|Cover art by Matt Stawicki|
Many of you know Canadian author Julie E. Czerneda as the former biologist turned science fiction novelist published by DAW Books NY. You may have read her Clan Chronicles series, or be a fan of Mac or Esen from her other work. Maybe you’ve heard she’s an editor. Also true. This spring, however, prepare to meet the Julie you don’t know. After three years of work, she’s letting out her whimsical side with the release of her first fantasy novel, A Turn of Light, also from DAW. The setting, Marrowdell, is based on pioneer settlements in Ontario. There are toads. And dragons. The magic? All her own.
For more about Julie’s work, including book excerpts and upcoming events, please visit www.czerneda.com.
By Julie E. Czerneda
An essential aspect of world-building for my fantasy, A Turn of Light, involved swearing. No, not by me. I’m a “misterchristiescrispybiscuits” kinda gal. When I do utter a four-letter word, the family comes running, knowing something awful’s happened. It’s not that I’m a prude; I simply prefer to save cuss words for significant moments.
My characters would have their moments too. But what should they say? Nothing familiar, I decided. I’d already laced much that was throughout Marrowdell, from baskets to beer to watercolours. It was time to add a good dose of “other” to the Rhothan culture. Oh, and have fun, that too.
Most of all, it was my chance to weave the belief system of my settlers into the story.
Violette Malan did a great post on swearing in fiction recently. (http://www.blackgate.com/2013/03/15/my-characters-dont-give-a-damn/#more-46650) She makes the point that profanity only exists when there are religious beliefs in a society to profane. After all, how can you “damn” someone if there’s no hell? I’d chosen to make my characters belong to a society with ancestor reverence rather than worship any deities. (Why? That’s another post.) In Turn, bones are kept in ossuaries and visited regularly. Records of ancestry are important. The dead are considered to watch over the living, with benign intent. Some believe they grant wishes; most do not. Certainly if you misbehaved, there could be an immense number of disappointed ancestors taking note.
Who better to swear at?
That said, I wasn’t writing anyone who’d be disrespectful or risk ancestral ire. Plus it would get old fast if I had someone cry out “By Grandfather Ernst’s Bones!” or “My Mother’s Skull Will Crush Your Mother’s Skull!”
I decided, since everyone had a wealth of ancestors in common, they should have an equal wealth of non-specific exhortations. Ancestors .... something something.
Out came the thesaurus.
Ahem. After writing a few samples, I discovered this approach offered a wonderful opportunity to reveal important character details, as each would have preferences. The more peculiar, the better. What incited a given outcry would necessarily vary too -- from the trivial to the vital. Indeed, fun to be had.
I chortled, I did.
Thus, in A Turn of Light, you’ll hear “Ancestors Blessed” for “praise be” or “thank goodness.” “Ancestors Witness” for “as fate would have it” or “truly” or “it’s beyond me to change.” Then there’s the more -- interesting -- stuff.
A cheerful Rhothan might say “Ancestors Blessed and Blissful.” A worried one, “Ancestors Desperate and Doomed.” There’s “Ancestors Hot and Bothered” for those moments of temptation. Feeling perplexed? “Ancestors Crazed and Confounded” might do, or “Ancestors Daft and Ridiculous.” In a pickle? “Ancestors Battered and Bent!” One of my favourites, when asked for one too many favours, “Ancestors Twice Put Upon and Tormented!”
|From Julie’s notes. There are more. Photo by Roger Czerneda Photography|