From the Desk of Kevin Hearne
As a both a writer and reader of fantasy I tend to geek out about the worldbuilding aspect of epics. The characters and the thingie(s) for which they’re questing while eating a whole lot of stew on the trail are always cool, but for me, the journey itself is often better than the achievement of the goals. Exploring the world always rocks because it’s not this one. People in fantasy worlds aren’t plagued by commercials and billboards for pizza and car insurance, for one thing, and that fact alone makes those worlds unspeakably attractive.
That’s not to say fantasy worlds don’t have their share of unpleasant issues. Apart from goblins and myriad other bitey, stabbity creatures, I admit that I wonder about how military dudes in these other worlds deal with the practicalities of marching long distances in armor. I mean, how do they prevent chafing? Do they have some equivalent to talcum powder? And once you start wondering about stuff like that, it never ends.
Part of the reason I’m so excited about my forthcoming book, TRAPPED, is that I got to do quite a bit of worldbuilding, bringing some mythological figures from the Norse into our modern world and putting my own spin on them. I’m talking specifically about the Norse dwarfs and the Svartálfar, or dark elves. While some Norse sources seem to conflate the two, I treated them as separate species since I had (and still have) tremendous difficulty thinking of a dwarf as a dark elf. That decision had implications for the nine realms of Yggdrasil, of course, and so the map of Yggdrasil included in the book (illustrated by the peerless Priscilla Spencer) reflects separate homes for them—specifically, Nidavellir and Svartálfheim, both of which are mentioned in the Prose and Poetic Eddas.
Developing those two realms with concomitant magic systems was tremendous fun for me; it was worldbuilding on a scale I hadn’t attempted since book one, and I look forward to playing around with them as the series continues.
I regret that I never addressed the talcum powder issue in my book—there didn’t seem to be a good place to bring it up—but dang it, I thought about it. Can I get a cookie for that? (I wonder if we might not dream up an award for backstory development. Authors who post appendices and backstory details to their website are automatically entered to win a plate of homemade Backstory Cookies. We would have to immediately award Tolkien’s appendices a Lifetime Achievement Plate.)
What I’ve discovered throughout the process of writing the Iron Druid Chronicles is that first-person narrators are rarely going to notice the tiny details of worldbuilding about which turbo-geeks like me enjoy thinking. The protagonist is always far too busy dealing with whatever the plot is throwing at him or her, so that’s limiting in one sense. But the flip side of that coin is that the first-person narrators so common in urban fantasy don’t let you get bogged down in excessive detail that ruins any sense of pace or urgency.
Like every other author, I’ve tried to balance action with worldbuilding in my books. Mine might be slightly skewed toward action, but that’s just how the Druid Atticus O’Sullivan survives. If you haven’t tried the series yet, I invite you to begin with HOUNDED, and if you’re a veteran of the series, thanks for reading! And I hope you enjoy TRAPPED on November 27, now with more dwarfs, dark elves, and Granuaile than ever before.