I write this rewatching Stardust the film. I confess though Neil Gaiman is awesome I have a hard time reading most of his work, but the film adaptations are much more accessible. Why? Because Gaiman has the most completely unique landscape of any author I have ever encountered. Though it makes him slightly inaccessible to me, that's a good thing.

Many Gaiman stories have certain parts that make as much sense to me as this sign. Credit


Every writer should have their own landscape. What is a landscape? It's a complex thing, but in short imagine if all your fiction stories take place in the same world. If that world is the very one you live in, you have a kind of piss-poor landscape and really can only write romance novels. Sad but true (there's a reason they're the mimes of the fiction world). 

It's tough to connect all your stories if you genre-hop. I write mystery, science-fiction, fantasy, erotica, horror, and even, yes, romance. How does one get those to all fit into the same world, or landscape? Most authors struggle with that which is why so many produce just one genre. For those who write many different styles, it's a challenge and the only way to make them fit together within one reality is to completely and totally make your own.

Now, here's my secret:the Guf. The Guf is the well of souls in Jewish mysticism, it's where all souls come from, a kind of well to some or hallway to others. The end of days is said to come when the Guf empties and the first babe without a soul is born. Okay, so where the hell have you read that in any of my stories? As of yet, nowhere, but it's been hinted at. Confused yet?

It's one example of the mythology that goes into creating your landscape. Think of all the concepts, places, stories, and historical facts/figures who have ever intrigued you. If they appear regularly in changed forms in your work you indeed are creating your own landscape.

This is a pretty damn good representation of what we're talking about. Credit


To explain the Guf's significance to me a bit more, my mother saw the film The Seventh Sign and went bonkers for it. Strange as I did not grow up in a Judeo-Christian household. She made me see it and this was when I first learned of the Guf. Other legends have always appealed to me, particularly the concept of dimensions. Years later after my mom passed away I often dreamed of her and we would have intense metaphysical conversations. They always took place in an infinitely long hallway of doors, sometimes wide enough a well was in the middle of the path, other times so narrow you could only pass one at a time through. We'd walk as we talked and some of the doors gave me a feeling of malevolence that I've never surpassed in my waking hours, and others gave me a sense of peace. In the very last dream I had of her there she told me that each room was where souls went between lives and within could be Heaven, Hell, or Limbo, each of our making. She also told me many doors led to our world and others, and walked me back to the one to this reality. Admittedly that I found strange as I was raised Celtic pagan and am now an atheist, meaning never once in my life have I ever believed in a heaven or hell, nor did she.

Other things that have always stuck in my subconscious that help me create my landscape are: unwritten feminist legends of history (Amazons), female rulers (Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great), Carl Jung's Collective Unconscious Theory, Robert Fulton, the mysticism of male/female energy, the American sexual revolution, the ideal of the warrior-poet, the Guf, the philosophy of George Carlin, reincarnation, Brigadoon, conspiracies, fate, Karma, American tall tales, Nikola Tesla, American Empire, and Irish legends. Those are the big ones. In every single story I write several of these appear altered, changed, made my own.

Overall I try to keep many of these as background notes, things you have to look for to find, or note subconsciously. For me they are filler details as well as guiding principles. For Neil Gaiman they are the fucking plot. As his landscape is so overwhelmingly British that's what makes it difficult for me. Not that he is not a genius at it, it's just that I'm not as up on my British folklore and legends. As such his Discworld series is one I favor, it's so uniquely bizarre that it's more universally accessible.

So how do you get in touch with your landscape? Sit down and really think about the things the fascinate you. It can be anything, but it's best if it's a person or concept. For example that scene in American Beauty lingering over the stupid plastic bag? IT WAS STUPID! The real trope there was the young man in pain using his pain to gain understand and insight into life. so frankly if you're thinking of things like that (say the smell of fresh cut grass) *BUZZ* Wrong! If you said Princcess Di, or Algebra, you're doing it right. You need specific anchor points to pull on. Draw from the things you have studied about, learned about, that your mind wanders back to, the things that seem to have personal significance about you. It's best if they have more than one, and it's best if they are things other people can acknowledge and pontificate about.

Robert Fulton is a good one. Who the hell is Robert Fulton you say? If you said inventor of the steam engine, close, but no cigar. If you said the man who produced the first working steam engine and invented the goddamned Nautilus, then you should email me, we need to chat and become BFFs. In that he symbolizes America perfectly for me. Technically his main "invention" was the first commercially successful steam engine, but he got a lot of credit, is now a common footnote in American History books for grade schoolers, and in that uneducated lot is widely regarded as the inventor of the damn thing. On the personal side he was bisexual and lived in a MFM threesome. For someone who grew up with crushes on both boys and girls that was beyond cool to hear. Ultimately presenting that fact in a report I did on him in 2nd grade got me suspended, which also contributed to my understanding that schools are conformity factories and my dislike of 'the man." From that one guy I got 3 important things, which is why now 25 years later I'm still prattling on about him.

Fulton's nightlife looked kind of like this...but with more cravats.    Credit

If you're still confused about the concept of a landscape, let's focus on very important aspect of it: narrative style, the way a story is told. Have you ever watched any Anime? Ghost in the Shell is a great example of Japanese neo-traditional narrative. It's anachronistic at a few points and idiosyncratic throughout. The more anime you watch or standard-translation (more literal translation, aka "All your base are belong to us") Manga you read, the more you get one huge thing about Japanese storytelling: they don't explain shit. If you're watching an anime movie, you should damn well know the kitsune legends, the folkore about wood spirits, and the overall driving goal of all technology towards A.I. that has a fervor in Japan equal to Manifest destiny of the 19th century in America. Great if you grow up in Japan, for most Americans it takes repeated watchings/readings and viewings. 

By contrast in standard American narration demands you explain the relevance of everything upon first reveal. God help you if you arbitrarily mention a character is bemused by midgets and not explain why. Russian narration is very "Chekhov's Gun." Anything brought up is explained only when it is is later used specifically as a plot device.

Examples using Paul Bunyan:

American: He came into the clearing and there stood Paul Bunyan, 150 feet tall, dressed in red flannel and jeans with a knit cap, his axe, oft-used to clear forests and cut the valleys of the heartland, leaning against a giant stump. Babe, his giant blue ox who pulled the plow that made the Mississippi was nowhere in sight. [conversation ensues where Bunyan asks the protagonists to fight the evil techno-lords].

Russian: He came upon a giant man dressed as a lumberjack, taller than all the trees. [conversation ensues where Paul Bunyan  asks the protagonists to fight the evil techno-lords ]. It all made sense now, of course he would need the aid of the man who, with the help of his blue ox, had carved the valleys and rivers of the heartland. Now together they would shape and protect the land itself.

Japanese: His motorcycle rumbled to a stop when he spotted a red tail. Suddenly the trees parted and giant eyes peered down at him. "Who goes there, boy?" The voice shook the air and rumbled the ground. Before he could answer the robot planes screamed overhead and landed. As they watched them form the Mecha-Lord robot he called to the giant "Get your axe, I'll lead them in a circle away from the ox!"

Thus picture makes sense...in context.   Credit

Your narrative will always be mostly determined by your culture, your landscape will be determined by how you view your culture, your place in it, and its place in the world. If you've never thought about your landscape, now is the time to do so. Really think about the people, places, and things that fascinate you and think about why. Make a list of them, a flowchart, and be sure to list all the things they mean to you.

Let's look at my list and you may see how this shows up in my writing:

Now that you see what those things mean to me, you can see my landscape a whole lot better. There's no right or wrong, these are just some of the major things that shape my world view and my landscape. My world view is how I see the world around at large and in small around me. My landscape is taking those things and creating my own world based around them.

This is why the best writers are trivia buffs, know a little about everything, and have vivid imaginations. If you have trouble finding your interests, look to your childhood. Queens and empresses, for example, who ruled alone, fascinated me. In 1985 for Halloween my parents asked me what i wanted to be. I insisted on being a queen. When they asked why, it was because my friends wanted to be princesses, and I wanted to outrank them. I'd never be happy being a queen, but an Amazon chieftain? Hell yeah.

Is it any wonder I grew up to be a Dominant woman, an alpha personality, who likes submissive men, beta males, and writes stories about female warriors, queens, and politicians? The things that shaped me shape my imaginary world. I know what my landscape is, what's yours?

Welcome to my idea of heaven, living Ching Shih's life.    Credit