World Building in Medieval Fantasy
If you want people to read what you write, you have to make it believable. Even in fantasy, your story has to be plausible, even if only within the realms of your readers’ imaginations. If they can suspend their belief for the time it takes them to read about your wild magic, supernatural creatures, zombies or vampires, you’ll be successful.
To that end, if your fantasy takes place in a specific time and place in history – as mine does – then research becomes a big part of your writing process. And fortunately for me, and my story, I LOVE research!
Though I’m writing a Jewish medieval fantasy series, the events take place in a world that actually existed – Eastern Europe – so research was necessary. My protagonist’s story begins in the first half of the 11th century in Silesia, Poland. She and her companions travel to Kievan Rus (modern day Russia) via modern day Ukraine, which was at that time divided between Poland and Kievan Rus. Since Silesia doesn’t exist as such anymore, and Ukraine is now an independent country, I had to research period maps to be sure that where I chose to place my characters was an actual land mass within Poland or Kievan Rus.
|forest clearing in the Ukraine|
I had the opportunity in the summer of 2010 to travel to Eastern Europe to follow this path. Even though it’s almost a millennium later, research of the medieval landscape in those areas led me to believe that it’s not extremely different today – at least not in the rural areas or the heritage sites. So while very few medieval settlements still exist as anything other than well-preserved ruins, I was able to “get a feel” for the people and their environments, simply by visiting the countries in their modern incarnation.
Since my protagonist is not only Jewish, but an archer, and healer whose dormant magic is reawakened in the aftermath of a raid on her village, my research extended into medieval Judaic practices, esotericism, medieval medicine, Eastern European medieval clothing, and medieval warfare.
The most difficult of these to track down were the medieval Judaic practices and daily life as pertaining to women, and Eastern European daily costumes. Quite often, valuable information can be found in fiction, as well as historical/non-fiction references. Maggie Anton’s RASHI'S DAUGHTERS trilogy and Michelle Cameron’s THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS were especially helpful with regards to describing the daily lives of Jewish women, textiles and styles of the era, and providing other historical references.
My own research is extensive and almost fully half of it is from fictional sources. Should you be interested in seeing my bibliography, you can read the ever-growing list by visiting my website, Pen and Keys (http://wendycgarfinkle.com/) and clicking on the "Research" tab at the top of the page.
Serpent on a Cross
Wendy C. Garfinkle
Genre: Medieval Fantasy/ Jewish Fantasy
Publisher: Booktrope Publishing
Date of Publication: September 2, 2014
Number of pages: 176
Cover Artist: Loretta Matson
Dennah Dubrovnika is a formidable hunter and talented healer. However, she cannot control her own powers, which have suddenly reawakened in the aftermath of her mother’s violent capture by a powerful warlord who destroyed their village in his wake. As she races to free her mother, Dennah is accompanied by Jeth, the man she loves. But she’s increasingly, inexorably drawn to the mysterious Skallon who is allied with her greatest enemy.
Will Dennah be able to gain a measure of control over her magic or will she lose everything and everyone she loves to its raging inferno?
Serpent on a Cross is Book One in a Jewish fantasy adventure series set in Medieval Eastern Europe.
Stomach churning, a sour taste in her mouth, Dennah hovered above the massacre from her nest in the ash tree she’d climbed at the edge of the forest.
Guilt twisted a knot in her belly as she remembered Mamen’s order to flee, but she couldn’t leave; she might be needed. So she’d climbed the tallest leafiest tree she could quickly find, its branches extending almost to the roof of their cottage. She fastened the leather bracer on her left forearm, finger guards on her drawing hand, in case she was forced to shoot the ash bow. After stringing it, she set it and the bag of arrows in the cradle of two limbs a little above her and out of easy reach so she wouldn’t be tempted to fire down upon the invaders.
From her perch she saw the soldiers enter the shtetl, thundering over the ramparts as if they were fagots; they crushed the golden fields of barley, and wheat, forcing the defenders to give way or be trampled beneath hammering hooves. Seeing the guardsmen attack the horses to unseat the soldiers, her heart raced. Get them! What right have they to attack our home?! Anger boiled just under her skin. Her gaze sharpened and the branch grew warm beneath the grip of her fingers. Though there was no breeze, the limbs of her tree swayed gently.
Almost without thought, as if her hands had a will of their own, she pulled bow and quiver within reach and nocked an arrow. With precise aim, she inhaled, drawing the cord back, hearing the soft familiar creak as it stretched. She released on the exhale. Gracefully, the arrow sped toward its target, a soldier who’d edged up behind Marek and raised his sword. The shaft caught him in the throat, sunk deep and broke through the skin at the back of his neck. He fell with a thud, blood mixing with fertile ground in a muddy pool beneath him. Relieved of its burden, the soldier’s horse veered away from the melee.
Marek, eyes narrowing, seemed to find her hidden in the ash. He nodded slightly and turned to face another foe. A surge of pleasure warmed her at his wordless approval. Then there was no more time for thought; only action. Again and again her arrows flew true; but she was careful to watch for enemy soldiers looking in her direction. Her stomach dropped when she saw first Yuri, then Selwyn, and finally Yakkov surrounded and disarmed. A quick inventory of her quiver yielded only four arrows. Not enough to free the guardsmen. I’m sorry.
About the Author:
Wendy C. Garfinkle was born and raised in South Florida. She moved to Northwest Texas in her early 20s, but returned to South Florida eight years later. She holds five degrees, including MA and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She’s a poet, reading addict, and collector of interesting clothing tags, which she recycles into bookmarks.
She has served as a copy editor and reader for Hippocampus Magazine, an online nonfiction lit journal, and as a reader for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. Wendy is a crime analyst for a local law enforcement agency, and lives with her teenage son.
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