Across the water is a country of luxury. My family loads our keelboat with goods and drags a raft of timber behind us. Across the river we float, trickling down to the exotic city where we trade.
Our family trades logs for some silk, corn for new shoes, and furs for sugar. We sell the raft to lighten the load back upriver.
I ask Pa, “Why do they trade their riches for our poor goods?”
Pa pushes the keel. “They live in a desert. To them, we’re the rich ones, but we’re all rich once we’ve shared our treasures.”
This was written for this week’s Carrot Ranch Challenge, “Across the Water.” Rivers often serve as borders, even if they also serve as connectors between us all. Today, which is World Communion Sunday in my tradition, I wanted to look at that combination in this 99 word flash.
Religion is extremely important on a personal level to many people, and it affects everyone indirectly if not directly. Conflicts over differing opinions on the essential qualities of deity, creation, and human society as it relates to mystical importance abound in the real world.
Fantasy worlds can be equally convoluted. Even a fantasy world in which everyone is atheist or agnostic is still a world with a designed religion, but it can be elevated to a world with designed intent.
5. Know What Beliefs Real Religions Espouse
People can be led to believe in almost anything (just research QAnon), so it doesn’t really matter how mad you make the premise of your religion. What does matter, however, is how your religion makes adherents feel. How does it encourage your characters to act?
Successful religions have all encourages some form of morality and altruism tied into their beliefs. Do good things for the poor, don’t steal things, and respect your elders are common traits. At its core, a fantasy religion should include elements of good. Why?
Well, I’m glad you asked. See, remember that horrible set of books I read last month? Remember The Tombs of Atuan? In it, the gods only take, harm, and maim, and the king uses the reality of their existence to enhance his power. The gods in Tombs of Atuan don’t do anything good – so what was the use of worshipping them? Solely to prevent evil from happening? That lack of benefit – even lack of a theoretical benefit – to the gods in Tombs of Atuan made the entire religion a bit less believable.
People prefer to believe:
The deity will bring peace and health in return for faith and worship
The deity will support their people group, even at the cost of other people groups
The deity will bring prosperity to the faithful
The deity will enforce a social order, especially one beneficial to the adherents
Read up on how a religion uses these promises in order to attract followers. If you don’t know much about the Abrahamic religions, I encourage boning up on that because of their importance in English language literature. If you’re interested in polytheistic beliefs, study Hinduism, currently the polytheistic religion with the most followers. Strangely enough, I also strongly suggest watching Leah Remini’s Scientology and the Aftermath – if nothing else, it shows you how religions can successfully draw people in (though Scientology is a bit crazier than others) by using good acts as a sort of bait.
4. Define Your Society’s and Characters’ Goals
In that last section, we defined what a religion can give an individual. Individuals, though, don’t enforce religious rules and standards: communities do, and communities need reasons to keep the religion going. Society as a whole has goals, just like characters in a book. People often imagine countries as characters, and any group of people can be seen similarly. What does this group want?
Some societies struggle for survival. The Pentateuch (the Torah or first five books of the Old Testament) tell the story of a people fleeing persecution and establishing themselves with the safety God provides. Safety for yourself, even if it means the destruction of others, is a very interesting societal goal. I love that sort of thing because it can be easily twisted to develop a genuinely evil society while still giving the relief of moral goodness. Whether or not God physically did much to help them, the faith at least allowed the Jewish people to band together for their survival.
Remember, society tends to be out for itself. The word “genocide” wasn’t even invented until the 1940’s; even Winston Churchill called the Holocaust a “crime without a name” because nothing had been invented yet. That’s right – people didn’t care about wholesale slaughter of a people group enough to make a word for it until less than 80 years ago. Your society will want to survive and win.
3. Make a Creation Myth
There’s elements to every religion that go beyond creation myths, but almost unilaterally there needs to be a creation story in order for it to work. Part of what has empowered atheism in recent decades is the extremely plausible creation story* that didn’t exist prior to the increased pace of discovery in the Industrial Age. Atheism has always been around, but a “creation myth” was necessary to give it a boost and make it palatable to masses.
The order in which things are created is important in all myths. In Cherokee myths, there is the heavens and there is an expanse of water below. Animals came down from the heavens and dug up the mud from beneath the ocean, then tied the land to the heavens with cords so it wouldn’t sink.
Now, what does that say about the power of animals? How do you think a believer of that story would feel about animals vs. someone who believes animals a passive creation of a human-like god? They’d probably think the animals are much more important!
So what is important in your mythology? Start them early, give them a job, and give them power. Consider when “evil” is created, because that will determine much about the morality of your world.
Your myth can be as crazy as you want.
2. Create a Power Hierarchy
Your religion starts with one prophet, for whatever reason, but then the prophet leaves or dies. What next?
All groups, from companies to unions to religions, must have a hierarchy dedicated to protecting itself. Just like any society, as mentioned in number 4 above, church hierarchy will organize itself to carry out its goals of 1) spread religion and 2) get power for the religion. The Catholic church has a very complex and well-defined heirarchy, and honestly you really can’t get a better example when it comes to religious hierarchy and how it works. They have everything planned out, and it just gets deeper the further you look into it. Though the church hierarchy has done a lot to spread goodness and charity, it has also been used to cover up heinous abuses as well as entrench heinous beliefs. Whether or not the deity of your fantasy religion is good, the believers of the religion are still people, still flawed.
I grew up Baptist, and I didn’t realize there was a church hierarchy beyond just your deacons and a pastor until I got into high school and took history classes. Believe it or not, Baptists have no creed, no real external leadership structure beyond each individual congregation (there are “conventions”, but honestly churches leave those and get kicked out or join all the time, and no one really cares). There’s probably a looser-structured religious group out there, but believe it or not, Baptists have very little structure to their church despite the outsized political power they enjoy.
1. Entrench Your Hierarchy
After you’ve created an organization (or a lack of one, in the case of Baptists and the like), it’s time to look at the part that will really make your religion pop: how does it interact with politics?
There are two main ways you can entrench your hierarchy politically: an outright state with a theocracy (think Iran), or a sort of shadow state that influences government leaders and enforces itself through the power of a deity. A religious hierarchy with sufficient elaboration and order will be able to organize itself effectively and perform both its moral duties and lobby governments of any kind to do its will. Hold souls hostage, get what you want.
If you don’t have a great hierarchy, you’ll probably need to have extremely charismatic individuals that carry a lot of power. As a Baptist, I immediately think Billy Graham. He was crazy influential in politics, and it was probably him who made Baptists so much more powerful. He was able to move masses with a word and cause voting blocs to shift. Following his death, there is no single voice to fill the void, and that is also a risk for a less-organized religion: lack of continuity and lack of singular goal. It’s way harder to entrench loose confederacies for long periods of time.
Do you include a fantasy religion in your works? I’d love to hear about your deities and myths! Let me know more in the comments!
*These creation stories can be entirely right and still don’t disprove most mythos. However, they can be taken alone, which makes them both interesting and powerful.
It’s the summer indie book month, and boy do we have some hot reads this July! You’ll want to stick around for these.
1NG4 – Berthold Gambrel
I recently met Berthold Gambrel through his website, and I then also followed his twitter. Peter Martenuac (of His Name Was Zach fame) retweeted that 1NG4 was on a free weekend, so I had to check it out!
Not only that, this is a pretty short book. That’s why, on THIS WEDNESDAY, I’m going to be posting one more review than usual on my blog!
I have reviewed three D. Wallace Peach books in the past (See reviews for The Melding of Aeris, Soul Swallowers, and Legacy of Souls). Peach is a reliably good author, and I’m excited to see what this new series entails. One of Peach’s sneak previews that she posted on her blog indicated that at least one of the main characters was going to be a goblin, and any sort of non-human character excites me. I don’t believe I’ve read anything published with a goblin main character, so it’s time to see how Peach pulls that off!
Last year, Peter Martuneac submitted his book Her Name Was Abby through my review request form. Though it was the second book in the series (Zach, here, was the first), I was blown away. I assume Martuneac experienced some artist growth between the two books, but I was very into Abby and looked forward to reading this installation. The third book is out, too, so I have to catch up!
Elizabeth Merry and I follow each others’ blogs, and I know she’s got great style. Her characters are vivid, and her prose beautiful. This collection of shorts (“scenes”) look to be connected by setting, and I think the book as a whole may benefit from this connection. Definitely looking forward to what each tale may hold for me.
Cheeser the Mouse followed his nose. He peeked around a tree.
A cat’s claws tapped on a pot filled with cheddar. “Hello there, little mouse.” His voice cooed, attractive. “Come, ingratiate me. Do a dance and call me Rainbow. Perhaps I’ll give you this cheese.”
The smell of the cheddar was irresistible for a field mouse. Cheeser stepped out and danced a jig. “Is that good enough, Rainbow?”
Rainbow, while sitting on the pot of cheese, snatched up Cheeser and ate him. “Good show indeed, Cheeser – and at the other end of this Rainbow, you’ll get your cheddar gold.”
This was written with inspiration from the Carrot Ranch prompt “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a cat named Rainbow on an outdoor adventure.” I also wrote, a while back, another story about a different Cheeser the Mouse and a cat named Chaircat Mao. The combination of ideas brought me to write this little ditty.
It’s well known out there in Internet Land that June is Pride Month.
I’ll admit that with my upbringing, I have very little knowledge about LGBTQQIP2SAA+ things (and, by the time you’re reading this, there may even be more parts to the impossible acronym). This is honestly a travesty, and I have taken it upon myself to at least attempt rectifying my lack of information.
This month, I’m reading some books that I’ve found with the intention of exploring a new facet of life that I’ve not done any official reading on before.
Johnny Appleseed – Joshua Whitehead
I don’t get the title at all, but Johnny Appleseed is supposed to be a novel about a two-spirit (a.k.a. a person who identifies as a member of a sexual minority but in an American Indian sort of way) man who has to deal with his identity. I don’t know much about Canada or the tribes there beyond “Canadian whites really bad to their land’s indigenous population, too,” but this seems interesting. I’m not usually a fan of contemporary works, so I’m hoping this is intriguing enough to keep me coming back for more.
Sissy – Jacob Tobia
One of the most popular LGBTQQIP2SAA+ pieces of media I’ve ever enjoyed was She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. One of the characters in that show, Double Trouble, was a non-binary shapeshifter voiced by a non-binary actor. Not only that, but this actor is from North Carolina.
And you people know about my feelings surrounding the greatest state in the Union.
So of course I had to read Jacob Tobia’s autobiography/memoirs or whatever. I simply had to.
Transgender History – Susan Stryker
History is one of my jams. As much as a novel and memoirs matter in terms of individual experience, history will always be essential for granting context to works. I have consumed some podcasts on lesbian and gay history that focused on the Stonewall riots, but the history of the modern transgender movement interests me more. I decided to read this book as a result since it’s written by a historian (rather than a rando) and seems from a first glance to be well-researched.
Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!
Charles Dickinson is pretty famous, and I can dig him. I enjoyed Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol is of course a good annual read (also, I played Scrooge once while in school!). I have no idea what A Tale of Two Cities is supposed to be about, but that’s why we’re here: to read old books and realize what kinds of mistakes life is made of.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I’ve never been a fan of Sherlock Holmes in any shape, form, or media. Even the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock didn’t do it for me. I didn’t like the Robert Downey Jr. version, and I didn’t even like it when Data played Sherlock Holmes in Star Trek. I also know I don’t like another of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, The Lost World. So why am I doing this?
Two reasons: for that stupid “100 Books to Read Before You Die” (I’m not even sure what year my list is – is it 2018? 2019?) and because I like to give authors two chances. I’m almost certain I’ll hate this one, but it’s shorter than the others on this list and by god that’s going to be necessary as I prep for this month. I’ll go ahead and reveal that I had to start WAY early on reading this stuff.
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Last year, I read The Count of Monte Cristo and thought it was really good – unexpectedly good. This book, for whatever reason, gets associated with The Count of Monte Cristo in my mind a lot, even if that’s stupid. As a result, I decided to give this one a shot with great hopes.
Also, my mom hates this story. She refuses to tell me why, so I do fear that it’ll get a bit too erotic for my typical tastes. That’s just the way my mom operates, though – one penis, and it’s curtains. Tears for days with her. We’ll see.
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
One of my favorite books from 2020 was Gone With the Wind. The printing of Gone With the Wind I borrowed from my library included a forward from someone (Pat Conroy, maybe? I don’t know for sure). In this foreword, Anna Karenina was mentioned as an earlier work with an unlikeable, female protagonist that works.
After finishing Gone With the Wind, I was like, “By God, Scarlett was one of the best-conceived characters I have ever read.” And, if Anna Karenina has some similar traits, I want to know. I want to see if Margaret Mitchell has a stranglehold on cold-hearted bitch.
Do you have a suggestion? Comments? I’m currently filled up for my review slots on the blog this year, but you can always submit a request for potential reviews on Goodreads and Amazon!
“You’re so boring, pops. You only sit there and meditate.” The young man pounded his fist on a simple table, rattling a knife, bread, and cup of butter.
The elder took the knife and buttered a piece. “There are many ways to glory.”
He growled, pulled on his cloak, and left.
The young man returned to the chapel, this time much grayer. His hands were manicured, his wallet full, his clothes fine. He brushed his hand against the rough-hewn table.
He crushed the land’s deed in his hands. He’d sacrificed a quiet glory, but what for he couldn’t tell.
This was written for the Carrot Ranch’s most recent flash fiction challenge, “rethinks the hero.” One of my Sunday school lesson series (back in the before times) was on contemplative life and meditation, and there we talked about the criticism that being entirely contemplative kept one from helping the world or other people. At the same time, contemplation isn’t terribly valued in a pretty cataphatic society. I wanted to play on that here.
We’re on to 2021’s second indie book month – and it’s going to be exciting as we delve through some books with female leads!
What to do with Baby Ashes – Marnie Heenan
I’ve followed Heenan online for quite a while. She used to be active in the WordPress scene, but now I keep up with her on Twitter and gaze every so often at her website. You all know I’m not a mom and don’t plan to be, but I’ve kept up with Heenan enough to know that she’s really, really good at poetry, and this book is her first chapbook. I think my heart’s ready to get ripped out. Stick around for the emotion bath.
This summer, I read an anthology called From Ashes to Magic, and that contained one poem about the gods Life and Death that just blew me away. I chose to read Essence because it is told from the perspective of gods reminiscent of those in Greek myth, and I thought it could be as beautiful or interesting as the short I’d read this summer. However, I did note that it’s YA, so I’m not sure how that’s going to play out for me (just ok with YA).
Everyone loves Bhatal online. It’s honestly hard to find a sweeter person. And, what’s more, I completely decided to buy this book when she self-described it as “Chickpea Lit”. How cute is that? I’m a sucker for puns, and I’m always looking for books about non-English, non-American cultural norms, and this book seems to be it. What’s more, I trust Bhatal’s experience, interpretation, and craft enough that I’m sure it’ll fulfill my international needs.
Desire is merely emptiness lasting
long enough for a dire span of fasting
to fade the sweetness of last time's tasting,
leaving one breathless and for air gasping.
Sinister my void grows, hunger gnawing,
thirst enlarging despite ever drawing
from the well that promises restoring
water, but instead strengthens its calling.
I desire rich words like honey dripping.
To simple phrases my ears stay gripping
in hopes of cheers and compliment sipping,
but instead I fear connections slipping.
Desire is merely emptiness lasting
long enough for a dreadful breakfasting
to prove there's no use in truly tasting
meals best kept sealed in condition pristine.
This was written for no good reason. Just felt like it.
Good Lord, you people. Its March once more, and if you’ve learned anything from 2019 or 2020, it’s that you’re in for some Age of Jackson reading.
The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren – Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was Jackson’s left hand man (because, despite the murder, bloodshed, etc., Jackson still somehow didn’t manage to do all his dirty work). Van Buren was a mischievous little twerp with a magnificent mind for dastardly deeds and political maneuvering. He was elected president in 1836.
And he wrote an autobiography.
Well, almost. He died before he finished it, so this is technically not an autobiography. Despite its girth, it’s so dreadfully incomplete that it wasn’t published until 58 years after his death. Still, if I am not faced with the most blatantly partisan book about a political figure that I’ve ever seen, I will be sorely disappointed. I’m looking for slanted opinions, lies, and alternative facts. GIVE ME THE CRAZY.
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times – H.W. Brands
Last year I read the very popular American Lion by Meacham. H.W. Brands is another of those pop historians with a cult following, but I’ve not read from him before. Like American Lion, this is a single volume biography and I have no doubts that it will glance over so much stuff that it will disgust me. Even so, I think it will be interesting to see how well this matches up with Meacham’s work and what sorts of information Brands chooses to include.
But God, that title. He would have had to genuinely try in order to make a more boring title.
Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union – Robert V. Remini
Robert V. Remini is, without a doubt, my favorite Jackson historian. Common critiques of his work include being too chummy with his subjects, and I’ll be honest that this critique is perfectly valid. Even so, the man had sass, and he’s either very good at picking an editor or very good at editing himself. I’ve read six (almost seven now!) of his books, and they’ve never let me down.
But this? THIS?! How could he have betrayed me and Old Hickory by writing about Henry Clay, the blackleg and Judas of the West? Henry Clay, mortal enemy of Andrew Jackson, was not the sort of person I’d have expected Remini to write about. So, given that I already know Remini gets too into his subjects, I wonder how this staunch Jacksonian author will feel about Henry Clay in this work.
John Quincy Adams – Harlow Giles Unger
John Quincy Adams, affectionately known as “J-Qua” by me and my friends, is one of those obscure presidents (I think – he’s not obscure to me, so I’m just guessing). Recently, he’s been brought up for sharing two major traits with 45: he had one term and lost the popular vote. I’ve said before that the Election of 1824 was probably a good analogy for the Election of 2016, and by golly after 2020 rolled around I felt so stoked that I called it. Nailed it good, you guys. Or at least I think I did – don’t know what’s coming in 2024. Might have to update with some Grover Cleveland madness.
Anyway, J-Qua won the election against Andrew Jackson. Jackson blamed/hated him (and Henry Clay) for murdering his wife, Rachel. He was the son of John Adams of revolutionary and Alien and Sedition Act fame. This dude needs to be read about.
I’ve got a buttload of reviews for you this year. While all the slots for indie book reviews on this blog are taken this year, you can still submit to my review request page and maybe see something pop up on Goodreads and Amazon.