Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, though if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.
But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.
We are excited to have Melissa stopping by the blog today talking about world building. That was the one thing that totally drew me in when I first read the synopsis. I was so taken by how this world could exist and live in a city that does have so many under ground areas that could allow this story to be real. So we hope you enjoy getting to know a little more about Melissa’s process and be sure to snag yourself a copy of The Girl at Midnight!
World building is one of my favorite parts of writing fantasy novels. It’s also, coincidentally, one of the aspects of writing speculative fiction that makes me want to tear my hair out of the most. If you’re a high fantasy scribe, then every small corner of the world of your story is a creation of your imagination. That’s a daunting task, but also one that can be incredibly liberating because the world is literally your oyster. You can do whatever you want. The limit does not exist, if I may quote both Mean Girls and general mathematics.
If, like me, your fantasy setting is rooted in the real word, then you have to take into consideration the structural limitations of whichever pre-existing locale you’re turning into your playground. It’s nice because you already have a framework in place, but you have to build a structurally sound world atop one that already exists without compromising either. And to do that, there are a few things I like to tackle as I build worlds like the one in The Girl at Midnight.
Systems of Magic
I’m going to preface this by saying I managed to make it through high school and college without ever taking a single physics class, but one of the things you might find yourself considering as a fantasy author is magic and its intersection with actual science. These are some of the questions I asked myself when laying out the groundwork for magic in The Girl at Midnight: What can magic do? What can magic NOT do? What are its limitations? Who can use it? Why can they use it while others can’t? Are their repercussions for using it? What laws of physics can it bend? How does it bend those laws? Are there consequences for bending the laws of physics?
Getting From Point A to Point B
Modes of travel were important in The Girl at Midnight. The book takes place in New York, London, Paris, Kyoto, the Black Forest, the Scottish Highlands, and Taipei. At no point does anyone ever hop on a plane. In the world of the book, there exists a substance called shadow dust, which can turn any door into a gateway to the in-between. The in-between is a nebulous space that exists in all the places between here and there – it’s basically the gaps in our universe, and smearing shadow dust on a doorway imbues it with enough magic to allow the user to access that nebulous, otherworldly space. Once you’re there, you can go anywhere. I knew I wanted to be able to travel quickly between far flung locations so coming up with a system to allow for that was high on my to do list.
Not In This Economy!
Now for everyone’s favorite topic: money! How do your characters acquire food, clothing, toys, et cetera? The Girl at Midnight has one foot in the real world and one foot in the world I made up, so we see some instances of paying for goods and services with actual paper money (though if you go through the book and make a list, there are more instances of thievery than of actual payment which probably says something about me as a person). One of those occurs in Maison Bertaux, an adorable patisserie in London, where Echo, her best friend Ivy, and her boyfriend Rowan, enjoy some éclairs and tea, though Rowan tries to pay with the wrong country’s currency because he thinks paper money changing across borders is stupid. But in the hidden world of the Avicen in New York, they operate on a barter economy. That means when Echo needs more shadow dust from shop proprietor Perrin, she brings him a box of his favorite Ladurée macarons, fresh from Paris. The human economy doesn’t mean much to the Avicen. They live beneath the streets of New York City so they know how to use it and some, especially the older ones, have their own funds in human currencies, but they prefer to trade goods for other goods. Paper money seems silly to them. Like Monopoly money. Whereas as Ladurée macarons are obviously as precious as golden nuggets.
Just as with any other aspect of writing a novel, there are no hard and fast rules for world building. I tend to come up with things as I go; if I encounter a problem as I’m writing the manuscript, I tackle it then and there as opposed to painstakingly planning things beforehand. Just like most of the characters in The Girl at Midnight, I tend to thrive in a little bit of chaos. What’s important is finding out what works for you as bring your crazy, wonderful fantasy worlds to life.