Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Burning Guest Post Experience: Abbie Hilton and Persistent Worldbuilding

It is my great pleasure to introduce Abbie Hilton, author of The Guild of the Cowry Catchers. Abbie does such a great job introducing herself, that I'm going to leave it at that, save for linkifying a few of her words.

Read on. Enjoy.

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Hi! I'm Abbie Hilton from The Guild of the Cowry Catchers podcast, and Mark asked me to do a guest post for Burning Zeppelin. My current podcast is a dark, nautical fantasy about pirates and banned books and unusual interpersonal relationships. I try to do some interesting things with gender roles and sexuality as well as ship fights and blood in the scuppers. The books are set in a pre-industrial world called Panamindorah, populated with creatures called shelts, as well as some species of talking animal. Shelts are derivatives of fauns. They have the two legs and tail of some type of animal and look like humans from the waist up. In addition, they share certain traits with their animal counterparts. In some cases, shelts and their animals have diverged in their lifestyles and evolution, while in other cases they live in symbiotic (or parasitic) relationships. In some instances, a shelt or animal species is extinct, leaving the surviving half with no counterpart. The only human-looking creatures in Panamindorah are shape shifters whose true form is a dragon. They were so powerful and long-lived that they became a menace. In the distant past, the shelts and animals of Panamindorah rallied and killed nearly all of them. The few that remain keep a low profile. There is magic in Panamindorah, but it appears so rarely that the reader may forget it exists. 

I've podcast another, unrelated series set in this world called The Prophet of Panamindorah. I've got a third series, Walk Upon High, that I've not yet released.
Mark wanted me to talk about the phenomena of a persistent fantasy world in which an author continues to work through multiple stories over multiple years. I created Panamindorah when I was about 16 and I'm now 33, so it's been around for over half my life. It was my second created world. For each new series, I move to a different part of the world at a different point in time, and I've written a number of short stories in addition to the epics. I'm the sort of writer who doesn't know what happened until she writes it. Consequently, creating all these stories gives the world a sense of history and texture that it might lack if I'd only outlined the surrounding story-scape. I also like to use ideas from actual human history in my books, and since I haven't published anything, I'm able to go back into the stories and tweak minor details so that everything remains consistent. This is changing now that I've podcast them. I've yet to decide whether that's a good thing.

Writing in the same world does have disadvantages. I've grown over time, and my world has grown with me. Prophet had a more simplistic world view than Cowry Catchers because Prophet is the work of my adolescence and Cowry Catchers is the work of my adulthood. However, it's still the same world with connecting storylines and overlapping character timelines. Walk Upon High is the story that connects Cowry Catchers and Prophet. I need to re-write it, since its plot and that of Cowry Catchers are currently mutually exclusive.

These are tangles you run into when you keep writing in the same world, but for me the benefits are worth the trade-ff. I'm more interested in plot and character than in world-building. With Panamindorah, the hard part is done, and it has been test-driven for basic flaws of logic. If I want something a little alien, I can easily find a remote corner of the world or a distant point in time where everything feels new again. It's fun and interesting to imagine how the events in the stories might be passed down in the world itself - how they might be embellished into legends or myths or even deformed out of all recognition. Staying in the same world allows me to build that kind of scaffolding.

As much as I love Panamindorah, I did not make conscious plans to camp in it forever. If I find a story I can't tell there, I'll go tell it somewhere else. However, Panamindorah has a lot of elasticity. I'm sure I'll wander to other places, but I suspect I'll still be returning to this world and its stories decades from now. As fun as a new friend can be, there's no substitute for someone who's known you your whole life.

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As I said when I first asked Abbie to do this guest post, I find the idea of writing in a persistent world a little alien. I'm the fantasy worldbuilding equivalent of Pa Ingalls, always driven to discover what new world lies beyond the next wrinkle of my gray matter. I hope Abbie's writing has helped you see a little of the other side.

And, in case I haven't said it enough, check out Abbie's stuff! Of all the many, many podcasts in my stable right now, The Guild of the Cowry Catchers is the one I look forward to most, and I listen to a lot of great podcasts, so that's saying a lot.

So, thanks again, Abbie Hilton. And the rest of you...

You know, I really need a sendoff that doesn't make me want to throw up. A topic for another day. Goodnight, folks.

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