We’re going somewhere different this week, very different in fact, with writer Anne E. Johnson. And finding 0ut about the challenges of constructing your own world…
Sometimes I write historical fiction. When I do, I enjoy the research needed to establish an accurate sense of place and time, whether it’s the Duke of Mantua’s palazzo circa 1608 in Franni and the Duke or thirteenth-century Hertfordshire, England in Trouble at the Scriptorium.
But the majority of my fiction-writing is in the sphere known as speculative, comprising science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, magical realism, bizarro, weird tales… you get the idea. Now, any of those genres might use a historical setting as a backdrop, in which case the standard research mandate once again applies.
And then there is Red Spawn Delivery.
My newest novel, due out March 1, 2017, is as far from historical fiction as one can get. This is the third book in my Webrid Chronicles series. It does not take place on Earth, let alone in any existing galaxy. There are not, and never have been, humans in its universe. There is nothing an academic library can do to help me.
Yet the settings of the Webrid novels need to be as vivid and believable as you’d find in well-researched historical fiction. And the invented cities and planets and solar systems do need a sense of history. The fun part: I get to make it all up. The frightening challenge: I have to make it all up!
In a certain way, the ground rules are the same ones I’d follow to get ready to write a historical novel. (I should also mention that this is a humorous series, so there are many satirical parallels between human foibles and those of my alien characters.) I ask myself the same questions.: What was a certain place like at a particular time, and from a particular point of view? My main character, Webrid, is a working-class guy, very tall, very lazy, very interested in food, drinks, and females. So I make sure to include bars and babes, details about what types of food are available, and I point out how small chairs are and how short other species are.
The big difference is, I can’t look any of this up. Or can I? Since the first Webrid book, Green Light Delivery, I have kept a detailed style guide. That becomes my primary resource for later manuscripts, making sure I get the “facts” right. The northern hemisphere of the planet Cheed, for example, is the only location in the solar system that has trees. Therefore, I have to be careful to avoid trees in every other place. Nor can buildings be constructed or furnished with wood, since it is an extremely rare and expensive resource. Scenes take place in Northern Cheed only in Green Light Delivery, but the other books in the series must reflect this environmental and economic situation.
Because the Webrid Chronicles are space opera (a subgenre of science fiction that involves travel through outer space), I started my invention of places on a grand scale: I created a solar system called the Raralt Planetary Circle, which consists of four inhabited planets and a few satellites. (There’s something at the center of the circle, too, but you’ll have to read Blue Diamond Delivery to find out what!) There is frequent transportation from one planet to another by residents, and each planet and satellite has a role to play in the overall functioning of society. It is very much equivalent to learning about different neighborhoods in, say, early 17th-century Mantua: where do the rich folks tend to live? The laborers? The religious and political leaders? The outcasts? Those who survive through crime?
The parallels between world-building from scratch for speculative novels and the intricate, research-based reconstruction for historical novels is not so surprising when you think about it. Writing in The Atlantic, science fiction author Chris Beckett pinpoints one purpose of his genre as allowing author and reader “to reflect on how societies and cultures grow and change and rupture.” Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the purpose of historical fiction too?
Red Spawn Delivery Blurb
How can a picnic go so wrong?
Ganpril Webrid’s grandfather always told him not to use his cart unless he was getting paid for it. But this huge, hairy carter on the planet Bexilla let a friend talk him into carting beers and grub to a picnic with her old college roommate.
Worst mistake he ever made. Before he can even burp up his first sandwich, the ol’ roomie stretches out her ten shiny legs, and out pop a hundred spawn. And before Webrid can settle his churning stomach, fifty of those spawn have been kidnapped.
Like it or not, Webrid finds himself on another planet-hopping adventure with snarky, brainy pals Zatell and Stravin and a host of wacky aliens. This time, Webrid’s cart is a playpen — or it will be, if he can only find those blasted spawn.
You can learn more about Anne E. Johnson on her website. http://anneejohnson.com
Follow Anne on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AnneEJohnsonAuthor/
And Twitter https://twitter.com/anneejohnson
Red Spawn Delivery will be available at all major online retailers starting March 1, 2017. Visit the Goodreads page (and enter a giveaway by 2/28/17) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33009410-red-spawn-delivery