Glaciers, Bogs, and Ancient Ruins in "The Ban of Irsisri"

In less than a week, The Ban of Irsisri will go up on Amazon! The release is set for July 17. The experience of having my book published is sooooo cool. Please mark the date on your calendar and go online to look at it, if not buy it! It will be available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Over the past few weeks, I've shared a number of different inspirations for the landscapes that form various settings in The Ban of Irsisri. Here are three more:

  1. The Cana Glalith is a glacier that appears in the story. Within the ice, someone long ago created a small armory and placed spells on it so only certain people could access it. It turns out that the armory, Icefast Hold, contains more than anyone ever knew. My inspiration for the Cana Glalith came from seeing glaciers like the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska.
  2. Not too far from the city of Kophid, a Saerani warrior, Visylon, is trying to find his friend, Enkinor. The trail leads him to a bog, up in the hills, where he is confronted by outlaws, a powerful man-like creature called a krylaan, and a huge monster that comes out of the water to indiscriminately attack everyone. I was inspired to create this setting by the many bogs one can see in upstate New York and the Adirondacks.
  3. The abandoned temple of Qirik was a site of demon-worship sometime before the events taking place in The Ban of Irsisri. The sorcerer Raethir Del must travel to Qirik in order to obtain otherworldly aid in obtaining the Gauntlets, a powerful artifact owned by Enkinor. As I constructed Qirik I was inspired by two different landscapes. One was Angkor Wat in Cambodia and ruins, choked by trees like the strangler fig, appearing in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The other inspiration was the ruins of Chichen Itza, the pre-Columbian Mayan city in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Rock Music and "The Ban of Irsisri"

My recent posts have pointed out real-world inspiration for the exotic landscapes found in my fantasy novel, The Ban of Irsisri (due out July 17!). Much of this inspiration came from the Tennessee countryside, including lakes, waterfalls, caves, and mountains. But some of my inspiration came from album covers for 1970s rock music.

In The Ban of Irsisri there is a chapter where the protagonist, Enkinor, has been transported by the Dreamtunnel to the volcanic island of Tari Nar. When Enkinor wakes up on the shore of this island, the horizon seems unnaturally near. Once he climbs through the jungle to a higher vantage point, he can see that a vast upwelling of water surrounding Tari Nar is actually flowing over the side of a larger crater within which Tari Nar sits. (A geologist might be able to speculate on the geothermal causes of this.) This landscape was inspired by the inside of the cover of an album by Yes, titled "Close to the Edge."

The Ban of Irsisri also presents some rather exotic-looking people and creatures. For example, the real villain in the story is a shape-shifting sorcerer named Raethir Del. Early in the novel, Enkinor witnesses Raethir Del's shape-shifting firsthand when the sorcerer transforms into a fish. Not long after, however, Enkinor is witness to a more spectacular feat of metamorphosis when Raethir Del transforms into something that is part man, part wolf, and part butterfly. This image was inspired by the cover of the album by Uriah Heep, titled "Demons and Wizards."

The artist behind both album covers is the imaginative Roger Dean.

A Mountain and a Grave in "The Ban of Irsisri"

I've been sharing some of the real-life geography that inspired the landscapes in my novel, The Ban of Irsisri (release date T-24 days and counting!). Many of these landscapes were inspired by geographic features in Tennessee.

Visylon, one of the main characters in The Ban of Irsisri, begins his search for his friend Enkinor in the Parthulian Hills. There, as the sun sets, he is approached by Anquilon, the ghost of a historic warrior. Anquilon points to a nearby double-peak in the hills, and explains that on that peak Visylon will find the grave of an ancient king, and a small cedar growing from the grave. Visylon must cut down the tree with his sword in order to draw into his sword some important power critical in the development of the story.

The double-peak was modeled after the Chimney Tops, a prominent geological feature easily seen from the parkway crossing the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and accessible by a steep 3.7-mile hike. In the early 1970s, my father and brother and I made the climb. The trail at that time ended at the base of the rocky pinnacles and a sign (long since gone) warned hikers about proceeding further. Naturally, having inherited a bit of my mother's rebelliousness, I scrambled up the first of the two peaks. I was rewarded with not only a view across the "saddle" to the second peak, but also a breathtaking view of the Sugarlands valley through which the parkway climbs on its way from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina.

The tree growing from a grave was inspired by a real-life grave in the woods of Jackson County, Tennessee. My step-great-great-grandfather's first wife, Lucinda Deatherage Matheny, is buried in an unusual above-ground brick-encircled grave. A tree once grew from the top of this grave. I always felt the grave was unusual; to see the tree growing from the grave, drawing nourishment from the dust of human remains, felt very Gothic to me.

Waterfalls and an Underground Lake: Settings in "The Ban of Irsisri"

Last week I shared how exotic landscapes are said to be a hallmark of epic fantasy, and how the opening scenes of my fantasy novel, The Ban of Irsisri, occur on and along the shores of a large lake surrounded by forested hills that was based in part on Center Hill Lake in Middle Tennessee.

The Ban of Irsisri, scheduled to be published next month, was originally self-published under the title The Dreamtunnel Sequence. Readers may recall the cover of that first "edition" depicted a very high waterfall. (See the Amazon page for The Dreamtunnel Sequence to see this cover.) The artwork on the cover is a watercolor, titled "The Challenge," by an artist named Richard Akerman. I purchased a print of this many years ago. I was always struck by Akerman's use of shades and tints of blue to show depth, the way he gave movement to the art through his depiction of mist at the bottom of the falls, and the way he included riders leading horses at the bottom of the falls to give the falls scale.

This watercolor was the inspiration behind the Falls of Mist on the Esolasha River in my story. The tower Tura Iaphon stands in a hidden grotto near the falls, and the Rivertree, a gigantic red cedar, straddles the Esolasha River upstream from the falls. In my novel, Visylon, a Saerani warrior, must retrieve a prophetic document from its hiding place within the Rivertree. To do this, he must successfully paddle down the rushing waters of the Esolasha and enter the base of the Rivertree without being swept over the falls.

Early in the novel, Enkinor, another main character, is racing ahead of a forest fire. He reaches a very tall bluff, next to a different waterfall, and has no choice but to do some non-technical rock-climbing to reach the bottom. That waterfall was inspired by a real-life waterfall, Fall Creek Falls near the town of Spencer in Middle Tennessee. Fall Creek Falls is the highest free-falling waterfall east of the Mississippi. Enkinor finds a cave and an underground lake behind the base of the waterfall. This underground lake was inspired by a lake in Sweetwater, Tennessee, called The Lost Sea. The Lost Sea is the largest non-subglacial underground lake in the US and the second-largest in the world.


Exotic Landscapes in "The Ban of Irsisri"

Michael Moorcock, in his book Wizardry and Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy, says that exotic landscapes are one of the hallmarks of epic fantasy. I think I've known that on a subconscious level, having read so many works in this genre. Certainly my epic fantasy, The Ban of Irsisri, is chock-full of exotic locales. (If all goes according to plan, The Ban of Irsisri will be published in mid-July by Cobble Publishing.) I thought readers might enjoy seeing some of the real-life locations that inspired the locales used in my novel.

This week: Center Hill Lake in Middle Tennessee. Center Hill Lake was formed by the construction of a dam by the Army Corps of Engineers on the Caney Fork River in 1948. If you check the photo on the Corps of Engineers website, you will see low, tree-covered hills. This was the inspiration for the scenes at the beginning of The Ban of Irsisri, where two rival tribes engage in battle, first on the water and then along the shore of a lake where the tribes live. One of the main characters, Enkinor, is positioned on top of one of the hills surrounding the lake and, seeing the approaching attack by his enemies, uses a primitive kind of hang-glider to turn the tide of battle. As far as landscapes go, Center Hill Lake is hardly exotic, but it served as an important "model" for the setting at the beginning of the novel.

World-building was easy for God. Not so much for fantasy and scifi authors.

As I complete final revisions on my soon-to-be-released novel, The Ban of Irsisri, and continue outlining a sequel, I'm spending a great deal of time making sure my world-building is internally consistent. Many people have pointed out that world-building for scifi and fantasy stories is a herculean task. Not can be, but is. Virtually every other genre of novel out there has its world-building already done - at worst, an author may have to spend some time researching a location or time period or the customs and culture of a faraway people. But they don't have to come up with something completely new that makes sense and doesn't contradict itself!

I recently wrote about atlases constructed for imaginary worlds. The importance of geography and cartography can not be overstated. One need only study Tolkien's work to see how a carefully-thought-out body of world-building knowledge can inform and enrich the experience of viewing a new world for the first time. Tolkien developed a history for the peoples of Middle Earth, their mythologies, and their languages. Though some have questioned the robustness of the geographies he created, Tolkien nevertheless successfully established his famous stories in a world whose details supported those stories. I was not only exposed to Tolkien's world-building at a vulnerable age, but that of Robert E. Howard as well. Though many other authors contributing to the Conan canon provided input to building the world in which Conan traveled and fought and wenched, Howard gave us the Hyborian Age. The reason the Hyborian age succeeded so well is because it was deliberately constructed to remind us of the ancient history and geography of a world (our world) we already know so well.

History and culture and geography are key components of world-building, but other components include language, flora and fauna, systems of magic, and monsters. Two books that address components like this are

Fortunately for fantasy authors there are also books describing extensive world-building that spans whole series of novels, as in these reference works sitting on my shelves:

  • The Wheel of Time Companion: The People, Places, and History of the Bestselling Series, edited by Harriet McDougal et al., clocks in at 815 pages. The book jacket says the Companion includes entries for each named character, a dictionary of the Old Tongue, maps of the Last Battle, histories and customs of the nations of the world, the strength level of many channelers, and descriptions of unique flora and fauna. This reference work is organized in a simple A-to-Z fashion.

  • Robin Furth's Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance: Revised and Updated, is almost 700 pages long, and includes "Characters and Genealogies," "Magical Objects and Forces," "Mid-World and Our World Places," "Portals and Magical Places," "Mid-, End-, and Our World Maps," "Timeline for the Dark Tower Series," "Mid-World Dialects," "Mid-World Rhymes, Songs, and Prayers," "Political and Cultural References," and "References to Stephen King's Own Work." As a concordance, Furth's volume provides book number and page number references for each entry. Despite being comprehensive and detailed, I found this concordance a bit difficult to use whenever I needed to look something up.


Faith, and Surviving the Apocalypse

It is with some chagrin that I admit I do judge many books by their covers. Or their titles. Had my daughter not passed along to me When the English Fall, by David Williams, I most likely would not have given it a second glance. But I read it, and I'm so glad I did.

The story is narrated in first person by a devout Amish farmer named Jacob. He and his family are living in a community in rural Pennsylvania when a massive solar storm gives rise to apocalyptic circumstances for the people on planet Earth. Because of their minimal reliance on technology, the lifestyle of Jacob's family and their Amish neighbors is nowhere near as impacted as that of the "English" -- their name for the non-Amish. But as time goes on, and social order breaks down, bringing the starving and the criminal onto their farms, the Amish are hard-pressed to adapt.

Using as he does the main character to narrate the story through a series of journal entries, author David Williams uses a simple style of storytelling that flows easily, mirroring the spirituality and lifestyle of Jacob, his family, and their neighbors. Jacob turns to prayer over and over again, and it is his faith that sustains him through all their troubles. The Amish willingly share with those in need and struggle with the use of violence to combat violence as gunfire comes closer and closer to their homes, week by week, day by day.

In the end, the Amish make a key decision to ensure their survival, a decision based on divine guidance and the ability of Jacob's daughter to share a vision of a different future. In both good times and bad, it is the faith of these people that sustains them.


Rocket Launches via Augmented Reality

On May 11 it looked like conditions would finally be favorable for the launch of SpaceX's Bangabandhu Satellite-1 mission. The Bangabandhu-1 is the first geostationary communications satellite for Bangladesh.

As time approached for the launch, I thought I would hunt for a good app to let me follow launch status. (There's not much point in running out to the beach to watch a launch until the likelihood of launch looks pretty good!) I only had a few minutes to spare before the scheduled launch time. By sheer luck I discovered a fantastic app, dubbed "321 Launch."

321 Launch is sponsored by Florida Today and USA Today newspapers. Several cool things struck me as I downloaded the app and opened it. First, you can set up an augmented reality simulation of the launch on any flat surface. I chose to set it up on the floor of our oceanside balcony. By aiming my phone in the right direction, I could walk around a replica of the launch pad and the Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket, zoom in on different features of the rocket and the pad, watch it launch (as it were) from our deck, and then watch a model of the rocket climb (as it were) into the air in front of my face. (Being a fairly cloudy day, this was just about the best way to follow the action.) Meanwhile, I had live video feeds from cameras on the first stage of the rocket (the booster) as well as the second stage of the rocket. Once the booster separated, I could follow it's descent. And if that wasn't impressive enough, I could switch to a mode that showed me the rocket's trajectory through the sky, and the path of descent of the booster, in 3D, from where I was standing, about 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral. Of course the video feed from the droneship showed me when the booster had landed.

If you're a space buff, or a technology geek, or you just want to give your kids or your students a fascinating experience, download this app and watch for the next launch. It's the next best thing to watching a launch in Florida. (Even if you're in Florida.)

J. G. Ballard's "The Crystal World"

I was about eleven years old when my parents signed me up for the Science Fiction Book Club. I had outgrown the Weekly Reader Book Club years before. I had seen subscription postcards for SFBC inserted into many of the paperbacks I was reading, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series published by Ace Books. Yes, I thought, I want scifi! This is what I want to read!

One of the first books I received from SFBC was J. G. Ballard's The Crystal World. Recently I reread this book. I had vague memories of a mysterious space-time-defying crystallization of the jungle, and the dangers of becoming trapped within it. Finishing the book for the second time in over fifty years, the sense of wonder returned, and I quickly finished it.

I also recalled a certain sense of difficulty with reading it at eleven years old. Now, with rereading, I realize why. Ballard's style is much more literary than a lot of science fiction. And there are some adult themes of love and sex, of intimacy and perceived betrayal, that went right over my head when I was in the sixth grade.

I was also reminded of the power of mystery, as I recently described in one of my blog postings. I see now that at an early age I latched onto this power, even hungered for it, though I might have had a hard time explaining what it was I sought. Fortunately over the years I've found many other books to satisfy this need. I can only hope that I've succeeded in introducing mystery into my own writing.

Worldbuilding, Maps, and Atlases

Recently I posted on the creation of character names as a part of worldbuilding. Another major aspect of worldbuilding is geography, and sharing that geography using maps.

I remember as a young boy taking Shell and Esso roadmaps and plotting the route of our annual vacation to visit relatives. I would start from the dot marking Satellite Beach, Florida, and tally the mileage numbers from there to Cookeville, Tennessee, so I could create a table that would tell me, as we reached each major city on the route, how much further we had to go before we arrived. I remember noting each body of water we would cross, wondering where their names originated.

Maps of foreign lands, and lands of the imagination, were no less intriguing. I could follow the journeys in The Lord of the Rings using the maps tipped in to the Houghton Mifflin hardbacks, and the travels of Conan the Barbarian using the map shown in each of the Lancer paperbacks. Certainly, the more detailed and expansive a world a fantasy author creates, the more helpful a good map (or maps) will be.

Entire authorized atlases have been prepared for some fantasy fiction, giving fans resources that draw together not only maps but much background information as well. Some of my favorites are the amazing atlases authored and designed by Karen Wynn Fonstad, including

  1. The Atlas of Middle-Earth. (Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings)
  2. The Atlas of the Land. (Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant)
  3. The Atlas of Pern. (McCaffrey's Dragonriders)

Another excellent atlas is Barbara Strachey's Journeys of Frodo: An Atlas of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. (Unfortunately, it doesn't appear like Ms. Strachey published other atlases.)