Word Building with Jeffe Kennedy and Win a Book

Please join me today in welcoming my friend and fellow author, Jeffe Kennedy to Preternatura. Jeffe is dropping by today as part of her virtual book tour celebrating the release of her latest book, The Mark of the Tala. The Mark of the Tala was published on May 27 by Kensington and is the first book in Jeffe’s The Twelve Kingdoms trilogy.

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her fantasy BDSM romance, Petals and Thorns, originally published under the pen name Jennifer Paris, has won several reader awards. Sapphire, the first book in the Facets of Passion series, has placed first in multiple romance contests and the follow-up, Platinum, is climbing the charts. Her most recent works include three fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and the post-apocalyptic vampire erotica of the Blood Currency.  She is currently working on Master of the Opera and The Twelve Kingdoms, a fantasy trilogy. Jeffe lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a Doctor of Oriental Medicine. You can learn more about Jeffe by visiting her website, on Facebook and by following her on Twitter.

mark of the tala

ABOUT THE  MARK OF THE TALA: Queen Of The Unknown. The tales tell of three sisters, daughters of the high king. The eldest, a valiant warrior-woman, heir to the kingdom. The youngest, the sweet beauty with her Prince Charming. No one says much about the middle princess, Andromeda. Andi, the other one. Andi doesn’t mind being invisible. She enjoys the company of her horse more than court, and she has a way of blending into the shadows. Until the day she meets a strange man riding, who keeps company with wolves and ravens, who rules a land of shapeshifters and demons. A country she’d thought was no more than legend–until he claims her as its queen.  In a moment everything changes: Her father, the wise king, becomes a warlord, suspicious and strategic. Whispers call her dead mother a traitor and a witch. Andi doesn’t know if her own instincts can be trusted, as visions appear to her and her body begins to rebel. For Andi, the time to learn her true nature has come. . .

And now, let’s hear from Jeffe…

World-Building – Don’t Try This at Home

I’m a little embarrassed when people ask about my world-building techniques. See, I have this lovely idea of what a writer should be like. It kind of dates back to my college studying ideals. I had my favorite libraries that I’d hole up in. I particularly loved the East-Asian library, because of the beautiful wooden arches and the little green study-lamps. I felt smart sitting there. Those lovely locations provided me with all the stage-setting for appearing to study. But did I learn very much?

Not really.

My *real* studying occurred the same way I do most things: in the organic rush of the moment. Over time I’ve learned to accept this about myself. So, while I love the idea of being this wonderfully thoughtful writer who pores over books, makes detailed series bibles and could maybe teach inspiring classes on how I layer in details, instead I’m more or less purely intuitive about it. That’s just how I write. Some people call this Pantsing (going by the seat of my pants) or Misting (driving through the mist, seeing only what’s just ahead) or Gardening (planting the seeds and seeing what grows). I like to call it Writing for Discovery these days, because that most closely describes how it feels to me. In order to know what my world is like, I have to write the story.

Another way to view this: Through the action of writing, the world reveals itself.  That’s why I think the process for me is an intuitive one. Intuition means “the teacher within” and I’m a firm believer in connecting with that. I don’t think I make up worlds so much as I access the place where they already exist and I channel that information.

Map Final

For example, when my editor asked me for a map of the world of The Twelve Kingdoms, to put in the front of The Mark of the Tala, I had already written the story. It hadn’t occurred to me to draw out the map, because I saw it all in my head. Sketching it out onto paper felt much like drawing something I’d seen in real life.

[Interesting detail about that map: it’s the second one I drew. The first one was much bigger and the publisher asked me to draw it smaller, so the place names would show up correctly. I’d envisioned them shrinking it down, but forgot how much the letters would reduce also. Miscalculation on my part. On the second try, they also asked me to draw in the one-inch space in the middle, for the break across two pages.]

In several places, I had to go back to what I’d written, to make sure the map accurately reflected that.

All that said, I do have a terrific resource that enables me to make my worlds “real” – that is, congruent with the laws of the physical universe.

While I don’t do much research, I’ve been blessed to have an extensive Jeffe_Kennedyeducation. I received an amazing liberal arts education that gave me a broad spectrum of knowledge. I double-majored in biology and comparative religious studies, so I have a good understanding of the natural world and the spiritual landscapes of the human societies that occupy it. I obtained a graduate degree in physiology in a zoology department largely focused on wildlife. I know a great deal about form, function and the internal chemistry of our bodies, along with how our environment affects us. Small things, like knowing Bergmann’s Rule (The tendency in warm-blooded animals to have increasing body size with increasing latitude and decreasing ambient temperature), or that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny (embryonic and fetal development echo the evolution of the complexity of an organism), help me structure a believable world.

As they say, God is in the details.

In the end, I think my world-building technique combines this great stew of information I’ve accumulated over the years with the intuition and imagination cultivated through a lifetime of reading. Like most (all?) writers, I started as a reader. My mother read to me every night until she grew tired of me reading over her shoulder and correcting her when she skipped words. After that I read widely and exhaustively. All genres, all age levels, fiction, nonfiction – anything I could get my hands on. I rarely watched television – and still have no cable or other “live” TV option – so the pictures in my head are bright, fully-fleshed and easy to see.

Does any of this boil down to useful World-Building Advice?

Probably not?

I’d condense it down to this:
1) Read widely. Read all genres, as much as possible.
2) Turn off the TV and all other sources of “noise.”
3) Listen to your intuition.
4) When in doubt, draw a map!

You may purchase a copy of The Mark of the Tala by clicking on the following link:


Thanks, Jeffe. Congrats on the release of The  Mark of the Tala. It was great seeing you in New Orleans.

If you would like to be entered for your chance to win a copy of The  Mark of the Tala, leave a comment!!

40 thoughts on “Word Building with Jeffe Kennedy and Win a Book

  1. Not entering the giveaway, just want to say:
    Great post.
    And I think you did a great job at the world building in The Mark of the Tala. Already counting down to the release of book 2.

  2. Great post! I love books with maps, maybe because I work with maps all day 🙂 I think I’d really enjoy this book (and I have a friend who would, too–I’d share).

  3. Thanks for the great guestpost Jeffe, and as Sullivan is always singing your praises to me, I really want to win your book 🙂 and visit Lake Sullivan …

  4. ^^ Sullivan did praise your book a lot and fantasy was a first love for me ( changed a little now or more exactly expanded the range of genre^^)so i would be delighted to win a copy of your book.
    thank you also for this little insight in your world builduing… i must say that i admire your map as it’s something i really have difficulty to do ( when we play roleplaying game)

    • Thanks Miki! I’ve always had a “thing” for maps, so it was fun for me. I also got out about six fantasy books from my shelves and studied how they did those maps. 😀

  5. Congratulations on the publication of The Mark of the Tala! The Twelve Kingdoms series sounds fascinating. It was very interesting to read about your world building and map sketching. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I am a definite fan of your stories. Always enjoy a behind the scenes look Enjoyed reading about your world building.

  7. I was first introduced to Jeffe by Darynda Jones. Both authors quizzed each other. It was great! But I have yet to read any of Jeffe’s books. Thanks for the opportunity! 🙂

  8. Hi Jeffe, congrrats for the release of the Mark of the Tala! Thanks to share about how to make a world building. I love fantasy and in fantasy books I read, world building is a must. Also, because I try to write fantasy story (just for fun actually :)) this post really help me.

  9. Jeffe, It seems to me that you’ve managed to maximize your academic education while staying in touch with your imagination. It must be why your readers love your stories!

    • Such a lovely thing to say, Moriah! And very sweet of you to pop over from the PAN loop. 😀

      (I’m also now hearing my stepdad sing “They call the wind Maria.”)

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