Creating the Universe, One Word at a Time
Big Brother. Dweomer. Mockingjay. The Golden Snitch. Ringwraiths. Great A’Tuin. Theshining. You know all, or at least some of these made-up words and phrases. Heck, if you’re anything like me, you’ve extensively pondered the joys of taking second breakfast with a hobbit, maybe after imbibing some butterbeer with Harry and Hermione.
I read fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. There’s just something so intriguing about consuming a story that not only includes the usual drama of everyday living but words and ideas that exist uniquely in the universe the author has created. These fictitious concepts and words fascinate me. Why did the author construct this style of government? What magic system did she or he dismiss before deciding on that one? What do the syllables of these words represent? How much symbolism and ideology can be packed into a single word or phrase?
I write romantic fantasy and sci-fi. At least part of the great joy of penning my stories comes from stretching the known. As a writer of the paranormal, I create new, maybe extranatural (who says they’re “super”?) situations and vernacular. I love the challenge of coming up with new ways of organizing the words and the world.
I set my latest novel, The Tithe, which is due to be released on August 20 (hooray!), a century or more into the future. Humanity has been reduced to a devout, few hundred thousand souls, all of whom live in the desert towns of what we now know as San Bernardino County in Southern California. As such, I tried to balance two conflicting goals: spicing my characters’ lives with words, phrases, and concepts specific to their small, highly regimented, and deeply religious desert lives while also making their values and speech intelligible to my readers.
My main character, Joshua (named after the trees that dot the Mojave’s landscape), is an orphan whom the imrabi raised in one of Barstow’s rab’ris. She attends services, reads the Bitoran, and prays daily to Elovah. To translate, Josh lives among the town’s holy women and reads devotedly their town’s holy book. In creating this new religion, along with its verbiage, ideologies, and rituals, I chose to model it on our modern incarnations of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For example, The Tithe’s god’s name is Elovah, which I devised by combining the various names of the Abrahamic gods: Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim, Jehovah, Allah. Well, and I made Her a woman.
About halfway through The Tithe, Josh officiates two weddings. I researched Jewish, Christian, and Muslim weddings, snagged traditions from each, rendered them a bit more gender egalitarian, and created an interesting and odd amalgamation that includes rings, chalices, and veils for both would-be spouses.
Do I expect “imrabi” and “Bitoran” to become pop cultural buzzwords? Well, maybe not. But that doesn’t stop me from delighting in this new world, with its unique curse words (“Jimson!”), religious dogma (remaining illiterate and attending twice daily services), and arid analogies (“his voice as dry and impersonal as the desert wind”). All this, in its alienness and its familiarity, its highlighting of some modern conventions and dismissal of others, reflects not only my creative processes but also a deeply personal commentary on the political and cultural state of the world.
It’s no wonder I’m so in love with fantasy and sci-fi. In combining the familiar with the fantastic, we paranormal authors create worlds that reflect, explore, and defy the foibles and possibilities of modern life.