New Worlds: Superstitions

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for a New Worlds Patreon post! This time we’re discussing superstitions: what they mean, why you don’t see them more often in fiction, and how to go about including them.

I’ll note, by the way, that if you’re not a patron then you’re missing out on some of the content. Every patron at the $1 level and above receives a photo each week — one that’s themed to that week’s post, if I can manage it, though some topics make that easier than others — along with a brief discussion of it and how it relates to worldbuilding. Today, for example, I sent out a photo of a gargoyle and talked about the architectural and apotropaic roles they play (and why it’s so interesting to find them on the Natural History Museum in London). Patrons at higher levels get free ebooks, the ability to request post topics, bonus essays, and even the chance to get private feedback from me. So if you’ve been enjoying the series, consider becoming a backer! Or recommend it to friends — that also helps!

Swan Tower’s privacy policy

I put this up last month, but since I was busy traveling, I didn’t have a chance to mention it publicly until now.

Swan Tower now has a privacy policy page. It’s modifed from WordPress’ boilerplate suggestions, so it’s a little clunky, but the short form it this: I gather almost no data about visitors to my site, use only data which is necessary for the purpose (e.g. email address if you sign up for the mailing list, IP address etc for comments), and will delete your data if you ask. It may take me a little while to do the latter, depending on the scale of the request and whether I’m on a trip or something at the time, but I will do my best to respect any such wishes as promptly as I can.

On a less site-specific note, it’s been interesting to watch the privacy updates roll out across the web. Turns out to be a fantastic way to find out what I’m subscribed to that I had utterly forgotten about — which has led to a lot of unsubscribes, as you might imagine. And I have taken great pleasure in telling certain sites that no, they may not do XYZ with my data. So on the whole, I’m glad that GDPR has pushed the web in general and U.S. companies in particular toward being more careful with such things, even if there was a mild panic as everyone realized the deadline for compliance was coming up fast.

Ridiculous Legends of Monkey

Just inhaled the first season of The New Legends of Monkey on Netflix, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

It’s loosely based on Journey to the West, insofar as it has the recognizable characters of Tripitaka, Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy, and characters heading vaguely west in search of some kind of important written thing — and that’s about where it ends. The setting makes no attempt to be Ancient China; it’s best described as “vaguely post-demon-apocalyptic wherever.” The show was filmed in Australia, and about half the characters have distinct Australian accents. The main actress (because Tripitaka is female here) is of Tongan ancestry; Monkey’s actor is of Thai ancestry. The cast overall is mixed enough that I’m pretty sure the show’s creators had no pre-set notions of what ethnicities they wanted in which roles, and just cast whomever appealed to them.

If so, it was a good decision. The central characters are mostly great (the exception being the villains, who are a little weak) — I particularly adore Sandy, likewise female, who strikes the note of being a little off-kilter without obxiously “look at how crazy I am!” The setting is 500 years after the gods disappeared; demons rule the earth now, and humanity’s only hope is to find and free Monkey, and then get him to show them where he hid the seven sacred scrolls. But the way Monkey is remembered may not be exactly what he’s like in reality . . .

The show is ten episodes, each less than half an hour. You can watch the whole thing in a long evening — I know because that’s what we did. It’s fun and good-hearted, and I hope they do more!

Photography 001

I recently got into a conversation with someone who wants to do more/better photography, and as such things usually do, the conversation went immediately to “what camera should I buy?”

Which made me realize there might be value in writing up a post about how that isn’t where most people should start.

It’s easy to see photography as a matter of gear: if you have better gear, you’ll take better pictures. There’s some truth in this, of course; your light sensor is your light sensor, and if you have a bad one you’re going to get crappy low-light pictures. You can’t take a good telephoto picture without a telephoto lens. Etc. But the way I see it, that’s, like, step three in the process of becoming a better photographer. If you’ve taken steps one and two already, then by all means let’s talk gear — but if you haven’t, then let’s back up for a moment and talk about what comes before that.

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Spark of Life: Kate Heartfield on ARMED IN HER FASHION

I’ve talked before about how some of my stories have pivoted on pieces of music, with lyrics or just the general feel making my subconscious decide which way the plot needed to go. And the entire Great Cataract sequence in The Tropic of Serpents? That came from a photo of Iguazu Falls. So it’s no particular surprise to me that not just the initial inspiration but the spark of life for Kate Heartfield’s Armed in Her Fashion came from a painting.

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Kate says:

cover for ARMED IN HER FASHION by Kate HeartfieldMy debut novel, Armed in Her Fashion, was inspired from the beginning by a piece of art: Dulle Griet by Pieter Bruegel. I suppose it was only natural that when I got stuck, near the end of the first draft, I returned to the painting for fresh inspiration.

Bruegel was a 16th century painter in the Netherlands. He was influenced by the monstrous, surreal visions in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, a century before. But Bruegel merged those grotesque imaginings with images of ordinary peasant life, and in Dulle Griet, we see a very ordinary-looking woman, holding a frying pan, leading a raid on the mouth of Hell.

Griet herself, a traditional Flemish figure who sometimes represents greed or shrewishness, was the beginning of my story. I wanted to know what would lead a woman to raid Hell; what was she looking for? What could she hope to gain? What could she teach us about how women have provided for themselves and their families throughout human history, and about how their communities saw them?

I set my own version of Griet in the Bruges of 1328, in a city under siege. Margriet de Vos is very ordinary: a wet-nurse, and a widow. Determined, pragmatic, sharp-tongued and old enough not to care what names people might call her.

But the weirdness in the background of Bruegel’s painting influenced the novel’s world. This is an alternate version of 14th century Bruges, in which monsters are very real. The Hellbeast in my novel is a literalization of the Hellmouth that appears in Bruegel’s painting, which is itself a late version of the Hellmouths that appear in medieval European art. As I considered the amalgamations of human figures with musical instruments, birds and devices that appear in so many Bosch and Bruegel paintings, the novel began to explore the promise of body modification, and the horror of non-consensual weaponization of the body.

As I neared the climax of my plot, I knew what had to happen, but I didn’t know why; I didn’t know what events in the world of the story could force my plot in the direction I needed. One day, I glanced at Bruegel’s painting again, and I realized there was one element I had not yet included in the novel: Eggs. They’re everywhere in Bosch and Bruegel. Maybe they’re an alchemical symbol, or maybe they signify greed, or gluttony, or fragility, or the promise of new life. Probably all the above. I knew what they signified for me: a deeper level of world-building, and a new twist in my plot. They represented change and renewal, and I knew right away what these eggs were and why they mattered to my characters.

Like many writers, I often turn to the art created by others when I feel my creative well running dry. Often, that means putting on a piece of music or watching a movie. But when I really need to recharge, I go to the art gallery.

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From the cover copy:

In 1328, the city of Bruges is under siege from the Chatelaine of Hell and her army of chimeras. At night, revenants crawl over the walls and bring plague and grief to this city of widows.

One of those widows, Margriet de Vos, will do anything to make sure her daughter’s safe, even if it means raiding Hell itself.

Kate Heartfield is the author of Armed in Her Fashion, a historical fantasy novel from ChiZine Publications, and The Road to Canterbury, an interactive novel from Choice of Games, set for release in spring 2018. Tor.com Publications will publish two time-travel novellas by Kate, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives in late 2018. Her fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Strange Horizons, Podcastle, and Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World. Kate is a former newspaper editor and columnist and lives in Ottawa, Canada. You can find her at her website or on on Twitter.