Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my great writing friends, and all time favorite people on writeblr! Quill is mostly a fantasy and sci-fi author, and shares excerpts from their WIPs in the universe of One Siren’s Soul – a fantastical adventure with pirates and sirens set in an alternate-universe, 1700s-era, Age of Sail Earth version of earth. It has a colorful cast of absolutely delightful characters, and one of the coolest magic systems I’ve ever seen, so I’m absolutely thrilled to share their work with you today!
Etta: Hello and welcome! First could you introduce yourself and talk a little about what you write?
Quill: Hello hello! It’s a lovely honour to be in this metaphorical interview room. You have wonderful virtual decor.
I’ve had more than a few names, but you can call me Quill! Half of the time, I almost couldn’t tell you what I write–most of my notebooks are filled with bits and bobs from all sorts of genres, writing exercises and random dream journaling that make not a lick of sense (sometimes not even to me). But of what I let see the light of day, my writing usually focuses on the fantasy or sci-fi genres, with worldbuilding that often begins as something simple enough and then that side of the brain that makes everything difficult kicks in and decides it should be super deep and complex. I definitely love to dabble in all sorts of things, but I have to say, something about that “magic is science and science is magic” aspect just holds me enraptured
Etta: Thank you for agreeing to do this! ahh the “magic is science and science is magic” approach to worldbuilding is my favorite and I’m so excited to hear your answers. Let’s start at the beginning, When you start developing a magic system, what’s your starting point?
Quill: Part of the fun is that I’ve found it’s almost always different depending on the project! But there is one thing all of my stories have had in common–they always start out simple. Or, uh. Were intended to. When I begin a project, I typically intend it to be a smaller one. Something quick, that I can get out some creative energy and ideas without taking away my attention from all of my other stories. But then, right from the get-go, thoughts start slipping into the brainstorm, and all of a sudden I feel the need to research the littlest thing to add to the fire’s fuel. So I suppose you could say they start by… not starting? But let’s say you actually want a magic system with a bit more depth to it. Research and experience is the way I go! Pick an interest of yours, exaggerate and connect the processes, and slap the word magic on there. There you go!
Etta: Oh that’s a big mood, and it’s so cool how once you have just one idea idea, it gets the ball rolling! So that leads into the next question: At what point in your worldbuilding/plotting/drafting process do develop the magic system?
Quill: “Develop” is really such a broad word. Pinpointing one specific time or stage at which it mainly occurs is difficult for someone who makes their outlines purposefully vague like I do! I develop throughout, sometimes even coming up with that “ooh, that would be neat!” idea nearing the end of the initial draft and having to go back and try and work it into the entire story. But let’s say I’ve finally conceded to my pushy creative brain and have decided to build a magic system beyond just the simple skeleton I was no doubt originally planning to use for it:
Quill: The overarching basic concepts sort of come to me initially. I don’t start working on a story idea unless I have some form of thought towards what the setting and worldbuilding could be. You need a launching point. But actually developing that concept follows the flow of the rest of the project being developed, really. I love when the world’s rules of a story are ingrained right into the plot–sort of like how a character’s personality majorly impacts their decisions and actions, the world should have some consequence on the plot, as well. I find the easiest way to do that is to create both at the same time, and that usually occurs during the outlining stage!
Etta: That makes a lot of sense! I couldn’t agree more about how both the character’s personalities and the world should have consequence on the plot. I know you do this really well in One Siren’s Soul – I’ve been following your WIPs in the OSS universe for about… wow, it’s been two years now! Anyhow, I’m absolutely in love with your worldbuilding in this series, so I wanted to pick your brain about it. Do you have any major inspirations for the fantastical/magical aspects of the story?
Quill: Life? Experiences! But that’s far too vague! When I was initially building the idea that would eventually become One Siren’s Soul, I was taking a wide array of science courses that delved deeply into the processes and existences of the natural world around us. My favourite topics kind of envelope that entire concept–the natural world around us: biology, geology, meteorology, a whole gosh darn bunch of physics. But really, I was that nerd that sat enchanted by their professor’s enthusiasm in their own field, hanging onto each of the weird facts that no one else would think matter. If I came across something that I really enjoyed, I’d plop it in my ideas notebook to be later put in the blender of brainstorming with all the other random ingredients. The whole big concept about how “magic” in OSS is actually a kind of particle smaller than an electron? Yeah, those are quarks in real life. Turns out humans know next to nothing about how quarks work. Oh look, what d’ya know, real life magic!
Quill: And the experiences OSS’ magic comes from don’t just include academic concepts. Quite a bit of it comes from media that I’ve experienced, as well! I plucked concepts from cartoons or books I loved as a kid and warped them to fit my own unique story. Like how magic always has “rules” that dictate what you can or can’t do? So many novels say you can’t turn back time–aside from plot convenience, why is that? One of my inspirations was trying to find a solid explanation for that!
Etta: I’m so glad that you had good professors that loved their own field, that can really make or break a class, in addition to all the wonderful ideas that can come from learning new things. And magic being quarks is such a genius idea!! I’m a chemical engineering major, and it never ceases to amaze me how much we really don’t know about our own universe. It’s so cool how you’re able to carry that over into your fiction. asking “Why?” is always such a great place to start. 🙂
Etta: So, since magic is a natural part of your world, how does that effect your characters on a day-to-day basis? Does it work its way into politics, religion, culture, etc, like the way atomic physics has influenced our world?
Quill: The interesting thing is, because of the way magic in this universe generally exists in two forms–inactive and active–and the only form that isn’t simply inert can be made solely by sirens, access to magic and therefore consequences of it only affect sirens and a very limited amount of humans on a daily basis (because people tend to greedily keep magic and knowledge of it to themselves ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).
Quill: To answer this question, let’s mainly focus on the siren world, yeah? Your simplest answer would be a great big YES with several check marks and a few thumbs-ups. Alas, a more complex answer could likely span three essay length papers.
Quill: So let’s keep it to one example! Many of a siren’s day-to-day tasks employ magic. Something as small as writing, for Forest sirens, involves manipulating the shape of a piece of macroalgae to “grow” into the form of the words! And then sirens magically graft these pieces onto a living pillar and can magically keep this flora alive far past its natural lifespan. Things can be charmed so they don’t rot, or they don’t get eaten by sea bugs. So information stays around a lot longer than it does for humans during this time period, and as a direct consequence of this and multiple other magic effects, sirens are far more advanced in their understanding of the world–which has a massive influence itself on all three aspects you mentioned, since more advanced knowledge leads to far more time able to be spent on things aside from just plain surviving.
Etta: Oh that’s a fascinating how many different applications there are! What are some limitations or consequences that the sirens have to deal with as a result of using magic?
Quill: Remember I mentioned time travel is a no-no in fiction? It is here, too! Well… sort of. Because I love to make things complicated, even the rules of magic are not so much “you can’t do these things” as they are “you shouldn’t do these things”. Everything in the One Siren’s Soul universe has loopholes!
Quill: These “rules” say not to do anything that alters one’s “soul”. There’s another whole explanation for what that is, but think of it as one’s non-physical self. Personality, knowledge, but also ability to create magic, that sort of thing. Do something to try and change those, you get yourself tethered to the physical world, and now when you die, you become an invisible, inaudible, untouchable ghost trapped for all eternity within a certain distance from whatever you’re tethered to. Have fun!
Quill: And ordinary magic use has consequences, too! Aside from whatever you just cast magic to do, when a siren uses up magic, it tends to make them feel tired, as if using energy. Think of magic creation like a metabolism-like process–regenerating magic takes a lot out of a siren!
Etta: “The codes are what you call guidelines, more than actual rules” haha. But WOW those consequences would horrifying. It’s good that nobody ever messes with that right?
Etta: that’s not ominous at all! ok, going in the opposite direction: What’s the coolest thing magic can do?
Quill: Ohh, there’s just so much open to magic-users who have a bit of creativity, it’s hard to narrow down what the coolest thing would be! I have to say a personal favourite, though, is how magic can be used to see history. I did say time-travel is one of those off-limits concepts, but witnessing the past while in the present is different! It’s all about those loop-holes, mate! Anyways, in OSS, objects actually have a kind of “soul” of their own, and everything that happens to them or around them has some minute effect on it. With a certain bit of cleverness and a lot of magic, a magic-user can actually “read” what happened to that object, and can even reconstruct it using illusory spells to look like it’s currently happening! Sort of like… a 360 degree video camera, but with any object ever.
Etta: that’s such a neat loophole! That would make archeology so much more interactive! So I know you mentioned before that there’s a bunch of different siren clans and that’s a long answer, but could you give us a quick overview of the divides between the human/siren worlds, or between the different siren clans for people who might not be familiar with OSS?
Quill: There is a lot indeed! Human/siren is fairly easy–humans are, well, us, and siren’s have magic and mainly stick to living underwater. Humans typically view sirens as brutish creatures nothing more than horrifying monsters, and although sirens know humans are a bit smarter than that, they’re still of a very similar opinion from the other side. The siren types are where it gets interesting!
Quill: Forest, Mist, Surge and Light–four major types, corresponding to the four types of magic each kind creates. Forest mainly involves plant or algae manipulation, but they’re also the most powerful siren when it comes to manipulating other types of magic (and someone else’s magic). Mist is your classic mythological idea of a siren: beautiful with a haunting, hypnotizing song, but they also can create mist to conceal themselves and the rocks where they wreck ships! Surge sirens are very shark-like and often the most blood-thirsty, with the ability to manipulate water currents. And finally, Light, the most mysterious and least human of all! They communicate via their magic that allows them to shift light wave direction, creating illusions and controlling their powerful bioluminescence!
Etta: That is fascinating how you’ve put different variations on a stock “mermaid” variety, and I love how their magic correlates to the type of siren! Especially since you mentioned the Forest sirens writing with moss. Do you wish you could live in the world you’ve created? What role would you want to fill?
Quill: If I were a human unaware of a siren’s existence, it more or less would be just like living in the early 1700s–not really something I’d like all too much for lack of amenities! But if I were a Forest siren, or lived in one of the rare human villages that actually lives in tandem with a Forest siren community, well… that would be extremely interesting, and wonderfully intriguing!
Etta: That certainly sounds like you’d get to learn a lot! You could have a lot of fun away from all the ~plot~ business haha What do you hope other people take away from your story? Do you have any advice for other writers about creating a compelling and immersive world?
Quill: That first question is one a lot of writers no doubt struggle with: when you write a story, you feel compelled to give it some hugely important underlying meaning, to speak to years beyond when your reader first picked up your book. Personally, what I strive for is to know someone enjoyed the story. I would love it ever more if it brightened their day, or week, or however long it stays in their mind! It would be awesome if there was something more to it than that, and honestly I probably subconsciously wrote in something with a deeper meaning, but I can’t think of one at the moment!
Quill: As for advice, well: start simple. Don’t begin planning your story immediately wanting for it to be as deep as Marianas Trench, yeah? Some of the best stories come with worldbuilding that doesn’t explain every minute detail–you’re always going to be left with some things that just don’t have a solid explanation, and that’s fine! (Besides, if they’re obsessed with your work enough, readers will find some way to explain everything.) Be proud of what you have, but most importantly, have fun. Onwards from that, watch your surroundings, think over your experiences, and see what you can shove in there to add all the more to your made-up universe!
Etta: I think wanting to entertain people is one of the most honest reasons to write, and you’re certainly doing a wonderful job of that! And that’s great advice as well, thank you so so much for sharing! last question! Where can people find you/your work? (feel free to link your tumblr, patreon, or any other relevant social medias!)
Quill: Ahh, thank you mate, that’s wonderful to hear. For those that are interested, for the most part I’m on Tumblr and Patreon! You can find snippets of my writing and posts about my worldbuilding and characters at @quilloftheclouds (https://quilloftheclouds.tumblr.com/), and if you’re so amazing that you feel like supporting me, you can find me at my patreon here (https://www.patreon.com/quilloftheclouds )! Thank you so much for having me, Etta, this was a wonderfully fun time getting me all nostalgic for the beginning days of my project.
Etta: Perfect! And thank you so much for your time!
Thank you so much to Quill for agreeing to be a guest on today’s post! I learned a lot during this conversation and I love the world of OSS, so it was a special treat to be able to ask all of these questions and get the detailed thoughtful answers with So Much background! If you liked reading about Quill’s magic system, I highly recommend going to check out the rest of their work and supporting them if that’s possible for you. The writing is beautiful and the story is fascinating and you won’t regret it. Thank you for reading!