World Building with Lenora Good

Lenora Good of Coffee Break Escapes was an early reader of Paris In Ruins. In our back-and-forth exchanges, I discovered that Lenora has written a novel and also writes poetry. So I asked about her novel and after discovering that it’s science fiction, asked her about world building. Here’s Lenora’s post on creating a world for her fiction.


I was introduced to Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) while in the WAC back in 1966. I loved it, especially the various worlds. I read other genres, but always got back to SFF, although in later years I’ve shifted more to the F side than the SF side.

The original Dune books by Frank Herbert were my “thumb sucking” books. When I became stressed, I read the books. I’ve been through all seven of them at least seven times, and I have no idea how many times I’ve read the original trilogy. I was stressed a lot as a single and working mom. 😉

Besides the stories, I could escape into the worlds. Somewhere along the line I started writing, and I realized I liked building my own worlds—whether a generational spaceship, or a planet. It was fun to figure things out. And because I’m me, and wanted to get down to the story, I decided to make most of my planets similar enough to Earth that they were familiar and we could live without still suits or space suits or special enhancements, but still, different enough to be fun.

I wrote Jibutu: Daughter of the Desert during Nanowrimo one year. Then I spent the next couple of years re-writing it, but I had the bones down. I blatantly stole an idea from Mr. Herbert—the epigraphs before each chapter. And, to be honest, I suppose his Dune books played a bit in my desert, though mine is much different than his, and doesn’t take the whole planet. There are no giant worms making spice on my planet, but the desert people do use giant lizards, sliwas, as beasts of burden. There are also mountains, forests, grasslands, and water lands where people live on boats lashed together to form a city. The idea for the grasslands came from the tall grass prairies of the Great Plains.

The first thing I did was draw a map, with a compass rose, so I would remember where the towns were, and where the people were not to mention the deserts, the mountains, the roads, the countries etc.

Then I set down to logics. At least my brand thereof. I pretty much stayed away from major religions, developed my own adoption ceremony, and in general, had fun.

I did need to know what foods would be available in the desert, fortunately that was fairly easy. I have a friend who lived in Palestine and Jordan for several years. And I lived in New Mexico for a while. As to the mountains, well, I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, so I knew a bit about mountain living. Imagination and my own claustrophobia played into the grasslands. Plus, the fact my protagonist went thru a horrific fire where she lost a hand, so she was very concerned about having to go through, and living a while, in the grasslands. I talked to people who had lost a limb, and used my imagination on that one.

Mostly, it was just common sense and imagination. I did very little actual research for the book, however, I’m sure I did some. I’m also a voracious and eclectic reader and am sure I picked up tidbits of information from those books and stories of which I’m not aware. 

Hooded robes make the most sense for desert travel. They keep the sun off most of the body, and on our planet, the Bedouins make their robes of wool. Sounds hot, doesn’t it? My understanding is they maintain a pretty constant temperature of 75 degrees on the inside, not matter how hot it gets outside. Goats survive well in the desert, and sliwas, the giant lizards used for beasts of burden. Sliwas, as well as humans, need to eat now and then, and goats were the perfect solution. Goats also give wool for weaving and milk to drink and make cheese. The desert tribes of my novel are nomads, and gather annually to swap stories and gossip, barter for goods, and marry. 

The towns on the edge of the deserts have high walls, more for defense against sandstorms than marauding armies, which I conveniently left out of Jibutu’s story. Again, common sense. 

Because Jibutu is a novel, in a place and time of my choosing, I did not have to consider tying her into history. I did not have to research clothing, manners, speech—all the things an author of historical novels must do. I just had to keep my “bible” handy so I could remember how to spell names and be consistent in measurements, timelines, and when needed genealogies.

In a way, it was much easier building my own world than trying to write a story to fit into one that existed, and that people know about. I didn’t have to worry about any timeline but mine. And the vocabulary was also mine. I didn’t have to worry if a word I wanted to use really existed in 1852 because my world had no 1852.

Jibutu’s world is on another planet, enough like ours to be comfortable, different enough to be intriguing. 

Jibutu: Daugher of the Desert by Lenora Rain-Lee Good ~~ As part of the ritual to become a healer, Jibutu drinks the fermented juice of the Death Cactus and dreams of her unknown birth mother, who calls her by a name she can neither hear nor understand. Later, having gained status as a healer, on a quest to learn who her birth parents were, and her true name, she also becomes a shaman. Astride a giant lizard, she crosses the desert with her sister shaman, and is attacked and taken by slavers. Jibutu loses everything and everyone she knows and loves as her world is turned upside-down.

You can read one of Lenora’s poems at Quill & Parchment.

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts on world building, Lenora. Best wishes for your poetry.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

19th Century Paris

As you can imagine, writing a novel set in 1870 Paris requires lots of research. Historical events are critical, fashion is important, issues of the day, culture, social norms and so on. But what about the homes where Parisians lived?

Ian and I had a research trip to Paris that involved 3 weeks in an AirBnb apartment designed to provide an experience that was closer to living in the city, rather than staying in a hotel. Three weeks of walking the streets gave me a different appreciation for how Parisians live.

Of particular interest were the hotel particuliers – grand homes – we visited: Musée Cognacq-Jay, Musée Jacquemart-Andre, Musée Carnavalet, and Musée Nissim de Camondo. I wanted to understand how my two main characters, both from well-to-do Parisian families, might have lived including the layout of such homes, the décor, the furnishings, the paintings and other accoutrements of their lives.

Museee Jacquemart-Andre – Paris

The splendour and luxury of these grand homes were astonishing, and although they inspired relatively brief descriptions, they gave me images to carry in my head as I wrote.

Musee Nissim Camondo
Musee Carnavalet

At one point in the writing process, I became obsessed with understanding the layout of Camille’s and Mariele’s homes. A search brought forth some floor plans which helped me add further details.

Mariele’s home – principal rooms
Mariele’s Home – adjoining suites for her parents

Gardens, kitchens, breakfast rooms, wardrobes, beds, desks, chairs and more created a world in which I and my characters lived quite comfortably together while I wrote their story.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS  is available for pre-order on AmazonUSAmazonCanadaKobo and Barnes & Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

World-weaving with invisible strands

Melissa Addey is on the blog today talking about novels featuring the unseen figures of the past. Like her earlier post on approaching research as a child, Melissa offers a unique angle on writing historical fiction. Melissa’s latest novel is From the Ashes.


As an author of historical fiction, I have always been pleased that many of my best reviews mention my ability to world-build. Writing in this genre, after all, requires a whole world to be rebuilt from nothing but bits of paper and crumbling ruins, from an odd mixture of official records which often forget or deliberately omit whole groups of people and events, to hearsay and quasi-legends passed down orally which you sense hold certain truths but often get questioned if you use them. For my PhD in Creative Writing, I wrote about looking beyond the inevitable ‘is it true?’ question. I suggested that as well as that question, another question to ask of authors would be: ‘What fictional elements did you add to your historical setting and why was it important to your vision of the past?’ And one obvious answer, of course, is that when you set out to build your world, you are very likely to find parts missing, strange holes in the tapestry you are weaving which you must fill in, one way or another. 

This recently happened to me when I decided I would like to write a series set in Ancient Rome, following the backstage team of the Colosseum. I spent the first three years of my life in Rome, my mother worked in an office just over the road from the Colosseum, perhaps it had been bubbling away in my brain, waiting for a chance to be included in my writing. I began in my usual fashion, gathering up the first strands with which to string my loom: children’s reference books for the basics of daily life in that era, several large tomes entirely dedicated to the Colosseum and its spectacles. These, I reasoned, would give me a good overview of the shape and size of my eventual world, which I could then follow up on with more detailed research. 

And then I found the hole. In an extremely well documented time and place in history, right in the centre of one of the most famous buildings left to us from ancient times and featured in countless books and films was… a huge, gaping hole. Because there is no mention of a backstage team. We do not even know the name of the architect who designed the Colosseum, let alone the people who must have run it on a day-to-day basis. Oddly, no academics or authors of substantial works on the Colosseum seem to even mention the existence of this gap in our knowledge, to such an extent that I spent a lot of extra time doubting my research abilities, certain that somewhere, known to all but myself, was a neat list of the team and their roles. But no such list exists. And yet: I could feel the invisible strands out there, waiting to be woven. There were 100 to 200 days of Games put on per year, each of which took up most of a day: beast-hunting in the morning, criminal executions at lunchtime, gladiatorial bouts in the afternoon. The Emirates Stadium (a similar sized 50,000-seater arena) today employs 3000 people. The invisible backstage team must have existed. But I would have to create them. 

In the end, creating the invisible team required three main strands:

What did they make?

The historical record does not mention the backstage team. But it does describe what they created. We have mentions of animals, both wild and tamed, which means there were people placing orders for them, catching them, transporting and storing them, as well as taking many months of hard work to train those that were made to perform in specific ways, such as horses who would willingly run through water when the Colosseum was flooded for naval battles and an elephant who would bow of its own accord upon seeing the Emperor (bit of subtle signalling there, do we think?). The gladiators, of course, had to be trained, appropriately kitted out in both battle and theatrical parade armour and patched up by physicians. There were synchronised swimmers, whom the poet Martial admired, asking whether a sea-nymph had taught them, or whether the performing swimmers had been the ones to teach sea-nymphs their moves. As for the criminal executions, many were turned into re-enactments of bloody myths, requiring costumes, scenery and rehearsals. The list of staff quickly grows long when you look at what they created. Even something as tiny as a mention of using coloured sand in the arena leads to the question, where do you get that from? Was there a known supplier of coloured sand in first-century Rome, with a colour chart to pick from and a regular agreed delivery day? Would the manager frown when taking delivery and say that this wasn’t the shade they’d agreed on? And why do you need different colours of sand? Are you making patterns? Illusions of water or grass? Vast sand ‘paintings’ across the arena floor? Even modern-day recreations of, for example, the lifts that brought beasts and fighters up into the arena, only briefly mention that each one requires four to six people to operate, which means easily 150 people just for the lifts during a show, and that’s leaving aside the question of, who is giving the signal to release a beast or gladiator from a specific lift to a given schedule? World-building in such circumstances relies on endless questions of this kind, each question making one thread at a time become visible. My novel began to take on a shape: the endless day-to-day logistical challenges of running such a vast amphitheatre, mixed with the vast and terrifying events of 79-80AD, from Vesuvius erupting to a ‘pestilence’ that killed ten thousand people in Rome, a three-day fire and the knowledge that not delivering a spectacular inaugural Games would result in certain death in the very arena the team worked in. 

What kind of people were the backstage team, given the era in which they worked? Gladiators, actors, dancing girls, criminals, beast-hunters, women who fought… all of these performers at the Colosseum formed part of an underclass that was both despised for not conforming to the norms of society, but that also held a certain allure. We know that actors were considered sexy and that gladiators had enthusiastic fans who followed their careers with interest, much as boxing fans might have their favourites today, often gambling on the outcomes of a bout. If these were the performers, the backstage team would have associated with them and been associated with them, their own status determined by the work they did. There would have been slaves to work the lifts and keep the Colosseum clean, there were up to 200 sailors who rigged the awnings that kept the sun off the audience’s heads. There would have been a man whose job it was to play Charon, to kill with one blow of a hammer any gladiator or criminal who would not make it but had not yet died. I spent time talking with modern-day boxing promoter Steve Goodwin, who talked about the ethics of the job, which resulted in the creation of two very different fictional gladiator trainers in the final novel. Throughout, I had to find a way to make my characters likeable, even though they were engaged in putting on Games that we would find brutal in the extreme, yet which were entirely acceptable in their time. The more I explored the team, the more I saw them as a motley crew of misfits and outlaws: tough, sexy, rude and dangerous. 

What is required of any backstage team, regardless of the era?

Two qualities. Showmanship and organisation. Like it or not, the Games were a magnificent spectacle, capable of drawing crowds of 50,000 and more, up to 200 days a year. When you read about what they could do, from flooding and draining the arena in half an hour each way to raining down perfumed water to cool the crowds, you can’t help but be impressed. Meanwhile, from an organisational point of view, to manage what must have been thousands of staff and performers but without any modern technology, must have been quite a feat. My two main characters came to embody these two qualities: a manager with a gift for showmanship and his female scribe who keeps the team on track, day by day, through tragedy, loss and danger. And the slow-burn romance I have included, developing across four books, comes from the growing intertwining of these two characters and their qualities.

And so back to that question I dislike because of its too-narrow gaze. ‘Is it true?’ No, it isn’t. There is absolutely no record of the team I have created, so it is purely a fiction, albeit set into what I have strived to ensure is an accurate historical setting. But why did I create that fiction and why was it important to my vision of the past? Because I looked into the past and saw a gaping hole at the very centre of one of the most famous historical buildings of all time, and I saw the invisible threads that I could weave together to create a world that must once have existed.

From the Ashes by Melissa Addey ~~ Rome, 80AD. A gigantic new amphitheatre is being built. The Emperor has plans for gladiatorial Games on a scale no-one has ever seen before. But the Games don’t just happen. They must be made. And Marcus, the man in charge of creating them, has just lost everything he held dear when Pompeii disappeared under the searing wrath of Vesuvius. Now it will fall to Althea, the slave woman who serves as his scribe, to ensure the Colosseum is inaugurated on time – and that Marcus makes his way out of the darkness that calls to him.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS  is available for pre-order on AmazonUS, AmazonCanada, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website