Today I have special guest Angela Benedetti, talking about one of my favorite subjects: building paranormal worlds!
When you decide to write a paranormal or urban fantasy type story with a (mostly) realistic contemporary setting, you have a choice to make right from the beginning — does the general population know that your ghosts or mages or vampires or elves are real? In some series, like Rosalie’s Fallen Warriors books, the whole world has changed and it’s clear to everyone that the supernatural elements are real and a part of their lives. In many paranormals, though, the majority of the population goes about their daily activities happily ignorant of the fact that a demon or a troll might come smashing through the front window at any time.
I’ve gone the second route with my Hidden Magic series. One of the big advantages of going with an ignorant civilian population is that your characters have a built-in conflict right from the start — whatever they’re doing that has to do with magic or the paranormal, they’re probably going to want to keep the secret. Imagine the tumult and shouting when word got out! Sure, folks would settle down eventually, but the chaos would be pretty brutal for a while, and no one wants to be known as the one who caused it.
Conflict is the heart of any plot, and making things even more difficult for our characters warms the heart of every writer I know. Having to stay on the down-low while trying to thwart an evil plot or fight off an invasion or dispel a curse is bound to make things extra complicated for the characters, which makes the story that much more fun to read, right? [evil grin]
At the same time, on the Ignorant Population side of the house, it’s pretty much universal to make the main characters dash around madly, going to ridiculous lengths to try to keep the secret while defending absolutely everybody from the rampaging evil. It can be pretty funny to watch, but sometimes it goes too far, and I wanted to subvert that trope a bit, without having the news break completely.
In A Hidden Magic, which is about a team of Sentinels, mortals who defend the mortal world from supernatural threats, I decided that the boys would try to protect the secret and the civilians to a certain extent, but not go to ludicrous extremes for it. Because seriously, if an Elven Lady who thinks mortals are tasty is about the invade at any second, would you really waste half an hour trying persuade a bunch of stubborn and suspicious civilians in the blast zone that no, really, this forest grew up overnight because of radioactive contamination in the water from the mine up in the hills a few miles away — no, really! I’m serious, dude, you need to get out of here now. No joke, right now. Right now, come on, it’s dangerous here. I’m not kidding, go!
Etc. for however long it took, while the last few skeptics insisted on sticking around, when you knew that the threat you’re trying to get them clear of might well be claiming victims already on the other side of this brand new forest?
Paul, the leader of the Sentinel team, is very pragmatic about these things, and he doesn’t always have time to stop and explain the whys and wherefores to Rory, for whom all this is brand knew. Paul doesn’t always have time to be diplomatic with Rory, for the same reason that he doesn’t always have time to persuade the stubborn idiots back there that they really do need to clear out right now:
There was magic all around. The unnaturally growing trees and shrubs were oozing with it, but one of the high fey would’ve stood out like a torch in a swarm of fireflies.
He circled to the left, still keeping a good grip on Rory’s wrist. Forest, forest, forest… then it thinned out into an open area. Sprouts and saplings grew and thickened, pushing through clear dirt and concrete and up around rows of trucks and vans — two rows, parked nose-to-tail. There must be a street under there between them.
“It’s a construction site,” Rory said after a moment. “They’re building new houses.”
The irregular slabs of concrete snapped into perspective, and Paul nodded. “You’re right. It must’ve been completely flat and clear here — it slowed her down. In the park, she was just filling in spaces between existing trees.”
“And the house back there, too,” Rory agreed. “The neighborhoods down here have mature yards with plenty of trees and all.”
Paul nodded, still scanning the area with his magesight. The new trees were a diffuse glow, only perceptible if he concentrated on them. A few birds and bugs and the occasional animal — probably squirrels — were soft spots of dim light. He picked up the brighter glows of people before he saw them physically, then once he’d noticed them, he became aware of them talking and shouting, angry tones and panicked tones and the frightened-reasoning tones of people trying to explain away things that don’t fit their image of the world.
He circled around through the center of the block of construction, watching new trees push through fresh foundations and swelling blobs of shrubbery bury trucks. One of the trucks, a battered Chevrolet loaded with toolboxes and ladders, tried to pull out, a scowling man in plaid flannel at the wheel. The powerful engine knocked down a dozen saplings before it ran into a tangle of blackberry vines and hit its limit; the truck lurched to a stop and the wheels spun, churning newly laid loam off the asphalt surface of the street.
Up ahead he saw a clot of men in work clothes hacking at the new growth with hand saws and bolt cutters. Paul hauled Rory up to them and called, “You need to get out of here! The lake’s been poisoned with nuclear waste! That’s what’s making everything grow like crazy!” He waved his hand at all the unfurling greenery. “It’s all radioactive! You need to get out of here!”
Most of the workers cursed and jogged away, a few taking a step or two toward the lines of trucks, then cursing louder and trotting off on foot. Four of them looked at each other, though, then glared at Paul. One of them yelled back, “Nuclear waste from where? How do you know?”
Paul sighed. There were a few in every crowd — no self-preservation at all. “I’m an investigative reporter,” he said. He strode right up to them and made shooing motions with his free hand. “They hit a radioactive seam up at the cement plant back in May.” His hand swooped up vaguely toward the northwest, where Hansen Permanente had a limestone quarry and cement plant in the hills. “The creek has been feeding radioactive waste water into the lake for months, and this is the result. If you ever plan on having children and don’t want to die with your gut full of tumors, I suggest you get out of here until the hazmat people can get it cleaned up.”
Two of the guys turned around and jogged off without saying a word, but the other two just looked at each other again. The one who’d spoken before said, “Aw, you’re fulla shit. And what the fuck are you dressed as, anyway?”
Fine, he’d tried. Paul rolled his eyes elaborately and said, “Hey, your call. You want to stick around, feel free.” He turned back toward the park and dragged Rory away.
“Wait!” Rory protested. Give him credit, he didn’t dig in his heels, he followed along without physically balking, but he obviously wasn’t happy. “You’re going to leave them there? Just let them stay? Is it really radioactive? You can’t just leave them!”
Paul pulled him out of earshot of the two belligerent men, which wasn’t very far in the thickening forest cover, and said, “No, it’s not radioactive, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Didn’t you ever watch old B-movies on weekends?”
“If you want to stick around and explain to them that it’s magic, be my guest.” Despite his words, Paul kept his grip on Rory’s wrist. Rory obviously got the message, though, because he changed tactics.
“All right, so telling them it’s magic wouldn’t work. But I thought the elf lady was dangerous? You said the woods was a trap — you can’t just leave them there.”
“I told them to leave. If they’re too stupid to move, that’s their problem, not mine.” That silenced Rory, which should’ve been good. Paul looked over his shoulder, though, and saw Rory staring at him in shock. Paul sighed and said, “What, you thought I was some kind of superhero? That I’d taken some kind of oath to lay down my life to defend every man, woman, and child in the world?”
He pushed between a pair of young birch trees, brushing the tiny, fluttering seeds out of his face, and helped Rory step through. “Look,” he continued, “our primary concern is keeping the fey out of the mortal world. We can’t keep all of them out no matter what we do, so I focus on the dangerous ones and work on the rest as time allows. We also monitor human casters and mages as well as we can, and try to help the new ones who are just discovering their talents and gifts adjust and learn to keep things under control, and prevent the mature ones from blowing up anything besides themselves. If we run into humans in a dangerous path, we’ll warn them off. I’m <b>not</b> going to take an hour off of tracking down and dealing with the source of all this just to strongarm a pair of idiots who don’t have the brains to get to safety on their own when they’ve been warned and have functional legs.”
“But what if they get killed?” Rory insisted. “Or, or what if the elf lady finds them?”
“She’ll probably kill them if she catches them, yes,” Paul agreed. “Again, not my problem. If we don’t banish her soon, she could kill a lot more people before she’s done. And despite whatever you might have learned from Star Trek, this is about counting numbers and the greater good, and a hundred lives are more important than two, especially when those two belong to brainless idiots too stupid to run away from danger when it’s been pointed out to them. Now come on, she’s got to be over here somewhere, and I’d rather find her before this forest gets too big for five people to search.”
Rory wasn’t too happy with Paul at that point, which just stirred things up even more, once the immediate threat was past. It’s a real clash of world views, and it takes some time and effort for Paul and Rory to begin to understand one another.
Fey incursions into the mortal world have been on the rise, and Paul MacAllister’s trying to figure out what the king of the local Elven enclave Under the Hill is up to and how to stop it. Rory Ellison was caught up in one of those attacks and nearly killed by a gang of goblins. He doesn’t believe they were real, though, and is resisting anything Paul might say to the contrary.
Normally Paul would be willing to let Rory go his own way, at least until he’s taken care of more immediate business. But Rory has a particularly rare gift, one the Elven king needs to have under his control in order to carry out his plan. Keeping Rory away from the fey who will use him, to death if necessary, means protecting him night and day, whether Rory agrees or not.
A Hidden Magic is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Fictionwise, All Romance Ebooks, Rainbow eBooks, and of course through my publisher’s site, Torquere Books. Torquere and ARe have all of my books for sale; the other vendors tend to have one or two. I have free fiction up at http://www.angiebenedetti.com/blog/ — check out the Pages list in the upper right hand corner, for the pages marked “Free Story.”