiographical web comic, "With Friends Like These...", as well as generating a truly ridiculous number of art cards. Surprisingly enough, she finds time to take multi-hour walks, blog regularly, watch a sickening amount of television, maintain her website, and go to pretty much any movie with the words "blood," "night," "terror," or "attack" in the title. Most people believe she doesn't sleep. Seanan lives in an idiosyncratically designed labyrinth in the Pacific Northwest, which she shares with her cats, Alice and Thomas, a vast collection of creepy dolls and horror movies, and sufficient books to qualify her as a fire hazard. She has strongly-held and oft-expressed beliefs about the origins of the Black Death, the X-Men, and the need for chainsaws in daily life. Years of writing blurbs for convention program books have fixed Seanan in the habit of writing all her bios in the third person, so as to sound marginally less dorky. Stress is on the "marginally." It probably doesn't help that she has so many hobbies. Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed (as Mira Grant) was named as one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2010. In 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo Ballot.
Episode 112: Whirlwind Worldbuilding ft. JAMES L. SUTTER
1:21:32This one's for the folks who don't want to spend a few eons building their world before they can start their story. Author and game designer James L. Sutter joins us to share some quick-and-dirty methods for getting the worldbuilding going! In this episode, we explore the question of how much worldbuilding is necessary -- and when it's necessary. If you already have your plot and want to charge right in, that can be a different beast than if you're still feeling your way around what the story's about but know that there must be one in there somewhere. [Transcript TK] Our Guest: James L. Sutter is a co-creator of the Pathfinder and Starfinder Roleplaying Games. From 2004 to 2017, he worked for Paizo Publishing, starting out as an editor on Dungeon Magazine, moving on to do foundational work for Pathfinder, and eventually becoming the Creative Director in charge of launching Starfinder, as well as the Executive Editor of the Pathfinder Tales novel line for Paizo and Tor. James is also the author of the young adult romance novels Darkhearts and The Ghost of Us (coming June 2024), as well as the fantasy novels Death's Heretic—a finalist for the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel—and The Redemption Engine, which won the 2015 Scribe Award for Best Original Speculative Novel. His short stories have appeared in such venues as Nightmare, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Escape Pod, and the #1 Amazon best-seller Machine of Death. In addition, he's written comic books, essays in venues like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed: Queers Destroy Science Fiction, a wealth of tabletop gaming material, and video games. When not writing, James has performed with musical acts ranging from metalcore to musical theater. He lives in Seattle.