Fun With Gasbags

Er… Perhaps I should retitle that. What I have today is a guest post by JOSEPH ROBERT LEWIS! Yes, THAT Joseph Robert Lewis! The one I’m all “Read this! and this!” about.

HE isn’t a gasbag and I’m not… never mind. What I mean to say is, I’m talking about the airships in his Halcyon series. So here he is:

I love stories. All types of stories. Drama and tragedy and comedy. Science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, paranormal, romance, western, and probably an epic poem or two. I love reading them and I love writing them. But writing can be a lot of work.

Especially in the various flavors of fantasy (which include most of the genres I listed above), a lot of a writer’s time can be spent building the world in which the story will be told. What does the world look like, sound like, smell like? What about the people, food, religion, clothing, holidays, breakfast cereals, and adorable fluffy pets? What are the rules of the world, or its societies and cultures?

Sometimes writers can turn to research and sometimes writers can turn to their imaginations to build their worlds. But in the end, world-building is a lot of work, because the world itself has to work. It has to make sense, at least within itself.

What’s worse is that, most of the time, different genres and styles of story-telling require different worlds. Science fiction is “supposed” to look and feel futuristic, and fantasy is “supposed” to look and feel like medieval Europe, and westerns are “supposed” to look and feel like Texas, and so on. There are expectations. Assumptions. Stereotypes.

And if you are a writer like me who wants to tell lots of different stories, you’re confronted with the daunting task of creating lots of different worlds, the task of doing a lot of work before you ever get to start telling your stories. And that’s no fun.

So I cheated.

Instead of planning to write lots of separate novels or trilogies in different genres in different worlds, I wove them all together. I created one world, which I very creatively named the Other Earth, in which I can tell all my stories in one place.

I cheated on a lot of other things too. I got my fantasy map from an atlas, and I got most of my historical back-stories from “history” and I even stole some characters from “reality.” And now you’re asking, what’s so fantastical about that? Well, I made a few tweaks.

First, I plunged our lovely blue world into an Ice Age, or more specifically, I never let us emerge from the last one. So the northern hemisphere is mostly snow and ice, and the unpleasantly warm places like the Sahara desert are now green and fertile and lovely to visit or to build an empire. This was a simple change that completely altered the entire planet.

Second, I re-arranged the levels of technology all around the world, partly based on things like trade routes and natural resources. I also tweaked this so I would get all the toys I wanted, like Industrial Age trains and airships and steamships, western-style revolvers, Age of Sail galleons and swordplay, and ancient stone temples, mega-cities, and necropolises. Necropoli? Necropolum?

Third, I made up some new rules regarding death, the soul, and the existence and role of ghosts in day to day life. I won’t tell you those rules now, but suffice it to say that these rules make life more interesting for everyone, particularly the people who choose to pay attention to the revenants wandering among us.

Lastly, it was important to me to create and showcase some less stereotypical heroes, particularly for my daughter to read one day (she’s still a little bit on the toddler side right now). I wanted alpha males who weren’t jerks, and beta males who didn’t morph into alphas, and women who kicked butt without morphing into alpha males, and women who were feminine without being weak.

(This is not to say there are no stereotypes or cookie-cutters in my books. I might even have a “dark and gritty brooding anti-hero” in there somewhere. But for my core characters, I was aiming much higher.)

So what is the result of all this? A genre-bending muddle? It could lead that way, I admit, but I didn’t build this playground so I could play with all my toys at once. I did it so I could play with all my toys in the same place.

For example, my in-progress Halcyon trilogy (set in Morocco and Spain) is a swashbuckling, steampunky, western adventure series. It’s mostly about good guys chasing bad guys, sword fights and gun fights, and action. It’s a fun cocktail of The Three Musketeers, The Princess Bride, Firefly, Farscape, and Jules Verne.

Meanwhile, my in-progress Asha series (set in India) is a long, quiet journey punctuated by paranormal mysteries and strange encounters. It’s about tragedy and other-worldliness, about death and perseverence and exploration of the bizarre and hidden wonders in this world. (Have you seen Mushi-shi? Yeah, it’s like that.)

Also, my future Yslander trilogy will be a dark heroic fantasy about big brawny people with swords fighting big brawny monsters, also possibly with swords. (Think Conan the Barbarian mixed with Eastern European folklore, spiced with a little Hellboy.)

This is all in the same world, playing by the same rules. Now, I didn’t create this complex world just to save time on world-building. I also did it so I could create a series-of-series books. My standalone books, short stories, and trilogies can each be read in a vacuum by the people who like one or another brand of fantasy. But for those of you who have broader tastes (think Stephen King’s Dark Tower series), you’ll have at least seven books that all tie together into one uber-story.

Like me the author, you the reader only have to invest in one fantasy world to enjoy lots of stories about lots of characters. And the payoff at the end is much greater.

So if this sounds at all like your cup of tea, I invite you to check out the samples of the first Halcyon novel (The Burning Sky) and the first Asha short story collection (Death).

The second Halcyon book, The Broken Sword, will be released later this spring.

The Tale of Asha, Volume 1: Death

So there you have him: the awesomely awesome Joseph Robert Lewis. I’m reading Burning Sky now, and I can tell you that the world feels, looks, tastes, smells and… ~MA counts senses~ oh, yeah, sounds real.

WRITING PROMPT: Take a scene from a children’s story (Three Little Pigs, for example) and rewrite it, including all (counting again) five senses.

p.s. I’m posting today at Fatal Foodies on the subject of The Man Who Did Not Read.


I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Fun With Gasbags

    • Author
      • Joseph

        March 1, 2011 at 5:14pm

        Thanks Nancy (and Marian!). I really hope you like the books. I have many more in the works and I hope to release them as close together as possible.

        Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  1. Amanda

    March 1, 2011 at 11:11am

    Just so you know, putting these words together: “swashbuckling, steampunky, western adventure series” got me salivating. 🙂
    And toss in a “dark and gritty brooding anti-hero” and throw myself at the feet of your novel. LOL

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      March 1, 2011 at 1:07pm

      Amanda – lol! I just read a bit with a sword-toting Spaniard and an Aztec princess fighting off five toughs in the night streets of Marrakesh. I mean, how cool can you get? I tell you, it’s hard to read, when you’re bouncing up and down going “WOO-WOO-WOO!!”

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    • Joseph

      March 1, 2011 at 5:16pm

      I’m glad you like the idea. I just couldn’t settle on doing one or the other, so I just had to do them all together. I’m eager to see some more reviews to see what readers think of the first book.

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  2. Misha

    March 1, 2011 at 2:32pm

    Great point that you have about the world building, Mr. Lewis.

    I almost considered altering my story to make this possible.

    But then I remember that my series is already enough of a challenge. Setting it out as an unending story will suck out my soul.

    On the other hand, I could change my mind and let the world continue. It is big enough…

    Who knows?


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    • Joseph

      March 1, 2011 at 5:18pm

      Well, I was worried about the “endless” series issue myself. That’s why my books are all standalone, to an extent. You can absolutely read any one without reading the others. Reading more just gives you more payoff as you learn more about the characters and the world.

      My goal isn’t to tell one huge story but to tell lots of little stories that all fit together in the long run.

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  3. Morgan Mandel

    March 2, 2011 at 2:41pm

    It still took a lot of work for you to create the alternate Earth. More than the kind of research I go through to figure out facts about different states when I use one that’s not my own.

    Morgan Mandel

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Joseph

      March 2, 2011 at 11:07pm

      Absolutely, it’s a lot of work to build a world that can support thrillers, westerns, fantasies, mysteries, epics, and folklore. But it’s still less work than building a world for each of those genres!

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply
  4. MARIAN ALLEN · Early Easter

    March 7, 2011 at 8:33am

    […] a promo email from Joseph Robert Lewis yesterday I wanted to share with you. I’ve been bragging on this guy’s writing, and now […]

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply

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