Looking forward to the World Fantasy Convention this year because it’s back in California–which means I don’t have to fly! So I’ll be driving down to Los Angeles from my home in the Bay Area. The theme this year is “Fantasy Noir,” which is ironic because I’ve been working on a new novel that could be easily described by that term. Purely coincidental, if you believe in coincidences. If not, it must be fate.

I’ll be on a discussion panel called “A Culture Not My Own” about using real-world cultures as inspiration for fantasy worlds. In the Shaper Trilogy I blended many historical influences to create a diverse continent for the story. From the Viking-esque culture of the Giantlands to the Hellenic-flavored desert metropolis of Uurz, to the pseudo-African kingdom of Mumbaza, the Shaper’s world was a melange of cultures inspired by a blend of historical civilizations.

In THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE, I decided to narrow the focus so I could deepen the experience. There are two major cultures in the TALL EAGLE duology: Tall Eagle’s people are very similar to the pre-Comanche migrating tribes of North America, while the gray-skinned Myktu are a mystical race of quasi-Elvish nature. Total immersion into the tribal culture of Tall Eagle’s folk was my goal for the initial chapters of TESTAMENT, before the collision with Myktu culture that drives the plot. In the sequel, SON OF TALL EAGLE, I wanted to explore the evolving culture of the transplanted tribe as it adapts to a new world full of supernatural forces and strange creatures.

The “Culture” panel description reads: How can one best write fiction set in a culture or religion/mythology the author wasn’t raised in? How can one avoid cultural appropriation? Should non-Asians avoid Asia-set stories? Non-Norwegians not write about the Norse gods? And what about crossing cultures, combining elements from more than one?

Those are several great questions and the topic deserves some serious consideration. ALL fantasy cultures are based in some way on real-world cultures–influences are inescapable.  Many fantasy cultures are developed as “What if?” experiments with an alternate history timeline, while others are designed to be analogs of specific historical civilizations.

A fantasy writer’s primary job–when writing about a “secondary world”–is to make that world believable and consistent within its own frame of logic (or non-logic). The best way to make your fantasy world believable is to model it after the real world, which is a blend of complex and unique cultures.

ALL fiction writers study culture and observe the humanity around them, and they make statements based on those observations when they write–both consciously and subconsciously. Fantasy and Science-Fiction writers often have an even bigger responsibility: To INVENT a wholly new culture of the fantastic that feels close enough to reality to support the narrative. We draw from the deep wells of history and anthropology to water the roots of our creations.

A panel on using actual cultures to create fantasy cultures makes total sense. Should be a good one. My books will be available for sale at the Book Universe booth.