Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Robin W. Bailey

Wayfinding in an unknown world

I’ve been thinking about maps, recently, for a number of reasons. I participated in a stimulating panel discussion about them last February at Capricon 38, in which we discussed historical maps, as well as the vital necessity of maps to writers engaged in worldbuilding. From the opening credits for Game of Thrones to nearly every video game in use today, maps are key to unlocking fictional worlds.

“Game of Thrones” Main Titles from Elastic on Vimeo.

I’ve been busily engaged in developing and and refining maps, drawings, and models of Rana Station, the eight-toroid habitat space station where my XK9 novels are set, for several years. If I don’t have a clear sense of how the terraced hillsides of my characters’ home Borough on Wheel Two look, or where things are in relation to each other, how will my readers ever have a clue?

I’m still working on a post about my Ranan maps–also still working on refining the maps themselves! They’ll be a subject for a future post. No, today I just want to share some of my favorite maps from other creators’ worlds, and talk about how necessary they are.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth: so many classic places! What would a quest novel be without a map?

Not everyone likes maps, or finds them relatable. This boggles my mind, but it’s true. I know perfectly wonderful people who relate to maps about as well as I relate to trigonometry (math-challenged artist, here, which really blows when I’m trying to get “space stuff” right! This means, however, that I always try to triple-check my numbers, and have better mathematicians “check my work.“).

But for a writer–not even specifically the writer of science fiction and fantasy; I mean almost ANY writer–you need to know where things are in your fictional world, how far away they are from each other, and what they look like.

Some of my all-time favorite, Ultimate Awesome maps are the ones found in the Deborah Crombie mystery novelsLaura Hartman Maestro creates them, and while they are based on real places in the real world (where Deb really goes in person, to do her painstaking research), they also incorporate places mentioned in the story, as well as animals and sometimes humans from the story, as well.

Laura Hartman Maestro’s map for the Deborah Crombie contemporary mystery novel Garden of Lamentations.

My friend Diana J. Bailey (wife of the fantasy and sf author Robin Wayne Bailey) is a retired Geologist/Environmental Scientist with the EPA, who frequently gives map critiques to fantasy and sf writers. She has a whole, exasperated spiel about how too many people haven’t figured out that tributaries run DOWNHILL.

The Mississippi River and its major tributaries: we don’t often appreciate the strategic and economic importance this navigable river system had to the development of the United States, but my friend Diana Bailey makes a strong, eloquent case.

She also likes to point out how essential it is to understand that land-forms and water flow dictate patterns of travel, which influence commerce, which influences society, and defines “what is a strategic location?” for any given fictional world. One of her pet peeves (mine, too, and I know we’re not alone) is a fictional world that doesn’t make geological sense.

Water is a crucial resource, as my friends in Yemen will tell you from bitter experience. It defines where people (and all lifeforms) gravitate. Geography and landforms also create barriers and/or passages for travel. No matter what stage of development your world has achieved, it almost certainly has a historyIt almost certainly has an economy. And it almost certainly has had some of those elements molded and adjusted by geography.

Writers fail to learn about this, or fail to use it in their worldbuilding, at their peril.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Vimeo and Elastic for the Game of Thrones Main Titles sequence from 2011; to Gizmodo’s io9 for the Tolkein map of Middle Earth, to Deborah Crombie’s “The Maps” page for the Garden of Lamentations map by Laura Hartman Maestro; and to Mondo Trudeau’s guide to World Geography Class at Caddo Magnet High School, for the map of the Mississippi and its tributaries. I appreciate you ALL!

Tales of ConQuesT (48)–The Writing Part

I love  participating in panel discussions at science fiction conventions–and I was part of several at ConQuesT 48 held this and every year in Kansas City on Memorial Day by my home science fiction group, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society


I participated in several panel discussions at ConQuesT. In addition to sharing an hour of reading with Sean Demory of Pine Float Press, my other scheduled panels all could be potential subjects for future blog posts. Please comment below, if you’d like to see more on any of these topics!

What Gives Characters Depth?

This panel focused on writing techniques, plus a review of “3-D characters we love” and why we chose them. It was ably moderated by Rob Howell. I was joined on the panel by P. R. AdamsLynette M. Burrows, and Marguerite Reed.

L-R: P. R. Adams, Lynette M. Burrows, Marguerite Reed, and moderator Rob Howell

Our discussion ranged through such questions as what makes a character come to life, our assorted techniques for “getting to know” our characters, and what happens when the scene you thought you were going to write takes a right-angle turn because “the character had something else in mind”/you realized it wouldn’t be in character for the person to do/say/think what you’d originally intended. It was a fun and lively discussion.

Intellectual Property and Literary Estates

I got to moderate this panel (former teacher: I like to make sure the discussions are fueled by lots of good, well-researched, leading questions, that everyone gets a chance to talk, and that the audience is actively engaged in shaping the conversation). I’d signed up to be on the panel because of my connection with the administration of my late brother-in-law’s literary estate.

My fellow panelists were Dora Furlong, who’d been involved in establishing a foundation to administer the literary estate of a writer and game-creator; Susan R. Matthews, who’d gone through the process of writing a will and discovered that there were all sorts of decisions to be made about who would administer her literary estate; and Craig R. Smith, whose focus was more on contracts and protecting intellectual property.

L-R: Susan R. Matthews‘ icon; Dora Furlong; Craig R. Smith‘s book cover.

We discussed the nature of intellectual property, the relative importance of registering ISBNs and copyrights, what is included in a literary estate, the kinds of decisions the executor or trustees of such an estate may have to make, leaving specific instructions (for instance, about what to do with emails and unfinished manuscripts), and many other issues that most writers, artists, or other creative people rarely consider–but which have everything to do with their legacy.

Writing Fight and Combat Scenes

I moderated this panel, too–but I did little talking about my own work on this one. Both of my fellow panelists, Rob Howell and Selina Rosen, are well-spoken, engaging, and knowledgeable, with a depth of background I could admire, but not match (SCA battle-experience, military history studies, martial arts training, and many more varied writing projects than I’ve racked up so far).

L-R: Rob Howell, a photo of an SCA battle by Ron Lutz; and Selina Rosen. Yes, it was a lively panel discussion.

It was a privilege to manage time and audience input, while offering them questions about varieties of research, frequent plot objectives of most fight or combat scenes, tips for keeping the action vivid and interesting, and pet peeves about other authors’ bad practices. Rob, Selina, and the knowledgeable audience kept the panel fast-paced, interesting, and wide-ranging.

Horror Fiction and Xenophobia

Yes, I did moderate this panel also–but as with the “Fight and Combat” panel, I ended up mainly facilitating the experts, namely Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmeyer, and Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not much of a horror writer or reader myself, I approached this panel from the viewpoint of a multiculturalist who generally looks upon xenophobia (fear of foreigners or, more basically, fear of “the other”) as a negative thing.

L-R: Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmyer, and the Facebook Profile Picture of Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not to worry. While earlier traditions of horror have embraced the “fear of otherness” via unfamiliar cultural practices, deformity, and/or disease to create the objects of fear, my three fellow panelists are contemporary horror writers who have embraced the “feared other” as their protagonists.

This brought new poignancy to their responses to my questions about “who are the monsters of today?” and which is the most potent bogeyman of today, the terrorist (domestic or foreign), the corporate overlord, the hacker, or the community dedicated to conformity? Reactions were mixed, but ultimately conformity won as the most stifling on the individual level.

I See No Way That Could Possibly Go Wrong

This panel focused on new technologies just beginning to emerge today, and our thoughts about their ramifications in the future. The panelists were, L-R in the photo below, Christine Taylor-Butler, Bryn Donovan, me, and Robin Wayne Bailey. The photographer (and knowledgeable contributor from the audience) is the writer J.R. Boles.

I was not originally scheduled to be on this one, but the designated moderator (who shall go nameless) did not show up for the panel. Bryn and Robin invited me to join them and moderate. Since I actually knew a bit about the topic (thanks largely to researching and writing this blog), I was delighted to leap in.

We had a great discussion, with a lot of intelligent input from the panelists and our knowledgeable audience. We spent most of our time on the question, “What technology that’s now in its infancy would you most like to see developed, and how do you think it would change things as we know them?”

Answers touched on flying cars, 3-D printed kidneys, earpieces or brain implants to transmit data, lunar colonies, asteroid mining, and much more.

IMAGES: I’m the one who put together the ConQuesT 48 banner. It features a logo design by Keri O’Brien and a photo of the lobby of our convention hotel, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center, which provided the photo. 

The photos of assorted authors with whom I did panels come from the following, gratefully acknowledged sources:

The photo of Rob Howell is from his Amazon Author Page. That of P. R. Adams is from his Amazon author page. That of Lynette M. Burrows is from her Twitter Profile @LynetteMBurrows, and that of Marguerite Reed is from her Twitter Profile, @MargueriteReed9

Dora Furlong’s photo is from her Amazon Author Page. Susan R. Matthews’ image-icon is from her website; I was unable to find a photo of Craig R. Smith, so I finally settled for a cover image of his book, Into the Dark Realm

I’d like to offer special thanks to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and photographer Ron Lutz, for use of the photo Clash of Battle.

The photo of Selina Rosen is a detail from a photo by the indispensable Keith Stokes, taken at Room Con 10 in 2014 (a party hosted by James Holloman at ConQuesT each year) and posted in the MidAmericon Fan Photo Archive

Many thanks to the Johnson County (KS) Library for the photo of Sean Demory (there’s also a great interview with him on that page). The photo of Karen Bovenmyer is from her Twitter profile @karenbovenmyer; unfortunately, I couldn’t find a photo of Donna Wagenblast Munro or a book cover for her anywhere, so finally I substituted an image from her Facebook page.

Last but far from least, many, many thanks to J. R. Boles for the photo of the “I See No Way” panel, from her Twitter account, @writingjen

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