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Monday, August 26, 2013

How I Used Divination Tools (and cats!) to Reinforce my Theme

by Jill Archer
The second book in my Noon Onyx series, Fiery Edge of Steel, has a knowledge theme: things you should know, things you don’t know, things you know but wished you didn’t, etc. Both the plot and sub-plot involve the element of knowledge, or lack thereof, but I also wanted to support this theme in other ways.

The first was that I used cats as a repeating motif in the story. Why cats? Well, besides the obvious "All Writers Must Love Cats" Rule – ;-) – I’ve always associated cats with knowledge. They may not be as wise as owls, but they are curious. Everyone’s heard the phrase, "Curiosity killed the cat." So I took that idea and incorporated it into my novel. For example:
* Fara, one of the biggest secondary characters, has a pet tiger.
* Delgato, the captain of the sailboat named Cnawlece ("Knowledge"), which Noon and her investigative team take to the Shallows, is a manticore – a sphinxlike creature who is part lion. I drew inspiration for the character from the children’s song "Don Gato" (the song about the cat who falls off his roof and dies but then comes back to life when he smells fish from the market).
* And, because I pepper my stories with little bits and pieces of backstory, there are some references to two fictional demons, the doomed lovers Curiositus (a monster-sized goldfish) and Cattus (a feline demoness).

Another way that I supported my knowledge theme was to create a handful of divination tools, which also served two other purposes. They were useful at various plot points (see below) and they helped to more fully flesh out the world and its magic.

This divination tool was introduced at the start of the novel. After the opening chapter, Noon has lunch off campus at a place called "The Black Onion." It’s a small, riverside cafĂ© with only four things on the menu: the soup of the day, the bread of the day, the catch of the day… and black onions, which are the Haljan version of a Magic 8 Ball.

How many of you played with a Magic 8 Ball when you were a kid? I did. In fact, I had so many fond memories of using one, that I bought my kids one. Here’s a picture of it. If you look closely, you can even see my reflection. (Ha! ;-)) My Haljan black onions work similarly, but with some differences. A Haljan black onion can answer a question – any question – so long as the person asking it has sailed the river Lethe (which, by the way, happens to means "oblivion" or lack of knowledge). Once a sailor has asked their question, they peel the onion and the answer is written inside the onion on a piece of paper as thin as… well, onion skin, of course!

Noon is given a black onion at the start of the story and it reappears throughout. In a small way, the black onion reinforced my knowledge theme and was one more reason for readers to keep turning the page. Would Noon ask the black onion a question? If so, what question would she ask? And what would the answer be?

In my stories, Angels are spellcasters. They have all sorts of roles: guardian, interpreter, and scribe. But some of the more creatively inclined make art or wine and cast spells over them. One batch of wine in Fiery Edge of Steel is called "Fortuna’s Favorite." (Fortuna was the Roman goddess of fortune and I used that mythology to create a similar Haljan deity).

Fortuna’s Favorite is "pink and fizzy and flecked with gold" with a bitter, chalky taste. After Noon is given her assignment, she is offered a sip. The wine is like a fortune cookie. She drinks from the cup and wipes her mouth on a napkin. Her fortune appears in a stain of words on the napkin:
"When traveling into the unknown,
sometimes the biggest danger is the one you bring with you…"
Noon’s fortune in this scene reinforced my knowledge theme, served as foreshadowing, and became the tagline of the book. (I tried to have it put on the cover, but my editor told me that the art department would kill me – it’s way too long! :-D) But the thing I love most about it is, by the end of the book, Noon’s fortune can be interpreted several different ways.

Because my books feature a character who’s training to be a Maegester (a "modern day" knight who’s studying demon law), I try to work a few legal concepts into each story. The trial by ordeal seemed tailor made for Fiery Edge of Steel because it’s a method of determining guilt or innocence by divine intervention. Historically, it involved questionable "justice" practices like dunking, boiling, or forcing someone to walk over hot coals. The idea that an accused might escape from these tortures unharmed or even alive – and that such would automatically prove their innocence – is horrifying.

So I created a divination tool that would administer a trial by ordeal to an accused and then worked it into my story. That tool is "waerwater," the poisonous sap from a big, old, magical tree. (My description is slightly more detailed in the book. ;-)) In the story, an accused has the right to demand a trial by waerwater. They drink it. If they live, they are deemed innocent by divine intervention. There is no need for a trial – no need for the truth. Knowledge of actual guilt or any other evidence is irrelevant. Like the first two divination tools, I referred to waerwater repeatedly throughout the novel and then used it in my climatic scene.

So, what about you? What tools do you use to reinforce your theme? Do you have any questions about theme and how to support it? How about cats? Do you own one? Do you want one? Do you think every writer should have one? :-D Thanks so much to Nancy and everyone here at FF&P for inviting me here to guest blog today!
More about Fiery Edge of Steel
Lucifer and his army triumphed at Armageddon, leaving humans and demons living in uncertain peace based on sacrifice and strict laws. It is up to those with mixed demon and human blood, the Host, to prevent society from falling into anarchy.

Noon Onyx is the first female Host in memory to wield the destructive waning magic that is used to maintain order among the demons. Her unique abilities, paired with a lack of control and reluctance to kill, have branded her as an outsider from her peers. Only her powerful lover, Ari Carmine, and a roguish and mysterious Angel, Rafe Sinclair, support her unconventional ways.

When Noon is shipped off to a remote outpost to investigate several unusual disappearances, a task which will most likely involve trying and killing the patron demon of that area, it seems Luck is not on her side. But when the outpost settlers claim that an ancient and evil foe has stepped out of legend to commit the crimes, Noon realizes that she could be facing something much worse than she ever imagined…
More about Jill
Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels from Penguin/Ace. DARK LIGHT OF DAY and FIERY EDGE OF STEEL are available now. WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE will be available 5/27/14.
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1 comment:

Jill Archer said...

Stopping by to say hello and thanks again! Happy writing, all!