Welcome back to another installment of the World-building Showcase interview series, where you get a chance to dive into the imagination of an author and find out more about how they create unique worlds for you to explore.
My guest today is Liz Delton, one of the many fine authors who will be with me at the Book Fiends Reader Fest Nov 9 in Norwich, CT. (Find out more)
Welcome Liz Delton!
Before we dive in to the nitty gritty, what is The Starless Girl about?
The Starless Girl is about Kira Savage, who starts seeing this strange light all around her on the day her mother dies. The next day, a demon dog made of darkness chases her through a mysterious door in the woods, leading her to the Realm of Camellia.
Stranded and terrified that the demon dog will return for her, Kira decides to join a temple for Light magic. Here she will learn the honored tradition of wielding the magical light as a weapon. When more creatures made of darkness appear, Kira finds herself at the center of a decades-long feud, and a mysterious force tearing apart the realm. A trickster spirit, an evil king who can control storms, and powerful magic assail Kira in Camellia, leading her to question why exactly she wants to stay.
What are the main differences between the “regular world” and the world of your story?
When Kira wakes up in the Realm of Camellia, she quickly realizes she’s not in the “real world” anymore. Camellia is a world of magic. There are knights who can wield Light magic as weapons, and mages with the power to use Shadow magic for anything they can imagine. Then there are the local spirits, magical beings with their own agendas.
Both Light and Shadow have their own temples and factions as part of the realm, which is ruled by an Empress. The feud has divided the temples for over twenty years. When Kira enrolls in a temple to train in Light magic, she finds herself in the middle of the feud with the fearsome Storm King who leads the Shadow temple.
Is there any special way to travel between the mundane and the fantastical setting of your story, or are they intermingled?
Yes, and it’s part of what makes Kira’s trip to Camellia mysterious. The strange door that she travels through to get to Camellia has never been heard of before, and it disappears once she goes through it. Kira’s arrival in Camellia sets off a ton of questions about who she is and how she got there.
Camellia is no stranger to visitors from the “real world”, however. They boast of many visitors across the decades: visitors who have brought them knowledge, inspiration, and culture from the “real world”. It is because of this that the Realm has a heavy Japanese influence, though readers will encounter inspiration from other cultures as well. This was inspired by my visits to Japan. It’s a very magical place, and it gave me a lot of inspiration when I was coming up with the idea for Kira’s story.
Does language play any role in your world? Does everyone speak the same language, or is there a variety? Did you invent any new slang or terminology during your world-building process?
Everyone does speak the same language, as I imagined the Realm of Camellia had a lot of influence from the “real world” so language would have leaked over as well. I did develop some slang revolving around Light and Shadow, since those are prevalent themes for the world. Things like “by the Light!” or swearing by saying “Spirits!”
Is there any kind of faith system in your world? Myths and legends that inform the setting or characters? Did you draw inspiration from any real cultures, living or dead?
Camellia has a lot of local spirits. Kira gets tricked by a local mountain spirit named Gekkō who watches over the mountain the Light magic temple is on. He seems bent on uniting Light and Shadow magics, but wants Kira’s help to do so. These local spirits were inspired by the Shinto tradition in Japan, where there are kami. Kami are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as the elements. If you ever have a chance to visit a Shinto shrine in Japan, I highly recommend you do so.
What do people in your invented world do for fun? Are there sports, games, music, or other activities they do in their free time?
So far Kira hasn’t encountered much fun in her training at the Light temple. She and her fellow trainees must work hard to become Light Knights, and things like mysterious shadow creatures interrupting their training by wreaking havoc aren’t what one might call fun.
Are there any interesting creatures in your world?
Aside from the actual spirits, which range from dragons of luck to grumpy old men to sirens and more, one of my favorite characters is a fantastic creature, and his name is Thistle. He is a Japanese dwarf flying squirrel, and he’s kind of a demi-spirit, since he is the spirit of the mountain’s helper. Sometimes he can borrow magic from the spirit of the mountain, as he tries to help Kira with the task the mountain spirit set her. Being a magical flying squirrel, of course Thistle can talk, and he’s pretty sassy, too.
Sounds like my kinda squirrel! How did you go about creating a magic system? What is your magic system like? What was the most difficult part?
When this book was still in the idea stage, I knew I wanted to write a book with magic. Specifically, light and dark magic. The magic system grew as I developed the setting, since the magical training was going to be integral to the realm and to the plot.
As Kira discovers quickly upon enrolling in the Light temple, Light and Shadow essence is in everything around her. Light magic users can pull on Light and form it into a physical shape such as a weapon or a tool—it is purely physical/visible magic. Shadow users can use Shadow essence to do any kind of intangible/invisible magic such as healing, manipulating the weather/moving objects, etc.
Believe it or not the hardest part was coming up with the names for the two factions. I dabbled in several iterations, mostly using other languages (Lux/Tenebris- Latin for light and dark, Shiro/Kuro- Japanese for white and black)…Until I finally decided to keep it simple and go with Light and Shadow.
When you build a world, what is your process like? Do you do a lot of research upfront, wing it completely, or something in between?
I brainstorm ideas first. With Camellia, I started with paper and pen, writing down ideas and drawing doodles as I figured out the world Kira would discover. As I mentioned before, I drew a lot of inspiration for Camellia from my visits to Japan, which gave me a lot to work with as far as aesthetic and theme. As I began writing, I began researching whenever I came to a point where I needed a specific detail. I very loosely based the Light Knights on Samurai-era Japan; the main thing I researched was weaponry, armor and even horse saddles.
How central is the setting of your story to the story itself? Is it more of an interesting backdrop, or is it integral to the events of the story?
It’s incredibly integral. Kira arrives in Camellia in a mysterious way, and none of the other visitors from the “real world” have ever been able to do magic like Kira—so her past is brought into question, and she’s not sure if she’ll ever get home. So, Kira is stuck in a magical parallel realm, and she decides to train in Light magic to protect herself.
When helping the reader get to know the world you built, what techniques do you use? Do you tend to be front load with context, or keep the reader in the dark and feed them only bits at a time?
By choosing to write a portal fantasy, the reader is discovering the world at the same time as the main character. Kira is a very quick observer. Once she realizes she isn’t in the “real world” anymore, she begins studying her surroundings. As you can imagine, throughout the book and even through the next few in the series, she will discover more and more about Camellia, and its magic.
I wanted to write a portal fantasy for this very reason. I wanted the reader to have the connection with Kira as a person from the “real world”. I mean, wouldn’t we all like to be thrust into a parallel world with magic? I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.
I know what you mean! I also love portal fiction and had a blast creating a whole new world when I wrote Riftmaker.
How do you keep all of the details of your world and characters straight? Do you have a system for deciding on different factors and keeping it all organized, or does it live more in your head?
Spreadsheets. So many spreadsheets. I have one for Camellia’s world-building titled “People, Places, Spirits and Stuff”, which is pretty self-explanatory. It helps me keep track of physical descriptions, and which book things first appear in. With a series, I need to stay organized in case I need to go back and reference a detail much later. Fun fact: the “Stuff” section of the sheet is for things like the titles of novels that exist in the book, or famous artifacts.
My other important spreadsheet is the master for the entire series. And like a true book nerd, I got inspiration for its layout from J.K. Rowling (she once posted a picture of her plotting chart for Order of the Phoenix, I believe). On mine, on one axis I list major characters and major story arcs. On the other axis it lists the four books. This way I can keep track of all the character and story arcs. It is, of course, very fluid. I consult it often, and change the arcs as I’m writing.
Be still my heart! I ALSO am a spreadsheet junkie. Good to know I am not the only one… Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your world with us. Where can people find you on the web?
Check out everything I have going on on my website: www.LizDelton.com You can also sign up for my newsletter where I’ll keep you posted about the next books in the Realm of Camellia series!
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