Friday, June 24, 2011

World Building...Texas Style

When I signed with Tor, I knew that the revision process was going to be a learning experience.  The fact that my editor at Tor was going to be Senior Editor Melissa Singer was very exciting, yet a little scary.  But I recognized that if I want to be a professional writer (and a good writer) I would have to embrace the process.    

After working on the revisions for the first two books under Melissa's guidance, I have to say that I have learned a lot.  I won't lie.  I will read books and think, "Melissa, NEVER would have let me get away with THAT."  Also, when working on my newer stories, I ask myself "What would Melissa ask me to do here?" 

But the one area of revision that really floored me was that I had to pay attention to my world building.  I never even thought about world building in the AS THE WORLD DIES novels.  They weren't science fiction or fantasy novels, so why did I have to world build?

The answer came in the first revision letter for THE FIRST DAYS.  

Melissa wanted to know why Jenni and Katie had a magic truck.  

I was perplexed.  I didn't understand what she meant at all at first.  I reread her notes, sat back and thought, "Well, shit, she's not from Texas. She doesn't know."

And that is when I realized I had to do a lot of world building for Texas.

I know my home state is not like the rest of the United States.  It's just not the size of the state that sets us apart, but also our history.   Texans tend to be very proud of our bigger than life heroes and the fact that we were our own country at one point in our history (and some would argue we are still the Republic of Texas).  

I love my state and I love the people.  There is a strong independent spirit in Texas that I feel is accurately reflected in the AS THE WORLD DIES novels.

But how was my editor from New York City supposed to know about our culture?  Our way of life? Our attitude?  Our multi-cultural background?  How was my editor from New York City who has never owned a car supposed to know that in Texas a person's truck is their pride and joy.  How was she supposed to know that most of those trucks are stocked to the brim with items for any contingency?  I asked a friend what he had in his truck.  The list was something like this:  tool chest, cooler, gun, ammunition, maps, GPS, snacks, change of clothing, water, sleeping bag, flashlight, and a hunting jacket.  

Therefore, what seemed like a magic truck to my editor in NYC (meaning it had everything Katie and Jenni needed), was an under-stocked truck in a Texan's eyes.  

As I worked on the revisions for the first two books, I made a serious effort to world build Texas so people who've never been here could get a better idea about the state.  For example, some areas of Texas were originally settled by the German settlers.  Ashley Oaks is in one of these areas.  The Latino population is a presence, but not the majority like it is in places like San Antonio or Corpus Christi.  A lot of towns in that area didn't even have a black population until Hurricane Rita swept onshore and decimated Jefferson County.  Jefferson County has a large black population, but after the storm, many families ended up uprooted and moved to other areas of Texas.  Realizing that I needed to world build Ashley Oaks, Texas, I incorporated all this history into the new versions of the story.  

I was talking to another writer at a conference I attended and we discussed that as Texans we sometimes had to explain certain things in our stories that just didn't make sense to someone who wasn't from Texas.  We had some good laughs over it.  As Texans we're aware that we're pretty nuts, but sometimes we don't realize how different we are until an editor or copy editor are all "WTF?" about something we wrote that seems perfectly normal to us.

In all honesty, the books are better because of the world building I did. But who would have thought I would have to world build TEXAS?

Are we really that nuts?

Oh, yeah.

We are.

Hacked sign in Texas.

1 comment:

  1. I never gave much thought to the world building aspect for Texas, being in Arizona, there's a lot of things that "translate" rather well. I just can't imagine NOT knowing that their truck was, well, a truck.

    Guess that's teh advantage we have, living in "fly over" country and all.


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