More Inspiration: The DiRel – Olive

(Photo cred.:

This is one of a series of posts about inspiration for the novel we’ve written, OF GOLD AND FIRE.

The DiRel people – A people ruled by Women

Some of the inspiration for the DiRel society, the group that one of our main characters belongs to, comes from the Mosuo (or “Na”) people, a small ethnic minority in China.

One of the last matrilineal societies in the world, the Mosuo (also spelled Moso) live near a Lugu Lake in Yannan, China. Years ago, I read a book about them called Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World, by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu. I highly recommend it. (Amazon says that I purchased this book in 2007, so I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while.)

The Mosuo have a tradition that is often called “walking marriages.” In fact, they don’t really marry at all, at least in the sense that we do in the West. Also, family structure is very different from the way we organize ourselves. For example, children belong to the family of the mother, and men sometimes have very little involvement in the raising of the children. Women are also the heads of the household, the matriarch being the end all be all in Mosuo families.

One of the things the book mentioned was that you never have any question whether a child is of that mother; there can be no mistake as to maternity…I mean, it kind of makes sense that a society would do that, especially before DNA and so on.

Like the Mosuo and other Chinese, the local people in our story think that the DiRel are promiscuous, which isn’t the case. The Mosuo [DiRel] generally take only one partner at a time, but lack the usual reservations that Western society (or the “local” society in CHAINED) places on women, or men for that matter.

But the DiRel are also markedly different from the Mosuo in many ways. For one, the DiRel are a much more primitive people, wearing skins and hunting for their food. They keep chickens, but no other livestock. The setting for the DiRel Mountain, as mentioned in our blog post, Inspiration for CHAINED: Setting and Slavery, is the Kuwaiti desert and craggy Hindu Kush, specifically in Afghanistan.

To read about the Mosuo, please pick up Leaving Mother Lake, or check out the Mosuo project online.



Inspiration for OF GOLD AND FIRE: Setting and Slavery – Olive

As I know we will talk about in other posts, much of our inspiration comes from the places we’ve visited and the people we’ve met. I know we’re not unique in that; most writers/authors find inspiration from the world around them. There are even memes that support it…


Central Asia

There has been collectively a fair amount of complaining about inclusiveness in fantasy. Rightfully so–not all fantasy should be about a European-esque setting. The world’s cultures are filled with myth and superstition that makes wonderful inspiration for fantasy, while the world’s societies make for wonderful inspiration for a fictional society. Unfortunately, unless you’re lucky like me (and Aristen) and have traveled much of the world (or studied it from afar), you’re unlikely to come across much.

Continue reading “Inspiration for OF GOLD AND FIRE: Setting and Slavery – Olive”

What do you call world building while on the toilet? – Aristen

An infodump! /cue laughtrack

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

-George R.R. Martin


From lurking in forums and talking to other aspiring authors, it surprises me how much time people spend designing their world before they dive into it.

For me, the blank page is freedom. It’s looking into the void and grinning at the endless possibilities. But after that seed starts to grow, then you’re in the shit. Maybe it becomes a jungle around you, so dense you get lost in all the intricate foliage and insects stinging at your eyes, laying eggs under your skin. Or maybe it’s a pathetic collection of withering plants (kind of like what I have going on at my current apartment) that you are desperately trying to keep alive.

Continue reading “What do you call world building while on the toilet? – Aristen”

How we write, two – Olive

Some people have asked how we write together as most authors write solo, and that’s hard enough. There are other well known authors who write under one singular pen name such as James S. A. Corey, the pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who wrote the Expanse series. There is a way, friends!

Aristen and I have been writing together for a very, very, very long time … the majority of our lives, come to think of it. I’m not sure what the first book we wrote together was called, but it was likely in the first grade. We also wrote comic books together, a series called “Mon News.” “Mon” as in mongoose because both of the main characters (two female mongooses, yes, there is a trend here) were mongooses. But, as it often happens, these weren’t the normal run of the mill mongooses, these were mutant alien mongooses who lived on a planet in outer space (not Earth … because Earth is also a planet in space, sorry, just had a lawyer moment).

But nowadays, while writing OF GOLD AND FIRE and this blog, and tweeting, and just about anything to do with our work, we talk constantly. We do a lot of war gaming, as described by Aristen in her post, “On finding a shared vision.” But we also do it constantly, like at all hours of the waking day.

Continue reading “How we write, two – Olive”

On finding a shared vision… – Aristen

As much as we’re in tune with each other’s visions, as much world building as we do, Olive and I still have to talk to each other constantly to figure out everything, from what a character is wearing in that moment, to what the inside of the room looks like, or why would they be hungry at an effed up time like this?!

Here’s a fictional example, but it mirrors many real life discussions:

“There’s no way he’d put that jacket on.” I insist.

“Why?” Olive responds.

“Because obviously, when he was six years old, the people that took him in were wearing blue, and now he associates that color with” etc etc I spout some bullshit I think is brilliant.

“… OR maybe the people made him wear blue all the time, but they always wore red. And didn’t let the poor bastard wear blue. Ever.” Olive keeps it going.

“Holy shit.” My head starts to hurt. But by god, she’s right. It just makes sense.

I suppose that’s the point that we’re both searching for when we have these conversations. That moment where we both say “Yeah that makes sense, in this fictional, complex world we’ve created, that makes total sense.”