Experiencing exotic places: Through the heroine's eyes
I have always wanted to write a fantasy novel. For A Thousand Perfect Things I wanted to continue in the tradition of world-building for which, I suppose, I'm best known. I do love to "take the reader somewhere," the quality that first attracted me as a child to science fiction and fantasy.
In my previous science fiction novels I created worlds such as: a crystalline construct overlaying the Earth, a subterranean data world, a world on which terraforming comes unraveled, and a tunnel universe with a river of fire for a sky. The strange and enchanting world is always my destination, it seems.
For A Thousand Perfect Things, I created a setting called Anglica (an alternate Victorian England) where science has taken such deep root that Anglics feel nothing but fear and outrage over intrusions of magic into their lives. The source of all magic is the mystical continent of Bharata (an alter-India) where religion and magic are closely intertwined. Here we encounter ghosts, the inanimate brought to life, monster phantasms, magical silver tigers and shape-shifters.
But as interesting as an exotic milieu may be, the world is just scenery painting unless the reader can feel the essence of the place through the viewpoint character. The world itself must engage the character on an emotional level. This is one of the great secrets of world-building: that the characters whose point of view we are in must experience the world personally and viscerally. So I wanted to choose a character who would have strong feelings about Bharata. Perhaps a woman, a young woman, one with cruelly denied aspirations, with little knowledge of the sensual world, cultural bigotry or passionate love.
Enter my major character, Tori Harding, a young Victorian woman who wishes to claim a place in history denied her by the male-dominated society of Anglica. She seeks the magical golden lotus, but so do the agents of the Crown and a charismatic holy man. Each believes something different about this legendary flower, and each will enter hell to get it.
In Tori's case, she will enter an exotic, dangerous, and deeply spiritual land. As she throws aside the 19th century Anglic restrictions she has suffered under, she can begin to see Bharata with new eyes. It will utterly change her, and allow her to see the land in ways she could not have imagined. Ways in which, I hope, the reader will enjoy seeing this landscape. It is Tori who carries the world forward, whose emotional reactions paint the reality, give it meaning--and give the reader the vicarious experience of being there.
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