Tricks and Treats

Nightmare’s Revenge is now available on Amazon in paperback and kindle! Yay! To celebrate that, and my birthday (tomorrow) I have a present for all of you.

From November 1st to November 8th (I don’t remember the exact hours), Secrets of the Moon Fox will be available in kindle format for a reduced rate. The rate goes up as time passes so get it early. It is so important to read Secrets of the Moon Fox before Nightmare’s Revenge that I am hesitant to even post the first chapter of Nightmare’s Revenge online like I did for the rest.  For non-spoiler-y (mostly) excerpts of both books, check out my Facebook and Pinterest accounts.

I had a lot of things I wanted to mention in the blog post about holidays, but I had to finish up in a hurry and get to work, so I’m turning yesterday’s post into Part One, and Part Two will be next week.

Happy Halloween!

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Worldbuilding 101: Holidays

Since tomorrow is Halloween, this seems like an appropriate time to mention holidays. Holidays are intrical to our culture, and always have been. I see no reason for that to change, or for it not to be the case for non-human sentients. While you can ignore them completely, they can also add a fascinating layer to your stories.

Holidays are, at their heart, community affairs. Even private holidays, like birthdays and anniversaries, are usually celebrated with a group, at very least family. Some holidays are major holidays. Whether you celebrate it or not, you know that Christmas is December 25. That happens to be the only day of the year my current job isn’t open. But on the other hand, without looking it up, I can’t tell you even what month ‘National Secretary’s Day‘ is. Apparently that’s in April in this country (and is a little more complex than I realized). Is your holiday one that affects the entire community, or one that is mostly ignored?

That can change depending on location. No one cares here whether or not I wear green (or orange, since I’m Protestant and green is supposed to represent Catholics) for St. Patrick’s Day. It seemed like a bigger deal when I lived up in Pennsylvania and Delaware. And I’m told (though it’s probably exaggerated) that wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood on that day in Ireland can be a good way to get hurt. When I lived in Russia, December 25th wasn’t a holiday at all. Under communism, Christmas was banned, and the holiday moved to New Year‘s. People have new year’s trees, Grandfather Frost gives out new year’s presents, etc. They do have a Christmas, which is January 7th, and that is purely a religious holiday, and generally a quiet one. Meanwhile, International Women’s day (March 8th) is a big deal over there, and it is customary to give flowers to women of your acquaintance. In the States, most people probably don’t know when that is.

Is your holiday historical, religious, or tradition? Do people get off work and school? Or is it mostly just another day? How is your holiday celebrated? Food is an important part of most holidays, either the partaking of or abstaining from. In the United States, we celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks, but not other holidays for the most part. In Russia, almost every holiday was celebrated with fireworks. We would stand on our balcony and see over a dozen different displays.

How do you come up with holidays? Pretty easily. Look at what’s celebrated around the world. Most cultures have a day for remembering the dead (often, but not always, in the fall), a day for renewal and rebirth in the spring, a day for the founding of their nation or people group, a day for their leader or leaders (President’s day here, other places may celebrate the birthday of the current ruler), and at least one community gift giving festival. Your story involves a colony of humans on Mars? What about colony founding day? Or the birthday of the first leader? Your main characters are a community of Elves? Probably a few nature based holidays.

Different people celebrate holidays differently. The way my family celebrates Christmas is different from anyone else I’ve heard. Your family traditions are not the same as another’s. Different groups (racial, ethnic, or religious) will probably celebrate different holidays. Can minorities celebrate their holidays openly?

Okay, but what if you want to write a darker story? No feel good holidays here. Well, holidays have their darker side too, don’t they? Any holiday that involves drinking runs the risk of drunkenness and the assorted chaos that goes with it. Stress goes up during the holidays, as does domestic violence. Those who have lost loved ones find holidays particularly hard. And what if your holiday has a darker side built in? Who says that the vampires don’t have a few humans kept in stock for Bloodletting Day?

Holidays are what you make them. Enjoy.

Book note. Nightmare’s Revenge, the sequel to Secrets of the Moon Fox comes out tomorrow. Check it out. Warning, this is one case where you really do have to read the first book first. More information to come. Check out my Facebook and Pinterest accounts. I’ve got excerpts up and random quotes from my books. It’s fun.

Worldbuilding 101: Food and Drink

On first appearance, this might seem like too narrow a topic for a blog post. After all, does it really matter? Can’t you write a whole book without ever bothering to mention what your characters ate or drank? Yes, you can. And it might even be a good book. Will your book be any better for mentioning food and/or drink? Maybe. Maybe not.

Consider this. Eating has deep emotive roots for humans. Who we eat with, what we eat, when we eat it; it all matters. A dinner for two by candlelight, a giant cake shared by friends, chips and pretzels at a sports party, cold pizza eaten alone at breakfast. They all bring up different emotional responses. Why not spend an extra few minutes considering what your characters do or don’t eat?

Who does one typically eat with?

Are most meals communal? Do families separate? Do men eat one place, women another, children a third? Is eating an intensely private thing? What happens when characters from communities that have different practices collide?

What is eaten when?

Are certain foods reserved for or forbidden at special times? Fruitcake is generally a Christmas treat. Most Jews avoid yeast at Passover. You don’t eat oysters in a month that doesn’t have an ‘R’ in it. Is the reason for this practical (the oysters), traditional (fruitcake), or religious (yeast)? Or a combination of the above?

What is taboo?

I don’t recommend necessarily using your own diet as a guide here. We are fortunate enough to live in a time and place where we as a society can afford to be picky. Not everyone does. Americans, by and large, balk at the idea of eating insects while much of the rest of the world doesn’t blink an eye at that. Like the above, is your reason for the taboo practical, tradition, or religious? Is a sacred animal not eaten? Eaten only at certain times and in certain ways?

Salt has an interesting enough history to write a novel solely about it. There were times salt was worth more than it’s weight in gold. In some cultures, sharing salt with someone was the same as a binding peace treaty. Wars have been fought over salt and the access to it. In Russia, when a young couple marry, upon their return from their honeymoon, they are supposed to be presented with bread and salt.

If you have non-humans, things can get even more interesting. There is no reason in the world that your non-humans should have the same exact diet range as a human. In the Moonlight Memories series, Liska’s food allergies have been used as minor plot points. In the Hyde Chronicles, Violet makes a point not to pay too much attention to what others eat, because some of it is really disturbing from a human point of use. Can these differences be plot relevant? No reason why not. Maybe something healthy to one is poisonous to another. Tell me you can’t make a plot point out of that.

Even if you are using humans, if they are in a different world, they will eat different things. One of my works in progress is a fantasy world where they don’t have horses (though unicorns do exist, but they are aggressive and you don’t want to get near them), but there are giant lizards that are used as pack animals. It occurred to me that such a society would probably use as much of the lizard as possible. Lizard leather, lizard meat, etc. Much like the ancient Mongols used horses for everything, and some still do. Horse meat, mare’s milk, horse hair, etc. Can’t use lizard milk because lizards aren’t mammals, but close enough.

Consider the society you are using. Nomads should have a different diet than farmers who have a different diet than fishermen. Those who spend most of the hours of the day working aren’t likely to spend much time and effort into making the food look better, unless that is their work. What’s the level of technology? If there isn’t much in the way of refrigeration, foods have to be preserved or eaten quickly. Try some research into other time periods and see some of the things they did with food. Even in the middle ages, for banquets, the food was supposed to be decorative as well as tasty. Can’t say I would necessarily want to eat a lot of it, but they took pride in their work just as we do today.

No, I haven’t forgotten drink. It’s easy to overlook the possibilities for beverages. Water is a given, no matter how dry a climate may be. If there is no water, there is no life. Fermented beverages usually came next. Mostly from grapes and similar, but mead comes from honey, and a popular drink in Russia called kvass, is made from bread mold. That comes in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. In places where the water quality is bad, it might actually be safer to drink alcohol.  Milk is common though not always from cows. Milk can come from any lactating mammal. Goat’s milk is relatively common even in this society, and I’ve heard of people drinking mare’s milk. Other possible sources are sheep, camel, reindeer, buffalo, donkey, yak, and moose. Why not consider some of the options in your world? Don’t forget teas of various sorts whether they include actual tea leaves or not. These can be used for refreshment, for medicine, for magic or religious ceremonies. Most fruits and some vegetables can be made into juice. Perhaps they all can but some are less appealing than others.

Some books talk a lot about food, some do not. Neither is inherently wrong. It’s just another layer you can use. Definitely something worth considering. You can always add recipes as an added bonus for your readers. Bon Appetit!

Update

Sorry I’ve been off for awhile. Sometimes I get blocked and then distracted. I hope to have a real post on Monday. But in the meantime, I’m pleased to make a few announcements.

Knightfall, the sequel to The Pawn’s Play, is now out as the second book in the Hyde Chronicles. Available on Createspace and Amazon. First chapter can be read for free here.

I now have a Facebook and a Pinterest account. Each has unique items that are not available elsewhere. With a little luck and organization, the plan is to release a blog post on Monday, new pins on Wednesday, and something new on Facebook on Friday. Being me, this probably won’t work out for long, but here’s hoping. Check them out.

Nightmare’s Revenge, second book in the ‘Moonlight Memories’ series will be available on Halloween. First chapter will be available soon. Sneak peek of the cover is available on Pinterest.

I will be a guest at Marscon (Jan. 12-14) and Ravencon (April 20-22). New announcements coming soon.