Greetings, readers! If you’ve read the first part of this four-part Weird Luck interview with our press partners Andrew M. Reichart and Nick Walker, you’ve read a little bit about the origins of the concept. (And if you haven’t, you can go read it in last week’s post.) In this week’s installment, they discuss worldbuilding, the expansiveness of the WL multiverse, and collaborative possibilities.
— N.I. Nicholson
Ian: I’ve read various materials and guides to world-building, including more recently N.K. Jemisin’s Worldbuilding 101 seminar notes. With that in mind, what approaches did you take to world building when it came to Weird Luck?
Andrew: Well, I reckon our story’s not typical. Our shared multiverse has continuity going all the way back to the tabletop roleplaying games and stories we collaborated on in high school. In fact, I can trace narrative continuity back to the first D&D game I ran when I was 12. It all ties in, and we’ve invented dozens of worlds along the way.
I was interested in alternate worlds ever since I read the Narnia books and Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stuff. So that sort of interdimensional travel was a staple of my RPGs in junior high and high school. We co-created the Reality Patrol in high school. Characters have appeared who go back that far — I won’t name names, but Nick might want to. In any event, our world-building has been an organic process over decades, drawing inspiration from innumerable sources.
To point to a few specific sources: my City of the Watcher trilogy is a bit of a satire of portal fantasy, indicting it as a colonialist trope. “Ooh, primitive world in crisis, I the White Man from Earth will set things right for you and reign over your poor primitive selves!” As we say in California, “Yeah no.”
What we see of the magical world of Kaios is awful. An oppressive military dictatorship, a racist class hierarchy, a genocidal war against tribal peoples, and a blatantly complicit middle class (this last item being a critique we don’t see nearly enough of in world-building, IMHO). A hierarchy well deserving of destruction.
However, there’s also an indictment of revolution in the trilogy, insofar as (spoiler) everything goes fucking awry. This isn’t because I oppose, per se, militant self-defense against the status quo up to and including its violent destruction. I just think it’s realistic to acknowledge that, unlike the heroic battles of good vs. evil in epic fantasy, in real life this is always an awful process, likely to fail, and almost certain to instate a new status quo that is also awful.
Changing gears to our most recent example of worldbuilding: many of my contributions to the city of Tal Sharnis are rooted in recent real-world political concerns of mine. Patterns of gentrification & displacement, abetted by capital, city government, and police violence. The dehumanization that underlies policing, incarceration, and punitive models of “justice.” Pitfalls of grassroots organizing, including disorganization, infighting, co-opting, scenesterism, bad strategy, and ineffective tactics. Organizing against small-scale fascist groups which on the one hand may pose credible and growing threats, yet whose ratio of “spectacle” to “actual harmfulness” is the inverse of the dull yet massively deadly status quo. Etc.
Things like these get morphed in their translation from our world into Tal Sharnis, taking on a flavor and a life of their own as they draw influence from the local conditions. So, as an example, the True Guardians of Bifrost are earthling-supremacist, not white-supremacist. Which has its own unique implications, since the two are not deeply analogous. My intent is not to create direct satire of things in our world, as a simplistic 1:1 substitution. On the contrary, I present analogies as tools for thinking about how power operates, how the status quo preserves itself, and what sort of political effort actually results in substantive change, rather than just tokens.
Nick: Yeah, we’re definitely atypical. We’ve been collaborating on the shared worldbuilding project that evolved into the Weird Luck saga since we met in the Princeton High School art room when we were both fifteen. And, as Andrew said, it all ties in — every single bit of fiction and art and gaming we’ve done, since we met and in some cases since before we met. Andrew can trace narrative continuity back to his first D&D game, and I can trace the genesis of Agent Sojac back to a peculiar recurring daydream I had when I was in elementary school.
We ran some epic roleplaying games in our late teens and on and off through our twenties. Running roleplaying games — the old-school, tabletop, pencil & paper kind — is something I highly recommend for anyone doing worldbuilding. Readers are going to poke at your fictional worlds to see if they have real depth and coherence, and one of the best possible ways to prepare for that is to invite a gang of roleplaying gamers into your world as beta-testers, to poke at it first.
I don’t recall any moment where either of us said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if all these game worlds and stories and stuff we’re creating all interconnected as part of one intricate multiverse.” It was just somehow obvious from the start that that’s what we were going to do, that anything we created should be integrated into a single ever-more-complex canon. The more interconnections, the more it suited our synchronicity-oriented aesthetic.
Andrew and I think very differently from one another. Not in the sense of disagreeing, because we largely agree as far as opinions and whatnot go, but in the sense that his mind works very differently than mine. Or mine works very differently than his? At least one of those statements is true. And that’s an asset, because each of us tends to focus on different aspects of the worlds and settings and characters and stories we’re building.
Andrew’s got a strong focus on the sociopolitical, and I’ve got a strong focus on the psychological. Andrew has a cinematic imagination —his books really demand to be made into high-budget action movies. I have a mind that can keep track of enormously complex continuity and how it all fits together, and I get fascinated by the intrigues and chemistry between characters.
So Andrew will come to me with a vision of some story he wants us to tell, something that sounds like a pitch for a really interesting action movie. And I’ll immediately see how it can be tweaked to make it fit in perfectly with all of our existing narrative continuity, and a dozen ways that we can create connections between this story and other stories. And so the canon grows, ever more rich and complex and ever more cohesive and intricate in its interconnections.
Readers are going to poke at your fictional worlds to see if they have real depth and coherence, and one of the best possible ways to prepare for that is to invite a gang of roleplaying gamers into your world as beta-testers, to poke at it first.
— Nick Walker
In our collaborative novel, Insurgent Otherworld — which we recently finished publishing in serial form on Patreon, and which we’re about to start re-serializing in weekly installments on the Weird Luck website so everyone can read it — you can really see our styles interacting and complementing one another. Andrew’s parts of the book are full of the street-level politics of Tal Sharnis: the warfare between fringe groups like the True Guardians of Bifrost and the Unravelers Curse-Coven, the police brutality of the Monster Hunters, the grassroots resistance to a gentrification plan by a predatory development company. My parts of the book deal mostly with the way the leadership of the local bureau of the Reality Patrol responds to these events in the city, and how Cordy and Bianca each find ways to fit in once they’re transferred to that bureau to help respond to those events, and the contrast between Cordy’s naive enthusiasm and Bianca’s devious manipulations. And by the end of the story, Andrew’s threads of it and mine come together seamlessly.
I may have drifted more into talking about our collaborative synergy than about worldbuilding, but for us those may not be clearly separable.
Ian: Wow. When I started reading the Insurgent Otherworld installments on Patreon, I could maybe sense a little bit that what was happening with Weird Luck was a sort of long-term collaborative synergy that’s been in the works for several years. As an outside observer, it seems to me like a rather organic process. I also loved how RPing, particularly D&D, factored into Weird Luck’s backstory and love your suggestion to writers to allow roleplaying gamers to beta-test their fictional worlds.
Here’s my next question: How does your creation/expansion of the Weird Luck universe encourage crossovers/linkages between Weird Luck and other universes (Verity Reynolds’ Non-Compliant Space, for example)? In other words, how do you foresee that Weird Luck’s structure and artifacts might allow like-minded authors to forge stories that take place in its universe?
Andrew: Well, the simple answer is: there’s a hypothetically infinite multiverse, with an unlimited number of ways to get from one world to another. There’s tech and sorcery and magical beings — in fact, somewhere there could very well be any tech or magic that anyone might wanna come up with. Does some new idea destabilize the status who? Not a problem; there is no real interdimensional status quo. Even the Reality Patrol varies from one place to another, sometimes so much so that branches may be at odds or even unrecognizable. The multiverse is a chaotic mess.
So, anything can be “canon.” And frankly Nick and I can probably integrate anything… ’cause we’ve been doing exactly that for decades. We’re masters of retcon (especially Nick truth be told). Hell, the party in my eighth grade D&D game had a frickin’ spaceship. That’s… not exactly in the rules, haha.
Nick: We’re excited about other authors and comic creators and such referencing and playing with the Weird Luck canon, as long as they check in with us about it first and become collaborators rather than appropriators.
At present, Verity Reynolds, Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon, and some mysterious person named N.I. Nicholson all have open invitations to explicitly tie their stories in with the Weird Luck canon. That might happen in a small way — just small mentions and references, like if a character in a story by one of those authors says, “Don’t do that, you’ll bring the Reality Patrol down on us” — or it might involve more elaborate crossovers. Either way, we have understandings with all three of those authors that their fictional universes and ours are part of the same big multiverse and canon. We’re looking forward to bringing even more creators into this conspiracy.
Verity Reynolds is the first author with whom we’ve started collaborating on significant crossover stuff, where characters from her stories come into ours and vice-versa. I love that sort of thing. It definitely requires some discussion in advance — but that’s a feature, not a bug, because discussions of that sort are fun and tend to generate all sorts of story and character ideas for all the authors involved.
We’ve already referenced Reynolds’ Non-Compliant Space canon in small ways in Weird Luck stories, like Cordy’s brief mention of Niralans in one of the letters she writes in Insurgent Otherworld. Very soon, Autonomous Press will publish Spoon Knife 3: Incursions, the third volume of the annual Spoon Knife literary anthology. Andrew and I are the editors of this volume, and we’re each contributing a Weird Luck story to it. Verity Reynolds’ short story in Spoon Knife 3, entitled “Kill Your Darlings,” features a Reality Patrol agent as one of the central characters and is the first major crossover story between her Non-Compliant Space stories and the Weird Luck saga.
I also have a Weird Luck novel in the works, featuring Bianca, which because of my other writing commitments probably won’t be completed and published for another six or seven years. But when it finally appears, it will include an appearance by Aqharan Bereth, one of the major antagonists in the Non-Compliant Space stories. My conversations with Reynolds about Bereth’s history with Bianca generated all sorts of fun ideas about both characters. So we’re looking forward to more of that sort of thing, with Reynolds and other authors.
Definitely important to check in with creators if you’re going to use any of their actual characters. But the Reality Patrol is huge — one could put Reality Patrol agents into any story and they might be from a branch of the Patrol that operates somewhat differently from the branches you see in the stories by me and Andrew.
Somewhere down the road, I’d love to produce some anthologies where we invite a bunch of authors we know to write stories explicitly set in the Weird Luck universe —say, a book of Reality Patrol short stories written by half a dozen different authors. But we’ll want to publish a lot more of our own work first, so that potential contributors and collaborators have a better sense of the Weird Luck universe. Because so far, the bits of the saga that we’ve published are only a tiny tip of the iceberg.
Stay tuned for part three, where Andrew and Nick discuss how all the pieces in Weird Luck fit together. To make sure you don’t miss a post, like AutPress on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. While you’re at it, don’t forget to follow the Weird Luck Facebook page for even more WL updates!