?

Log in

Michelle Bottorff
14 December 2014 @ 01:28 pm

Cantata in Coral and Ivory is set on a world named Ialfa, which I had originally intended to be used for fairytale retellings, or fairytale-like stories. But I thought I wanted to do tales that featured a slightly more… er… sophisticated grasp of politics than ones where kings arbitrarily pass the rulership down to whichever of their sons brings back the golden fish, or where princes can get away with marrying kitchen maids just because they happen to have the smallest foot in the kingdom. I wanted the romance and the magic (and the happy endings!) but set against a richer, more realistic cultural backdrop.

Because of that, I had two main interests when I started working on this world: the creation of an elaborate historical background, and a magic system that had an organic feel to it.

I didn’t actually have a specific story in mind yet, just those two goals. So started on a very large scale. I created a solar system, and a world geography. Then I started mapping the rise and fall of nations, and worked out what exactly magic was here, and how it accomplished things. This established the “rules” of the world. But everything I knew was very general and grand and sweeping, and it wasn’t until I decided that I wanted to actually write a story in this world that I started to think on a smaller scale about what it might be like to live there.

The spot I rather arbitrarily decided was the location of my first story, turned out to be on the equator of a continent roughly the size and geographic position of Africa. So I started reading about Africa, as well as other tropical locations and civilizations—feeding the fabulator. The large-scale rules I had already established by creating my geography guided my search for smaller details, which then ballooned back out to large-scale rules again.

If the most common form of agriculture in my target climate is slash and burn, then what sort of civilization would emerge from that base? Would they have money? What would their religion be like? How about their courts and palaces?

One book I checked out of the library commented that Africa was home to the greatest variety of very large mammals still in existence, but that giant mammals used to roam all parts of the world. Africa’s abundance is merely because, for some as yet unknown reason, more large species survived extinction there. “What,” I asked myself, “would my world be like if I reversed that trend? What if this continent I was working with wasn’t the place where the most giants survived extinction, but the place where the fewest did? Then, if I had elephants, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses and giraffes here, what did that mean the rest of the world would look like?”

My world was gradually gaining depth. And although it didn’t look anything at all like what you’d expect from the word “fairytale”, it did have cultural richness, plenty of room for romance, and some nicely understated magic. Most importantly, it had achieved a unique personality all of its own, and was coming to life.

It became so much alive, in fact, that it did what most authors complain that their characters do.

My setting developed a mind of its own, and completely took over the story.

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
Michelle Bottorff
08 December 2014 @ 09:45 pm

This might amuse people who have read Cantata or Pavane. (And maybe even those that haven’t.)

I have a webpage that will do you up a horoscope Coral Palace style. Now with a fancy image showing your birth signs and the current state of the skies that displays if you tell the page your birthdate.

Please be aware that the advice of the Coral Palace astrologers comes without any warrantee express or implied.

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
Michelle Bottorff
02 December 2014 @ 03:40 pm

I don’t know exactly when I started writing Cantata in Coral and Ivory, but it was over twelve years ago. At the time I had been writing seriously for publication for several years, and had made a couple pro sales: a short story and an article in an RPG magazine. I had also finished three novels, needed a new project, and was in the mood to write a regency. (I’m a Georgette Heyer fan). But I’d learned enough about the publishing industry by then to realize that if I continued jumping genres like I had been, I was going to make a lot of extra work for myself—particularly in the area of market research. And market research is borrring!

After some thought, I decided that if I was going to specialize in one genre only, it should probably be Fantasy and Science Fiction, because I loved worldbuilding so much. But there was no rule I knew of that said a fantasy book couldn’t have a romantic comedy-of-manners feel to it. And, I had even recently started building a shiny new fantasy world to do fairytale retellings in. Fairytales and comedy-of-manners sounded like a great combination. There was just one little irregularity…

When I made the geography of the world, I had done so by randomly smashing tectonic plates together. And it wasn’t until I had started building a basic “history of civilization” for it that I realized that the continent I had chosen to have my people moving about on and fighting over was approximately the same size and geographic position as Africa.

Comedy-of-manners fairytales in pseudo-Africa?

Why not?

So that became the plan: to write something mannerly, witty, fun and romantic, with a fairytale plot and an exotic African-inspired setting.

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
Michelle Bottorff
28 November 2014 @ 10:23 am

Let it hereby be known that Cantata in Coral and Ivory by L. Shelby (aka Yours Truly) is now available for purchase at Air Castle Media and Amazon. And maybe other places too that I don’t know about yet.

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
Michelle Bottorff
17 October 2014 @ 04:41 pm

The fact that I do research seemed to be very important to my reviewer/interviewer for Across a Jade Sea over at Underground Book Reviews who asked about it both in the interview and earlier when informing me that they would be posting a review.

I wasn’t sure how to reply exactly. A reading list* didn’t seem too appropriate. Besides, compared to many historical authors I don’t do that much research. Perhaps more to the point: I do research differently. I’m not usually trying to re-create anything specific, I’m just trying to learn, to understand — I figure the better I am at understanding this world, the more real my own worlds will feel.

So, for instance, in the interest of understanding I currently have this big thick book on the 30 Year’s War out of the library. Which is almost ironic, because it’s a war that wracked the Holy Roman Empire, several decades after the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist in the alternate history world the story I’m “researching” is set in. But it was a book about roughly the right time-period and the right part of the world for a story that’s only a handful of titles away in the queue, and so I’m reading it to try and gain a better understanding of that time and place. I don’t care about who fought who where, and who died, or any of those nity-gritty details. But I do care about the reasons why they were fighting, the social pressures, the culture, the economic factors… that kind of stuff. (Plus: a war that started with some people getting thrown out a window, so all throughout the war people kept making references to throwing people out of windows. Lovely! It’ll probably be some other book entirely, but I’m certain I can get some story mileage out of that tidbit somwhere.)

 

Anyway, my daughters look at this big, thick, undoubtedly dry history book about a war, of all things, and then stare at me like “Mom, we always knew you were nuts”, but my oldest son goes “Oh, cool! I might want to look at that one when you’re done with it.” Chacun a son gout!

Similarly, I just scored as a library discard for 25 cents an entire book on the construction and architecture of the Hagia Sophia with lots of pictures and diagrams and such. My most writerly daughter sees me pick it up and says “You know Mom, I look at these books you get and they just look so boring. I’d rather just google stuff.” I use google too. But IMHO its best for getting a very basic overview, or for finding a specific fact. For gaining an understanding of a topic there’s nothing to beat finding a good book on the subject and reading it.

Not that I know why I need to understand the architecture of the Hagia Sophia… but I’m sure I’ll find a use for it eventually. Besides, only 25 cents! :)

 
 
* According to LibraryThing where I have been attempting to track my reading for the past five years or so, I read the following books specifically as research for Across a Jade Sea. (This list is probably incomplete, and does not include related fiction, internet research, or movies/documentaries watched):

 
Diesel’s Engine: From Conception to 1918 by C. Lyle Cummins Jr.
The Complete Titanic: From the Ship’s Earliest Blueprints to the Epic Film by Stephen J. Spignesi
SS Leviathan: America’s First Superliner by Brent Holt
Picture History of the Normandie: With 190 Illustrations by Frank O. Braynard
The Small-Engine Handbook by Peter Hunn
Ancient Chinese Warfare by Ralph D. Sawyer
A Concise History of China, J. A. G. Roberts
A Thousand Pieces of Gold by Adeline Yen Mah
Old outboard motor service manual. Vol.1
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain**

 

Why did I read these particular books? Because they were what I could find at my library. As I said, I don’t do historical research like someone who is trying to re-create history –it’s not worth it to me to spend money hunting down rare primary sources or obscure facts. I’m going to be making up everything. So I just need to understand. How does a diesel engine work, what did the integration of diesel technology look like and how did it compare to the existing steam tech? What were its advantages and disadvantages compared to the gas-burning engines that were also being invented and introduced at the same time? What did a marine diesel engine of the era look like? What did the big passenger-liners look like? Who travelled on them, and why? Who worked on them, and how were they operated? The Chinese history, of course, was for inspiration in creating Chunru’s country–which definitely isn’t China, but it’s probably more like China than anywhere else on Earth. Small motors and outboard motors… well, if you’ve read the book you’ll know why. :)

There’s also everything I’ve ever read that was useful BEFORE I got the idea for this story (and which predated me recording my reading on LibraryThing). For example, I’ve also read a book on medieval clockwork, one about a journey across the ocean on a balsa raft, several books on pirates, a bunch more on particular aspects of various Asian cultures (there were five or six of those from when I was “researching” for Cantata and Pavane), on European history (an area of ongoing importance, I can list some of the more recent of those if anyone cares), on Language and Linguistics (another ongoing interest) etc, etc.

Also, never being afraid of stuff that looks old, I have read many fictional works that were written in the time period that Across a Jade Sea is set in. That might have been the biggest help of all.

 
 
** Yeah, okay, it’s the wrong time period, but still… non-fiction, journey by steamboat around Europe and the Holy Lands. Plus: Mark Twain. So I figured, why not?

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
 
Michelle Bottorff
21 September 2014 @ 05:50 pm

In My Head Theatre had been running scenes from the “Spy Guy” story from my Opera Magique world, but now that I seem to have got a reasonably complete plot put together, it’s been switching things up a bit. Today it was the Across a Jade Sea sequel featuring Batiya’s oldest brother. (Don’t get excited, anyone. I won’t be writing it any time soon. It isn’t even in the queue yet.)

Working out plot points for the “Spy Guy” story in advance seems reasonably benign — with the flex of a totally rewritten history to work in, I don’t think further research into Germany circa 1700 is going to destroy a plot about a bunch of smallish political entities vying for control of a magical item.

But do I really know enough about the technical challenges facing an Army Engineer in WWI/WWII to be able to put that kind of a plot together at this point?

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
Michelle Bottorff
08 August 2014 @ 12:28 pm

I’ve actually been doing remarkably well this summer… as compared to, say, last summer and the summer before that. I’ve been hoping this was because I’m stronger and fitter than I was last summer, but it might just be because this summer has been cooler, or something.

But although I’ve stayed pretty active (for me) for most of the summer, for the past couple weeks my energy levels dropped severely, and so I feel like I haven’t been getting anything done.

This is slightly illusory. I do get some stuff done, just not as much, and not the stuff I feel like I’m supposed to be doing. For example, I have set up worldbuilding databases for three of my daughters. The databases have places to store characters, events, and locations. And include the capability to show dates according to an imaginary calendar (assuming it’s not too complicated… no leap days, for example), to display character images on character sheets, to place locations on a map by clicking on it, to assign certain events and characters to certain stories, and to dynamically build family trees and personal timelines.

(This isn’t as impressive as it sounds… I already had created those capabilities for myself, so all I had to do was alter the website code I was already using, so that it would work for multiple people each with their own separate database.)

But even so, I’ve been spending far more time watching tv and playing solitaire than I’m really happy with, and it’s been a bit of a relief that I’ve actually managed to get work done on my primary project these past two days. Yay!

As a final aside, I think I’ve figured out why sometimes my post cross-poster doesn’t cross-post. One of my other plugins was conflicting. Apparently all I have to do to fix it, is to repost the post… but sometimes I forget. :(

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
Michelle Bottorff
25 July 2014 @ 07:40 am

I haven’t been on my computer much recently. First it was because my sister was visiting. After that, I guess my story-teller’s itch got to be too much for me, and I switched from working on covers to doing revisions to the Blood Price (Black Flag 2) storyboards, and I do that with a pencil and paper rather than stylus and pixels.

The thing with my Black Flag storyboards is that they are deliberately not good drawings. (The kids call them my scribbles). I don’t want to spend any time making them look good because there is no point — they’re just there to help me figure out how to layout the 3D art. Besides, I don’t want any inner resistance to making changes. Scribbling is a deliberate choice. But apparently after a week of scribbling there’s something in me that starts feeling… defensive. I find myself thinking “I really can draw better than this. Really. I could make this look nicer if I tried. Really.”

So I ended up doing a couple not-so-ugly sketches to reassure myself that, yes, my storyboards would be a lot less ugly if I was actually trying to make them not-ugly. ::rolls eyes::

The thing I hate: the little voice inside me that as soon as I decide to share the sketches, starts saying, “Just because they’re not as ugly as your storyboards, doesn’t mean they’re actually good.” Grrr. Shuddup, you stupid voice! I’m just sharing the silly things, I’m not trying to sell them. (And even if I was, if people didn’t think they were good enough, they wouldn’t have to buy!)

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
Michelle Bottorff
20 June 2014 @ 10:30 am

Somewhat ironically, given how rarely I post in my own blog, I have just had a guest blog go up on Book View Cafe

It’s about how to make up slang for your invented cultures. :)

There are some other things that happened last week that I probably should have posted about. (And I would have if I didn’t have so many things happening at once!)

Lets see… I’ve been married two dozen years, now. There’s a nice number. I still haven’t had my anniversary dinner with my husband, however — life has been interfering.

My concertina and I went to a folk sing-a-long. They sing out of folk “Hymnals”, so I can usually follow along with the chords on my concertina. It’s fun, and great practice.

The brakes on our car died. Since we had been planning to replace it, we did that rather than having them repaired, and I am now co-owner of a vehicle (mini-van, seats 7) that is about half the age of our previous one. (So just over ten years old, instead of just over twenty.)

I joined an online tatting guild (tatting is my new hobby), posted pictures of stuff I was working on, and was asked to share the pattern for the little tatted dragon pendants I had invented. I did so, and had bunches of people wanting to try make them. So I have not only blogged, and I have been blogged about: here is one tatter’s take on my pattern (I’m linking to the central of three post so far.)

And here is the original:

Mirrored on My Website.

 
 
Michelle Bottorff
07 May 2014 @ 08:24 pm

I got my new permanent resident card in the mail today. It was actually green–unlike my first “green card”, which was pink, and my second one, which was pale yellow. It also came with a pamphlet welcoming me to the United States. That made me chuckle a bit — I’ve been here for more than twenty years! But I guess it’s more bother than it’s worth to sort out which cards are renewals, and which are actually new.

The pink card is still my favorite, though, and I still carry it around in my wallet. I like it, not because of the color, but because it officially and with all due legality declares that I am an alien. (In big bold letters across the top!) I like to use it to pick up my badge at science fiction conventions.

Speaking of which, I will be going to Marcon this weekend. (I just hope I can get everything I want to get done really soon finished tomorrow, because I’m sure to be sick for all of next week. That’s the price I pay for revelry.)

Mirrored on My Website.