October 9, 2016

Sunday Street Team: Becky Allen Guest Post

The Book
Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen
Release date: October 11, 2016

Jae is a slave in a dying desert world. 

Once verdant with water from a magical Well, the land is drying up, and no one remembers the magic needed to keep the water flowing. If a new source isn’t found soon, the people will perish. Jae doesn’t mind, in a way. By law, she is bound by a curse to obey every order given her, no matter how vile. At least in death, she’ll be free. 

Elan’s family rules the fading realm. He comes to the estate where Jae works, searching for the hidden magic needed to replenish the Well, but it’s Jae who finds it, and she who must wield it. Desperate to save his realm, Elan begs her to use it to locate the Well. 

But why would a slave—abused, beaten, and treated as less than human—want to save the system that shackles her? Jae would rather see the world burn. 

Though revenge clouds her vision, she agrees to help if the realm’s slaves are freed. Then Elan’s father arrives. The ruler’s cruelty knows no limits. He is determined that the class system will not change—and that Jae will remain a slave forever.

The Author

Becky Allen grew up in a tiny town outside Ithaca, New York, and graduated from Brandeis University with a major in American studies and a minor in journalism. She is the website director of TheBody.com, an online HIV resource, and loves New York, brunch, and feminism. Becky lives in New York City.

The Guest Post: The World-Building of Bound by Blood and Sand

Way back in middle school, one of my favorite fantasy series was David and Leigh Eddings’ THE BELGARIAD. Think: farmboy turns out to be a lost king, epic clash of nations, the villain is a full-fledged dark god. This, my middle school brain said, is fantasy. So I was absolutely thrilled to death when, a few years later, the writers released all of their worldbuilding notes in a giant tome -- almost 500 pages! It was full of histories (thousands of years worth), religious texts, notes on the economies, government, etc, of dozens of countries. It was amazing. I was utterly overwhelmed.

This, my high school brain said, is how you build a world. I proceeded to spend the next few years trying to do exactly that for a few fantasy projects I was noodling around with -- writing out histories, making up holidays, creating an index of important historical characters. But it never really worked. Sure, I came up with a lot of stuff, but none of it felt very organic -- none of it had much of anything to do with my actual characters or the stories I was trying to tell. I just thought that was what you were supposed to do when you wanted to write fantasy.

That is not what I did for BBB&S.

The very first thing I knew about BBB&S was that it was going to take place in a desert that was losing its water -- the conflict, and thus the whole story, hinged on that. So yes, I started with some pragmatic stuff, like what the temperature would be, what plants and animals there would be. I made a couple of quick lists as I wrote, and in my draft I noted places where I wanted to come back and fill in more details… once I knew what the details were.

One thing about BBB&S is that it hinges a lot on the backstory, events that happened generations before my characters. That wasn’t something I knew going in, though, so when I realized it as I wrote… well, I just kept writing. The first version didn’t make a lot of sense, but it gave me a beginning. I knew that the Well (the magic that keeps the desert’s water in place) and the Curse (the horrible magic placed over my protagonist) were somehow tangled up together, but not how. So after that draft, I spent some time figuring that out. I may have jotted that down in a document somewhere, but the most important place it lived was on the page, in the next draft.

The thing that worked for me about building up world that way, inside out instead of outside in, is that it gave everything I built context within the story. There wasn’t history for the sake of history; there was history that directly affected the characters.

The same thing carried through in other ways. One thing my editor asked me about in revisions was art and culture -- there are four castes in the book, though really only the Closest (bottom caste) and Highest (guess which one they are) were all that important. She asked if I could differentiate the two by showing more of their differing cultures, such as their art and music. So I thought about it -- what kind of art would the Closest have?

The Closest are slaves, who don’t have much in the way of possessions, or free time. So I gave them art that was subtle -- simple drawings in the dirt or done with ashes on a wall. They are easy to overlook, and easy to erase and start again. Nothing permanent, because these characters have nothing. Once I knew that, it was easy to build up a contrast among the Highest: since the Closest worked only with muted, dark colors, everything the Highest do is bright and flashy. Brilliant colors all over the place! So what had been a sort of generically beige-y stone house where most of the story takes place was suddenly covered in brightly colored mosaics all over the place.

Once again, the worldbuilding details were all things that came from what the story needed. Pieces I discovered as I wrote, that wove themselves into the story I was creating. And I’ve realized, this is the method that works for me. Building up too much ahead of time makes me feel like I need to to shape a story to fit a world -- when the truth is that the worldbuilding should serve the story.

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