So far we’ve had a lot of general world building information in our segments, but for our next two editions we’re mixing things up a little by getting some insights from successful world-builders, while we get to know them and their creations!
This edition of World Building Wednesday we’re focusing on the building worlds for fiction, and we’re lucky enough to be speaking with published author, MD Mascaro! (Maria).
Maria’s published both adult and young adult fiction – as well as being an accomplished artist and educator, with a Masters in Fine Art under her belt, and all while raising her son – if you’re looking proof that you can achieve everything you think you can and probably more, look no further than Maria!
One of my favourite things about Maria’s writing is the worlds she builds through her unique combination of realism and fantasy. I had a chat with her about what tools and techniques she uses, and what inspirations she draws from when she’s writing.
Maria you blend elements of the fantastic with the world we all live in, which makes for really relatable fiction! What inspires you to bring fantasy to reality in that way?
I suppose it is born of a concern with the question “What if?” in my daily life. Most often the sentence is tagged with some fantastic premise that leads me to imagine a magical eventuality proceeding from the mundane. Life can be boring without magic! I have been doing this since childhood. I recall walking down the street as a “character” in my own novel thinking such things as: “Little did she know that she would arrive at school to find that all her teachers had disappeared.” Of course, in this example, wishful thinking came into play. More often, it was an attempt to avoid the ordinary, to color my world, to experience adventure in a world where adventure was unavailable to me.
Let’s talk a little more about when you were younger, who were the authors who were inspiring you then?
Ahhhh, this is rather a loaded question. I had an extremely sheltered childhood. I wasn’t exposed to great authors or a variety of books. There was no school library (I went to a local parochial school – sparse on everything but discipline, some of it physical. I sometimes joke about that, telling people I went to Our Lady of Perpetual Torture. Black humor, I know). The closest public library was outdated, and a three mile walk to boot. I wasn’t able to use that until high school. But I absolutely loved to read. I would always ask for books for my birthday or Christmas and I do recall receiving some mysteries and zipping through them at record speed. None of the books were complex or thought provoking or even particularly memorable but I do recall they provided some escape from the emotional issues I experienced as a child.
Did you do anything differently when you were creating your fictional worlds for Brandy and the Banshees and The Secret of the Sea Witch?
Brandy and the Banshees was more grounded in the real world since the heroine is a contemporary teen living in and visiting places that actually exist. Much of The Secret of the Sea Witch was a pure flight of fantasy emanating from pictures in my mind. I drew some of the fantasy locations in a notebook because I wanted to “see” the underwater world in a physical form, even if it was only on paper. For example, the facade of the Aquademy and the first event in the Trial of Three were clearly outlined. This made them more real to me and, when an author believes fully in their world, it translates as real to the reader.
How often do you use history, geography or anthropology to help inform your world building in these kinds of works?
Authenticity is extremely important to me. When I write about a real geographical location, I feel that I must experience the place first hand. Since I love the very real adventure of travel, this is a pleasure. And it’s a two way street. The Secret of the Sea Witch was inspired by a trip through the south Pacific on a converted cargo ship. On the other hand, I had no intention of traveling to Ireland when I started to write Brandy and the Banshees. I had a friend there who refused to cooperate with my questions about her homeland, insisting I visit first hand. I was so very glad that I did because, far beyond descriptions of the places in the story (some of which have changed since I wrote it), I was able to walk in my characters footsteps. I retraced all the things a young runaway might do if she were in search of long lost family in a foreign country. My research also led me to learn more about the history and mythology of Ireland which also colored the book.
When you were drawing inspiration from the south Pacific region for Secret of the Sea Witch, what did you do to try and remain conscious and respectful of the cultures and traditions that were inspiring your story? Have you got any advice for other writers who might be concerned about how they can be more authentic and considerate when they’re drawing on other countries or cultures for their own works?
The cultures of the places I visited didn’t figure into the Sea Witch story, only the physical locales themselves. I wanted to observe the sea, the weather, and the topography to be better able to describe that part of the mermaid’s world with fresh and vivid imagery. Insofar as Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” can be applied to the adventures of my heroine, Marisa, there is a repetition of a trope that is shared by millions of books. But I feel that there is where any similarities end since I developed my own unique religious and mythological background (more of which will be revealed in the sequel).
Cultural concerns were more prevalent in Brandy and the Banshees since I was dealing with very old and respected stories. It was important to avoid stereotypes that might be offensive to a sensitive or learned reader. My advice in this respect would be to encourage the writer to do due diligence with research. Let’s use Ireland as a specific example. It might be easy to write from a perspective of, say, leprechauns and rainbows, but this would be ignoring a rich and complex body of fantasy and legend. I purchased books (some fairly rare) and immersed myself in Irish tradition, folk tales, etc. Although I learned far, far more than I would ever have been able to use in my book, I felt that it helped me present what I did touch upon in a serious and respectful manner even though I took liberties with the original banshee legend. (Had I not imagined a “rogue” spirit capable of malevolence I would not have had a story!)
If you happen to be lucky enough to be in the New Jersey area this Saturday, (August 26th), you can meet Maria in person at The Mermaid Haberdashery in Asbury Park! She’ll be there from 3-6 pm signing copies of The Secret of the Sea Witch to coincide with the Asbury Park promenade of Mermaids!
But if you’re stuck somewhere far away like me, Maria’s books are all available on Amazon and you can get to know her a little better on her website! I encourage everyone to check them out not just for a great read, but for excellent examples of building rich, detailed and authentic worlds for your readers!