Soledad City: Building a Fantasy World

When you’re building the world for your fantasy characters to live and play in,  it’s easy to become overwhelmed by choices.  You can build a brand new universe, borrow heavily from our own human history and legends,  or blend your fantasy world into the one we know. Even there, there are virtually endless choices:  use a real place and time, create a new setting that exists side by side with ours, or borrow the trappings of our world to create a new one that echoes it.  You can see variations of all these strategies in the work of people like JRR Tolkien, Charles de Lint, China Mieville, Charlaine Harris and many others.

I think the most satisfying fantasy stories are the ones that do take place in a heightened version of our “real” world, because they suggest that there really might be magic lurking just around the corner – and you never know when you might meet it.   What’s fascinating, terrifying and wonderful is what happens when the everyday meets the very strange.  That’s a timeless theme, one that’s visited again and again in countless legends, myths – and fantasy novels.

So the fantasy universe of the Moon Road is set in the deserts of the Southwestern United States. Partly that’s because I’m a Westerner living here in Baja Arizona where you can drive to Mexico and be home in time for lunch.  And partly because these deserts have always held a whiff of strange magic that draws travelers and seekers and lost souls from everywhere.

The Moon Road stories take place in two eras, today’s West and the Old West of history and legend, somewhere between the Pacific Coast and the Rio Grande.  In the urban fantasy stories,  Soledad City is a modern metropolis blending elements of Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.   People living in and traveling to Soledad come from “real” places such as New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago, though.

Between Soledad and the Border is the Rez,  home of medicine woman Nettie Chubai and various characters of the People.  And far out in the desert, another key location is Holland’s Truck Stop and Cafe, where strange comings and goings take place and people cross paths in unexpected ways.

The Old West of Soledad figures in the historical fantasy stories featuring demon haunted gunman Sixkiller, shapeshifting bounty hunter Harry Longman, and Sixkiller’s mysterious Boss.  Alongside actual towns like Tombstone and Bisbee, the characters in Sixkiller’s time of around 1870 frequent Meridian, a fictional mining town, and the saloons of Agua Dulce, which is a composite of every Mexican border town in every Western you’ve ever seen.

The legends, the lore and the cultures of the Southwest inform every story I’ve ever written about Mama Silva,  Largo, Adam Voss, the Bone Angel and the rest of my large cast of characters. Skyscrapers,  empty desert roads, cactus and moonlight over the mountains – it all comes together in a new and different fantasy setting.  I hope you’ll  stop by – and  visit again and again.

Oh yeah – that language lesson I mentioned:

In Soledad City Spanish is spoken by many characters.  Here’s a quick guide to frequently used phrases:

Bruja/Brujo – witch

Curanderia – a healer’s shop

mijo/mija – my son/my daughter – often used as an endearment

Mi tia – my aunt ( which is what everyone says about Mama Silva)

La Migra –   the border authorities

Characters Cross Paths in Many Ways

Readers of my flash fiction “Glitter Girl” have met the world weary witch Adam Voss.  “Glitter Girl” was told in Adam’s words as he met the pretty rich teen who thought what she wanted was a spell for love.

I wrote that story a while ago, but I’ve always liked the narrator and his cynical take on love, witchery and power. So a few weeks ago he got his own name and backstory, and I’ve been working on giving him more of a role to play in the goings on of the Moon Road universe.

“Run With The Moon” is a new short story that brings together Adam and another new Soledad City character, Velocity Girard.

You’ll see more of her in the upcoming novel “A Patch of Cool” and other Soledad stories. I’m also working on a short piece that explores Velocity’s backstory – stay tuned for that.

Soledad City isn’t meant to be a catchall for every magical creature in the world, but the desert really is a strange and wondrous place, well represented especially in Terri Windling’s lovely, lovely book The Wood Wife. (Read it!)   I hope this little story captures a bit of that wonder.

Building the World of the Moon Road

TudenceDavisDesertMoonEven the most arcane fantasy world most likely has some real life inspiration.  George RR Martin turned to the medieval societies of Europe for details of life (and death, lots of  death) in the Seven Kingdoms of Game of Thrones.  China Mieville turns to grubby Industrial Revolution-era England for Perdido Street Station and other books.  In the urban fantasy world, the connections are even clearer, with the action firmly set in the universe we know, albeit with some magical tweaks. Think of Charlaine Harris’ Bon Temps, Lousiana, setting for the vampire novels that inspired the TV series True Blood – or the Minneapolis setting of Emma Bull’s famous War for the Oaks.

My novels and stories of the Moon Road are similarly anchored in the “real world” of today’s desert Southwest – a place of big horizons, hot summer days and a mix of Anglo, Latino and Native cultures, somewhere between the Pacific Ocean and the Rio Grande.    The City, Soledad, harbors the usual collection of regular citizens, street people and fringe dwellers, but with a twist: Soledad City sits on a nexus of earth power, carried in the veins of metal that run deep beneath its surface.

Because of this, the City attracts all sorts of individuals who live outside the bounds of everyday reality.  And because of this, it also attracts something much bigger: the Moon Road, that strange semi sentient being that wanders like a living spiderweb through the Universe, linking worlds and peoples from places distant and near.  The Road visits “watering holes” like Soledad from time to time, and those with certain gifts can see it come. Some lucky folk can walk its cool white surface and end up – elsewhere. (Others are not so lucky. As Mama Silva says, there are Cleaners on the Road, who clear away the blood.)

A loose alliance of witchy folk look after the City’s magic, keeping it from spinning out of control.  Mama Silva in the Barrio, Nettie Chubai on the Rez, Cage the voodoo priest downtown and pretty Nina Balova on the tony, New Age-y East Side make sure things stay in balance. Mama Silva talks about this in A Patch of Cool,  my forthcoming Soledad novel.

Catty corner from the mission
Next to the barred up liquor store
She’s open all the time.
Crack heads and knife fights
And sirens in the night:
Mama Silva just goes on.

To create Soledad I’ve drawn from my own years of growing up in the border country of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and many visits to Mexican border cities such as Ciudad Juarez, Nogales, Naco, and Tijuana.

The stories and novels of Soledad’s magic are largely inspired by the people and events I’ve encountered in my time in the borderlands.  And at night I’ve looked up at a brilliant full moon and a sky full of renegade stars and wished to see a wonder or two.

Music forms the backdrop of every story I write – and the musical group Calexico is one of the best inspirations for this gritty, sunburned fantasy landscape. Based in Tucson, the duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino (along wtih various other talented folk) did a music video for their song “Two Silver Trees” that perfectly captures the essence of Soledad.

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