The Creole of Expedition: Part Two: Creating the Creole (Spiritwalker Monday 13)

As I worked on Cold Fire, I asked myself this question: Do I use a creole to represent the local language of Expedition or do I write people’s speech to be indistinguishable from Cat’s own?

There’s a lot more about how and why I asked and answered the question in Part One, which you can find here.

Ultimately I decided to use a creole to represent the speech of Expedition. At this point I had to ask myself a second question: Given that I am not a native speaker of nor intimately familiar with any of the actual Caribbean creoles spoken today or in historical times, how do I write a creole that will seem authentic within the text without being a clumsy imitation or offensive parody of actual creoles?

Let me first give a couple of quick definitions.

Oxford Dictionaries defines a pidgin as “a grammatically simplified form of a language, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. Pidgins have a limited vocabulary, some elements of which are taken from local languages, and are not native languages, but arise out of language contact between speakers of other languages.”

A creole, on the other hand, is “a mother tongue formed from the contact of two languages through an earlier pidgin stage.” (I would add “two or more” because that was certainly the case in Hawaii. Lest you wonder, Hawaiian Pidgin is a creole.)

A dominant culture: Taino.

My friend and fellow writer Katharine Kerr has done a great deal of research in linguistics (her Deverry epic fantasy series is a superb example of what you can do with language in a fantasy sequence that spans hundreds of years), so I asked for her advice. We both knew I could not possibly replicate any of the existing or historical Caribbean creoles and, in any case, given that the Spiritwalker Trilogy posits an extremely alternate history, the actual historical creoles would not fit regardless.

She suggested that I devise a creole unique to Expedition

Kerr wrote, “The dominant language in any creole is that of the dominant culture. What is your dominant culture?”

The city of Expedition was founded by a Malian fleet supplemented by Phoenician navigators and sailors. The fleet’s chief language would be a variant of modern day Bambara with some Punic loan words. But any trans-Atlantic trade and intercourse with Europa would be heavily influenced by the presence of Latin as the lingua franca (trade language) of continental Europa. However, because Expedition is a small territory on the island of Kiskeya (Hispaniola), the regional dominant culture in which it exists would that of the Taino because the Antilles (Caribbean) in this alternate universe is ruled by the Taino.

Therefore the first thing I decided was that a number of Taino words and phrases would be present as part of the every day language. These would be reinforced (insofar as I could) with elements of Taino culture that would have become part of the society of Expedition in that way cultures adapt, adopt, and blend to become something unique to a specific place. I could only pick a couple of things to give Taino names lest the plethora of new words become overwhelming for the reader, so besides words we already use in English that are of Taino derivation such as hurricane, hammock, and papaya, I highlighted Taino elements which would matter to the plot.

Taino words that are part of Expedition’s creole include:
maku (foreigner)
opia (spirit of an ancestor)
areito (dance, song, or festival)
batey (ceremonial plaza often associated with a local version of the ball game that was known throughout the Caribbean and Central American region). As an historical note I should mention that in the Dominican Republic the word batey came to mean the company towns associated with sugar cane fields and processing.
cemi (a sacred object)
behique/behica (shaman)(also used as meaning a fire mage)
cacique/cacica (chief; ruler; king/ female king of the same)
cobo (queen conch)
Some fish: pargo, cachicata, cajaya, anolis, carite, guinchos, barracudas
Bahama is a Taino place name. So possibly (likely) is Cuba (a shortened form of an older name), Habana, Boriken (Puerto Rico), and Kiskeya itself (the island we know as Hispaniola divided now into Haiti (from the Taino Ayiti) and the Dominican Republic).

The creole continuum.

However, the creole could not just be a peppering of words foreign to the English I was writing in. The creole as Cat heard it would have not just differences in vocabulary but differences in grammar, in word choice, and in the rhythms of its speech.

Fortunately through the miracle of the internet I had previously made the acquaintance of Dr. Fragano Ledgister, a professor at Clark Atlanta University and himself Anglo-Jamaican. In a similar way to Dr. Kustis Nishimura allowing me to pick his brains about the physics of cold magic and fire magic, Dr. Ledgister was exceedingly generous in answering my questions, offering insight both into language and into the Caribbean as he knows it, and it is really through his offices that I was able to develop the creole as it appears on the page.

As well, many details of the Caribbean are present because of things he shared with me, and while that is a subject for another post I will briefly mention that he introduced me to the many varieties of fruit commonly enjoyed on the islands that are not as well known elsewhere and which play such an important role in Andevai’s courtship of Cat.

Dr. Ledgister discussed the work of Mervyn Alleyne.

Alleyne’s classification of Jamaican English is that it operates at three levels: the hierolect, Standard Jamaican English, that differs from the international (British or American) standard primarily in terms of minor differences of vocabulary and usage. The mesolect, or generally understood creole, spoken by most people and heavily influenced by the standard language. The basilect, “di real raw-chaw Patwa” as my friend Hugh Martin put it, spoken by rural people and the less educated. Each level of language is going to be used in different social contexts.

Therefore there are three versions of the creole, an acrolect (the term that has replaced Alleyne’s hierolect), a mesolect, and a basilect.

Abby, on Salt Island, is a country gal. She speaks the basilect. She (and her brother, met on the airship) are the only people Cat encounters who speak the basilect. It is characterized by having a simpler grammar and more archaic elements. Besides including all the features of the mesolect, it drops linking verbs (except ‘shall’) and drops the “th” sound to “dat” and “di” and so on. Also, basilect speakers do not use past tense, only present tense (more on verb use below).

Almost all the people of Expedition speak the mesolect, the most common form that Cat hears. I’ll elaborate on its development below.

The acrolect is spoken by the most high status families in the old city of Expedition; technically, the Taino nobles speak the acrolect since they speak what might be termed “formal Latin”–that is, Taino who are not Expeditioners never speak in the creole. For instance, at the dinner party at townhouse in Expedition where General Camjiata is staying, the son of a Keita merchant house speaks mostly with “correct english” but ‘yee’ and ‘shall’ are still present in his speech.

People of Taino ancestry who are Expeditioners speak the creole the same as any other Expeditioners.

“Maku” (foreigners) are usually distinguished by not speaking the creole, although I  allowed a few usages to creep into the speech of foreign-born residents of Expedition, most commonly the use of “gal” for “girl” or “woman,” the use of “yee” for “you,” and the generic use of “shall” as an all purpose verb (more on those below).

The building blocks.

I wanted to write a simplified creole that would not be too difficult for readers to parse or too distracting.

Dr. Ledgister pointed out that

A creole has a streamlined grammar because it starts out as a pidgin or lingua franca before becoming a birth tongue. (Pidgins combining a language of rule and vocabulary and grammar elements from several subordinate languages encourages simplicity.) It’s also liable to contain archaisms because it will retain terms from when it was first formed (Jamaican speech still has words last used in standard English in the 17th century, like peradventure).

With his help I focused on four elements (besides the presence of Taino words) to highlight which would thus distinguish the Expedition creole (in its mesolect form) from the language Cat speaks:
1. verbs and verb tenses
2. pronouns
3. word choice (substitute words and archaisms)
4. speech rhythms


Simplifying grammar meant simplifying verb tenses. I need to emphasize that a simplified grammar used in a creole does not mean that the speakers of creole are ignorant, stupid, ill-educated, or demeaned; it is an element of the creole.

Dr. Ledgister: “One example of this is that verbs don’t decline. You have Abby say [in an early draft] “I does not like it that this man Drake, this maku, decides so quickly to make yee his sweet” where a Jamaican would say “Me doh like it dat dis man Drake decide so fas/ to make you his gyal” and a Trinidadian would say “Ah don’ like it dat dis man Drake decide so quick dat you his sweet girl.” My point here is that the verbs don’t decline.

In the final published draft, Abby says, “I don’ like dat dis man Drake decide so quick to make yee he sweet gal.”

I came up with a simplified set of rules for myself to follow as I wrote:

1. Present tense should use the infinitive in all cases (without the “to” unless the “to” is called for). So: “we have” “he have” “you have”
2. While technically it should be “we be” and “you be,” I use “is” (because it is easier for speakers of standard English to read).
“I am” becomes “I’s.” “You are” becomes “you’s.”
We and they “is” depends but is often “We’s” or “they’s.”
“It is” and “It was” are contracted into “’tis” and “’twas”
3. Simple past works pretty much as in English.

I could have done more with the verbs but I figured that was enough.


Originally I had this challenging and exciting idea that the basilect (as spoken by Abby) would use Bambara pronouns to reflect the Malian ancestry of the majority of the early settlers in Expedition. But when I tried to write it, it just became impenetrable.

Instead I adapted the Bambara ‘you’–rendered as “i” (ee) in English transcription–by turning “you” into “yee.” Yee is used throughout all forms of the creole, my one hat tip to Bambara pronouns. I left all other subject pronouns the same as they are in American English.

Object pronouns I left generally the same, although on a case by case basis and depending on the rhythm of the sentence, the object pronoun could be replaced with the subject pronoun.

The possessive is generally replaced by the subject pronoun — “his book” becomes “he book” except in the case of “I” in which the object pronoun “me book” is used.

Word Choice (replacement words & archaisms):

Replacements words (words commonly used differently than we might use them):

GAL: “girl” (as in old enough to have sex) or “young woman” is always replaced by “gal” which becomes the local equivalent of an all-purpose term for girls/women in the general ages of 15 – late 20s.

Older people will usually refer to young adult males (ages circa 15 – 25, depending on the age of the older person) as “lad.”  Young men refer to other young men as “men” and to young women their own age as “gals.”  Young women, the same.

SHALL: this is an all purpose verb used where appropriate and often in place of verbs like “would” “ought” and so on.
DON’ : replaces “don’t” or “do not”
In general I tried to avoid “do” (and Abby, using the basilect, never uses “do”) but sometimes I left it in because it got too convoluted or hard to understand or choppy to take it out.
Instead of THINK people generally use RECKON


People use some older locutions and/or regional words like “peradventure” and “arseness.”

In case you are wondering where “arseness” comes from, here a quote from our correspondence: “I just grabbed my copy of (Richard) Allsopp and was struck as I opened it by the Trinidadian term “arseness” for “stupidity” (or as most West Indians would say “stupidness”),  that’s worth using!” And indeed it was!


When I had all these things in place, the rhythm took care of itself.

The grammatical patterns, the pronouns, and the adapted words themselves began to structure how people spoke. Once that happened, the rhythm of their speech took on a distinctive flavor and inflection. By the time I had finished writing Cold Fire, the people of Expedition had a way of speaking that sounded “natural” to my ear and that, more importantly, did not have the same rhythm as the speech used by Cat and other Europans.


There is a lot more detail I could go into but this post is already quite long. One of the best parts about corresponding with Fragano Ledgister was getting to read his anecdotes. [If you ever get a chance, ask him about meeting C. L. R. James.]

Not everyone will agree that the creole in Cold Fire works, nor need they do so. But for my part, considering it as an experiment and as a challenge for me as a writer, I felt good about the final result. Whatever else and no matter how it holds up, I am glad to have pushed myself past what I was comfortable attempting to write. In certain ways, making the effort was its own reward.

The Creole of Expedition: Part One, Setting the Stage and Asking the Question (Spiritwalker Monday 23)

When I began writing volume two in the Spiritwalker Trilogy, Cold Fire, I knew the plot would take my protagonist, Cat Barahal, to the Caribbean. Because the Spiritwalker books are a version of alternate history, I also knew that the 19th century Caribbean in this universe would have a different power dynamic from the 19th century Caribbean in our own world.

For one thing, in the Spiritwalker world the Americas were not colonized by the European powers. (As it happens, the European powers as we know them do not exist.) Among many other consequences, this meant that the Taino and other peoples who populated the Greater Antilles were *not* devastated by disease, forced labor, slavery, and various attempts to erase and subsume their cultures. They continued to expand and thrive.

I had already established (if not explicitly in book one then in my own notes) that a fleet from the beleaguered Empire of Mali had reached the Caribbean two centuries before the main story begins and founded up a settlement. With these refugees from Mali came also Phoenician sailors and merchants, and later they were joined by Roman sailors and merchants and immigrants as well as by Celtic immigrants, Iberian immigrants, and other people who had left Europa for one reason or another to make a new life elsewhere. Clutches of trolls, the feathered people, had migrated south from their ancestral homelands in North America.

Together these settlers had established Expedition Territory as a small autonomous territory within (and with the permission of and through a treaty with) the greater Taino empire, which I decided had by this time absorbed all the islands greater and lesser of the Caribbean.

In the Spiritwalker world, Europans refer to the area as the Antilles rather than the Caribbean. I used Antilles in preference to Caribbean because I felt it would be more clear to readers that the cultures they would meet here would not be the same as the cultures many in the USA and elsewhere most often refer to as “the Caribbean.” The word Antilles has its own long history, and with a Latin (Romance language) based etymology and what is possibly an origination in old Iberia, it fit well enough the altered history.

However, it also made sense to me that, given the several centuries’ separation and with the slow sea travel of the time and with a different blend of languages present within Expedition, the speech of the people in Expedition would be noticeably different than the speech Cat had grown up with in her own home city of Adurnam.

I don’t talk about this in the text (and I realize that it is contradiction regardless because I am writing in English), but in Adurnam *theoretically* the basic Latin foundation of the common language is heavily influenced by local Celtic and Bambara dialects with elements of Phoenician blended in. Cat also speaks a modern version of the Punic dialect that would have developed in Qart Hadast (Carthage) and later adapted to Gadir (Cadiz) where the Hassi Barahal family has made its base for many generations, but I never had time to deal with her multi-lingual capabilities because it doesn’t really come up in the story. She would also have studied a “schoolbook” form of Latin which would be known among all literate people and which would be in general use for correspondence. This “formal Latin” is the foundation for the common trade language.

My assumption had to be that many people who live in cities speak more than one language and understand multiple dialects as a matter of course, and that villages who are governed by legal clientage to a mage House or princely clan will have at least some members of the village who can speak their masters’ language as well as communicate with outsiders and people passing through in a local pidgin version of the trade language. Only in the most isolated villages would you find monolingual people, and even then there would surely be peddlers who came through periodically bringing with them goods, stories, and bits and pieces of the outside world in the form of scraps of a more cosmopolitan language.

Regardless, once Cat reached Expedition it was clear she would hear a language that she could partly understand but which would sound very different to her ear. Even if I presupposed (as I did) that in the Antilles Latin had retained its place as the basis for the common trade language with a strong Phoenician secondary influence, the other secondary influencing languages would be present in different proportions. In Expedition, Celtic dialects would be weak while a variant of what is Bambara in our world would be strong. Additionally, because the dominant culture in the region is the Taino Empire, the language of the Taino would certainly have made its mark on the language that developed in Expedition even if it did not replace it, and many people would speak both the creole and “standard Taino” as a matter of necessity.

As I worked on Cold Fire, I had to face this crucial question: Do I use a creole to represent the local language of Expedition or do I write people’s speech to be indistinguishable from Cat’s own?

Using a creole would create several significant problems.

One, of course, is simply the extra effort for a reader who is not familiar with the creole to read and parse (for example) “dat is di way dem chat” as opposed to “that is the way they talk.” There is a certain amount of learning curve to get comfortable with the vocabulary, grammar, and rhythm of a creole, and that is a lot to ask of a reader.

Second, writing dialogue in a dialect or creole that one is not intimately familiar with is difficult to pull off and easy to do poorly. It may come across as insulting and appropriative, as awkward or demeaning. It may seem to some readers that the speakers of the creole are being made to look ignorant and ill-educated because they are not using grammar “correctly” (although they are in fact using a streamlined grammar rather than standard grammar because a creole has a functional grammar and is not a marker of ignorance or stupidity).

For these reasons, I was extremely hesitant to try to use a creole for the local speech in Expedition. Given that I am not a native speaker of nor intimately familiar with any of the actual Caribbean creoles spoken today or in historical times, how could I possibly write a creole that would feel authentic within the text and would not be disrespectful to indigenous speakers of creoles?

Set against those objections there rose answering responses.

Cat is a visitor to Expedition, not a local. What she hears will sound different to her ear. If I simply wrote people talking the same way she did, the story and her experience would lose much of the sense of being a truly different place from where she grew up. Instead of a foreign city, it would just be her city with a different backdrop. While that would be the safe choice, it would also be the blandest and weakest choice. And it would be disrespectful in a different way.

The actual historical presence and importance to literature, music, culture, religion, and history of the many Caribbean creoles must not be ignored. The Caribbean is a vibrant and vital cultural sea. To not even give a nod to the reality of the Caribbean we know in our world simply because it would be hard to do so seemed wrong to me. As disrespectful and appropriative as it can be to hamfootedly write clunky bad dialogue with precious dialect-isms, it seemed more disrespectful to me to erase the existence of creole altogether.

I knew that, regardless, Cat’s experiences in Expedition would be filtered through her point of view, her limited knowledge, and her presence there as a foreigner. That gave me a little leeway.

In the end, I decided I had to use *a* creole.

My answer was to use not an extant creole–which I could not pull off–but to create a creole for the Antilles of the Spiritwalker world that would echo and draw from the English-dominant creoles of our Caribbean but would have its own blend of borrowed words, rhythms, and grammar and one furthermore influenced by the Taino language and empire that surrounds Expedition Territory.

Does the creole in Cold Fire work? I don’t believe that is my question to answer. For some readers it will work; others will find it problematic or annoying. I did my best, that’s all I can say for sure.

In retrospect, looking back, I would do it again the same way. Not because I think I did it well (or not well) or even necessarily right but because I did what I felt I had to do to make the culture of Expedition feel like a real place with its own history and set of traditions, a culture that has developed over time because of the particular circumstances of its founding, setting, and development.


Link to the second part of The Creole of Expedition: Part Two, Defining and Creating a Creole (Spiritwalker Monday 13).

Doggerland, the Ice Age, & the Landscape of the Spiritwalker novels (Spiritwalker Monday 28)

Twenty thousand years ago Earth was in the grip of an Ice Age (technically we are still in an Ice Age, in one of the interglacial warming periods). Massive sheets of ice covered much of North America, northern Europe, and parts of north Asia and locked up so much water that the contours of the continents were different because the sea levels were lower. As  temperatures began to rise, the ice began to melt and the oceans to rise.

Back in the day, the island we call Britain was not an island but part of Europe. The English Channel did not exist, the Rhine River flowed a lot further south before it reached the Atlantic Ocean, and people lived and probably often thrived on what was then an expanse of land that now lies beneath the North Sea.







Image from ScienceDirect.

Coincidentally, the December 2012 National Geographic includes an article about this region, called Doggerland after the Dogger Banks, a shallow area in the North Sea well known to fishermen.

There is a fabulous map at the NatGeo site which I can’t post here, but you totally should go there and look at it (scroll up, for some reason the link deposits you at the end of the page). The graphic clearly displays how the expanse of land changes across time as the ice shrinks and the oceans rise. The shoreline in Spiritwalker falls somewhat close to what is shown here as the year 8000 B.C.E (Before the Common Era), although of course this mapping is educated guesswork.

When I “built” the landscape of Spiritwalker, I wanted enough ice that Britain would be attached to the continent but not so much that most of Europe would be too cold for extensive human habitation.

Europe’s Lost World: The rediscovery of Doggerland by V Gaffney, S Fitch and D Smith (CBA Research Report 160, 2009) provided a great deal of information by some of the scientists at the forefront of this research.

The book also provided a crucial set of figures depicting “Isopollen maps showing changes in vegetation over the postglacial” (in Europe). I needed to know how a late glacial landscape would differ from today’s European landscape in terms of climate zones and vegetation, not just shorelines. For instance, how far north could people farm? Would there be other geographical variations in vegetation zones? What could farmers grow? Some grains can grow in harsher conditions with shorter growing seasons; others need warmer, longer seasons. I never go into detail about issues like this although they are alluded to, and specifically if briefly mentioned in Cold Steel.

The city of Adurnam is actually in what is now the English Channel, south of Portsmouth, on the old paleolithic watercourse of the Solent River, more or less (despite being named after Portus Adurni, the Roman fort at what is now Portchester, a suburb of Portsmouth). The land controlled by Four Moons House lies east of London and Canturbury, in what is now the southern part of the North Sea but which in Spiritwalker is all land. For these landscapes I consulted references like the Journal of Quaternary Science, which has an entire journal volume dedicated to the Quaternary history of the English Channel.

I also wanted to know how melting would occur, how quickly vegetation could “migrate” north, and by what “mechanism” the trolls (the feathered people, that is, the intelligent descendents of troodons) might have survived into the “present day” of the novel while at the same time allowing for human migration into the Americas.









Image from USGS.

The land bridge between Asia and the Americas was generally ice free during the Ice Age due to climate variables. Called Berengia, this land bridge had a significant population of mammoths and other now extinct mammals. Meanwhile, however, the massive North American ice sheet for a long time cut off Berengia from the ice free southern part of the North American continent.

E.C. Pielou’s excellent After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America (The University of Chicago Press, 1991) is a superb resource for a fantasy writer. It taught me about Berengia’s ice free corridor, conditions in newly deglaciated landscapes, and how plants return to those zones, which they can do remarkably quickly under the right circumstances.

It also taught me about refugia, which are ice free areas, large ones like Berengia and then also small ones: nunataks are ice free zones at high elevations like mountaintops and coastal refugia are small ice free sections of “coastal plain in the lee of high mountains” (Pielou). Some plant and animal species survived in refugia, surrounded by ice and thus cut off from other populations for long periods.

Refugia and nunataks gave me a rationale for the survival of my intelligent descendents of troodons. Also, the existence of coastal refugia made it possible to suggest that humans, after crossing ice-free Berengia either on foot or by boat along the coast, had coast hopped down a string of coastal refugia to the ice-free lower portion of North America (as they may have done in our world). Meanwhile, the ice would have kept the two populations, the small but expanding feathered people population in the north and east and the small but expanding human population in the west and south, from meeting until rather late in this prehistory at which point contact between outlying groups would have brought caution, conflict, cooperation, trade, and eventually yet more complex interaction.

It was easy to find information on Europe and North America–the above referenced books and articles are not the only resources I used–and far more difficult to find information on how the Ice Age affected, for instance, the climate of the Caribbean, something I needed to know for Cold Fire. I did what I could with maps of the sea floor in the Caribbean to consider how the ocean currents would work since the islands of the Caribbean Basin are larger in this alternate landscape, I posited that the hurricane season would be shorter due to water temperature changes, and I winged it a bit.



Image from Nature

I dredged around to find what I could about world regional climate variation–for instance, although my map of the Eastern Hemisphere doesn’t extend that far south, I posit that Lake Chad in the West and Central Sahel is huge because of the climate making west and central Africa wetter–but mostly I focused on areas I knew I was going to visit in the story.


Why Cat Sews (Spiritwalker Monday 30)

(Note for the spoiler-wary: I have done my best to eschew spoilers, so if you haven’t read the books, there are vague references to plot herein, but I have tried to make this post basically spoiler-free except in the mildest way. If you have read the books, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.)


In chapter 1 of Cold Magic, our heroine Cat Barahal sneaks downstairs at dawn to return a book she’s not been given permission to remove from her uncle’s library. It’s clear she is well educated and from a family with a high degree of education for girls as well as boys.

While in the parlor, Cat notes that

(a)ll eight mending baskets were set neatly in a row on the narrow side table, for the women of the house–Aunt Tilly, me, Beatrice, her little sisters, our governess, Cook, and Callie–would sit in the parlor in the evening and sew while Uncle or Evved read aloud from a book and Pompey trimmed the candle wicks.

This sentence is meant mostly to describe the poverty of the household. I don’t go into detail about the arrangements, but the reader may guess that the family does not have enough money to heat and light more than one room in the evening.

Another way to show their straitened circumstances is to show that they sew almost all of their own clothing because they can’t afford to have their clothes made by others (the book is set before the era of inexpensive ready-to-wear clothing that can be bought off the rack in clothing stores). Mending is also a crucial part of economy, as well as refurbishing older clothes, re-purposing worn garments, and re-fitting them for a different person.

The mention of sewing, and how the family mostly makes their own clothes, also tells us something about the world, a time in which sewing, knitting, weaving, and other fabric crafts are not a luxury or a hobby but a necessity. People who could not afford bespoke clothing (made to measure by a tailor or dressmaker) had either to sew their own, buy used clothing at markets, or hope to obtain cast-off or stolen items by other means.

Sewing is mentioned in a second context as well:

Our governness, Shiffa, had been imported all the way from the Barahal motherhouse in Gadir to teach us girls deportment, fencing, dancing, sewing, and how to memorize large blocks of text so we could write them down or repeat them later.

Cat is portrayed as a sensible, practical girl who has learned a number of skills, some of which are specifically tailored to the role all children of the extended Hassi Barahal clan are expected to take up in service of the clan’s business, which is that of mercenaries, spies, and couriers. Fencing and memorizing text are skills clearly useful for spies and couriers. Fighting and spying are also skills that adventure novels highlight.

In book two, Cold Fire, Cat is thrown out into the wide world alone and far afield from the place she grew up. Basically, she finds herself with the clothes on her back and her sword as her only possessions. It would have been easy for me at this point to focus on Cat’s sword-craft.

Being confident with a sword is a useful competency for a young woman unexpectedly out on her own in an insecure and often dangerous world. Her ability to use the sword could become the most important and most visible of her skills as she continues her adventures.

But I did not want to imply that the skills most important to her ability to adapt to her new circumstances were solely or chiefly the skills that have long been culturally identified as “masculine,” such as fencing (fighting). I wanted to depict skills identified (in American society but by no means in all societies) as “feminine” as equally important to her survival.

Why? Because as a society we often tend to value the “masculine” over the “feminine.” “Masculine” is public and strong, “feminine” is private and (often) sexual, and frequently “feminine” concerns are defined as trivial and unimportant. Such definitions are cultural constructs, as is the relative value assigned to various skills and experiences.

For instance, is reading a “masculine” skill? In places and times when the literacy rate of men far outpaced that of women, or when boys were far more likely to be given an education than girls, reading was considered a masculine pursuit. It’s easy to forget that today, when one of the common assumptions in the USA today (again, this will be different in different places) is that girls somehow naturally tend to be better at reading than boys. This idea is pervasive now but in other times and places would have been considered radical or ridiculous.

What is Cat’s most important “possession?” What does she see it as? When Cat washes up in Expedition, she acts to secure the good will of the woman who has shown her hospitality by describing the skills she thinks would interest her host.

“Can I help in some way? I’m a good worker. I know how to sew, cook, read, and write. I must tell you, I have nothing, no coin, no possessions, nothing but my labor to offer you.”

Competency and willingness to work matter when it comes time for a character to adapt to new situations. Competent characters are more likely to adapt successfully regardless of whether their skills are culturally identified as masculine or feminine, of course, but as a society we tend to depict stereotypically “masculine” skills as more valuable or just tend to depict those skills at all, as if they are the only ones “people” will be willing to or interested in reading about.

In fact, a wide range of skills are necessary for societies to hold together, and in a fully realized world it is important to acknowledge more than a limited few.

In Cold Fire, Cat’s skill at sewing gives her a way to make a place for herself in her new circumstances. It gives her a bit of status and respect, and as well creates an interesting contrast to her old life because in the city of Expedition, sewing (as well as tailoring for both men and women) is a predominantly male profession. Additionally, she mends while conversing with other women (because hand-work like sewing is a job that can be done while listening and talking), and the ties she builds with other people are crucial to her success in being accepted in a new place.

Sewing helps her to survive.

As a character, Cat sews because in the cultural landscape and time she grew up, she would have learned how to sew. She sews well because sewing well is a challenge she relishes. Because she likes fashionable clothes that flatter her figure, sewing is the only way she has to fit herself in such clothing.

As a writer, I emphasize Cat’s sewing because it is true to the character and the time and  because it works well within the plot.

I emphasize her sewing because it allows me to give life to the world through details of daily life that intersect with the character and the plot rather than simply using discrete details pinned on like photos or backdrops. Sewing is a detail that helps to illuminate Cat: She is a very physical character, very active, and of course very talkative, but her facility at sewing also reveals that she is painstaking, likes to do things well, and that despite her talkative nature she is also a good listener.

Finally, I emphasize her sewing because I want to make a statement about the importance of all the different kinds of work that underpin human society, especially those that, in my experience, are too often brushed aside in the science and fantasy fiction that I love to both read and write.

Two Quick Questions re: (Spiritwalker Monday 31.1)

A quick additional post today to ask you all a question. Two questions, actually.


1. I’m finishing up my read-through of the copy-edited manuscript (the copy editor did a very good job overall). I’ll be sending it back to Orbit in a week and therefore will be making any final changes to the manuscript in the new few days.

In COLD FIRE I included an Author’s Note in the front matter of the book that briefly touches on the basic world-setting of the Spiritwalker Trilogy, lists the days of the week and the cross-quarter days used by Cat in order to clear up any calendrical confusion, and talks a little bit about the creole used in Expedition.

For COLD STEEL I’m cutting the discussion of the creole (although I will be writing a post about it that I will also post in the Extras portion of this site discussing the Antilles creole  of my alternate Earth).

Technically, because of the way the layout works, I have a little bit of space remaining in the Author’s Note (because of what I have cut). I don’t have to add anything, but I can add another paragraph or two if need be.

So I wanted to know if you had any specific (world-setting and thus non-spoiler type) question you wish was answered in the Author’s Note that will be found at the front of the book, a short paragraph or two that can be read before starting the novel.



2. I have a number of weeks to fill in for the forthcoming Spiritwalker Mondays. A few posts are complete or almost complete and I have as well a list of posts/excerpts I would like to write. Plus a short story or two.

But let me ask you: Is there a particular question about the Spiritwalker trilogy you would like to ask me? If so, do so here, and I will answer it as one of the Monday posts.

On that same vein, as a reader of these Monday posts, are you most interested in posts that directly relate to the Spiritwalker books or are you also interested in more general posts about writing and worldbuilding that may only tangentially reference the Spiritwalker books, such as the one I posted today?

I appreciate your input.

Maps (and miscellaneous)

1) Thank you to all who offered recommendations for light, humorous reading material. It is much appreciated. I’m going to get a selection of things and then see what sticks. Should be fun.

2) The winner of the copy of THE SHADOWED SUN by N.K. Jemisin was Kate P from the UK. Congrats!

3) There is a map of Europa in Cold Magic, and a map of North Amerike and the Antilles in Cold Fire. There may be a slightly more detailed map of Europa (or at least a part of it) in Cold Steel. Here’s your chance to request other map subjects, if indeed you have any. Is anyone interested in a map of the cities of Adurnam or Expedition?

I know that some love maps, some are indifferent, and some dislike them. That’s as it should be.

I personally like maps, because I’m geeky that way but also because I process information both visually and kinesthetically, and thus maps make it easier for me to negotiate certain kinds of plots. Yet with other stories, I don’t even think of wanting a map. I wonder if there is a kind of story that seems more to benefit by a map while others just don’t have any call for them.

There are narratives in which there are things about the world you can’t learn from the story but which you can glimpse if the book includes a map, so in that sense a map can add a bit of extra dimension to a world. One of the challenges of writing the Spiritwalker books in first person is that there is a lot of information about the world that can never get into the narrative because it isn’t something a) the narrator would reflect on much less know &/or b) that is necessary to the plot.

In world building as it happens on the page, I believe there is another way at looking at “mapping.” By this I don’t necessarily mean an actual drawn graphic map as a representation of a place, but a map of geography and society and history that is created in the mind of the reader as s/he walks through the story.

Secondary world stories (a term commonly used to describe stories that are set in worlds that are not this world) have to walk a fine balance. If you pile in too much detail, then it slows down the pace and drive of the story (I’m not immune to this writing flaw). However, if you put in too little detail, then the danger becomes that readers will mentally fall back to a “standard.” That is, they may read onto the world a kind of generic medieval-Europe (or British Victorian or whatever) setting regardless if that is the one there. If a story is set in a Europe-inspired setting, then this is not a problem. But if the story is not meant to be set in that landscape, the writer (I think) has to invest a little more detail and explanation to differentiate their world from the sort of world people so often expect to see in, say, fantasy novels. Of course, again, too much detail and the narrative bogs down. The endless cycle thereby continues: What to show? What to leave out?

How do you write or read through this balance?


World Building: The Map Is Not The Territory

My stories usually are conceived in a flowering of an image in my head in which I imagine a character in a situation that has some inherent emotion or urgency or conflict that engages my passion to explore it further. Why and how my mind generates these images I do not know.

The seven volume Crown of Stars series grew from an image of a youth walking on a path that led over a ridge as a storm rushed in from the sea and, on the wings of that storm, his meeting with a woman in armor who is a supernatural manifestation. He is dissatisfied with his dreary, ordinary life, and the grim warrior woman seems to him to personify the life of adventure which he believes he yearns for, but the bargain she offers and which he accepts is not truly a gift nor is it a good bargain for him or indeed for anyone. The setting and situation made it clear it was to take place in a European-medieval type of environment. Literally, that is the genesis point of the series. In the published novel, this scene occurs in the third chapter of the first book (King’s Dragon).

Sometimes the initial image I have doesn’t make it into the book in the exact form I first encountered. My conception of what later became Cold Magic started with two girls, cousins, seated in a classroom overlooking an entry courtyard. Through the window, they see a carriage arrive conveying a man who will change their lives in some unspecified way. I kept the academy, the cousins, the man, and them watching his carriage arrive through a window, but changed the venue of the meeting to their home. In the initial image, I knew nothing about the man except that he was arrogant and from the upper rank of their society, and the only thing I knew about the young women was that they loved each other with true loyalty. Their dress and the building and carriage revealed the setting to be in some kind of 18th/19th century milieu.

That’s where the STORY starts.

Once I open myself up to building more on that image, that emotion, that interaction, I start the world building process.

The world building process, for me, hauls in tandem with the  accumulation of plot, character, and incident that develops into the story. The two processes interact with and feed each other. One doesn’t happen alone. I don’t build a world and then stick a story in it. I don’t come up with a plot and characters and then construct a world around them. The elements are completely intertwined such that I could not pull those characters and that plot out of one story and insert them into another, because characters and culture and thus their actions and reactions exist in a specific map.

In fact, it’s true: With world building, I always start with a map.

However, by that I don’t mean a map drawn on paper or in the computer. I don’t mean a physical, graphical map.

I mean I start by figuring out how the people in this made-up world perceive the cosmos and their place in it. There will almost certainly be more than one “people” in the world, and each “people” will have a unique way of understanding the cosmos and their relationship to their gods (if they have them), the natural environment, their culture, and to other people both within and outside their own culture.

I have to understand this “internal map” before I can proceed.

One way I do that is by asking questions, as I discuss in this post.

Another favorite technique of mine is to draw a geometric configuration that represents a way of looking at, understanding, unifying, or embodying a culture’s understanding of the cosmos. Many sacred buildings can be understood as physical embodiments of a culture’s understanding of the spiritual and sacred underpinnings of their world. So, for instance, I couldn’t move forward with writing Crown of Stars until I visualized the world and story. I ended up seeing them as two interlocking triangles. The three points of one triangle represented the spiritual and magical aspects of the world while the other triangle represented physical aspects of the world and story.

Because a visual structure appeals to the way my brain organizes information, I like sketching out a geometric representation, but that is just something that works for me. There are all kinds of ways to think about and relate to these concepts, nor is it necessary to think about them at all if that is not how the writer creates story. I mention this because I don’t want to imply that this is how one must or ought to proceed. I’m simply discussing how I personally create my worlds.

At the point at which I have a basic conception of the basic cosmology of the world (however artificially defined it may be), then I will usually draw a physical map of the terrain, the major landmarks, and population centers. Over the course of developing the story and writing the first draft, I will add to this graphical map.

But to paraphrase by quoting Alfred Korzybski, the physical map is not the territory in which the story takes place.

I don’t “start with a map” by placing mountains and rivers and cities on a piece of paper because physical landmarks offer only a partial understanding of a world. A physical map is by definition incomplete and circumscribed because it gives no insight into the mental and emotional and spiritual processes of the characters and the cultures in which those characters live their lives.

I’ve written about this kind of map-making here. The main point I want to draw from that post, in relation to this post, is how careful we have to be about the concept of a graphical representation—the physical map—as being objective. To quote Russell Kirkpatrick: “Maps are not value-free representations of the world.”

This is why the map I start with is the internalized map.

Every character in the story has an internal map through which they measure, comprehend, and navigate the world they live in. Their maps won’t be the same as every other character’s, and they won’t be the same as mine.

That is possibly the most important point.

To understand how “the peoples of my world” look at the world they “live in,” I have to move outside my own narrow range of experience. To a fair degree, I never can, but with conscious effort I can attempt to widen my view and shrink my limitations bit by bit and piece by piece. If I don’t think about the unconscious ways in which my understanding of the world is limited by my upbringing and its setting, and by my own cultural expectations and experiences and perceptions, then I will bring those unexamined assumptions into my world building (and I do indeed do this all too often despite my efforts not to).

I don’t write fantasy and science fiction only to be a mirror to my own experience of the world, even if my own experience strongly influences everything I write.

To quote myself, from the article referenced above:

If a place isn’t on YOUR map, the map in your mind of what matters about the world you want to write about, then you the writer can certainly not go to places you’ve never thought about, places you think don’t matter enough to warrant notice. Matters that aren’t visible to you.
I believe that it is crucial to pause and reflect on what may be invisible in your own personal map as well as the map you are creating.

So, yes, early on in the process I will draw a cartographical representation of the physical world. Yet for me, the most important “map” is bigger than that. It’s not flat, it’s multi-dimensional: A physical map intersects with this internal map, and these conjoined maps influence and are influenced by the architecture of the narrative as it unfolds. I cannot separate these three things as I write.


Recently there’s been a great deal of discussion on the topic of whether women did actually exist in “historical times,” by which I mean to say that all too often “common knowledge” of what women’s roles were in historical periods is a mythology. If writers and readers base their expectations of women in fantasy fiction on these erroneous stereotypes, then not only is our literature and our reading the poorer for it but it is also getting it wrong.

Today I offer a guest post by Australian writer Tansy Rayner Roberts on this very (and very important) subject.



Looking for the Women (in Ancient Rome)

by Tansy Rayner Roberts


I was inspired to write this after Kate’s post about looking for women in historically-based fantasy worlds.

It’s long frustrated me that a great deal of fantasy fiction in the long tradition of the genre underestimates women.  In particular, I am tired of worlds which are supposedly ‘based on medieval history’ and yet seem to be under the impression that women in the Middle Ages only turned up when a hero needed someone to marry, or to pour him a drink.

And I’m especially, especially tired of any attempts to interrogate the gender politics in fantasy fiction being shut down with the argument: it’s based on real history, so the sexism is AUTHENTIC.

I’m not going to lie to you.  Every historical period has been unkind to women, up to and including our own.  But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t complex and interesting possibilities available to women of all eras, in between stirring the turnip soup and being oppressed.

My favourite fantasy fiction is fed by history, by the nitty gritty details of things that really happened, people who had real lives, tossed around with magic because that automatically makes things more fun.

I wanted to bring my knowledge of Ancient Rome to what Kate has already talked about, largely because I think we can all take a rest from pure Anglo medieval-inspired fantasy for a decade or two, but also because Rome is what I know best.

Ancient Rome is packed with the types of historical issues we see people running up against when trying to write non-sexist stories set in mostly-sexist societies.  In Rome, there was a very clear division between the public and private spheres.  Sadly almost every historical document that survived to document their society was kept because it related to the ‘obviously important’ public sphere in which men were dominant.  Most of the sources we have about private life are conveyed in the words of men, such as the Letters of the Younger Pliny.

But while women had no technical power in that public sphere (which mostly consisted of military issues, senatorial politics and toga parties) they had immense power behind the scenes.  They had their own religious rituals which were considered just as important to the well being of the state as the public, mostly-male rites.  For a long time, scholars assumed women’s religion was less important because they weren’t allowed to make blood sacrifice, and it’s only recently that scholars have gone, um, maybe we only assumed blood sacrifice was more important than, say, baking the sacrificial cakes, because the men were in charge of it?  Oops.

Women of all social levels ran businesses, owned property and slaves, and moved freely around their local city or, if they preferred, the Empire itself.  Even aristocratic women could do those things, though they were more likely to have male relatives who wanted to control them.  The older a woman got, the greater her status.  Divorce was easy to achieve (as long as you weren’t too emotionally attached to your children, one hell of a loophole) but there was special social status granted to a univira, the rare woman who had only had one husband in her lifetime.

We know that Augustus, the first emperor, brought in legislation to try to control women, a little under two thousand years ago, and that tells us a lot about how unruly they had become!  In particular, he brought in a law to force women of the upper classes to remarry within two years of being widowed (and one year of divorce).  This was somewhat devastating, as divorcing your husband or becoming a widow had previously been the best way for  a woman to achieve independence.

Still, we have some great examples of interesting women in Roman history, who had rich and fulfilling and complex lives, despite the patriarchal society in which they lived.  Such as:

The word ‘virago’ was supposedly coined by Octavian (later the emperor Augustus) to insult his rival Marc Antony’s wife Fulvia.  It means ‘women who acts like a man’ and referred to the fact that Fulvia joined her husband on military expeditions.  She wasn’t actually wielding a sword or wearing armour (not that I’d put it past her, she was a feisty lady), but it was apparently unusual for a woman to prefer to rough it in a tent with her husband rather than stay home in comfort with her children.

Having said that, we know of several other women who did the same thing, including Agrippina Major (the granddaughter of Augustus) who raised her children in military camps so they could be near her their father (and so they would all be far from the dangerous politics of the capital).  Later, the Empress Faustina Minor discovered that following her husband to war allowed historians to trash talk her reputation (though the accusations that she had affairs with gladiators had little to do with her own reputation and everything to do with how much the Romans hated her son, the Emperor Commodus).

While having a husband was the key to many social successes and honours in Ancient Rome, it was not always compulsory.  The Vestal Virgins were the among the highest status women in the city.  While there were some scary stories circulating about what would happen to a Vestal if she broke the chastity rule (buried alive for a start) they were nevertheless trusted to regulate that chastity themselves.  They were not shut away or guarded by eunuchs as some 1960’s movies might have you believe!

In fact they moved through the city in freedom and comfort, attended dinner parties, performed rituals, and took part in several business-related duties including the receiving, archiving and dispensing of the city’s legal wills and other documents.  They often had political influence, and had the same status in a law court as a man – which is to say their word had greater legal weight than any other woman of the time.
After thirty years of service (they sign up as children) each Vestal would be released with a generous dowry, and could either live independently or choose to marry.

One of my favourite historical characters (only partly because of the marvellous historical novel written about her, The Course of Honour by Lindsey Davis) is Caenis, the mistress to the Emperor Vespasian (he who built the Colosseum).  Caenis’ story is fascinating because it goes against everything we think we know about Roman society and their class system, and what women were allowed to do.

Caenis began as an imperial slave, serving Antonia (niece of the Emperor Augustus, mother of the Emperor Tiberius) as a personal secretary.  She appears to have had an eidetic memory, and served her mistress dutifully through a time of great political scandal.  When she was freed, she took the name ‘Antonia’ as was tradition.

But while freedwomen could run businesses and own property, one thing not allowed to Antonia Caenis was to marry above her station.  Her love affair with the ageing general Vespasian thus was unlikely to be officially sanctioned by the state, but the class divide broadened when he became the surprise Emperor of a new dynasty.  Luckily he already had two adult sons.  He and Caenis lived happily together in the imperial quarters, she providing him with great advice and wisdom, until her death.

Even in a world where the rules of marriage and social status were quite complex and technically restrictive, love and smarts could beat them all into the ground!
There are so many other specific women I could have talked about – the further they got from the city of Rome itself, and the lawmakers who thought it was okay to dictate what women should do, the more likely they were to take all kinds of freedoms for themselves that the law didn’t actually allow for.  Take mixed bathing – the public baths were supposed to have separate areas for men and women, but half the time they all jumped in together, with all the social ramifications that might imply, regardless of whether or not the current Emperor though it was a good idea.  In smaller towns we even have women running local councils, or breaking with all manner of traditions expected of ‘good’ Roman matrons.

Then there’s the time that the Emperor Augustus gave a lecture about what men should demand of their wives, with all the senators laughing up their sleeves because they all knew that the women of his family had other opinions on the matter.

If we learn nothing else from Roman history, it is that there have always been strong-willed women who get their own way, no matter what the law or the ideals of the society say about it.  Personality can rule over technicalities, and even a sexist society can produce some amazing, capable women, those who work with the system as well as those who work against it.

Too often, female characters only get celebrated in fantasy fiction if they are behaving like men, or taking on traditional male attributes – the kickass lady in armour, the sorceress who can zap you if you say the wrong thing, and so on.  But while I’m all for putting women in (sensible) armour and throwing them out on the battlefield, I also would like to see greater use of other female roles in fantasy – of women’s brains, in particular.  The further back you go in history, the smarter women had to be in order to exhibit and use the power they had.  So let’s see more of THAT in fantasy.

If a story starts with a maiden, let’s not assume that she has to get locked in a tower.  There are alternatives…



This post was written by Tansy Rayner Roberts for her Flappers with Swords Blog Tour.

Tansy’s award-winning Creature Court trilogy: Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts, featuring flappers with swords, shape changers, half-naked men and bloodthirsty court politics, have been released worldwide on the Kindle, and should be available soon across other e-book platforms.  If you prefer your books solid and papery, they can also be found in all good Australian and New Zealand bookshops.

You can also check out Tansy’s work through the Hugo-nominated crunchy feminist science fiction podcast Galactic Suburbia, Tansy’s short story collection Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press).  You can find her on the internet at her blog, or on Twitter as @tansyrr.

Helen Lowe Guest Post Giveaway Winners

Last week, Helen Lowe wrote a lovely guest post on World Building, which included a giveaway both of her books and mine.


The winners were chosen by a random number generator from the comments both on wordpress blog and on livejournal (where it is mirrored).


The winners are:
– TeriC wins the Heir/ Crossroad 1 or Spiritwalker 1 set
– Jeff wins the Gathering / Crossroad 2 or Spiritwalker 2 set

Contact me to collect your books!

Congrats to the winners and our thanks to all of you who left comments.

Also, my thanks again to Helen for joining us.

Looking for women in historically-based fantasy worlds

This post is slightly adapted from a conversation I held with Ken Scholes on (now defunct) Babel Clash in September 2009. I was inspired to dig up the old post from a reference to it made in another September 2009 post by Aliette de Bodard on Female protagonists in historical fantasy, which she had reason to refer to today on Twitter. de Bodard’s post is just as fresh and important today as it was then, as alas this subject comes up with discouraging regularity.

I wanted to talk about how writers can try to find a way out of the assumptions they may be bringing to the table when deciding whether and how much to introduce female characters into fantasy novels whose settings are based on a version of the past. That is, they may be historical fantasy or secondary world fantasy derived from research into our own historical past.

Even in patriarchal societies of the past (and present!), women who might otherwise have been banned by custom or law from partaking in the public life of politics, power, learning, work and so on still had personalities. I can’t emphasize this enough. People–even women!–have personalities regardless of how much or how little political power they have. People can live a quiet life of daily work out of the public eye, and still have personalities. Really! They can still matter to those around them, they can matter to themselves, and they can influence events in orthogonal ways that any self respecting writer can easily dream up.

Furthermore, with a little careful study of history, one discovers that women found ways to accomplish plenty of “things” big and small, personal and political. Maybe they did it behind a screen, or around the corner, or in the back room or in a parlor, or ran the brewery they inherited from a deceased husband, but they did all kinds of stuff that was either never noticed or was elided from historical accounts.  So much of our view of what women “did” in the past is mediated through accounts written by men who either didn’t see women or were so convinced (yes, I’m looking at you, Aristotle, but you are but one among many) that women were an inferior creature that what they wrote was not only biased but selectively blind. Even now, in “modern” day, so much is mediated by our assumptions about what “doing” means and by our prejudices and misconceptions about the past.

In reality, while women in many cultures worldwide had (and have) fewer legal rights as well as often living in constrained or deplorably oppressive circumstances, they still had (and have) minds and hands and hearts. Weird about that. Women have found ways to use their minds and hands and hearts, because people do. They may even have been happy and productive and respected.

In the last few decades, historical scholarship has been expanding the scope of who and what merits examination. Historians have excavated the lives of women so long overlooked and ignored.

Writers writing stories that deal with power politics in the age of palaces would do well, for instance, to check out a book like Servants of the Dynasty:  Palace Women in World History, edited by Anne Walthall.  This cross cultural study of palace women in a number of pre-modern societies worldwide does not sugarcoat or distort the realities of women’s lives, but it also illuminates the many misconceptions people may have about women in such societies and in such specific circumstances, awake within the halls of power.

The scholarship on women in medieval Europe is extensive. I own too many titles to list them here, but one might start with a book like Singlewomen in the European Past: 1250-1800, edited by Judith M. Bennett and Amy M. Froide.

I have fewer non-European studies that specifically deal with women’s history, although I’m expanding my library as I find new (to me) material, books like Women Writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel, edited by Esi Sutherland-Addy and Aminata Diaw, and Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas by Barbara A. Mann.

This kind of reading will open up possibilities for writers who may be having trouble figuring out where women “fit” into epic/high fantasy, but they’re so very valuable for anyone, really. There are other places to look as well, sources well outside the hierarchical boundaries of academic scholarship.

The key, I suspect, is wanting to open the door.