Little Things That Make World Building Work


Today’s guest is R.C. Lewis, who has taught math to teenagers for over ten years, including several where she found calculus is just as fun in American Sign Language. After a lifetime of thinking she didn’t have an ounce of creativity, she realized she just needed to switch to metric. Turns out whole liters were waiting to pour out, and she now writes geeky-chic sci-fi when she escapes the classroom. Her debut novel Stitching Snow releases October 14, 2014 from Hyperion. You can find R.C. on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at her website.

When you’re writing science fiction, world-building is a major consideration. For some writers, it’s the first consideration. Government structure, social hierarchy, clothes and customs and more.

Language is another aspect, and what I want to focus on. Not the global level—how many languages, who speaks each one, levels of formality. No, what I get caught up in are the tiny details. The individual words.

Sure, we can pretend we’re reading a translation of the “real” language, so anything in English is fair game. Sometimes that works just fine, but if we use certain words without thinking them over, we might kill the immersive nature of the reading experience.

Here are a couple of vocabulary areas I try to keep in mind:

Slang

Every society seems to have some form of slang. Personally, I’m rarely in favor of completely making up words for this purpose. If you think about the slang we have in our own society, it all has a root in something. Those roots can often tell you something about the values or focus of the society in question.

On a related note, this is especially true of swear words, which is why I’m especially not into purely made-up words for cussing. It’s a missed opportunity to show something about your world. Do they have puritanical roots similar to ours? Has a focus on technology taken over everything? Do they have long-standing superstitions that are so ingrained, people no longer actively think about the original meaning?

Units of Measure

Wait, measurement? Like, math and science class “don’t forget the units” measurement?

Yes. Exactly.

Let’s start with time. If we’re on a planet, it’s likely enough that it rotates, so “days” are pretty safe. So are “years,” since that planet is probably revolves around a star. But what about “months”? Only if the planet has a moon—and just one. (Can you imagine the complexity of months with more than one moon?) That is, if your months are going to be anything like ours.

And “weeks”? Forget about it. So arbitrary. Easy enough for a world to have them, but there’s no real reason for them to be seven days long.

There are other measurements to consider, too. Say the world is a dimension parallel to ours, with some common history but a divergence at some point where they became even more scientifically focused. Might be a good idea to go metric. Inches and feet and gallons and ounces? Maybe not as likely.

Another problem is that many of our units are named after people. Personally, if I’m reading a story set in a world that has nothing to do with Earth, it jars me to see someone mention watts or volts or megahertz.

(I might just be picky. And a math teacher.)

We have to draw the line somewhere (or risk cluttering up the narrative), so I often let “hours” stand and pretend they’re roughly the length we know them to be, along with other terms. Sometimes it may best serve the story to stick with the familiar, even if it means miles and pounds.

But it’s a decision that should be actively made. Sometimes thinking up alternatives makes us think more deeply about our world … and can be a lot of fun, too.

Summer Reading Club: New Releases

Okay, so this week on the League Summer Reading Club, we're talking about new releases. For our purposes here, a "new release" is a book that's come out in the past 5 years. So let's here what the Leaguers have read and loved recently!

Hopefully you'll add some of these to your TBR pile too!

Lydia Kang loved Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.
"This book, with its dragons and singular main character, has such a rich world and beautiful, savory prose. It will be one of my favorites for life."

Bethany Hagen says to read The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater.
"The combination of mythology, dead Welsh kings and ghosts is already perfect, but after you sprinkle in boarding school boys with artfully rumpled uniforms, it becomes unforgettably delightful."

Beth Revis is obsessed with Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.
"I listened to this book on audiobook, and ended up crying in my car on the way home one day. Cleverly put together, beautifully written, with an edge-of-your seat plot and a take-your-breath-away romance."

E.C. Myers recommends The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas.
"Cross-dressing magical girl at a boarding school for boys. 'Nuff said."

Mindy McGinnis thinks Divided by Elsie Chapman was the best.
"Everyone has an Alternative version of themselves, that they must assassinate in a given period of time to ensure that only the strong survive. Adrenaline-pumper!"

Lissa Price loved Incarceron by Catherine Fisher.
"Love how in her world of computers they recreate the past, and the mythology around it."

Peggy Eddleman adored Legend by Marie Lu.
"The world felt so real and rich, the conflicts were non-stop, and I loved that the characters were so capable and kept you rooting for them every second."

Lenore Applehans recommends The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy.
"It is a bold, ambitious novel about interstellar sex trafficking with rich characters, tight action scenes and grounded writing that never sensationalizes the subject."



Have you read any of these? What would you recommend from a pool of books published in the past 5 years?

Get Out Of the Bathtub! There's A Storm Coming!

I can't tell you how many times I've heard this in my life.

Where I grew up you can see for miles over flat fields. Anytime farm chores left a film on your skin and thunderheads were piling up, you ran for the house so that you didn't have to smell yourself while eating dinner. Now that I'm older - and supposedly wiser - I've found out that a lot of the things I learned when I was a kid weren't necessarily true. Try most of American history... but that's another post.

So while brainstorming for new book ideas I found myself ruminating on this old idea. Did I really need to leap out of the bathtub every time my mom yelled at me, or was she just being overly protective? A little research was all it took to find out that she was no helicopter parent and that Norman Bates is not the only thing to be scared of while getting clean.
  • Yes: You can be struck be lightning while in the shower. When lightning strikes a home it can travel through plumbing, metal pipes delivering that electricity directly to anyone who happens to be holding onto them at the time. Not only that, but the water itself carries impurities that help conduct electricity.
  • Hold the Phone: Actually, don't. For everyone who still has a landline, those conduct lightning blasts as well. Right into your ear. 
  • Those Dishes Will Keep & Your Breath Is Not That Bad : Yeah, don't do dishes during a thunderstorm either. Or brush your teeth. Honestly you should probably just follow the dog. Go under the bed and whimper for a little while.
It turns out that mother nature really can be quite vengeful, and my own wasn't as paranoid as I thought.



Fairy Tales Reimagined

Okay, so I've seen quite a few fairy tale stories floating around out there. I'll admit that I've kind of held them at bay, because I'm afraid I'll get sucked right in and never be able to get out! After all, I devoured the first season and a half Once Upon A Time, and yeah. Wasted a lot of hours there!

Not that I actually think enjoying good books, movies, or TV shows is a waste, but you know. So today, I want to talk fairy tales. Have you read any reimaginings?

Here are a couple I'm starting with (already loaded on the Kindle! Yay!):

A BEAUTY SO BEASTLY by RaShelle Workman.

About: For your vanity, your cruelty, and your cold unfeeling heart, a curse I leave upon you . . .”

What happens if the beauty is also the beast?

The stunning Beatrice Cavanaugh is considered American royalty. She has everything except the ability to love. Cursed on her eighteenth birthday, she becomes more beastly than ever, having a newfound craving for raw meat, and an undeniable yearning for the night. Bitterness is her only companion.

After accusing a maid of stealing, a disgustingly kind and exquisitely handsome guy named Adam shows up asking Beatrice to drop the charges against his mother.

Infuriated by his goodness, Beatrice vows to break him. Destroy him. Make him hurt the way she hurts. So she agrees. On one condition: Adam must take his mother’s place as a servant in the mansion.

Because Beatrice won’t stop until he’s more beastly than she is.


RaShelle said this about where she got the inspiration for A BEAUTY SO BEASTLY: "My inspiration came from the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. I’ve always loved that story but I thought it would be fun to have the beauty also be the beast. And A Beauty So Beastly was born. =)"

RaShelle writes a lot of fairy tale retellings, so be sure to check out her other work!

I'm also looking forward to DOROTHY MUST DIE by Danielle Paige. I mean, the title is enough to peak anyone's interest (and is this technically a fairy tale? It's definitely a retelling, so I'm going to go with it), but here's what the book is about.

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked
Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still the yellow brick road, though—but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission:

Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart.

Steal the Scarecrow’s brain.

Take the Lion’s courage.

Then and only then—Dorothy must die!

And a friend of mine just sold her Alice in Wonderland retelling too! Be sure to check out her announcement on Facebook and say congratulations!

What fairy tale retellings have you read?? What are you excited for?



Summer Reading Club!

Okay, so we here at the League write books. As authors, we're also rabid readers, and we thought it would be fun to have a Summer Reading Club here at the League! So every Friday this month, we'll be highlighting and recommending amazing speculative fiction novels as part of our Club.

Each week will have a different theme, and we thought the best way to start would be to spotlight the novels we loved as teens.

We hope you'll add these titles to your list of books to read if you haven't already, and we'd love to hear your thoughts on what you loved as a teen in the comments!


Lissa Price's Novel of the Month: The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
"This enchanted tale captured my imagination and immersed me in another world."


Lenore Appelhans's Recommended Read: Beauty by Sheri Tepper
"Mixing fairy tales with time travel dystopia, Beauty enthralled me as a young teen and introduced me to genre-bending sci-fi."


Susanne Winnacker's Top Pick: Watchers by Dean Koontz
"As a teen, I devoured everything Koontz had written, and this one featured a super intelligent, genetically engineered dog, which made me love it even more."

Beth Revis's Must-Read: Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
"Most people prefer L'Engle's first in the Time Travel Quartet, A Wrinkle in Time, but I always loved Many Waters. It broke my heart while giving me hope at the same time."

Mindy McGinnis's Pick of the Week: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
"A teen girl surviving alone in a post-nuclear world? Yes, please."

Peggy Eddleman's Feature Title: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
"I first read this probably when I was the same age as Will Stanton-- eleven. I was completely drawn in by the prophesied hero who had to save everyone while he was just a kid. It was one of those books that made me think that being a kid didn't mean I couldn't do great things."

Lydia Kang's Most Memorable Read: Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

"I loved that world so much, and seeing Princess Eilonwy and Taran grow so much throughout the series was one of the best parts."

Bethany Hagens Obsession: Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

"There was something really thrilling about ordinary teens turning into guerrilla fighters, and I loved that it was set in Australia."














What's on your summer reading list??



Space: The Final Frontier

Okay, so that sounds a little Star Trekky, I know. I am a big fan of Star Trek, especially the TV series, The Next Generation. (Most of the others, you know, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and/or Enterprise, I never did get as into.)

Maybe it was Captain Picard that really spoke to me, or how you can watch any episode in any order and understand the story, but I enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know the graphics, and technologies, and special effects aren't as grandiose as today's standards (and the films coming out now!), but it was this series that first sparked my fascination with space travel.

Now, I have yet to pen a space travel novel, but I absolutely love novels set in space. There's something equally exciting and perplexing about being trapped in space. Yes, I view space as a place where I'd be trapped. There's no air out there!


Films like Gravity make me glad I'm on earth, watching as someone else endures the brutalities of extreme temperature and lack of oxygen. I've also enjoyed novels like Across the Universe by Beth Revis, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan, and others.


It seems as though novels set in space are a bit of a trend right now, a "hot thing." I really do think it's one of the final frontiers, where the possibilities of new worlds, new species, new ideas, is endless. Maybe that's what draws authors and readers to write and read novels set in space.

How do you feel about space? Novels set in space? Space travel? 


An Iron Rod To The Head Can Really Change Your Perspective

I'm fascinated by the human brain. Deeply, deeply fascinated. Our understanding of the rest of our bodies is pretty thorough, but the organ that makes us US, that commands our speech and movement, our personalities and intelligence we're still drawing a pretty big blank on. Yes, we're learning. We're mapping our brains and using the technology at our fingertips to make strides, but one of the larger steps toward knowing more about our brains came in 1848.

Phineas Gage was a railroad worker whose job involved setting blasts to make way through rock for the new lines. He used a tamping iron - a metal rod three feet long - to tamp charges down before igniting them. On September 13, 1848 someone messed up. A hole had been bored into the rock, the powder had gone in, and (Gage thought) so had the sand that his tamping iron packs. But the sand wasn't there, and when Gage struck the gunpowder it ignited, sending his tamping iron through his skull. It entered below his left eye socket and exited through the top of his head.

Yep, that's gross.

If you want to see a digital reconstruction of the accident (skull only, no gore) take a look at this video from the New England Journal of Medicine. I personally love that they added Gage's jaw dropping open in shock as the tamping iron explodes his eye socket.

Gage is famous not because he had a tamping iron blown through his head. He's famous because he lived even though part of his frontal lobe exited along with the tamping iron. Gage not only lived, but was walking and speaking right after the accident. His workmen carted him to the town doctor, to whom he supposedly said, "Here's work enough for you, doctor."

Yes, he even had a sense of humor about it all.

But, not for long. Though Gage lived through the accident, his personality showed damage long after the physical healing was finished. Gage had been a hard worker, an intelligent foreman and a pleasant person. Post-accident Gage was a shadow of his former self. The doctor who treated him initially, Dr. John Martin, followed Gage's progress with interest and documented the personality change:
The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was 'no longer Gage.'
While Phineas' accident was life-changing in a bad way, it led to tremendous gains in the emerging science of neurology. Scientists were just beginning to understand that different areas of the brain served different purposes, and while they didn't quite grasp how this worked (enjoy this amusing early phrenology chart), Gage's trauma taught them that the frontal cortex was heavily involved in personality and social reasoning.

Gage died during an epileptic fit thirteen years after the tamping rod accident. His skull and tamping iron are in the Harvard University School of Medicine, if you want to go see them.

Gage's story is both sad and amazing, one that's always captured my attention. That a iron rod can pass through the human brain and that brain continue to function might sound like fiction, but it's not.

It's just science.