Guest Post: Creative History: On Building Deviltry

Today’s post is a guest blog post by my friend, Steph Lehenbauer. She’s recently published a really awesome novella about a kick ass Native American woman who is a ship captain/space cowgirl who kicks a lot of ass. Deviltry is the first novella in a series that is part Western, part Firefly, and a whole lot of excellence. I’ve read it, I loved it, and I suggest you read on to learn more about it, then go check it out for yourself.


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Hello, Jason’s blog readers. It is I, the Batman!

WAIT NO. Not again. Damn it, I’ve got to stop that. My name is Stephanie, AKA S.E. Lehenbauer. I am the author of Deviltry, the first novella of in my space western series. The stories follow the adventures of the spacecraft Wanderlust and her crew.

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Jason’s been kind enough to let me take over his blog today, to talk about world building. Specifically, world building around real history. Deviltry takes place in the 1860s, but it’s definitely not the same world as we know it. Earth is now Terra Fragmentum, a collection of small planets held together in Earth’s old place by the gravitational pull of the moon. (Ah, the creative liberties we can take with science.) These frags are the remnants of Earth, after being attacked by aliens roughly 40 years before our story begins.

So, it’s still Earth, kind of. They are still the same countries (for the most part), and the cultures are still quite similar to what they were in the 1860s. However, contact with aliens introduced humanity to space travel, to an alien internet system that people use but don’t understand yet, to advances in machinery and medicine. It’s Wild Wild West meets Farscape, in a way.

The tricky part of this kind of world building is cherry-picking from real history. Using historical figures, places, events, and so on, is a great way to ground your fantasy world. Steampunk books almost always mention Queen Victoria for this very reason—just that simple mention of a real figure we all have some awareness of instantly sets the groundwork in a reader’s mind. But due to the geography or cultural upset in your story, you may not be able to keep everything.

For example: I knew that I would be focusing quite a bit on Native American culture and history, so I chose to keep as many events related to the tension between American settlers and Native Americans as I could. Sally’s parents, Kit Carson and the Cheyenne woman Making-Our-Road were real people who were really married for a time (although as far as my research could tell they never had a child). I turned up some interesting facts about Carson’s involvement with the Mexican-American war, and because it gave significance to an event in Sally’s fictional life, I also kept as much of that war as I could.

However, the American Civil War has been completely erased from our history. (In fact, the stories take place during what would have been the Civil War years.) The reason for that is two-fold: first, America is divided into two separate frags. For a world that has only just discovered and begun to use spacecraft, a war between frags doesn’t seem plausible. The other reason is more complicated. When I divided up the world into frags, I just sort of took a marker to a printed map and damned the consequences. Whatever got a line drawn through it was what got blown up. The southern United States and Mexico didn’t end up with very much water (like, hardly any at all…it’s been a huge annoyance to write around), so the economic make-up of America is very different. One of the biggest factors in the Civil War was the fact that the South was the main source of agriculture, while the North was industrializing. Without water, the South can hardly be the agricultural center it was in real history; so with that factor gone, the War became even more difficult to account for.

In addition to deciding which parts of history go or stay, you must also consider how real-life events would have been shaped by the factors in your new world. In real-life London, there was indeed a Reform Act of 1832. It was an Act of Parliament that made changes to England’s electoral system. In my story, I needed a political movement that would set up the nation of Seachrist: the single moon-based territory of Terra Fragmentum. The concept of Seachrist came from the minds of a few upper-class English families, and the timing of the act was perfect, so I borrowed it. Now the Reform Act of 1832 was a declaration by Parliament to colonize the moon. That little bit of truth within the lie gives my fictional world enough familiarity to create that groundwork I mentioned earlier.

Being a student of history is incredibly helpful to an author. It can, at times, also become a great source of procrastination as you spend weeks picking what stays and what goes. Not that I did that. Definitely not. The single piece of advice I might have would be to narrow your focus as much as possible. I knew that I’d be visiting certain countries and nations within the Wanderlust’s adventures, so I kept my focus to just those places’ histories. When I could, I narrowed it down farther to specific states or cities. (When a shiny thing about the development of Alaska popped up in my research, I had to firmly sit it down and say, “No. I’m not going to Alaska. There’s just no time. I’m sorry Alaska, you will just have to go without.” I filed the shiny fact away for something else and went on.)

Thanks for letting me crash your joint! You’re all invited to the Batcave any time. Earlier this month, I was at the Ravenhart Press blog discussing the ideas of diversity within Deviltry; if that’s something you are interested in, please check it out!

Deviltry is out now from LARRIKINbooks at most major booksellers. (Buying the paperback copy at Amazon nets you the Kindle version for free!) You can find more information and links at my website, www.selehenbauer.com/books/.

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