From the moment I decided to concentrate on fiction, my fantasy world started coming together. With every piece of writing in the world, the places became characters in the stories. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that the places started taking on a life of their own; they were not quite the Seattle I live in, nor the San Juan islands I’ve sailed through on weekends. The Australian outback is subtly different to actual places I’ve been, or more properly, the places are an amalgam of more than one single place, tinted by memory and overlaid with a magical patina that is their very own. The Suzzalo annex in downtown Seattle is a place that might be, an organic outgrowth of the very real Suzzalo Library at the University of Washington with which I am so familiar. I wonder if all magical worlds start off that way? Do they come to live in the intersections between the real and the imaginary, taking on the nature of something that is rooted in the world?
There are places I’ve visited in books by favorite authors that are as real to me as cities I’ve traveled to physically. The London of Sherlock Holmes is not quite the London of my visit in 2006, nor yet the London of Phileas Fogg, Mary Poppins, nor yet even the London of 007. They rug shoulders like restless cats, overlapping like a puzzle, yet each version of London remains its own unique world. Our urban fantasy worlds begin with the world we can touch. As it should be. And then they depart for places unknown and as yet undiscovered.
In building a whole ‘world’, it helps to have the bones of the familiar to act as a bridge. The magical systems need to be grounded in the familiar everyday things, with rules that are internally consistent. Traveling from one place to another may be via walking, public transport, a vehicle or by stepping through a doorway between places in this world or between separate pocket universes, each world behaving with its own rules. The covenant with readers is to make the worlds internally consistent, predictable in some sense, and imbued with the magic that advances the sense of place and the journey of the characters who move through the spaces in that particular world.
In the Storybook tales with living libraries and pocket universes, the City of Seattle is in the World of Form, with rules or conventions that prevent casual magic coming to the attention of people or the authorities. Our magical beings are flying ‘under the radar’ and if luck should accrue to these ‘Others’ more often that most people experience, then that magic might be overlooked. Yet we do see our characters zipping about through portals, avoiding planes and customs officials. The magic to deflect attention is well developed, as is the magic of illusion and manipulation. The ‘Others’ are shape shifters, though not in an obvious fashion. No horror movie transformations in the world where humans live – as an author, I chose to constrict that ability in this world, at least where people are looking. The rules will, of course, be broken. There will be challenges to order. Chaos will enter in. Our characters may be revealed to a select few, or discovered by sinister government agencies as dictated by the story. That’s one of the things that makes urban fantasy so interesting, that we do not know what may happen next. The fantastical blends with the normal in delightful ways.
This weekend I’m building some new environments for my world, a few new villains, some allies whose worlds are not yet known to my protagonist. Should be loads of fun. My first step is to scrapbook images that look and feel like the places. Pencil sketches, word sketches, montages from imagination.