Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Guest Blog by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. - The Art of Genealogy in World Building - Giveaway - November 13, 2013

Please welcome Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. to The Qwillery. Richard is the author of The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin - Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders and Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War.


Hi everyone! I’d like to thank Sally for the honor of posting on The Qwillery once again; it is a great blog, she is a great host and I always get some wonderful feedback from readers. My new steampunk adventure novel, Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War, releases on the 19th of November. Engines of War is the second book in my Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin series (the first book is Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders).

World building is a huge part of steampunk as it is with all science fiction/fantasy. Today I’d like to talk about the importance of character ancestry in that process. The actions (and their consequences) of those who came before have a powerful influence on the lives of their descendants, both in reality and in fiction. In fact, I would argue that this influence carries with it an even more profound effect in fiction. Why? Because the author fabricates select character/event histories to act as the primary driving wheels for his/her story.

Many of the victories and mistakes our real ancestors made in their lives do not affect us at all: but in fiction there is little time for such trifles. The legacy of the invented ancestor must carry some result forward into the life of the contemporary character or it isn’t worth presenting. A fictional world must live and breathe with the undercurrent of its own past like all human societies and cities do. If a warrior character rides her horse into a meadow to drink at a spring then the author must know the history of that ground (even if only to recognize that it has no meaning). Or … was a royal family once forced to stop there as the queen gave birth under the oak tree fifty years before? Did a wandering gypsy (who turned out to be a witch) kindly assist? Has a weird plant sprung up in the spot where the placenta was discarded? Where are the princess and gypsy now?

Of course there are endless tangents you can follow at any point in your story. You know that. But never forget to always keep in mind the limitless possibilities of the history. As an author, it is your responsibility to choose which of your fictional artifacts illuminate the ‘truth’ of the tale you wish to tell. And then you must weave them into the tapestry of your backstory so they all interrelate and they all make sense. This is a lot of work.

When I was building the post-apocalyptic clan world for my Pneumatic Zeppelin novels I spent months creating maps and societal histories. I took an pedigree chart and packed it with names up to ten generations back because what significantly shaped my world started ten generations back. I cherrypicked the important figures from my characters’ family trees and I gave them stories. Some of these stories were only a few words or lines but they anchored the past I was building. As I got closer to the time period my series covered these backstories became denser and more involved. Machiavellian plots were executed. Kings, queens and charlatans acted. Ill-suited lovers married. Star-crossed lovers died. Children were born. Children grew into saints and monsters. Heroes saved lives. Heroes died. Alliances were made and broken. Murders were committed. Secrets, secrets, secrets … were buried deep but never forgotten.

It was a blast. As each character emerged from the mists of the past and took on flesh, links between them and other characters suddenly emerged as if they had always been there all along. I didn’t make them up—I simply found them (isn’t that feeling, the one of discovering your characters rather than fabricating them, one of the best parts of creative writing!?) More often than not, the freshly excavated ancestor links and their motivations made perfect sense.

With the history and genealogy of my world reasonably well-developed (it is always developing and changing, of course) I was able (I hope) to infuse my first books with the sense of an existing world. There are many elements which are not explained to the reader yet, such as why a certain color is prevalent in a town, or the story of a sword cut in a door jamb, or the odd name of a child, but if they become important to the story they will be explained. The main characters in my series are young and because they are young they must operate, knowingly or not, within the webs of relationships, intrigues and secrets set into motion by the older characters and by ancestors who are now long dead. Often the older characters understand and manipulate storylines which the youthful main characters, kept in the dark about the truth, are forced to accept at face value (until they discover the truths for themselves, that is.)

I would highly recommend that you design a detailed genealogy for your characters when you world build and push it as far back in time as far as it needs to go. Personally, I am terrified of working myself into a corner during a long series by trapping myself in the blind alleys and dead ends of incomplete story lines and fuzzy character histories. So I work out as much of it as I can beforehand. I don’t fear ‘overworking’ it or draining the creative spark away; in fact, I find that it loosens me up and allows my creativity to run amok, secure in the knowledge that I have done all that I can do to keep the earth solid under my story’s feet. Yes, it is drudgery at times. But it gives you immense confidence.

This digging in the ancient dirt, this digging for the people who made your world what it is, can do nothing but yield great chests of pirate gold. I discovered wonderful new story lines and ratcheted up my character development as I uncovered the past of my Snow World. I know what happened before. I know who did it and I know why. I know the huge, terrible secrets some of my characters hold tight to their hearts and I know how it affects their actions even if the reader doesn’t know it yet. I know my story.

The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin

Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War
The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin 2
47 North, November 19, 2013
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 486 pages

The frozen wasteland of Snow World—known as Southern California before an alien invasion decimated civilization—is home to warring steampunk clans. Crankshafts, Imperials, Tinskins, Brineboilers, and many more all battle one another for precious supplies, against ravenous mutant beasts for basic survival, and with the mysterious Founders for their very freedom.

Through this ruined world soars the Pneumatic Zeppelin, captained by the daring Romulus Buckle. In the wake of a nearly suicidal assault on the Founders’ prison city to rescue key military leaders, both the steam-powered airship and its crew are bruised and battered. Yet there’s little time for rest or repairs: Founders raids threaten to shatter the fragile alliance Buckle has risked everything to forge among the clans.

Even as he musters what seems a futile defense in the face of inevitable war, Buckle learns that the most mysterious clan of all is holding his long-lost sister in a secret base—and that she holds the ultimate key to victory over the Founders. But rescuing her means abandoning his allies and praying they survive long enough for there to be an alliance to return to.

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders
The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin 1
47North, July 2, 2013
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 456 pages

In a post-apocalyptic world of endless snow, Captain Romulus Buckle and the stalwart crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin must embark on a perilous mission to rescue their kidnapped leader, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the impenetrable City of the Founders. Steaming over a territory once known as Southern California – before it was devastated in the alien war – Buckle navigates his massive airship through skies infested with enemy war zeppelins and ravenous alien beasties in this swashbuckling and high-octane steampunk adventure. Life is desperate in the Snow World – and death is quick – Buckle and his ship’s company must brave poisoned wastelands of noxious mustard and do battle with forgewalkers, steampipers and armored locomotives as they plunge from the skies into the underground prison warrens of the fortress-city.

Captain Romulus Buckle must lead the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew of never-do-wells on a desperate mission where he must risk everything to save Balthazar and attempt to prevent a catastrophic war which could wipe out all that is left of civilization and the entire human race.

Read Trinitwo's View of Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders here.

The gorgeous covers for the Romulus Buckle novels are by Eamon O’Donoghue.

About Richard

Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. is a science fiction writer who loves the zeitgeist of steampunk. Although he grew up in both the United States and Canada he prefers to think of himself as British. He attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where he earned an Honors B.A. in English with a Minor in Anthropology. He has lived on Prince Edward Island, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm whale autopsy. Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War is the second installment in his new steampunk series, The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin. Richard has also written for film and television. He currently resides in California.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @RichardEPreston

Author Giveaway

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  1. Thanks for the insight into genealogy for fictional characters, and thanks for the giveaway too. I love the idea of a snowbound L.A. and I'd really like to win a copy of the book.

    1. Hi Carl.

      You are welcome and thanks for your kind words. I like the idea of snowbound L.A. as well ;). I hope you win the book! I have a lot of giveaways going on soon this month so check my website to see where else you can try for one, if you'd like.

      Best, Richard

  2. Congrats to Richard on the new release and thanks for a great post! It never really occurred to me that world building would encompass so much of it's history too! This series sounds fantastic! Definitely going to be added to my want list :)

    1. Hi Erin,

      Thank you and thank you again. I had a lot of fun thinking about this post - it had never really hit me how much my characters' ancestors impacted my story until I started trying to quantify it. So happy to be on somebody's want list!

  3. I adored Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders and I'm looking forward with great anticipation to reading Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War. Can't wait to find out what happens next to Romulus and all the crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin.

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for being such a nice supporter and I hope the story holds up to your expectation. I have BIG plans for book 3, too!


  4. Congrats on the new release!!
    I just know about this series, and look like this series have many adventure on book. Recently i love read steampunk genre, from the summary, look like this series was great read. I waiting for the adventure on stories!!
    Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Hi Filia,

      Thanks for your kind words and I hope you enjoy the series - steampunk is a lot of adventure and fun, for me.


  5. We don't just arrive at this point in time - people & events have preceded us. The same goes for characters. Past events guide actions.