World Building Part 1: Using Anthropology to consider important elements of ‘Worlds’

fantasy-2925250_960_720There are many blogs and books out there on world building. I thought maybe injecting a little anthropology in this process might help you with some of your writing process. After all, anthropology is about studying culture. But if you really want to know more about anthropology I have a page for that. I also sometimes answer questions on a variety of topics on Quora on anthropology and culture.

In particular, though, check out the episodes from Anthropology in 10 minutes or Less on ‘What the F*** is Anthropology’ and Understanding Culture. in order to get a picture of some of the basic elements of understanding cultures and how we study it.

Before I get into anything though, It is definitely possible to overthink things when you are writing. This is not stuff for your first draft, but rather it’s stuff for you to have stewing in the back of your brain while you are writing and for that second draft… or seventeenth draft… You might be useful to think a little about how worlds actually hang together.

Personally, I don’t plan anything. I am a pantser. Once in a while, a note occurs to me, but I can’t even be bothered to write stuff in order. Right now, in fact, I am writing parts of the 5th book of my series before book 4 is even done.

That being said, if you are one of those writers who wants to outline a world, this blog, and some future ones I have planned, might be helpful for you. Even if you don’t write science fiction or fantasy, it might be helpful to understand how cultures function for your writing process.

1. Worlds/Cultures are Integrated, Holistic and Ever Changing. 

We hear that term Holistic thrown around all the time. But when it comes to understanding how a culture is structured, it means this: Everything about a culture is connected. That means, Politics, History, Art, Language, Economics, Religion, Family, Technology, Gender, Education and every other element interacts with one another constantly. No one single part of culture isolated.

It’s like the butterfly effect. You change one thing, you change everything.

Look around you. You can see examples everywhere. One right now is the thing you are reading this on. It could be a tablet, or a phone or a computer. It doesn’t matter which. How much has this technology changed the world? Consider how it’s influenced family relationships. Social media, for example, allows us to annoy the crap out of relatives with our political posts all the time right? Businesses, elections, religious organizations and so much more all use these technologies and are impacted by them.

If you are world-building, and something in that world changes, remember that everything is going to change. If for example, some kind of new magic is introduced, or some new technology comes around, you have to account for how that impacts the entire culture, not just one part of it.

Further, if your story takes place on a trade outpost in deep space, recognize that multiple cultures are going to influence other and cause culture change. Language and terminology will also change. Things like Pigeon Languages Appear.  Religious practices change. Catholicism in Central America is different than Catholicism in Australia. Why? Because the local cultures influence even the most powerful of institutions and cause change.

2. Cultures/Worlds are not Monolithic 

Think about your neighbor. How alike are you? How different are you? Now think about your siblings, your friends, your parents, your coworkers, or whoever is around you. Do you all have the same ideas? Do you all share the same political views? Religion? Sexual Preferences? Are they a cat person? Dog Person? Do they eat Sushi?

No culture/religion/political group/gender/race/class of people are all the same. People are variable.  That’s because people have different experiences and preferences. So if your universe has a group of cultist nutjobs who want to blow everything up, remember that amongst that group there will be people who have different opinions and ideas. Some of those followers might question what the leadership is doing. Some might be more devout than others. Hell, maybe this causes a major rift in the organization, opening the way for your hero to swoop in and pit two sides against one another or gain some valuable intelligence.

Trust me when I say this, with a history of doing research with people in the field, I know that getting people to agree on any one topic is difficult. Getting people to collaborate on a project, even when they actually do agree is difficult. There’s infighting, different political agendas, different expectations and perceptions as well as different communication styles. And that’s just within a single unified group. Throw in some diversity and you get lots of misunderstandings.

At the same time, people can only know and understand what they experience. So, even though individuals aren’t monolithic, neither are they free from cultural context. People are influenced by the history they are taught growing up, their religion, ideas of gender norms, class expectations, and so much more. I grew up Catholic and then left the Catholic church as an adult. That doesn’t mean that some of my thinking and experiences weren’t heavily influenced by the upbringing but it also doesn’t entirely limit my ability to make choices. It does, however, provide a frame of reference for how I understand the world. Certain characters of yours may have the ability to be critical of their past and their cultural context and enact changes, but not all of them will be able to do that.

Lastly, there is no such thing a monolithic evil group of people. Even within the Nazi regime, people tried to assassinate Hitler. Some worked to hide Jews or spied for the Allies. In the death camps, some of the administrators smuggled people out and resisted in other ways, Think Schindler’s List.

Which leads me to my next point…

3. Power and Resistance are really important 

When we think of power, we have a tendency to think big. But power and resistance operate every single moment of every day.  Yes, this can happen in big, overarching, world-shattering ways. Or it can be as simple as an argument over who pays for a check at the end of a date.

In fact, in the classroom when we discuss power relationships, I ask the students to brainstorm the power dynamics involved on a first date. At first, students might have a tough time understanding what I mean, but the moment they realize that there are power dynamics in just about everything you do during that date, (Who pays? Who drives? Who orders? Who decides where you are going? Will there be a second date? ect.) hilarity ensues and the students inevitably bring up funny personal examples.

Within a culture, two things are constantly happening. People and systems are trying to either keep things as they are, or change them. An overly simplistic way of looking at this is Conservatives vs Progressives (I say overly simplistic because no one is 100% conservative or 100% progressive and people have complicated views on a variety of issues). At the very least, you should have forces in your world that are trying to maintain the established way of doing things, and forces that are trying to change them. So, in building your world, what are those things? And remember our lesson from #2, those forces are not monolithic.

But the forces of conservation vs change brings up another really important point…

4. Cultures spend a lot of time concerning themselves with ‘Purity’. 

If you think about it, you’ll realize that most things you do are wrapped up in some kind of concept of purity. Take off your shoes before you go into the house? Purity. Wash your hands after using the bathroom? Purity.  Resisting eating that donut I found in the dumpster? Purity. On a more serious note, things like Immigration, Crime, Religion, Traditions and so much more are all debates about purity.

In fact, Law is a form of purity. It is the idea that in order to maintain society, we must have certain laws in place to protect ourselves. Anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote a book on this back in the 1960s called Purity and Danger. It looked at just how cultures construct and maintain these ideas. She analyzed the Book of Leviticus and the Hindu Vedas for her insights. You don’t have to read the entire book, in fact, the core concepts are in this nice brief video Summary of Anthropologist Mary Douglas Danger and Purity

5. Pacing your World 

Be wary the info dumping. It’s really easy to do. Introduce your concepts and ideas slowly throughout your dialogue and through your character’s experiences.  Take your time in introducing your world. A field researcher doesn’t see the entire country in one go, they travel across the landscape trying to make sense of how things are connected and why people do the things they do. If you overload your reader, they will, like a field researcher, go into culture shock and run away screaming.

One key thing I have noticed in worlds that are built well is that they start small and work their way out. For example, in Harry Potter, you are first introduced to Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. Each subsequent book introduces you to more of the Wizarding World so that by the time you get to the final book you know there is an entire planet full of Wizards, political organizations protecting Wizard Identity, Schools in other Countries and so on. If you’re writing a series, consider starting small, in one or two locations and then working your way out. This allows you to build slowly focusing on character and plot development rather than getting bogged down by World Building.

Alright, for now, this is enough but one last thing. Study worlds that work! (Read Read Read) I cannot stress this enough. Why does the world of Harry Potter work so well? Think of the concepts above. How about the World of the Dark Tower? The Hyperion Cantos? Hunger Games? Dune? (Can you tell my genre yet?) All of these worlds incorporate these particular kinds of ideas. Go back and really think about how these things are implemented in some of those famous stories. Then take a critical look at your draft version #566 and see how each of the four above concepts function.

I am going to write a bit more on Worldbuilding in the coming weeks but for now, here are a few links to some videos and articles on Worldbuilding that I have found helpful.

Common Worldbuilding Mistakes

Worldbuilding Basics

The Seven Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding

The Perils of World Building

Also, if you like this blog, maybe, just possibly, check out my own unique world, about Giant Walking Cities. 

Your book idea probably isn’t original, here’s why that doesn’t matter.

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My book series, the Chronicles of the Great Migration are about giant walking cities in a dystopian future. When I first started writing about this idea, I thought I was the most original person in the world. Arrogant as hell right? It’s okay, go on and laugh at me. I completely understand. I laugh at myself all the time now.

You know what made it really funny? I started writing this series in 2011, thinking, wow, no one has ever thought of an idea quite like this before. I was completely oblivious to the award-winning and very wonderful books by Philip Reeve who wrote the series ‘The Mortal Engines’, which is coming out in film form this year. When I discovered this two years ago, it made my heart ache a little and it certainly humbled me. But I loved my characters so much that I decided to resume writing.

Then, I had to laugh some more when earlier this year, this article came out. Imagine a World of Walking Cities and references a man who came up with the idea in 1964, twenty years before I was even born.

But here’s the thing. It actually doesn’t matter. Now I want to note here, that as a University Professor, plagiarism is wrong and immoral, and you should never ever steal the work of another human being. But, when it comes to grand ideas, overarching themes and concepts, there is, and has always been a lot of borrowing going on. Even Ursula K LeGuin (who is arguably one of the greatest writers of the 20th century) grappled with this in her article Art, Information, Theft, and Confusion

A great example of this is the sci-fi novel Dune vs Star Wars. Now Dune was published in 1965 and George Lucas did admit that the text heavily influenced him. In fact, here’s a short YouTube video, on just how much Star Wars pulled from Dune (Hint: It’s a lot… like a lot.)

But, are Dune and Star Wars the same thing? Certainly not. Yes, a lot of borrowing went on, but the Universes of each story are very different and explored different questions. (Star Wars Fans don’t hate me but I think Dune is the superior of the two).

Similarly is there anything super unique about a boy going through a Wizarding school? No of course not, that theme has been done to death, but JK Rowling made it her own and built a unique and interesting world and the characters that go with it.

So, does your story share common elements with another? So what if it does. Here is a short list of the things that actually matter in crafting a good story.

  1. You have taken a concept and played with it in a unique way 

What makes a story a part of a fantasy genre? Things like magic, warriors, rogues, special objects or locations? Fantasy might be the genre with the most overlap because some of it’s core characteristics require that overlap. But what makes a series like the King Killer Chronicles  or Mistborn standout? Both these use magic systems, but both have taken the concept of magic and added some interesting and unique elements to it. In return, the goals and experiences of the characters are necessarily also unique.

For example, Allomancy (one of the three systems of magic from Mistborn) has the magic wielders consuming and then using certain metals for their powers. Some people can burn certain metals, and others cannot, while some people can burn all the metals. This unique form of magic will necessitate a specific kind of problem-solving and character conflicts. For example, two Mistborn (people who can burn all the metals) fight with the knowledge that each opponent probably has a limited supply of each metal. This creates certain plot points and influences thinking in each character.

Science Fiction might be the genre that has the most arena of play and thus allow for all kinds of variation. Do you have aliens? AI? Superhumans? Genetic Engineering? Alternative history? It’s a very broad genre and there are endless things to explore.

So for example in my series, yes there are giant migrating cities (they are really more moving mountains because of their size) but you also have telepathy, artificial intelligence, life-extension, superstorms and a variety of undead creatures called ‘Recycled’. All of these various elements work together to create a unique world.

By themselves, none of those elements are unique and can be found in a hundred different science fiction novels.

Make your world unique and colorful. Small changes to world building can create some really interesting results. Why? Because cultures and worlds are holistic. A change in a political sphere will change economics, kinship, religion, gender, class, ect. Trust me on this, I’m an anthropologist and we see it all the time. A small change in your world building can create some pretty significant results.

2. Are your characters unique or can they have a unique experience? 

Certainly, if the universe you are writing in is unique then unique character experiences are too difficult to manage. But what if you write something like romance or thrillers that are limited to the current reality in which we reside?

Your characters are your strength regardless of the genre. Ultimately, what people are reading your book for is the characters. If they don’t give a shit about your characters, then they aren’t going to keep reading. Empathy with characters is really important. Check out this YouTube Video on this topic for more.

But beyond empathy what makes your characters unique? Or perhaps their particular interactions are unique. What makes your characters one of a kind and unforgettable? Are they funny? Do they have an interesting internal struggle? Do they have a really interesting talent or fatal flaw? Maybe they have all of these things? A unique and/or interesting character will change the story for the better.

Think of it this way. If you put a character in a situation where someone tries to run them off a road in an act of road rage, not all characters (or people) are going to behave equally right? How they interact with a stressful situation can tell a lot about whether your character is interesting or not. And, life is pretty stressful, even without an evil robot from the 29th century coming to kill you.

3. What’s the change agent?

It’s not true that all characters change. In fact, having a character stay the same while the rest of the world changes around them, can also be a fascinating story element. One thing that makes a story unique is whatever is causing the change.

It could be as simple as that new woman in the characters life, or perhaps someone stole their wallet and the next they know, they end up in a parallel universe where humans are extinct and ruled by a telepath race of snails… sorry I go on tangents a lot in real life too haha.

The point is though, what is causing things to change? Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’ talks about how most of the time, he likes to put a character in a particular situation and see if they can work their way out of it. So, in what ways would your character solve their issue? Or could they even? Maybe the whole point of your story is that they can’t solve anything and they are a bumbling idiot and it’s sheer luck that gets them through. Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams played with this a lot. The results are pretty comedic.

4. At the end of the day, it’s about telling a compelling story, even if many of your elements have been done to death. 

So, to summarize it doesn’t matter if elements of your story have been done to death. I mean… time travel right? How many books and movies have explored that? But think of the ones you enjoy, what made you love them?

It is all about owning your story, about taking those old ideas and putting a fresh spin on them, that’s how you tell a great story. Consider some of these elements if you ever feel stuck or if your beta readers tell you they were bored.

Never forget, it’s okay to give up on a story if it’s not working. Sometimes putting something aside will make room for something even better. Life is too short to bang your head against the wall. If you aren’t excited about your story, the reader probably won’t be either.

Be A Better Writer? Some Resources and Tips to help you in your craft.

Like anything else, writing is a skill, one that must be cultivated and developed.writing-1209121_960_720

It is certainly true there are some writers who are born geniuses who probably came out of the womb with a pen in hand ready to write their first lines, but that’s not me.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing and learning and writing some more. I had the advantage of taking a few courses in college-level creative writing, but not everyone has that opportunity or experience. So here below I wanted to provide some tips and some resources about some of the things I have learned that have helped me along the way. There are a probably 1000 other blogs and a 1000 other books that do this (I am going to suggest some too), but I hope that some of what’s here is helpful to those of you reading this.

Resources are at the bottom.

1. Read a lot. But read like a writer, not like a reader.

It’s pretty common advice. Read lots and lots of books and short stories in your genre and outside your genre. Get off social media and actually read, or listen to audiobooks during your commute, but for the love of god read! Yes, this is essential, no exceptions. If you can’t read consistantly you cannot be a good writer.

But there’s another level to this that isn’t talked about quite as often. You aren’t just reading as a fan. What’s important is that you are reading as a writer. What does it mean to read as a writer? It means to read and once in a while stop and reflect. 

Didn’t like that particular passage? Stop right there. Why didn’t you like it? Think about it deeply. What didn’t work? Was it poorly worded? Did it mess with the flow of the plot? Dig deep and think about it. Part of learning to be a better writer is exploring what doesn’t work. It’s actually helpful to read stuff that sucks once in a while.

Loved a particular passage? Stop right there. Why was the line or passage powerful? What about it struck you? Did that line make you feel a connection to the character? Why did that work at that particular? I call these passages juicy morsels and always look for the ‘recipe’ for how they are crafted.

Are you bored with reading this book? Are you considering putting it down? Again, why? You might not always be able to put your finger on it, but there are powerful lessons if you can.

If you start doing this with every book you read, over time you will build up a solid idea of what makes writing potent and powerful and what makes it terrible. You can even do this with books you love that you’ve read before. Which passages are your favorite or least favorite, why?

A quick note here:

No, you don’t have to keep all of this shit in your head as your writing. Write and reflect, write and reflect and yes, you should do more writing and reflecting. No professional athlete ever became that way by reading about technique over and over again. They watch others play, and yes they might read, but they go out there and experiment with these things and find out what feels good to them and what works and what doesn’t. All of my thoughts here are just that, things for you to consider and try, if they don’t work discard them. I am just sharing with you what has helped me on my writing journey.

Which leads me to my next bit of advice:

2. Play play play

Why are you writing again? Seriously, think about it. Why are you writing? You like it, that’s why. If you don’t like it, stop. No one is making you write that novel. Do it because it’s fun and you enjoy it.

But here’s the other thing, experimentation is important. When I was learning guitar, I tried many different styles of music. Why? Well first because my teacher insisted, but then I started to realize that exploration made me better. It helped me to understand the things I favored in a new way. If you are a sculpter and you only ever use clay, how do you know what’s possible in other mediums?

Do you only like to read and write science fiction? Well, have you tried to write something else? Try writing a short-story in historical fiction, take a flash fiction workshop, read and write some horror, or try some romance on for size. Why? Because it will make you a better writer and you might learn something about yourself and your writing you didn’t know before. Hell, try to write some spoken word or lyrical poetry. Those things are really hard and if you can do them half effectively then you will have expanded your skill set and learned more about your own style.

Have fun, play and explore, remember to keep the joy of writing on your mind, because sometimes it is tedious. When it is, try something new or explore. Mix it up, people!

3. A large portion of what you write is going to be garbage

Seriously, accept this. Honesty about your own work is a really powerful tool. Notice I said honestly and not being overly critical.

How many times does a baseball player strike out, or hit fouls? How many hours do they spend in batting practice or batting cages? How many times do they swing and miss? Do you honestly believe that writing is any different? 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing garbage. There is nothing wrong with looking at those 5 pages you forced out of your brain for the last hour and saying, damn this sucks and deleting it. You have not lost anything by doing this! 

Shitty writing is part of the process. My first published book, Mimi of the Nowhere, was my fourth attempt at a book. The first 2 are complete garbage and the 3rd one, Upon Stilted Cities, required a lot of reworking to make it what it is today. They will never see the light of day. I’ve probably written several dozen short stories that are total shit. I would go so far as to say that a quarter of what I write is absolutely terrible.

And so what if it is? Does that mean I am wasting a quarter of my time? Hell no! The more bad writing you do, the quicker you get to the good stuff, that stuff that works, the stuff that makes readers root for your characters or cringe when something awful happens to them.

A pity party doesn’t help anyone and definitely doesn’t help you become a better writer. Give yourself permission to write garbage, to look at the page and laugh because it’s so terrible. I cannot tell you how freeing it was the day I finally accepted this.

4. Routine is really powerful, so are deadlines and goals. 

I belong to a Facebook Group called My 500 Words. It’s a group that seeks to get you to write at least 500 words a day every single day for at least 31 days. Why? To build a habit, to make writing a serious routine. It was not until I started building a writing routine that anything started to happen.

Here is where you are thinking, but I don’t have time for this? I work full time, or I am a parent, or I have other obligations. Sorry to blunt, but, bullshit. What you are saying when you make excuses is that writing isn’t that important to you right now. There’s nothing wrong with that, if it’s not a priority that’s fine, no judgment here sometimes life doesn’t allow for writing to be a priority. Believe me, I understand that more than you can know.

Otherwise though, suck it up and sit at that chair, cause this shit doesn’t happen by itself. Excuses are like assholes, everyone has one. Besides, someone usually says to me they don’t have time right now, after telling me how they just binged this amazing show on Netflix or played through this video game. If you want to write, you’re gonna have to cut some of that TV and gaming time out (again this was hard for me to accept at first too.)

When you’re ready to make writing a priority, do so. No one says you have to dedicate your free time to writing. Do it because you want to because that story is burning in the back of your mind and wants to come to life on a page. Prioritize writing because you love it, not because you feel like you have to. Writing can be a powerful act of creation and joy. If you create a writing routine, you can bring your dream of being a writer to life.

The last thing I want to add here is that setting deadlines is really helpful. Events like NaNoWriMo can be really helpful because it is a community of people who set a deadline and a goal. For me it was setting dates with an editor. This has proven to make sure that I am constantly working on something or else I will have to start staying up all night to finish. I cannot tell you how helpful that’s been for me.

Oh one more thing. Sitting there and telling yourself that your not good enough or that you suck, or that you will never be published isn’t useful at all. Just remember, it’s a skill, like everything else. You can do this. 

5. Resources

Note: No one is paying me for any of these recommendations (Though I will happily take a check if someone wants to give me one) These are all things I found sincerely useful in my writing journey.

When it comes to these resources I do not recommend binging these. No, you should not watch an entire YouTube channel on writing in one day! (You should be writing dammit!) Take your time, spend 10-30 minutes at once. Let your brain absorb these ideas and these thoughts so that they are in your subconscious while you are writing. I am a college professor, and what I can tell you is that it takes time to absorb no ideas and concepts. Cramming is only good for the short term, and if you truly want to be a writer, you’re in it for the long game. 

YouTube Channels for Writing
Just Write (Episodes Focus on what works and doesn’t in writing)

NerdWriter (Episodes on writing and critiques of what doesn’t work)

Jenna Moreci (A very helpful channel about Writing, Editing, Marketing and all things Writing)

Hello, Future Me (Focuses on particular Writing Elements such as villains, systems of magic and other key pieces) I particularly recommend the episode on Hard Magic Systems for the Fantasy Writers out there. If you are writing fantasy you may also want to consider Brandon Sanderson’s blog on Laws of Magic

Books on Writing That I found helpful: 

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

For me, this was one of the most helpful books. It isn’t just about editing, in fact, I would argue that it is a critical look about what works in writing and what doesn’t. I can’t recommend this book enough.

On Writing

A lot of people don’t like Stephen King, that’s fine. But what is impossible to deny is that he consistently writes novels that sell millions of books. There is a reason for that, I have spent many hours critically reading Kings work and that’s largely because of this powerful book on what it means to be a writer. I highly recommend it.

Write Good Or Die 

This is a book that is filled with tips and advice on writing that will help you improve your craft. Again, another one I thought was very useful.

Grammar for Fiction Writers 

Yes, we all need reminders about grammar, unless of course, you are an editor already. This book is really helpful

Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose

Another good one for thinking about the flow of your writing and how to craft better sentences and paragraphs.

Zen and the Art of Writing

Bradbury’s book on Writing is a mixture of poetry and the passion he feels for writing. It’s another book that is worth contemplating as you type or scribble your prose.

That’s all Folks!

I sincerely hope this was all helpful. If you have further questions or thoughts or anything to add please feel free to comment below.

Also, shameless self-promotion here, but if you like Science Fiction check out my book Mimi of the Nowhere, the first book in my Science Fiction series, the Chronicles of the Great Migration.

Mimi of the Nowhere Chapter 3: Orphan’s Alley

Chapter 3 of Mimi of the Nowhere is now up!

You can find Chapter 1 here 
And Chapter 2 Here 

A brief synopsis of the book:

First Sketch of Mimi

Life on the street is hard. Drug dealers, thieves, and even the security officers of the giant walking city of Manhatsten are up to no good. But somehow, Mimi’s done it for centuries. Of course, it helps that she is able to peak into other people’s minds and avoid trouble most of the time. Unfortunately, that same talent is about to get her into a whole other world of trouble. One that she never even knew existed.

The sketch of the main character, Mimi, is by the very talented Kayla Rose who recently agreed to do the cover art. Check her amazing work at the link.

Mimi of the Nowhere launches on 5/17/18

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Chapter 3

Orphan’s Alley

Mimi surfaced and walked the street until she reached the entry to Orphan’s Alley. Passing through the mob of homeless, she took inventory of those she recognized and the ones she didn’t. They were islands, shackled and disheveled. Some clung to their cart full of possessions, others to the rags that draped their bodies and little else. For most of them, there was little to cling to, and so they clung tight.

Here, the homeless had no fear of the cold winter nights when they may meet endless sleep. They had no hesitation in the heat of the summer sun, needing to seek shade and water to survive the onslaught. They would not starve. They would not die of disease. The alcoves ended disease centuries ago. But some would be beaten; some would be recruited into the Runnercore. Some would be exploited in other ways, especially the women. All were disposable, like so much cast away paper, waiting for a time when their purpose, like so much else in the city, was recycled.

The city had various spaces where the homeless clustered, where they pressed their tired bodies up against ancient brick and mortar. There were only a few places that city security allowed them to live and so there was a limitation to where they could lay their tired heads. This one was called Orphan’s Alley. A name that the residents themselves had given it hundreds of years prior. Probably none here were alive to see the naming, but names, like ideas, can be passed on through the generations, and there wasn’t much else for the homeless of the city to pass on. Names were their empty legacy.

A single food dispenser had been installed at the end of Orphan’s Alley. It provided only the basics, a green algae nutrient-rich soup, once a day. It was enough to keep a person alive, but only just. If you could figure out a way to earn some credits you could get more, but panhandling was strictly forbidden in Manhatsten and so those who the city had cast aside, who it had made orphans, were left with only illegal means. After all, no one would hire you in the city if you did not have a place of residence somewhere. And illegal means usually meant that eventually you were caught and recruited.

Orphan’s Alley, a prime recruitment ground.

Mimi found who she was looking for. A man, standing slouched against a corner, thin brown rags covering his body in multicolored clumps held together by safety pins, staples, and in a few places, stitches. He was a tall man with short, dark, greasy hair, chopped off in places with a blade. Facial hair crowded the edges of the scars but did not dare cross it.

His voice was soft and deep. It was a welcoming tone like a snake’s slither. “Mimi, good to see you, you know I was just telling the boys you’d be back any day now.”

The redness was still there, just under the surface, and Mimi felt it threatening to break free. What part of her had she opened? It was a terrible, empty feeling. It was hungry, and she didn’t like it. It almost seemed to be whispering to her, telling her to release it.

Her eyes locked on the dealer. Mimi shrugged. “What else have I got to do to kill the time, Andrew?”

“Hmmm. True enough,” a ragged grin spread across his face, revealing several missing teeth. “Do you have credits? Or are you finally going to make some other arrangements?”

“I have credits.”

Andrew frowned, “You know, I am sure that if you would like to pay some other way than credits, we could arrange a more physical kind of payment.”

“No thanks.” She couldn’t help but skim his mind. She saw what she didn’t want to see. In his mind he was undressing her, peeling back the layers of her ragged clothes, unwrapping her like a little boy’s present.

Mimi felt her face flush. The redness rose in her. It spiraled upward. She could almost hear it beckoning her to unleash it on him. It was hungry for him, in the same way Andrew was hungry for her body.

She shook her head. “No.”

“Hmmm? What was that, Mimi? Let’s make a deal, one night with me for several months’ supply of Likatol.”

“No, Andrew.” She took a step back from him. The redness had died down now, but her normal anger was brewing and she didn’t want any more trouble today. Her heart was aching for her argument with Shannon, and she wasn’t sure if she could fix it.

“Tell you what, one night and I’ll give you a full year’s supply. Come on now, that’s more than generous, and I certainly won’t need an entire night, perhaps just a few hours.”

Why was he so insistent? Normally, Andrew knew how to take no for an answer. Mimi risked skimming his mind again for another moment and saw something she had never seen before. Something was pressing on him, putting pressure on him. It was almost like someone was encouraging him, egging him on.

What was happening lately? For so long, she thought she knew the rules, thought that she had everything about her abilities figured out, but first there was that strange silence by her favorite fishing hole, then the redness, and now this? It was almost too much. It was like someone, or something was changing all the rules, and she couldn’t act fast enough to figure out what they were.

Mimi shook her head. “No, Andrew.” She paused for a moment when his face twitched. Fear traced her spine, a cold finger. She could feel him growing impatient. But this was not the impatience of a man, rather of a stray dog hungry for meat.

She thought about walking away but then her anger released. She wasn’t going to be bullied by some low-life dealer. She wasn’t going to put up with any of his shit and she was going to make that clear.

She moved up closely to Andrew, leaning in almost as if she was going to kiss him. He leaned in close and then at the last moment, she dug her elbow right into his neck, pressing it into his windpipe. He choked and tried to step back but she had him pinned against the wall. His hands reached up to grasp for her arm but as he did, she pressed harder. His eyes bulged as his skin purpled and she felt satisfaction as she skimmed his mind and found terror.

“Do you really think that I would ever let you put your filthy hands on me, dealer? Do I look like some kind of whore to you?”

He was barely able to draw breath, but he still managed a guttural, gasping, “No.”

“Bet you thought I was just some weak little thing, didn’t you? You asshole, I’ve been on the streets longer than you’ve been alive, and if I even feel your eyes undressing me again, I’ll fucking pluck them out and feed them to you.”

Mimi thought that despite the dark shade of his face, he paled a bit at that statement, and a quick skim confirmed that not only did he believe her, but that he was thinking, “This bitch is crazy.”

“Yes Andrew, I am crazy, and I’m not afraid to maim your ass.”

His eyes were beginning to close. She skimmed his mind to wait ‘til just before he lost consciousness. She didn’t want him to pass out; something might be lost in the experience if he did. She wanted him to remember this day for a good, long while. It wasn’t the first time she had to put the hurt on a man like this, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Her best defense was a reputation and she had to maintain that. Long experience had given her every tool she needed to intimidate even the stronger men.

She pulled back her elbow and he fell forward, taking deep and wide breaths. On all fours, saliva dripped from his mouth as he coughed and sputtered.

Mimi said, “Act like a dog, get treated like one.”

There was a moment when his mind was blank, when she was sure he wasn’t going to say anything. It passed. At first, he seemed to be having trouble making words, as if he had forgotten language. Then he said, “Forget it, bitch.” He wheezed and coughed. “I’m done selling to you.”

Mimi shrugged, “Fine by me. I’ll take my business elsewhere. You’re not the only one ‘round here to sell Likatol, asshole. You’re just the dumbest and cheapest.”

In truth, Mimi hated to have to go looking for another reliable source of Likatol, but she was also tired of Andrew. In the old days, she might have done more than just choke him a little, she might have made sure he remembered the lesson for years to come. But lately, she was getting tired.

“Get the hell away from me, you bitch. I don’t ever want to see your face again.”

She headed back through the crowd and out of Orphan’s Alley. She only had a few days of supply left, so she would have to find someone else soon. She thought she might try one of the other city districts–she preferred staying around District 17 since it was so close to her hovel–but last time she checked, Districts 8 and 13 usually had a steady supply of Likatol.

She walked out past the threshold of the homeless territory, her mind at work on the problem at hand. She had, for the moment, forgotten about Shannon, knowing that the headaches would come soon, that the voices would grow so strong, that tears would come.

She rounded a corner and bumped into someone. The collision caught her by surprise, but a steady hand reached out and grabbed her and kept her from falling. It was Shannon.

Mimi froze. Here was another secret she was going to have to explain, and judging by the look on Shannon’s face, she probably had no idea why she could possibly want drugs. And to explain why she needed them, she would have to explain a whole hell of a lot more than her age.

“So, you’re a drug addict?” The wrinkles on her forehead creased. Her short blond hair never hid those wrinkles very well.

“No, I’m not.”

“So what were you doing talking to Andrew?”

Mimi breathed a heavy sigh. What could she say? That she needed small doses of Likatol to keep the entire city out of her head? That she would get terrible migraines without them because she could read people’s minds? Doubtful Shannon would believe her.

“Shannon, maybe it’s best if we don’t see each other anymore.”

Shannon’s face changed, from anger and frustration to shock and hurt.

“What? Wait, I don’t understand. I…”

“I like my privacy, Shannon. I understand you want to share your life with me, but there are certain things I am not sure I can share, not now anyway. I’m not a drug addict, in fact, what I need is Likatol, but I don’t think you would believe me if I told you why I need it.”

Strictly speaking, Likatol wasn’t a drug, it was a pill that someone could take before going on a drug binge. It would keep the user from losing all control and from becoming addicted, but it wouldn’t block the high. Likatol was a kind of drug buffer.

“Try me.” There was a note of desperation in her voice. “Please, Mimi, you said you loved me…”

Mimi shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. Anyone I have ever told has gotten hurt. It’s best if you stay away from me.”

Mimi began walking down the city streets. Shannon followed close behind. At first, she kept trying to stop Mimi, to get her to talk to her, but after a while, she just followed in silence. Mimi blocked her out, refused even to skim her. It was better this way. She would give up soon enough, she would go on with her life. Besides, it was better than Shannon leaving her, as some of them did.

After more than twenty blocks, Mimi began to hear sobs and sniffling directly behind her. She tried to ignore it, to let Shannon cry, but after a few more blocks she couldn’t take it. She loved her. There was something special about Shannon, something soft and warm. She made Mimi feel safe and warm and special. Shannon really cared about her. It was like, with Shannon, all the wounds from her life on the street didn’t ache so much.

She opened herself to Shannon’s mind. She dipped into it and there was comfort there. Comfort in knowing that this woman, more than anything, just wanted to feel Mimi in her arms, wanted to embrace her and never let her go. There was something powerful in knowing someone else’s thoughts, especially when those thoughts were of love and longing. People said a lot of shit, and their minds so often cast a shadow over the true meaning. But here, here was a woman who truly loved her and knew it.

Mimi could not stand against it. When love comes like that, all you can do is surrender, to lay down your arms and submit to the will of those who would love you. For in denying it, you face only regret. Mimi had been waiting for this a long time, she just hadn’t known it.

She stopped. As she turned, she realized that she too had been crying. She looked directly at Shannon, whose streams of tears had eroded the soot in streaks on her narrow face. Mimi reached up and touched her own face, running her finger along her cheeks, her tears had cleansed those parts they had touched.

Shannon stopped and looked at her. She took one step closer and hesitated. Mimi felt Shannon’s question press against her. All Shannon wanted was to hold her. Mimi moved closer to her, pulled her close and kissed her. Both minds blanked to the warmth of the embrace. Mimi could taste the salt from her tears on her lips. Then she pulled away slightly and hugged her hard.

“I’m so sorry, Shannon. I love you… I… Let’s go back to my place and I’ll tell you whatever you want.”

Shannon didn’t say anything, but skimming her mind told Mimi of the overwhelming relief she was feeling. Shannon’s smile was enough. The tears couldn’t darken it.
Perhaps it was time to take a chance. Perhaps this time would be for keeps. Maybe that was Mimi’s purpose, to love as deeply as she could.

A small voice pushed up in the back of Mimi’s mind. “This one won’t last long. It will be even shorter than Daniel. You will watch her suffer. It’s what happens every time someone gets close to you. Free her now or you will bring her nothing but misery.”

The voice almost sounded real, almost sounded external. Mimi felt a bit of a headache and took a few deep breaths.

She looked at Shannon again. She drank in her beautiful eyes and face and raised her right hand up to wipe away her tears. Her heart longed to be with her, to hold her close and feel her touch. She pulled Shannon in close and kissed her again, feeling the warmth of her body pressed against hers, the softness of her lips making her body tremble with joy.

She pulled away, grabbed Shannon’s hand and together, they walked home.

Timeline for the Chronicles of the Great Migration

Sometimes when I read fiction, especially a series, I have trouble of keeping track of the history of that Universe. Sometimes this is something done intentionally by the author, but other’s I think it’s just so easy to forget, that when you are writing about a world, that not everyone can peak into your mind and see how events shaped that reality.

So, today I thought it might be helpful to create a timeline of key events in the world of the Chronicles of the Great Migration. The first book, Mimi of the Nowhere is due out in six weeks from the date of the post, and soon after Upon Stilted Cities and A Blooming Rose will follow.

I am still looking for a few ARC readers for Mimi of the Nowhere! Sign up below and comment that you want to participate if you are interested.

I hope this timeline is helpful. IMG_3209

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