The Long Journey: Building the World of War Witch

Last week, I showcased the cover of my soon to be released fantasy novel, War With: Rise. This week, I wanted to take the time to talk a bit about what it is, what it’s about, and besides the obvious of getting a novel published, why I’m so proud of it.

Yes, I do self promotion on a weekly basis. What can I say? I know you guys are mostly here for the anime and cat videos, so I don’t want to drag this around in front of you so much you leave. I’m considerate that way.

Though, anime was one of the three big influences on me when it comes to the writing of this novel, so there’s at least that tenuous connection. The cat videos didn’t play a part, I’m sorry to say.

Truth is, I started working on this novel almost twenty years ago. That was when the first, broad strokes of the world it takes place in came to me. Would you believe it was in a dream? I hope so, because that’s actually how the entire thing wandered into my brain. A very intense, very weird dream I had one night.

My first notion was to try adapting the idea I had into a role playing game I hoped to submit to TSR, then later, Wizards of the Coast. However, this idea for a story really stuck with me, so the role playing game version still sits unfinished.

The downside of trying to write it at the time was that my talent really wasn’t up to the task. The first couple of drafts were sort of a mess. I ended up taking a break from it for several years. I still played with the world setting during that time, fleshing it out, spending a lot of time on the bits and pieces, cultures, traditions and histories of the varied races that call it home.

While I was doing that, my love of anime was rekindled and my girlfriend, Storm and I started actively devouring everything we could get our hands on. It started with Fruits Basket and Full Metal Alchemist, but as a writer, I was fascinated by the skillful storytelling these shows had, and actively started seeking out more shows, including the recently rewatched Ga-Rei Zero, personal favorite of mine El Cazador de la Bruja, and the incredibly charming Haibane Renmei.

I mention these in particular because they were what really got the old creative juices flowing, and made me turn my attention back to the world of The Mythic Age, the setting for War Witch. The structuring of the stories, the well designed characters, all of it made me want to take another look at this old idea of mine. It wasn’t until Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood hit that I really decided to try tackling War Witch a second time, finally seeing what it was I had been missing the first few times through.

War Witch, at it’s heart, is an anime. Now, I’m not trying to compare it to FMA by any means. I wish I was as skilled at weaving a story as the great Hiromu Arakawa, but then again, I’m my own greatest detractor, so who am I to judge? What I am saying is that she was a massive inspiration to me, as was the incredible Hiro Mashima with his Fairy Tail. Both of these mangas and their animes had an effect on me as I took a new look at War Witch.

So, during the month of July, 2014, I decided to try cleaning the story up. I ended up rewriting the entire thing, finishing with a novel that is over 600 pages and in excess of 20K words. All of which I did in one month.

I tend to get really focused.

So, what is this story then? I’m glad I asked for you. I mean, I know you were thinking it. Or at least, I’m going to pretend you were. I do a lot of playing pretend, so it’s easy for me.

In the world of War Witch, the High Gods are locked in a war for the fate of all creation with the Demon Gods. Recently, in terms of history for this world, both sides have begun granting Divine power to mortals. These people are called the Blessed, and are pretty much the ultimate weapons of this conflict.

War Witch revolves around one such Blessed. As a child, her home town and her family were slaughtered by the minions of the Demon Gods, lead by a Dark Blessed. She alone survived, and was taken in by the God of War, the Divine Wolf, Ramor. Ten years later, now a Cleric and a Blessed, she returns from living in Heaven to find the Dark Blessed who took her life away, and avenge those who died.

Her experiences as a child have left her unable to speak, however. While there is no physical issue, the psychological trauma was terrible. Despite this, she is a somewhat skilled magic user, capable of using a lost art of magic known as Sigil Casting, which doesn’t require speech. This magic was taught to her by her Avatar, the living spirit of magic that shares her soul as a separate, distinct entity. Appearing as a rabbit, the smallest and weakest of all known Avatars, it still grants her access to a small array of useful combat oriented spells.

She is far more skilled, though, with her greatsword. Between her martial capability, and the Divine Gift granted by Ramor, the ability to sense the next attacks of her opponents, she’s a pretty scary good fighter. Toss in the ability to throw a fireball at things, and she’s a force to be reckoned with.

Too bad she has no idea what the name of the bad guy she’s hunting is. Or for that matter, even where to start looking. On the bright side, Ramor saw fight to give her a nudge in the right direction by returning her to the Middle World at the right place to meet the one person who can help her.

A young farm girl named Chara. While she doesn’t seem like much more than an average person at first, Chara is possessed of an uncommonly keen mind, adaptability, cunning, and a tendency to learn new skills at an incredibly fast rate. What neither of them ever suspect is that there’s a somewhat sinister motive behind Chara’s talents, which will have a massive impact on them both.

Given the name Ramora by Chara, the two join forces to hunt down this unknown Dark Blessed. Their quest soon brings them into contact with a highly intelligent were jaguar named Esteban, who is a victim to the same manipulative forces that have affected Chara’s life. Together, they will find themselves drawn into a battle for the very fate of creation, against an enemy that may prove impossible to defeat.

The story is told in three parts, each section based around a location the characters visit. I chose to skip over the months of travel time it takes to go from one place to another, and the best means I could find was to have the story broken up into parts. Plus, this entire thing began as an attempt to write a series of short stories with continuity, so there’s that, too.

It worked out well, though, as each part allows me to broaden the readers understanding of the world in bits and pieces. Rather than just info dumping a whole world, I thought it better to build it a little more slowly. A little trick I learned from anime.

More than just that, though, is the general attitude of the novel. It would be right at home as an anime adaptation, especially with the battle scenes. There is no doubt that as it’s read, it’s intended to be visualized with an anime style to it.

That wasn’t the only influence in the writing, though. Dungeons & Dragons, a hobby I’ve had for most of my life, played a big part as well. Most visibly in the world building, something that is a major part of D&D.

From very early on, D&D has been big on encouraging players and Dungeon Masters to create their own, unique worlds. That has always been one of my favorite parts of being a DM, and War Witch is really just the culmination of years of doing that.

From the pantheons of Gods, to the cultures of the different races, I wanted to infuse the entire novel with the feeling of a grand campaign in D&D. That sense of stepping into a world that is familiar, yet alien all at the same time. Someplace we’d all love to visit and have an adventure in.

Trolls and Ogres are intelligent races in The Mythic Age, complete with their own histories, traditions, and cultures. What you would call playable races, capable of being anything you can imagine. In that same vein, Elves are wildly different, with a lot less gliding about looking serene, and are far from immortal. I already mentioned Esteban, a werejaguar scholar, and he’s far from the only werefolk we see in this world. They are a whole separate people.

I wanted the world to feel lived in. Like it had its won history, shared by all these different intelligent races. A world that breathed, and felt real. Like the old D&D campaign modules from back in the day. Places you’d love to spend time living in, despite the danger, because they were amazing, vibrant, and inviting.

Which brings me to the final of the three big influences on this novel. Rock and roll, baby!

Yeah, that’s right. I wrote a fantasy novel to rock and roll!

Nobody speaks in Ye Olde English here. This isn’t a riff on medieval times. This is a world where people have magic powered modern kitchens. Where agents of Divinity slug it out with demons bent on the domination of all creation. Where anyone can be a hero, if they have the courage to stand up and fight.

This is a rock and roll world, weened on AC/DC, Metallica, and Ozzy Osborn. A world that grew up hanging out with all great hair metal bands of the 80’s. A heavy metal world.

It’s all that because the Blessed, those brave souls who fight with the power of a God backing them, do so knowing they will live by the rock and roll credo. Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse. Because they will. The will die young. They will fight absolute evil, and they know, every day may be their last.

This knowledge makes them not the most stable of people. The average Blessed is kind of wild, grabbing onto life with all they have, and wringing as much out of it as possible. They do this because they are fighting to save a world they can no longer be a part of. Love, family, a home to call their own. Those are the very things they must give up in order to be soldiers in the war, and nothing fits that better than good old rock and roll.

Hell, I even put together a playlist of the music I listened to as I wrote this novel. You can hear it over at Spotify and Youtube, depending on your taste in media platforms. It ranges from goth rock to alternative, with a few things I’m not entirely sure how to classify, but only because I don’t keep up on all the latest sub-genres of music.

What? I’m in my 40’s now. I’ve already started yelling at kids to stay off my lawn, so don’t expect me to know all the newest and coolest things. My hip hurts too much for me to be hip.

What is War Witch, then? It’s an anime trapped in a books body, with a rock and roll soul, as told by a Dungeon Master. That’s what War Witch is. Epic as hell, and metal as fuck.

It’ll drop in a couple of weeks. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

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