Let me just start off by saying, “Holy crap, you guys, Storm Constantine wrote a guest post for my blog!” And then let me launch right into the awesomeness of what she wrote, talking about writing within a mythos and attracting new readers.
My new novel, ‘The Moonshawl’ is set within the Wraeththu mythos. I’ve been writing novels and stories within this world for more than half my life. Like many other writers who’ve worked in series and trilogies, I love returning to my created world, and those who’ve enjoyed reading the results are also happy when I bring out a new Wraeththu story. But there is a downside to this revisiting for a writer, namely that many readers who haven’t read earlier books in a mythos often feel they need to read everything that’s already published to get anything out of the latest offering. This can lead to reluctance to try a new book. And no writer wants that situation! So I’d like to clarify things.
There is a distinction between a trilogy (or quartet or however many volumes) and an ongoing mythos. A trilogy is a set of connected stories, generally involving the same characters and extending one (or a series of) plotlines. The last volume is the finale to that story and usually ties up all the plot lines completely – unless, of course, the author has more stories planned to continue the tale. A mythos, however, is an environment, and stories set within it need not necessarily have connections to other stories at all, other than being set in the same universe.
I have written two bona fide Wraeththu trilogies, and a couple of stand alone novellas, plus quite a lot of short stories. ‘The Moonshawl’ was written to be a stand alone.
When writing within the mythos I strive to keep in mind that I don’t want to alienate readers by mentioning events, characters and places from previous stories that just… dangle frustratingly. For a rough example, an aside about ‘X’s faux pas that changed the entire future of the world’, with no mention of what that faux pas was, or its effects, will only stultify readers and lead to the virtual reality of the story shattering. The reader remembers they’re reading, because they have to struggle to work out what’s going on. I want to avoid that happening at all costs. I try to insert any necessary history unobtrusively, rather than dumping in huge dry chunks of explanatory exposition; I want enough so that a new reader knows comfortably what’s going on, but not so much that someone who’s followed the mythos for years would be bored by it. It’s a balancing act.
As an aid to the reader, I have included in ‘The Moonshawl’ a glossary of terms that have become part of Wraeththu canon, plus appendices about their belief system and calendar, and also their terms of address. But it’s not necessary to have learnt all this by heart to get into the story. It’s just for reference.
The premise of the Wraeththu mythos is that humanity ruined their own world, fell, and a new race came to replace them, with the potential to be far greater than their predecessors. The Wraeththu are androgynous, (comprising both male and female genders in one body), superhuman in a literal sense – having more evolved faculties and a more efficient vehicle of flesh – but despite these advantages they need to learn about themselves and continue to evolve, in order to avoid the same mistakes humanity made. This can be a struggle. The earth itself is renewed; Wraeththu are not environmental predators in the same way humans were. Consumerism isn’t part of their world. Generally. But perhaps there are tribes somewhere who seek to emulate the past. A mythos leaves room for that. I’m free to explore within it.
‘The Moonshawl’ involves a character – Ysobi – who was a prominent figure in two other stories, but this one is properly his own. Primarily, it’s a mystery, a ghost story, set in the ancient valleys of what was known to humanity as Wales in the British Isles. A hundred years have passed since Wraeththu first appeared in the world, and the bloody conflict that accompanied their creation and humanity’s demise mostly lies buried beneath the returning green of Nature. But sometimes there are unquiet ghosts from those early days of carnage and transformation. Seeking to silence them rather than release them is unwise. This is the situation in which Ysobi finds himself, with a mystery from the past to uncover, its horrors to confront, and its ghosts to lay to rest. I trust that any reader coming to this story can immerse themselves in it without having read any of the other Wraeththu books. I want them to enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Ysbryd Drwg… the bad ghost
Ysobi har Jesith embarks upon a job far from home, where his history isn’t known – a welcome freedom. Hired by Wyva, the phylarch of the Wyvachi tribe, Ysobi goes to Gwyllion to create a spiritual system based upon local folklore, but he soon discovers some of that folklore is out of bounds, taboo…
Secrets lurk in the soil of Gwyllion, and the old house Meadow Mynd, home of the Wyvachi leaders. The house and the land are haunted. The fields are soaked in blood and echo with the cries of those who were slaughtered there, almost a century ago. In Gwyllion, the past doesn’t go away, and the hara who live there cling to it, remembering still their human ancestors. Tribal families maintain ancient enmities, inspired by a horrific murder in the past. Old hatreds and a thirst for vengeance have been awoken by the approaching feybraiha – coming of age – of Wvya’s son, Myvyen. If the harling is to survive, Ysobi must help him confront the past, lay the ghosts to rest and scour the tainted soil of malice. But the ysbryd drwg is strong, built of a century of resentment and evil thoughts. Is it too powerful, even for a scholarly hienama with Ysobi’s experience and skill?
The Moonshawl, an artefact of protection, was once fashioned to keep Wyvachi heirs from harm, but the threads are old and worn, the magic fading, and its sacred sites – which might empower it once more – are prohibited. Only by understanding what the shawl symbolises and how it once controlled the ysbryd drwg can Ysobi even attempt to prevent the terrible tragedy that looms to engulf the Wyvachi tribe.
Storm Constantine’s first novel, ‘The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit’, was published in 1987. Storm’s work has always crossed boundaries, broken taboos and ventured into territory not normally encountered in the fantasy and science fiction genres. In 1987 her ideas were unconventionally ground-breaking and the androgynous Wraeththu, with their hermaphroditic sexual magic were certainly a shock to the genre. Throughout her career to date, Storm’s work has covered many genres from fantasy, dark fantasy and horror to science fiction and slipstream. She can be found at stormconstantine.co.uk.