Keeping It Hot: Firepots, Hypocausts, and Flames Underfoot

currently playing on my laptop: The Way It Will Be by Gillian Welch

Our ancestors were not always freezing their important bits off as some of us may imagine. They were actually rather clever.

Nomadic, semi-nomadic, and occasional trip-taking peoples did not move from place to place, starting a fire from scratch every time. They knew how awful it was to get that thing going. All the rubbing and twisting and striking and blowing. No, they kept a low-burning fire in (usually) a clay container called a firepot.


Using this baby fire, they created larger versions for cooking, warmth, and so on. En route, they held the firepot under an outer piece of clothing. Sometimes they set it by their feet when working at the loom or doing other duties that kept them away from the main fire of the household.

Around 1300 B.C., a king in Turkey heated the floors of his castle with an early form of radiant panel heating that the Romans improved upon. The Romans heated their villas and baths using what is called a hypocaust. Tile pillars the floors and allowed heat from fires to flow underfoot.


Ancient peoples in Korea developed yet another hot way to keep things less smoky and much warmer. It is called the ondol or gueduel system. You’ll have to look further into each of these systems as I’m giving you just a taste or a jumping off point here, but basically the house had a cooking fire at one end, a room with a raised masonry floor beside it under which the smoke and heat flowed, and then an outlet for said smoke. Looks a bit like a chimney laid on its side with a room built on top. Pretty great.


Writers, when you pen your next fantasy, consider how your people handle cold weather challenges. Do they use something similar to the above? Do they invent something new? Readers love details like this in stories as long as you don’t get too long-winded with it. Oh. That was almost a horrible pun. Ignore that. Carry on.

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Writing Fantasy: Language as Muse

currently playing on my laptop: Resurgam from the Poldark album

I’m in a reflective mood. There won’t be any of my usual joking. I’m all serious and solemn. Flinty clouds color the windows and the occasional wind takes the first of the fall’s leaves. If you’re up for humor, move on. Come back next week and I promise to be my normal, jovial self.

To inspire my writing today, I’m listening to languages that are either completely foreign to me and/or gone from the modern world.

The sounds speak to me of mountains that don’t look like my mountains.


Sparking consonants churn up images of battles born from slights I have difficulty understanding.


When I don’t understand the words, I’m forced to listen to the noises and the reader’s intonation. It’s a different kind of music, stirring emotion and color and scene. 

Here are a few of my favorite clips. Enjoy!

The opening of the Poetic Edda in what I believe is Old Norse

Al-Mutanabi, an Arabic poem (the art is beautiful in this one)

The Wanderer in Anglo-Saxon



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Worldbuilding: What does your world want?

currently playing on my laptop: I’m Shipping Up to Boston by Dropkick Murphys

I’ve noticed something. The stories that cling to me like dark, wildflower-scented honey are housed in living worlds.

Huh? you say. Alisha, you may need to shove your kid’s craft glue another foot away. It’s affecting your words.

No. Listen.

Many authors know to include sights, smells, and sounds in their stories. After all, drawing in readers’ senses helps them experience the sordid tale of the werefairy and her lizard king, the painful pages dedicated to the defiant misfit and his genius bestie, or whathaveyou.

But not so many authors shape their world into a fully realized character.

A world—be it fantasy or a version of this one we’re stuck in—should want.

Does it want to push its inhabitants? Or protect them? Does the story world punish strangers for interfering or welcome all who traipse onto its cotton candy shores?

Look at these pics. Age-old volcanic rock along a walkway. A door crowded with locks. An imposing temple with a moon like an eye looking down. An immaculate cathedral beside a bridge covered in messy tokens of memory and love. A canal swallowing a window’s attempt at light. Each photo shows an example of how alive the world can be.

(Near Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland. A door somewhere in Britain. The pantheon in Rome. Pont des Arts bridge in Paris. And, ah, Venice. *please tell me someone gets the Indiana Jones reference)

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Victoria Schwab (aka V.E. Schwab)’s A Darker Shade of Magic excels at giving fantasy worlds a want, a drive, a fully developed personality. Three Londons breathe life into this magical story. Red, White, and Gray.

I picked up the following world personality traits from her worldbuilding.

Red—juicy with color and magic, satisfying and yet mysterious, wants to fill you with magic and watch you become more dramatic, full of pomp and circumstance

Gray—dark and scrappy, challenges you with simple yet cutting realities of poverty and sexism, gives moments of choice and possibility

White—a fantastic beast with an ever-hungry maw aimed right at you, punishing, passive-agressive on some days, outright cutthroat on others, hurt and broken and angry, angry, angry

Your own story’s world should be just as alive. What does your world desire from its inhabitants? Or does it ignore them and turn on without a care? What does your world want?


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I Am Story

currently playing on my earbuds: Into the Sun by Bassnectar (I needed something really HAPPENING on this agonizingly hot day)

As both reader and writer, I love analyzing why I get so attached to certain characters. What about them feels true in me? It’s not just the connection that does it for me though. It’s a commonality that raises my chin, slicks a grin over my face, or tightens my throat.

unnamed by carnegriff

I’m going to tweet a handful of these connections—character plus what makes me FEEL them—and hope other readers and writers will take time to think over their own #IamStory. I hope they tweet theirs too, so I can play a sort of Guess the Book with them.

Here are some currently ghosting through my brains. I’ll write the books below so you can guess as you go.

I am Gansey. I believe in magic.

I am Sean. I respect the <wild> in nature.

I am Alina. I can be both light and dark.

I am Arin. I have big, big plans.

I am Sophia. I’m not waiting on anybody to do it for me.

unnamed-2 by thebestfeeling


The Raven Boys, The Scorpio Races, Shadow and Bone, The Winner’s Curse, Rook

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#AMWRITING Character Inspiration

currently playing on my laptop: Stay Crunchy by Ronald Jenkees


A couple weeks back, I frolicked my happy, history nerd self through the hallowed Great Hall at Westminster. While there, I of course allowed my writer brain to wander. I imagined what the characters from my current WIP would do if they were by my side.

The hammer-beam roof is crazy beautiful. Lengths of oak arch across the lofty space and terminate in detailed angel sculptures. The stone walls are marred with age-old cracks and pits. A colonnade of windows invited yellow light to spill over the floor where such legends as William Wallace and Elizabeth I spent some time.


My MC (let’s call her B) immediately wanted to know which ruler ordered the building of the place, how long they reigned, and who ran the place now, and whether or not we could meet him or her.



B’s friend/love interest H, well he went to every plaque and information stand, soaking in the historical detail and humming possible new songs to bring the stories to life.


U, B’s blonde and buxom pal, tried to climb the wall, aiming for the buttresses, and was hauled out for the attempt. She laughed and shouted out that she’d meet us later at the pub.


My MC’s quiet friend, L, stared at the large space and fought tears as her gaze moved the wooden angels. “So much happened here. I wish I’d brought flowers.”

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What would your characters do if they trailed along on one of your summer trips?

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Swords, Daggers, and More

now playing on my iPod: Coward by Hayden Calnin

I recently skipped happily through the vast wonders of the British Museum and the Tower of London. It was a breathtaking day and I’d love to share some of the goodies I saw.  First comes the photo, then the description. Onward!


Here are a lovely set of swords showing an early version of the leaf-shaped type of weapon. Swords of this time period in Hungary and beyond were usually decorated with geometric patterns. These are specifically from 1200-1050 BC, late Bronze Age, in Hungary.


This shield was made from a single sheet of bronze and served only as parade armor. It was no good for actual fighting, but made its owner look seriously fantastic when gallivanting about town pre-ceremony. Often things such as this were left in wet places, such as rivers and bogs, as offerings to the spirit world. This one was found in Wales and dates somewhere between 1200 and 900 BC.


I love this dagger. It had a very special metal hilt—odd for that period. This beautiful weapon, found in the River Thames, is most likely from 1700-1500 BC.


Ah. The Battersea Shield. I longed to see this baby in person for years. And it is just as lovely as I knew it would be. This was also a ceremonial piece and is a great example of La Tène, or Celtic, art found in France and Britain. The shield formerly had a wooden base behind it to offer further support, but that rotted away, leaving only the metals and the fine red glass. A lucky fellow found this in the Thames and it dates from 350-50 BC.


The Hallstatt C Swords are among the first iron swords made in Europe. They are delightful scary, don’t you think?


Here are some more examples of La Tène work. These swords were found in France and also (of course) the River Thames. These swords with their double sharp edges and specific length are made for slashing rather than thrusting.


This is an unusually small sword (who else has GoT’s needle on the brain here??) with a Viking-period hilt. The blade is decorated with crosses, vertical lines, circles, and a maker’s mark that indicates its quality.

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The Kirkburn Sword is probably the finest Iron Age sword still around. Animal horn, red glass, iron, and bronze decorate its hilt and sheath. From x-rays, experts can tell us the sword’s owners repaired the weapon several times and added many high-value details.


This Highland targe is a little beaten up, but I think it only makes it more frighteningly wonderful. What battles did it see before Londoners displayed it in the Tower?


The East India Company gifted this Indian Katar (dagger) to the Crown. It’s set up so you wiggle your hand between the supports and can thrust and slash as desired. Hindu religious scenes beautify the blade. If you squint hard enough, you can see Krishna playing a flute.


Experts aren’t positive from where this fantastic mace hails. It is either Chinese or Mongolian. Maces like this were as important for indicating rank as they were as weapons. They worked nicely against armor. Better than swords, really. This one boasts a silver overlay and is most likely from the 14th century. 

I hope you enjoyed our trip into the violent past! Next up—helmets. See you then!

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Worldbuilding: Don’t Walk All Over the Possibilities

currently playing on my iPod: This House Is Not For Sale by Ryan Adams

Travel feeds the worldbuilding in my fantasy writing. Walking through foreign markets, clicking pics in cathedrals completed in varying centuries, studying historically significant homes, strolling among cemeteries, and weaving through shops built on ancient bridges teaches me about what us crazy humans find important. 

Oddly, one of those things is the surface on which we walk.

I’m talking about floors. Yes, my friends, floors.

I love me some decorated, textured, symbol-drenched flooring. (This obsessions ranks just slightly lower than my one for doorknobs.)

Check out these from Vatican City.

This black and white mosaic surface boasts a merhorse that pulled a big grin out of this The Scorpio Races fan. Mythology is a recurring theme. It both explains the unexplainable and entertains.


(Don’t worry if you feel dizzy. I turned my photo for better viewing.)

And this colorful set up shows off braided patterns as well as the phases of the moon. Many would argue the floor, which sits in the very center of Christianity, is a nod to sun and moon worship. I’m not here to make such a claim, but I do find it beautiful and fascinating. To me, it seems the creators fashioned a piece that involved revered symbols from their past and their present into something all could appreciate from an artistic standpoint.


The next one, in which a bird of prey does what it does best, gives a scene that would have been commonplace to its contemporaries. The hunter and the hunted. It is both lovely and disturbing. Like life. Graceful scrolling and curling lines surround the rabbit, hawk, and tree, as well as the four-pointed early cross symbol. Death gives life and all that.


The last floor I’ll share is not from Vatican City, but from Paris, in the Sainte-Chapelle. One of the floors in this 13th century gothic masterpiece highlights nature and animals, both of which served as symbols for virtue, strength, and sometimes, various noble families. And yeah, that’s me on the floor, getting down and dirty with my obsession.

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Humans really seem to enjoy traipsing over symbols that reflect what we hold dear. The appreciation of life and its brevity, the forces of nature, God and gods and goddesses, mythology and legend. We enjoy patterns and use color in ways that please the eye.

When you dive into your writing, don’t skip on past what lies beneath your fantasy world’s feet. It may just tell your readers something fascinating about your characters’ values and worldviews. 

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