Visualizing FROM UNSEEN FIRE

Tonight’s #17Scribes Twitter chat (and yes, I’m still part of that group even though my debut got moved two days into 2018 — they refused to part with me!) was focused on visualizing elements of our novels. I put together some image sets, and I thought I’d share them with y’all!

First off, how I picture lovely Latona: blonde and angular, a deceptive blend of delicacy and strength:

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Then… not really how I picture Sempronius. He’s not supposed to be ridiculously handsome! But I keep finding all these gorgeous actors who would be great at playing him…

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And the supporting cast. From left to right, the faces I imagine as resembling Gaius Vitellius, Ama Rubellia, Autronius Felix, Merula, and Vatinius Obir.

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Some pictures of Rome, the city of which Aven is my AU:

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And some of central Iberia, where about a third of the book takes place:

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And finally, how I imagine the interior of the Vitellian domus. Wouldn’t you love to recline on those pillows and share a good gossip… or a flirtation?

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The Charms of Cartography

I love maps. I don’t know why, but cartography fascinates me. I find maps so beautiful. I particularly love historical maps — either maps that are, themselves, old, or just maps of earlier versions of our world. I’ve got a delightful book of maps of the Middle Ages, which shows changes to all of the inhabited continents from the 7th through 15th centuries. This year, I’ve even got a calendar of historical maps (June’s feature is a 1647 map of Iceland). The Game of Thrones opening credits utterly delight me. My favorite part of playing Civilization is typically exploring the map, figuring out where all the other civs are, locating the resources, and figuring out the best trade routes. In the fifth grade, when we were instructed to invent a state and make a map of it, I got marked down a few points for going utterly overboard and filling in damn near every available space on the poor little salt-dough construction with some item of interest.

I mention all of this because, when you’re writing a fantasy historical epic, having maps is rather crucial to keeping one’s head in place and places in one’s head.

I was bemoaning to my gentleman the difficulty in finding a decent map of late Republic Rome that I could mark up for my own purposes. Pretty well everything available is from much later on — Hadrian-era, sometimes, but often even later, 4th century. It makes sense — the archaeology is more reliable from that period, since things got knocked down and built on top of each other. But, though my story is an AU, it’s an AU based on the mid-first-century BCE, so using a map from so many centuries later would be an awful lot for me to have to un-see and work around, to recover what the city would’ve been like before all those baths and basilicas and palaces that the emperors built.

So, my gentleman asked me if there were any maps close to what I did like, and yes — my favorites have always been those in Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. Those books are meticulously researched, and even though the maps have some question marks on them (This was the… Temple of Feronia? Or Juno Curitis? Pompey’s house was… probably here?), when it comes to the overall shape of the city, they’re wonderfully detailed. The books also include a map of the *whole* city, not just the famous bit around the Forum.

They’re also, y’know, only the size of a trade paperback page, so while a good reference, it’s not something I can really scribble on to add in the things I need. I want to keep track of who’s on which hill, how far between them, who can oversee the river from their house and who’s got a view of the aqueduct. I added or moved some temples, but — damn, where did I put them? I’d made my own map of the entire Mediterranean with the provinces , but the minutiae of the city itself was just too overwhelming a project to consider starting from scratch.

So, hearing this lament, what did my beau do? Scanned those pages in and had them printed up as full-size posters!

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I’m so thoroughly delighted and grateful that he went to the time and effort! Now I’ve got a Wall of Rome to draw my Aven all over! (It’s underneath the map of Roman Spain given to me by my BFF last Christmas). Twelve square feet of fun.

I won’t start marking it up properly til I’ve finished this round of revisions, but I’ve begun by plotting out the epicenter of the story:

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The Cast of Aven: The Vitelliae

There’s a lovely Roman women dollmaker, and I like to play dress-up sometimes. Because I’m an adult. The male dollmaker isn’t quite as good, since it pretty well only works for military costume, not casual or senatorial, but since Gaius here is a tribune, it’ll do.  The lack of togate options did mean I had to leave out their father, though.

I had fun with these — I’ve actually done several variations for each of the girls, but let’s call these their “meet outfits”. Aula Prima is a little daring, Gaius is a well-funded military tribune, Latona favors elegant luxury, and little Alhena is rather more demure and restrained than her elder siblings. And I like how I can show the family resemblance — Alhena and Gaius share a severity of expression, Aula and Latona have the same eyes, Gaius and Latona are just slightly darker-complexioned than their siblings. Alhena’s hair should be a little more true red, Aula’s a little more copper than strawberry, but I worked with what I had available.

Aula Vitellia Prima

Aula Vitellia Prima

Gaius Vitellius Caranus

Gaius Vitellius Caranus

Aula Vitellia Secunda, called Latona

Aula Vitellia Secunda, called Latona

Aula Vitellia Tertia, called Alhena

Aula Vitellia Tertia, called Alhena

Forthcoming: More men and women of the city, including men of the army and a bevy of magically-inclined ladies.

Word Clouds for ‘Aven’ Manuscript

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Draft #3

I love word clouds. There’s just something mesmerizing about them, and they can be so weirdly artistic, too. I got sort of addicted to them at work, actually, because we use them for various teaching purposes. I’ve done them for Aven three times now: once right after I finished the first draft, once after I’d done quite a lot of revisions, before I started querying, and now a third time, with the new round of additions and adjustments. It doesn’t change a lot — but I do like seeing what subtle shifts there are. Some characters come into greater prominence. Some ideas grow larger or smaller. Like I said: mesmerizing.

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Draft #2

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Draft #1

The Painting That Started It

Before I began work on Aven, I had been entertaining the idea of a Roman-set fantasy for a while. It seemed to me that there was so much untapped potential there. Since so many fantasies get the typical western-European medieval/early-Renaissance treatment, but with Rome, you get so many different things — a more diverse population (not that, say, 12th century England was entirely homogeneous, but nothing to hold a candle to Rome, which had substantial populations from all over the Mediterranean and beyond), a complex religious system with archaic rituals and competing cults, a better (though by no means ideal) situation for women, layers upon layers of socio-economic-political strata, and, y’know, sanitation. I love my med-Ren studies, but limiting the fantasy genre to that aesthetic is just silly.

The thing that really triggered Aven in particular, though? Was this picture:

The Baths of Caracalla, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1899

The Baths of Caracalla, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1899

It’s my second-favorite painting of all time (after Titian’s Venus d’Urbino). I love how much of a story there is in those three women: the excited perching of the lady on the left, leaning in to impart some gossip or political news; the languid interest of the central figure; the piqued curiosity of the young lady on the right. The baths were such a social place for the Romans, much moreso than modern spas, and for both men and women, they could be important places to conduct business negotiations and political intrigues. There’s so much detail here, and so much personality, that it sparked in my mind and got some gears turning.

So, from Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Baths of Caracalla sprang the idea of the Vitelliae sisters, on whom I could hang my ideas for a Roman-based fantasy story.

Inspiration Board for The Antares Project

Inspiration Board for The Antares Project

A lot of fashion, some gadgets, some maps, some history — all perfect to get me in the mood for working on this project!

Introducing the Ladies of The Antares Project

Captain Jian Kearney

Captain Jian Kearney

Miss Augusta Adelaide Schroeder, navigatrix

Miss Augusta Adelaide Schroeder, navigatrix

Dr. Felipa Martinez y Reyes

Dr. Felipa Martinez y Reyes

Lady Elinor Alexandrina Denebola

Lady Elinor Alexandrina Denebola

The clothing is a little more fanciful and a little less historically-sound than I’m really imagining, but all the same, these are reasonable approximations. Haven’t yet found a steampunk dollmaker I like well enough for menfolk, so I can’t introduce you to the gents yet. 😉