Saturday, November 18, 2017


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I've got a real deja vu feeling - I swear I've written on this topic before, for this very blog...

OK, so for my science fiction, I don't go too deep into the science because that's constantly changing and what was true today is wrong tomorrow but take a time machine and it'll be correct yesterday. 

So I went with the "Alien" and "Aliens'' kind of future - lived in, people are pretty much the same fundamentally, but with cooler tech...and there are aliens (duh), both on our side and very much against us in my future civilization, known as the Sectors.If I need to add something nifty and complex for part of a plot, I go off and research whatever we have nowadays that will help me make my ship/feature/alien/weapon/civilization feel more grounded in reality for the readers. so I've researched cruise ships, aircraft carriers, sequioa trees, ancient ball games, anatomy of insects, Special Forces training, synthesia, surgical techniques for penetrating abdominal wounds, Legionnaires Disease.....and some aspects of my world building just spring full blown from my own brain.

For my ancient Egyptian novels, there's the entire history of the land along the Nile to look at and draw from. 

I'm not trying to be dismissive, but as I've mentioned here before, I'm not a deep thinker of craft...I'm a story teller who puts in enough background to support the story and my characters, and have it all feel right to my readers. The more books I write, the more my universe becomes fleshed out and the more connecting links there are between the stories. It feels like organic growth to seat-of-the-pants writer me, versus sitting down and developing a Tolkienesque world with maps and backstory going generations into the past. I applaud people who can do that and want to do that and need to do that for their books - it's just not me. (I will not be writing any epic fantasies anytime soon, can you tell? I read them with relish though - give me more Jeffe Kennedy books any day!)

Here's an excerpt from my latest scifi romance, The Fated Stars, where the characters give a bit of world building history I've alluded to in various books but never detailed before:

Larissa swallowed hard. “Another fact you should probably know—most humans can’t even look directly at Mawreg. There’s something about them that can drive a human insane.”

Samell stared at her, even as Pete and Donnie nodded. “When we go on sorties into their camps to rescue people or take the entire operation down, we have to wear helmets with special filter goggles and even then a few guys have lost their minds. Mawreg are bad ass, spooky.”

“And we haven’t got any of those helmets here,” Donnie added. “Not a piece of tech I can whip up from spare parts either.”

“Are you serious? I find this concept hard to grasp—how can merely gazing upon the alien can make a person lose their mind?” Samell’s voice was polite.

“First encounter between our kind and the Mawreg was a peaceful scientific expedition, all excited to have met another spacefaring race,” Larissa said.

“The Peronelle. Learned about it in school, in Sectors history class.” Pete confirmed the tale. “Hundreds of years ago. Luckily the humans already had a few interstellar allies and fairly soon after met the Mellureans for the first time. Now they are badass.”

“The Peronelle survivors the Mawreg spared to tell the tale described in gruesome detail how their comrades went insane when forced to watch their hosts. The ship’s AI had vids to corroborate. The vids also showed the Mawreg eating people alive, and conducting horrific experiments on others. Apparently the aliens thought it would frighten us into surrendering and accepting their rule, but all it did was make us determined to do battle every chance we got. No truce, no quarter given.” Larissa sighed. “And the war’s been raging ever since.”

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Friday, November 17, 2017

What World May Be

In no way can I tell you where I got the bug put into my author brain, but here it is. We can dissect it if you wish.

The bug has many legs. It's tiny and hard to see, but it likes to talk. It says that the way to build a believable world/universe/magic system is to limit your change to one major concept. In UF that's easy. Magic happens. The details of how/why/consequences are where the interesting stuff comes in. In SF(R) the major accepted thing is generally space flight. Then it's a matter of what happens when our heroes encounter aliens or aliens encounter them or what happens when the onboard computer says, "I'm sorry, Dave. I afraid I can't do that."

For the most part, the broad strokes don't need a lot of research in my experience. It's the details that do. Take the space flight thing. We're in a space ship! We're getting away from the bad guys! Until they blow out our engine (right before you take the shot that destroys them - thanks for that.) And now we're adrift. We're inside a solar system. So hey! Solar sail! No problem! Uh. Wait. So. Exactly WHAT can I use as a solar sail? Oh hey look. NASA has a position paper out about a theoretical new kind of sail called an e-sail. Hey. That looks cool! So. How fast could we go with that? How far?

Funny. That summary white paper can't answer those questions. And neither can I. So off to ask people with actual training. You do know there are Reddits and forums and message boards where actual rocket scientists hang out? There're even a bunch on Facebook. A few of them will point and laugh when I ask newbie questions, but 99% of the folks really want the rest of us to be science-literate and will offer encyclopedic answers to questions about what kind of acceleration can I expect a ship to put on with a sail blah, blah, red giant, post helium flash, blah. 

Jeffe saw that question go up in one forum and can attest to the awesome answers I got from a handful of really bright people. Made me wish the solar sail figured into more of the story, but alas. We have aliens to vanquish yet. 

Yes. Searching the interwebs for stuff first is the right thing to do - I do find that I can usually garner a broad base understanding of something like nano - technology, but when it comes to how someone would harness nanotech to weaponize it, I didn't have anyone to ask. I had to read and read and then make some guesses. Guesses that I might have gotten dead wrong (though no one has said anything about it yet if I did.) 

And there's the other thing the bug likes to whisper. Don't get so caught up in the research and in being RIGHT that you sacrifice story. Readers will forgive a lot if they're shown a good time inside a story. 

So sure. Research. But make sure you get out there after those villians at great cost to your heroes and heroines. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Worldbuilding: Research for Invented Cultures

I've had one challenge that comes up in my worldbuilding process:  How do you research for a culture that doesn't have a real-world parallel?  Or borrows elements from several different ones in a way that makes it its own thing?  And how do you make it work on the page?
Part of the challenge is that, no matter what you do, some readers will bring their own biases to it.  What does that mean?  It means that readers will seek the familiar, and that includes trying to slap on some serial numbers on things that you didn't even scrub them off of.  What does this mean?  It means your readers will sometimes find parallels to real-world cultures that you never intended.
And then ping you for doing it wrong.
Can this be avoided completely?  No, of course not.  But there's things you can do to minimize it.
  • Don't make your racial distinctions stereotypical or offensive. Make your secondary words racially diverse, but try to be aware of how you depict that.  I've found Writing With Color to be a great resource to help with that.
  • Learn where your culture is coming from, from the ground up.  I'm not saying you have to build it entirely from the bottom. But if you understand some underlying basics-- what they grow, how they use that, what they eat, what they build-- that gives you the tools to guide them in their own unique way.
  • Steer their language away from the obvious.  If you're looking at your new culture and think to yourself, "this sounds like Eastern Europe", consider making the language base (and thus how you name places and people) something that is nothing like Eastern Europe.  Vulgar is a great resource for that.
All right, I'm getting on a plane early tomorrow, and plenty to do to get ready, so I'll see you all later.  Or perhaps in Portland!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Topic: What “Doing the Research” Means for a New Fantasy or Alien Cultures

Before I delve into the meat of this post, one short reminder: 

Look me up by artist (Linda Reinhardt) 
or by the album (JOVIENNE).

As for the weekly topic...
I’m going to talk about one admittedly narrow point, but it is dear to me.


With my upcoming and as yet untitled fantasy novel, one of the things that I spent a lot of time deliberating with myself on concerning this alien culture was language. Especially the titles of the military, as much of the story takes place around the armed force of the kingdom.

I had a real problem with the word Lieutenant.

It sounds and looks WAY to French to be showing up in my not-even-close-to-Earth-tale. But all the titles seem, in some way, objectionable to me from that point of view (General, Corporal, Chief Petty Officer, etc.)

There are two arguments for using our terminology.

1.)     If I use General, most readers will inherently understand that he is calling the shots and outranks a captain.

2.)   The tale is already presumed by the reader to be a translation from whatever language is native to that world – which would not be English. Use whatever understood words are closest. 

The argument for giving this new culture it’s own terms:

       1.) It feels more immersive.

But there’s a flaw:

       If I make up rank titles, I’m choosing to replace brevity with something that requires explanation – because the reader isn’t going to inherently understand who’s higher ranking, that very likely means I’m using exposition.

An argument specific to #2 above is:

Using obviously foreign-influenced words and modern slang (EX. - having characters refer to their best friends as either ‘chica’ or ‘homie’ which might ‘translate’ perfectly, might jar readers out of their suspension of disbelief because it doesn’t ‘feel’ true.

In the end I used—

Nah. You’ll have to wait and read it to see….

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dodging the Bottomless Pit of Research: 3 Areas for Quick-Hit World Building

I do way more research for Urban Fantasy than I do for High Fantasy because in Urban Fantasy I'm borrowing from established mythology and folklore. For High Fantasy...What's that? What exactly is High Fantasy? I define it as a "second-world" setting; the story doesn't happen in an alternate version of a typically European country at some point in history. That sub-genre allows me great liberties and freedoms to build anew; however, I have to keep certain fundamental concepts and minutiae familiar so I don't lose the reader in irrelevant-to-the-plot details--like renaming an orange a pogwith; or that people walk on their feet, not their lips.

I learned a long time ago that there is such a thing as too much research; that it can cripple the story. Once upon a time, I fancied writing historical romance. WUT?? Stop laughing! My need for accuracy meant I spent more time researching than writing, and--in truth--not a lot of what I researched made it into the novel. It's the great "months of research ends in ten sentences." I'm not the author who can do historical accuracy well. There are those who can, and I'm an avid reader of their works. Bless them. For my stuff, Urban and High, I'm more of a "pinch of this, dash of that" researcher.

Here are my Top 3 Kinds of Research for Crafting Fantasy:

1. Minor Details
I'm not as smart as I want to be, so I have to look up what's probably common knowledge. For example, in Larcout, the first book of my Fire Born, Blood Blessed High Fantasy series, the type of an individual's innate magic is identified by the kind of rock in his/her forehead. I'm not a geologist or a gemologist, I had to look up "what stone is yellow and pretty?" Citrine fit the bill. Making up a name for it would've confused the reader.

2. Character & Place Names
Names are definitely a thing I research. Regardless of sub-genre. Sometimes I use totally made-up names like Vadrigyn or Beigreith. Sometimes, a made-up name has a plot-shifting meaning that will be revealed during the series. A lot of times, I take a "real" or "common" name and tweak it just a wee bit. Those more recognizable names serve to remind the reader of characters' general attributes. They also remind me of backstories (that only I need to know), including fatal flaws. Example: In my upcoming Urban Fantasy there are three Berserkers: Xipil, Hywl, and Runjit. Can you guess they're not pasty blonds from Scandinavia? Can you guess their origins? Yes, I'm riffing on the myth, and the names give you a hint.

3. Weapons & Armor
While my protags wield atypical weapons, and magic usually makes an appearance at some point, a lot of the supporting cast uses recognizable weapons and a few wear parts of traditional armor. Broadswords, flails, bevors, and vambraces. I research their proper names and jargon. I research the maintenance required for each piece. I research the material flaws, the situational disadvantages, and superstitions of each. This can be a rabbit hole if you veer into military tactics, battle history, weapons evolution. It's  a fascinating rabbit hole, but... if you want to get in and get out, then limit what you're looking for.

So, there you go, three types of quick world-building research I do for my two types of fantasy novels. We won't discuss image-inspiration research. That's my weakness, my time-suck, my "just one more gallery and I'll stop (maybe, maybe a week later)."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Researching the Future

If you want to research the future, research the hell out of the past. That's my suggestion.

Listen, theres an old saying "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it." I'm paraphrasing because, well, deadlines.

I have been praised a few times for my world-building skills. I am always flattered when that happens, because I'm not really sure if I have any particular skills beyond looking at the past and connecting dots.

Let's look at the sociological ramifications of geography as an example. Let's say you have a kingdom that lives at the edge of the sea. Well, first off, history tells us they're going to need a source of fresh water. It also says that, statistically speaking, they're likely to have a good amount of fish in their diet. depending on whether or not there are ship building skills among the set of local talents, they're probably going to be traveling to other countries and either conquering them or trading with them. Those are the basics, as it were. Now you get to expand on that. What sort of sea life exists in this land/world? If we look back on history, that's going to make a difference. If there are no fish in the waters, they need a different source of food. Might be they've long since learned to live on sea plants, such as seaweed and kelp. Might also be that they've gone inland for their sources of food. 

No ships! They have surfboards. Okay..a little tricky, but the odds are good the society would evolve and adapt to take advantage of these miracles o science in an effort to travel to other lands. They might not always survive, but they'd make the best of it.

The only local fish are gigantic sea monsters that ravage the towns along the shore constantly. Either they're moving away (not likely) or they're going to learn how to combat/control these beasts. if they figure out how to "break" the sea monsters and then how to ride on them, we're got another form of transport AND a new weapon in the fight against other countries. MAYBE they were just going to trade with those countries but when the monsters that are only in their area are first seen, they will quickly realize that trading has less advantages than simply taking. "But Jim, why?"

Because history tells us that most often humans believe in conquest over negotiation, especially in primitive cultures. Mind you, as author you are god of your new world and you can change that any way you'd like.

Okay, so now we have a culture that a) owns the seas, B) is in the mood to conquer, and c) really feels pretty good about being in charge of the world at large, or at least the areas around the sea. What happens when they try to go inland?

They try the rivers, but those sea monsters they ride here and there aren't very good at traveling up through the shallow spots and they haven't evolved legs yet, so that's an issue. 

Now, at the same time, there's a group of people in the highlands who've learned to ride and domesticate massive bearlike things that we'll just call bears for this note. they, too, have mastered riding great beasts and have taken advantage of this to basically rule over everything around them.

They do NOT have a problem riding into the lowlands and taking over as much as they can and the poor slobs in the lowlands are only prepared for monsters from the sea, so there's a new challenge here. Bears versus sea monsters. Both sides have distinct advantages.

Historically speaking we can find analogs for both of these scenarios. Those with ships versus those without. Heck we can take a look at large land dwelling creatures like elephants, and the people who figured out how to make them weapons of war, and see another possibility. Bears the size of elephants, with big damn claws, mean teeth and thick fur that can deflect many spears, etc. Suddenly this fight has a different outcome.

We have a long history in this world and it covers many, many diverse cultures. Any of that history can be used as an example of what MIGHT happen and a great deal of that history has barely been examined.

Want to know how gods work? Look at your history books.

Want to understand the concept of the devil or a trickster? Same answer.

Need to see how a siege mentality can change a battle? Once again, look at the history of this world and combine it with the culture you are creating and the world becomes your playground.

The same thing, by the way, works for science fiction.

I'm working on an outline right now that involves world ships, colonization, territorial rights and, of course, an alien OTHER that disagrees. Should be a proper nightmare by the time I'm finished. But I started out by looking at colonization and the history of violence that it entails.

Sorry I missed you the last few weeks, folks. Turns out that storms and airports seldom work together and that I can't post as well without the internet. But I'll try to do better.

On an unrelated note: If you are a fan of horror and you love horror anthologies. Christopher Golden. yours truly and Haverhill House Publications are all working together to bring about a truly open anthology. No places held for big names and bling submissions. We know nothing of 2who wrote what until the stpries are accepted. But most publishers don't much care for that idea, so in order to make it happen we're having to do a Gofundme. If you are interested please look here: If not, fully understood but we want to make this happen.

Also, coming soon to bookstores, here's the cover for FALLEN GODS, the second book in my TIDES OF WAR series.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Researching the Future - How Do You Do It?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "doing the research" - and what that means for building new fantasy or alien cultures.

I'm at a weekend conference sponsored by my local RWA chapter LERA. We brought in Michael Hauge to teach his Story Mastery. Great stuff. Yesterday was his general seminar, and today a dozen of us are doing an intensive advanced story mastery session where we workshop our concepts with him. I'm super excited because I'm working on SOMETHING TOTALLY NEW.

So new that it's science fiction.

Agent Sarah has already seen the concept and given it the thumbs up, so now I'm just working up the details. With my COLLABORATOR.

There are so many new and exciting things here that I can't wait to share.

At any rate, being science fiction, in a universe we're basically creating whole hog, albeit on the foundation of our own, there's a lot of worldbuilding involved. One interesting challenge is that my heroine is a scientist, but obviously operating at a much more sophisticated level technologically.

I know she's made a mistake in her past. I know the results of the mistake and that it has to do with genetic manipulation. I just need to figure out HOW she might have done it. This will require beefing up my current understanding of genetics and how genes are spliced using modern technology, then extrapolating that to a possible future.

I'll likely do this by going to the current scientific literature, but not the hard core stuff. I'll look for cutting edge research as explained in journals intended for broader consumption, like Nature, Science, or Scientific American. I have an advantage that I'm trained as a scientist, so I know how to read and assimilate that kind of information - but I also know that I'm pretty stale, and I never was an expert in genetics. I won't attempt to read the stuff intended for working scientists because I doubt I could keep up. Certainly not without devoting a lot of attention to it and... I probably don't want to do that.

My favorite way to tackle this sort of thing - the ideal shortcut - is to find someone who is a current expert and picking THEIR brain. There's still no search engine that compares to finding a smart person who knows their field really well and getting them to think about the answer.

So, if anyone knows a cutting-edge genetics researcher... :D

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Happy Veterans Day!

Thanks to every veteran (and their family!) for all the sacrifices and service given in the name of freedom. Today and every day should really be a day to appreciate and thank veterans!

My late husband was a Marine; my Dad was in the Army in World War II; my uncles were in the Coast Guard and the Army; I have other relatives who served in various branches of the military...and I'm grateful for the sacrifices they all made.

Tiny programming note: today is the last day to buy a copy of the Embrace the Romance: Pets In Space 2 scifi romance anthology and have us make a donation to Hero Dogs, Inc., which provides service dogs to veterans in need.

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