The idea for Castle Valley came in two halves. The part that came first, as it often does for me, was the world. I was on my way back from Lake Powell, eyes slightly glazed from three days drinking on a houseboat for my brother’s 50th birthday, when I came through a valley. On one side—the rock and sand and desert you’d expect for the middle of Utah. On the other—a sea of green. Lush and bright and thriving. The only division between them a two-lane stretch of highway. Thus the notion of a world in which one half had been magically drained of all life, and how and why a wall came to separate them.
The idea for the world was the easy part. Making it feasible was a little harder.
First step? Research. The earliest research a writer ever does is reading. Reading and studying. Particularly the masters of fantasy worldbuilding. Two that were especially helpful and generous about their methods were George R.R. Martin, and Brandon Sanderson.
Martin exemplified culture—how landscape trickle down to effect every element of storytelling. The characters, the language, the food, the customs, the history. Particularly the history. Martin understands every element of his world. He has centuries of backstory that, while never info dumped, add a depth and believability to his world that he would never be able to accomplish otherwise. In order to build my world, I would have to understand the people who lived, died, fought, and worked there. I’d need what any good fantasy writer needs—a family tree.
Then came the documentaries. Planet Earth, Human Planet, Frozen Planet, Life. Basically anything that involved that little spinning globe on which we all reside. I took extensive notes on any and all practical or descriptive details that might eventually be relevant to my story.
After that, lots of googling and harassing my scientific friends (thanks R. L. Tierney) on geography. Environmental science (yes, science) became the bedrock (lol) on which I built my world. Was it even possible for a civilization to survive without rainfall? Without plants? How would my miles-long man-made canal-wall (wow, that’s a lot of dashes) function in relation to natural rivers? Where would borders of neighboring nations form? I’d need the second thing any good fantasy writer needs—a map.
This is the ‘after’ picture of my world:
And this is the before:
That’s right, I used the highly scientific method of throwing a bunch of noodles on a piece of paper and drawing continents around them. No, those aren’t noodles. I was at work (I’m a great employee, ask anyone) and didn’t have noodles at my disposal. What exactly they are I couldn’t tell you. But the grease spots they left on the paper did form the foundation for several lakes.
So what comes after all this very serious science? Why, MAGIC, of course.