So, for years I’ve been posting intermittent desert dispatches on this blog. One of the things I love, as I wander the blogosphere, is seeing hints of the places you all live, too.
So it occurred to me that a series of irregular non-desert dispatches would be a lot of fun.
With that in mind, a couple weeks ago, I asked Joshua Palmatier (who also writes as Benjamin Tate–and blogs as jpsorrow) to send me a dispatch from his corner of the planet, and to tell me how his own native landscape (landscapes, as it turns out, though I didn’t know that when I asked!) influence him and his writing.
Here’s what Joshua had to say:
First, I want to thank Janni for offering me this opportunity to guest blog. Thanks! I appreciate it!
Typically what I do for guest blogs is to talk about something related to my current book, or how I write, or I answer interview questions, etc. But Janni wanted something a little different. Still writing related, of course, we are authors, but different. She said she’s fascinated with the natural world around her and she wanted to know if the world around ME had any effect on how and what I write.
The answer is a resounding YES!
I was raised in a military family, which means that we moved around. A lot. While this probably stunted my social growth (since most of the moving happened during my high school years), it did provide me with the chance to see many locations across the US, and I think this view of different types of settings and surroundings became essential to making my fantasy worlds real. Unlike Star Wars, where each planet was its own singular type of setting–the “desert” planet, the “swamp” planet, etc–a fantasy novel has to have different climates and natural surroundings to give it that sense of realism that may be lacking when the magic becomes prevalent. The goal of every fantasy is to have the reader suspend their disbelief over the magic, and the only way to do that is to make EVERYTHING ELSE as real as possible.
When building my own world for my fantasy novels, I make certain that I incorporate different locations, typically based on all of the places that I’ve either lived or visited. In my “Throne of Amenkor” books (written by Joshua Palmatier), you get a strong urban setting because I’ve lived in cities, such as Washington, DC, and I know what it’s like when the “natural” surroundings are composed of buildings. But Amenkor is also a port city. I incorporated many of my own memories of growing up in Key West as well, the docks, the seagulls, the pelicans, etc. All of the action takes place up and down the coastline, and as they ships travel south from Amenkor, you see the rocky shoreline of the Pacific northwest, with the narrow inlets and hidden bays, the beaches made of rounded stones and the evergreen forests that come down to the dunes. All of that came from my experiences living on the islands in Puget Sound. In fact, to write those scenes I would start by imagining myself there, on the beach, staring out over the water . . . and then I’d let the characters and action unfold before me.
For the new series (written under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate), I’ve had to reach for a completely different set of experiences. I have an entire continent to explore, which of course must have a diverse number of natural settings. I currently live in upstate New York, so when the book opens, the settlers of this new continent are living in a region much like where I live now. There are deciduous trees, and open fields, and a vast grassland to the east. They hunt deer and rabbit and grouse. They begin in a port city, and the land this time (unlike in Amenkor) is sandier, with breakwaters, more like the beaches off Virginia’s coast, or the Carolinas.
As the book progresses, and the characters (and readers) see more of the new continent they’re exploring, we see wild plains, run into a dark forest or cedars (like those in the Pacific northwest), and journey to vast mountain ranges like the Rockies. All of these lands, all of these settings, are built upon my experiences traveling across the US. Without those experiences, I don’t believe my world would feel real to me. And if the world doesn’t feel real to the author, it won’t feel real to the reader either.
So, yes, the world around me inspires my writing and becomes an essential part of what makes my fantasy settings real. If my characters are traveling through the woods, I imagine myself standing among the trees near my grandmother’s house, the sun piercing the foliage in dusty streaks. If they’re sailing across the ocean, I recall sitting in the bow of our boat off Key West, no land in sight, the ocean a blue so dark it’s nearly black. And if they’re traipsing through a snow-blocked mountain pass, I take myself back to hiking the forests of the Cascade Mountains, feet sinking knee-deep in the drifts.
Joshua’s Benjamin’s most recent book, Well of Sorrows, was recently released by DAW books and looks to have no shortage of dark forests. I’m looking forward to it!