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Worldbuilding – And So It Begins… August 24, 2009

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“There is as much difference
between us and ourselves
as between us and others.”

– Michel de Montaigne

An Invitation To Experience

The Myth of Kyrrell Swamp

This is not the end of my worldbuilding.  Like any planet, Erde changes over time, so competent worldbuilding is never finished.  But I would like you to take some time and experience over the next few months the novels that settled into the world of Erde.


Many lives are lost at sea every year.  Large ships, small boats, sailing ships, war ships, fishing vessels, and aircraft of all types have disappeared over time.  Some had been lost in bad weather, some when the weather appeared perfect, some sank beneath the waves during a war, some left behind the wreckage of their misfortune, some seemingly vanishing into the air or water.  Oftentimes, even when wreckage surfaced, bodies remained unrecovered.  Think of the thousands of souls lost on the HMS Hood when she blew up in 1941.  How about those that sailed with the German mega-battleship, the Bismarck? It is easy to conclude that the dead and missing have simply gone on to a watery grave, leaving behind only the question of what happens to the soul at death.  John Dryden had an interesting observation concerning that question.  He said, “To die is landing on some distant shore.”

If you agree with Larry Kusche, author of The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved, there is little doubt as to the final resting place of the men of Flight 19, or the Cyclops, or any of the other ships or aircraft mentioned in Mr. Kusche’s book.  As one reviewer noted, “This is the only book you can get that has trustworthy information concerning the ships lost in the Bermuda Triangle.  Everything else is soaked with fiction.”

I have to admit that in the last 200 years we’ve gained a more scientific understanding of life. Now we can even clone it.  But what we can’t do is produce life from scratch – from nothing.  Nor do we have any idea of what happens when life ends.  Oh we have theories, many of which are backed up by myths, belief systems and religious testaments.  Yet, we know no more about the afterlife than we did 5,000 years ago.  So if we must bathe ourselves in trustworthy information, I suggest we do so using a keen sense of the absurd.  Even Mr. Kusche admits there are issues concerning the disappearances of ships and aircraft and the people they contained that are still beyond the scope of our knowledge.  Perhaps John Dryden is closer to the truth then many of us realize.

There is one thing I know – water, although quite physical, it has always been considered a spiritual medium. Edgar Cacey, for example, mentioned in one of his readings that he should locate his psychic hospital near water because such a location would enhance his psychic abilities. He chose Virginia Beach, Virginia. Even that most spiritual of events, Christian baptism, takes place in water.

So now I speak with reference to possibilities. The likelihood that somewhere, somehow, there is a planet similar to our own that exists in the Universe that can sustain human life as we know it.  Add to that possibility another.  What if this planet could be reached from Earth through a watery portal?  As Thomas Hardy said, “Though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.”

This is the world that a small group of men, one woman and her child entered when they disappeared from their ship, which remained in the Atlantic Ocean in December of 1872.  This is when they became OutSiders and found themselves on a “distant shore.”  What did these people from Earth find after traveling through the water to Erde? The same kind of physical circumstances that they left behind, I imagine. Life can be similar. As year stacked up upon year it became apparent that they did not age.

Is it possible that humans could live for hundreds of years? I would think that the physical laws of Erde must be slightly different from the physical laws here on Earth. Humans birthed in either place are able to live approximately 75 years. But humans who have traveled from one place to the other find themselves living for over 900 years. This must be due to the physical laws that cause the breakdown of cells.  After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us about such people?

What are they like, these OutSiders of Erde who live so long? How does a person with a lifespan of 900 years differ from a person who feels fortunate to live 75 years? Their outlook on life must change dramatically. If they marry a native they must watch their spouse and children exit life well before they themselves, perhaps many times over.  But if they marry another OutSider, such a marriage would last for hundreds of years.  Oh, the possibilities!

What kind of world would such a people craft? Bringing their knowledge of Earthly morals, religion, and technology with them, what would they keep and what might they lose? What elements of this knowledge would they allow other OutSiders who came after them to embrace? What would they force them to discard? What knowledge might they possess that is different from our own? Knowledge that they discovered and we have not, or that they have improved upon and we have not? The possibilities are staggering. The history of the OutSiders of Erde is similar to our own, filled with the ascent of local governments, of conquest, nationalization, the rise and fall of empires, of greed and a lust for power.


But what of the Vigroth peoples of this land, one of the tribes that inhabited Erde before the arrival of the OutSiders? They are so very different from any human culture on Earth.   Can we, who find it difficult to commit for life to one single person, fully understand what it’s like to be committed for life to seven or eight people?

Is it possible that we who disdain the idea of “fixed marriages” can fully appreciate an arrangement that finds one committed to such a relationship for life right from birth?

Is it possible for a people such as our own, whose morals differ from one person to the next, to fully understand a moral system that’s universally accepted by a whole tribe and passed down from generation to generation without question?

Is it possible for us, a people who love youth and for whom survival is rarely questioned, to comprehend life where continued existence is in doubt on a daily basis?  Can we understand what it’s like to have death as our closest neighbor minute by minute?

In understanding the Vigroth of the great Weald, we must see them as Robert Zend sees us – “People have one thing in common: they are all different.”

There you have it.  The Myth of Kyrell Swamp concerns possibilities.  You are in the unique position to experience these possibilities for yourself.  As Einstein said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment.”  You are entering upon a journey that will allow you to do so.  As the Vigroth say, “tzagrast lur seted krind kynpa ecoy” – “It’s a long ways from anyplace here.”  I truly hope you enjoy the trip.


Worldbuilding 9 – If it’s Punresdaeg we must be in Uppsala August 20, 2009

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calendar of Uppsala

Why would anyone want a complicated calendar like this for use in their novel?  First of all, it’s not really that complicated.  Ninety-one day quarters with two holiday dates at the end of each half year makes for a 366 day year.  The first month of each quarter has 31 days with the other two months having 30 each.  Not having months with differing days from 28 to 31 makes scheduling a lot easier for Empire businesses.  Each quarter is the same and each year is the same.  No leap years are involved.  No extra days in one month needed.

The Uppsala calendar places the first year at the founding of the city of Uppsala. This calendar came in use during the first year of the Uppsala Empire.   Dates including that first city year and after it are designated AU (After Uppsala).  Dates before that year are designated BU (Before Uppsala).  Captain Briggs’ story starts in the year 5118AU, which equates to the year 1990 back in the good old USA.  He was picked up in the Rigga Sea during Uppsala’s 5,000th anniversary year or in 1872 according to our way of reckoning time.  Not so difficult is it?  Day, month and season names may change a bit due to local considerations, but you get used to that.  If you’ve ever spent long periods of time in a foreign country you know what I’m saying.

The Vigroth on the other hand use a lunar calendar and the native names are nowhere near our understanding.  There are three moon periods of 28 days in each month, the first of which are named for the Vigroth gods.  A fifth moon period may be added to regulate the seasons and is named for the god Juist.  The Vigroth understanding of years is as follows.  One hundred years is referred to as a ‘times’ or Chetzin.  A single year is referred to as a ‘time’ or Chetz.  So they would say that Captain Briggs came to Erde socnidimya chetz n soc chetzin.  Or, 18 time and 1 times, or 118 years ago.  Time and times are usually counted from an important event which everyone can remember. This makes it difficult for non-Vigroth people to figure out.  But fear not, you needn’t learn the Vigroth calendar to understand what is happening in the book.  ‘When’ is not really important to the Vigroth as long as they get an approximation of it.  But for those of you who like this sort of thing, I’ve included a copy of the Vigroth calendar:

vigroth calendar

There.  Now you can figure out your birthday according to both the Empire and the Vigroth.  Good figuring my friends.

Worldbuilding 8 – Magic August 17, 2009

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Every fantasy reader and writer has their own thoughts about magic.  Make it realistic.  Require a cost to use it.  Develop a system with reasonable laws that make it work.  All good suggestions, I suppose, but for me magic in any world should just be.  That’s all that’s required.  It certainly doesn’t need a long drawn out discussion of how it works or where it came from or whose behind it.  This is my view.  Anyone with a different view is just as justified in what they do as I am.  No fights, no arguments.  If it works for you, that’s all that’s important.

So what kind of magic exists in Erde?  The people of Erde view magic much as the people on Earth do.  The more educated they are, the less they believe in physical magic like disappearing at will and reappearing somewhere else.  They also have trouble with spiritual magic like chanting until a shaman can see through the eyes of a bird as it flies over their enemies.  Others will be mystified by the idea even if they have no proof that it works.  Some will think the whole idea of magic in a world driven by physical law is ridiculous.  Illiterate natives will live in fear of it.  In other words in any world there will be many opinions about magic.

Magic could range from the ultra fantastic, like two magicians throwing fireballs at each other, to the natural magical experience of two people falling in love or the birth of a child.  That’s not magic you say?  Ask the two young parents who’ve just witnessed their first child being born.  What we call magic is individual to each of us.  It’s what the combination of your beliefs and physical senses make it to be.  The people of Erde are much the same in their views of magic.  We all know nature exists but we don’t know everything it can accomplish.  When something happens in nature that goes beyond our understanding, we call it magic.

So does magic exist on Erde?  Of course it does.  For instance there is a hallucinogenic drug called nicroot, which seems to propel people who know how to use it on fantastic mind journeys to different parts of the universe, both physical and spiritual.  Is nicroot real?  Yes, it’s the root of a common flowering plant that grows in the central forests of Erde.  Is it truly able to transport ones spirit all over the universe?  That depends on whom you speak to in Erde.  What are the effects of chewing peyote buds in Arizona?  I’m sure you’ll get an answer from a local Native American that will differ from a professor at Arizona State University.

Then you have medical magic as produced by the physicians of the Empire and the shaman of the native tribes.  Fixing a broken arm or healing an infectious disease may not seem like magic to you, but to uneducated farmers it carries the sense of magic.  Do the spells of the native shaman work?  Well, there again, it’s a matter of how you define ‘work.’  Did the young child survive because of the spells of the shaman or did her own body heal itself?

We’ve already discussed the survival abilities of the Vigroth such as camouflage and Deep Chat.  Without doubt to the Riggrathi the Vigroth make magic that must be confronted with magic of their own.  But the Vigroth know these skills are learned.  They camouflage using plant leaves, moss, furs, skins, dyes, and makeup.  They use animal urine and feces to change their smell.  They practice running until they can do over twenty miles without making a sound.  They can control their breathing and their bodily urges to appear dead.  Magic?  No, all learned skills, just like the Deep Chat.

There are powders that make fires smokeless, berries that make it nearly impossible for a woman to conceive, and a heavy metal that can be honed to a point that will penetrate almost anything yet because of its weight it can’t be used for weapons larger than a small hunting knife.  Magic?  That’s for you, the reader, to say as you experience them.

Erde is a magnificent place full of wonder and awe with many surprises for folk visiting from Earth.  I hope you enjoy its magic.

Worldbuilding 7 – Language August 16, 2009

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Many different languages are spoken in Erde.  The ‘official’ language of the Empire is Court Anglich.  There is a court version and common versions.  The common versions are replete with words specific to the olde languages of each Rejoinder and may or may not be recognized in other  Rejoinders.  Of course the various native tribes all speak their own languages which makes things difficult for the author but the reader needn’t be concerned with translation.  Since the Vigroth tribe is the focus of the story, their language is more the center of attention than the others.

It’s not so much the languages that I want to discuss but how the languages are used in my novels.  What would life be like without poetry, music and the sounds of different languages?  Can you even imagine?  Yet, how many novels (especially fantasy) have you read where these elements of language were excluded?

One of the reasons books such as Lord of the Rings or The Once and Future King are so popular is because they contain these three elements of language.  (To me, music is indeed an element of language.)  Including poetry, song, and language immediately brings the reader into an environment that the reader can relate to.  Music and poetry fill our waking lives.  Why shouldn’t they also fill the lives of our characters?  As for language differences, walk down a street in any New York City neighborhood and listen to the people speaking.  Now try to imagine what the experience would be like if they all spoke one tongue and all with the same accent.  Not nearly as colorful, eh? Yet we do this to our readers all the time.

Tolkien was a linguist so creating new languages both written and spoken wasn’t as difficult for him as it might be for you and I.  But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it should be excluded from our work.  Allow me to give an example.  Here is a poem written by my protagonist.  I’ll give it to you first in her native Vigroth tongue:


Now here it is in the Common Anglich spoken in the village of Selga:


I can translate any English writing into Vigroth.  It is spelled phonetically, the way it is spoken or sung.  Again, it’s just something that adds a bit of color to a story and, perhaps, a bit more enjoyment for the reader.

Music in books presents its own problems.  Face it – books don’t have a soundtrack.  Blend music with poetry and you have a song.  People sing.  They sing when they’re happy, sad, bored – for many reasons.  They sing in concerts, at sporting games, in pubs, or even just in their own shower or car.  People enjoy singing and so should your characters.  It makes for a more life-like work.

The same goes for poetry.  Some form of poetry invades almost every language spoken or written.  This is especially true if you are writing about a time before our age of technology.  Who has never attempted to write so much as one poem in their life?  Few, I should think.  Again, you want your characters to be realistic?  Slip in a bit of poetry or song here or there.

Worldbuilding 6 – Where oh Where is My Protagonist? August 14, 2009

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se erde

Allow me to introduce you to the south central portion of Erde.  On the western side you see the bottommost peaks of the Corrin Mountains as they dip into the Rigga Sea.  In the northeastern corner is the capitol city of the Empire – Uppsala itself.  As you come south along the Selgen River, you pass the town of Selga, the southernmost town of the region.  Continuing south, you come into the southeastern part of the Rigga Sea.  As you turn southwestward, you pass the impassible Kyrrell Swamp.  Once through the channel you head back north until you reach the free city of Hummel.  It doesn’t belong to the Empire because no troops from Uppsala have ever attempted to travel this far south.  Hummel is a trading port, where even the tribes of the southern Weald come to barter their goods.  It’s an active fishing port with ample on shore fisheries that supply many parts of the Empire with various aquatic delicacies.

So where is my protagonist?  Well, she’s not been born yet.  But I can tell you this – she’ll be a member of a tribe of natives called the Vigroth who inhabit the small village of Thelra.  A strange people, the Vigroth.  They are unlike any people found here on Earth.  Their whole existence is predicated upon survival.  They live in an extremely hostile part of Erde, with enemy tribes that would like nothing better than to hasten their demise.  Even though most of them are above six feet in height, they are experts at camouflage.  They are so good at it that other tribes of the Weald think they are magical creatures that can appear and disappear at will.  The truth is that they train at camouflage from the age that your children would enter kindergarten. They get very good at it.

Their religion, called ‘Circle,’ emphasizes survival.  As does their family unit.  Families here on Earth have a mother, father, and kids, right?  That’s not exactly how the Vigroth handle things.  As children are born over a ten year period, they are assigned to a family group given an animal name.  Given the birth rate combined with infant mortality rates, each family group has between six to ten members, all ages within a ten year period.  Children stay with their parents family unit until they go through a coming of age ceremony.  This is usually around the age of ten.  Then they leave their parents family unit and live in their own clan abode.  From the time they can barely walk, the members of their family unit undergo education in survival.  These ‘classes,’ if they can be referred to as such, start at daybreak and continue to sundown.  They learn simple things like ‘focus’ and ritual singing and using a knife and bow.  And they learn not so simple things like the Vigroth Deep Chat or Gibwa Rach in their language.  The children are together from the time they start training, from the time they move into their home, until they die.  The best way I can put it is – it’s like they are all married as a unit.  In other words, these six to ten people are together all their lives.  The Deep Chat brings them even closer in relationship.  Everything they do in life, they do it with each other.  This causes an incredible closeness.  I’ll give you an example of how close they become.  If one is hurt, the others feel it instantly. By the time they go through their coming of age ceremony, the Deep Chat even allows them to communicate with their minds.  Simple one or two word thoughts.  Again, others think of this as magic.  But you can see it’s actually a learned skill.

Anyway, it’s this kind of family unit my protagonist is born into.

Worldbuilding 5 – My Antagonist, an Historical Person August 12, 2009

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If you don’t know the story of the Mary Celeste you’re missing out on one of  the largest maritime mysteries in recorded history.  The brigantine was found abandoned in the North Atlantic between the Azores and Portugal on the 4th of December, 1872.  Missing were the captain, Benjamin Briggs, his wife Sarah, their two year old daughter, Sophia, and the rest of the ships crew of seven.  Briggs’ seven year old son, Arthur, was left at home with his grandmother.  Briggs had a brother, Oliver, who often sailed with him but did not make the trip bound for Genoa, Italy.

The Mary Celeste was discovered by the Dei Gratia, a Canadian vessel under Captain David Morehouse, a personal friend of the Mary Celeste‘s Captain, Benjamin Briggs.  The Dei Gratia left New York City on the 15th of November, eight days after the Mary Celeste set sail on her voyage.  Dei Gratia discovered a ship under full sail which was obviously in trouble.  She tried to hail the ship but received no response.  As she advanced on the ship her crew realized the endangered vessel was the Mary Celeste.

Once aboard the Mary Celeste, the Dei Gratia crew found the ship completely deserted.  The only lifeboat on the vessel was gone although it looked as if it were launched, not ripped away.   You may read varying accounts of the conditions aboard the Mary Celeste but the facts are as follows:

The ship was in good order, and had not suffered severely from the weather, although some of the sails were slightly torn.  A meal was cooking on the stove but the dishes were properly washed and stored.  A vial of oil was supposedly sitting upright on a sewing machine, indicating that the seas had been calm, and a clock was still ticking on the wall.  The captain’s personal effects were on board, and toys were on his bed, as if a child had been playing there.  The cargo of 1,700 barrels of alcohol was intact, although there was three and a half feet of water in the hold.  However, the ships papers, except for the captain’s logbook, were missing, as were the navigation instruments.  A sword was found hanging on the wall with blood (or rust) stains on it.  A six months’ supply of food and water was still on board.

The last log entry on November 24th put the Mary Celeste 100 miles west of the Azores.  By the time it was found eleven days later, it was 500 miles to the east.

Today the fate of the occupants of the Mary Celeste is as much a mystery as the day the ship was found deserted at sea.

The Bermuda Triangle Mystery – Solved by Larry Kusche

History has passed on to us rather small amounts of information concerning Benjamin Spooner Briggs, Captain of the Mary Celeste.  We know that Captain Briggs was an able seaman and an excellent ship handler.  Well respected by those who sailed with him, Briggs’ fairness and ability were never brought into question.  He captained four other ships before signing on with the Mary Celeste.  A humble, religious man himself, he married Sarah E Cobb, daughter of Reverend Leander Cobb, and bought the Rose Cottage in Marion , Massachusetts.  Sarah accompanied Captain on many of his sea voyages.  There is also a letter, written by Briggs to his son, Arthur, just before the Mary Celeste left New York City.  It shows the devoted father Briggs was to his family.

I wanted a man of strict discipline and outstanding moral character for my antagonist.  Captain Briggs filled the bill quite handily.  There is little question of how the man managed to travel from Earth to Erde but there are many questions concerning how such a man as Briggs managed his way in the Empire of Uppsala.  The entire first part of my novel sets out to answer these questions.

Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs would be my antagonist.  Briggs

Worldbuilding 4 – People August 6, 2009

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So I had a map of my world, or at least one large part of it.  And I knew I had OutSiders and Natives.  I know the map I’m looking at shows Erde +4,873 years since the coming of the OutSiders so much has historically changed.  Now the next problem I have to consider is what kind of people frequent this world now and where do they belong.  Does that make sense?  Let’s take the OutSiders first.

Take any large city in the world, New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, you name it.  People who come there tend to form communities of their own kind of people.  A single city actually becomes many smaller cities.  The Italians have their sector, the Germans another, the Spanish their own, and then there’s a Chinatown almost everywhere.  I figured the OutSider tended to gravitate to their own over the years as well.  The government of the Empire of Uppsala, which has subjugated all the various historical city-states of the land, now calls individual states “Rejoinders.”   So you have nine states carved out of Erde with one large unnamed area to the east.  The term Uppsala is confusing.  It is the Empire, a Rejoinder, and the Capitol City of the Empire.  Folks living in the Rejoinder of Uppsala tend to be of Nordic/German stock.  In the Capitol, however, all types of peoples can be found.

The majority of peoples in the other Rejoinders are easy to figure out.  Aingland – English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh.  Merica – peoples from North or South America, including Native Americans.  Pare – let’s not forget the French.  Nippon – Oriental peoples.  Mongolya – Russia, eastern Europeans, Hungarians and nothern Orientals.  Jena,  Italians, Swiss and Slovakians. Finally there is the Rejoinder of Sigtuna, who’s population consists of a melting pot of city states defeated by Uppsalan armies in the historical past.  I’ll discuss how these Rejoinders are governed by Uppsala at a later time.  Now the locations of the Native tribes of Erde.


Over the years, the Natives of Erde have been pushed east, over the Corrin mountains.  The remaining tribes reside in a densely wooded strip, called the Weald,  that runs from north to south and from west to east from the Corrins to the Selgen River.  The northern tribes reside above the River Pison in a land called by the Sogroth, Havilah. Their lands lie between the Pison and Gihon Rivers.  The Telroth are the northernmost tribe, living above the Pison in a land they call Kosh.  Some of you may recognize these names as the lost lands and rivers of Genesis.

The central tribes are rather nomadic and can be found anywhere from the River Fyris to the edge of the Kyrrell Swamp.  They are the Summanari, who range to the north, the Riggrathi, and the extremely war-like Colarathi who range more to the south.

Finally, there are the Vigroth, who live in small villages far to the south in the swamps of Kyrrell.

The lands to the east of the Selgen River are wastelands, thought to be uninhabited.

Next week I’ll talk about where I decided to set my first story.