Reader Questions Answered!
How did the character and story development in the manga affect how you portrayed characters in this story?
Since I was writing a next-gen story, I tried not to have canon affect the world I was building overmuch, especially since it was so far removed in time from the current story. I let canon-reveals-while-writing have too much power with my last big Naruto fic - The Romance of the Uzumaki. I was first upset because Kushina's brief appearance in Jiraiya's flashback seemed entirely contrary to the personality I'd developed for her, and ended up ultimately abandoning the fic because her and Minato's deaths were extremely different from the end of the fic I had in mind, and I couldn't find a way to write around it. I did not want that to happen to ITB, so I left things ambiguous where canon hadn't yet confirmed - like how the war ended, who Tobi was, if Tsunade was going to survive, etc. - and stuck to my guns otherwise.
When character death happened - Neji and Inoichi, for example - I kept them in the story because they had already shown up in posted chapters and, for all I knew, another thing like Nagato's mass-resurrection could happen. Other things I ended up working in because they were either non-essential or ITB-canon compliant. For example, the necklace of rings Inou wears was originally in his design as a tribute to Kishimoto's proto-Sasuke design, since he wore a similar piece of jewelry. In the process of writing the fic, Kishimoto revealed the tradition of giving ring-earrings and studs to the InoShikaCho kids as they make genin and chuunin, respectively, and it fit so well that I added the explanation to further deepen Inou's character.
There were also some instances where my predictions and assumptions about the story, in the form of headcanon, were confirmed by Kishimoto. Karin being an Uzumaki has been a theory of mine since high school. Similarly, my assumption that Kakashi would either lose or remove his Sharingan by the end of the story shows in the occasional references to his empty eye socket.
Overall, I tried not to let canon change the story, only enhance it.
If you were to start writing this story today, how would it be different?
If I were to start writing ITB today I probably would change very little! Maybe I'd introduce different clones, or the order in which they were made, or where they grew up. Karin might have started her cloning experiments with a clone of herself, as well, rather than Ooda, which would be fun to explore.
I'd probably also write around characters who have since died in canon in little ways - Ninako works just as well as the daughter of a random Hyuuga, not necessarily Neji. And Inoichi's role could be split up among other people: Ino could run the flower shop as her escape from the family, and she could also be the one initially asked to do the mind-dive on Ooda. She and her children would seek shelter at Sakura's house after the big chuunin exams upset. Similarly, Sakura or Naruto could take Nadeshiko in after Sasuke disowns her as a child. Having her at Naruto's would be interesting for sure because Kiine would probably meet her in Act 2...
Truthfully, though, this story already had its identity decided when it came to me, and writing it was more a process of uncovering what was already there, rather than building something out of thin air. A lot of my stories are like this, even my original ones. So I'm inclined to think that very little would truly change.
What are some of the messages/themes you've hoped readers would receive from the story?
Themes! Man, I love themes. And a lot of them certainly came up in the writing.
I'd say the strongest theme present in the story is not letting your past define your present, and being able to let go when its hold is too strong on you. So many people in this story are tied down by who they were or what happened to them in the past, and as a result are damaged, unhappy, or untrue to themselves.
Sasuke is a very good example of this, because he keeps projecting his memories of the past, and all the assumptions and expectations that come with it, onto his present family. It's only when he begins to accept his children as individuals, and his clan as something living and growing, rather than something that needs to be carefully preserved like an artifact, that he becomes a happier, kinder person.
Nadeshiko's story arc is very similar, only her problem is guilt and the attached belief that she is repulsive because of her actions in the past, and that nobody would ever love her because of it. Her friendship with Yakata was an enormous healing factor in her life, as well as her later relationship with Ooda.
Speaking of Ooda, there is his entire character arc of defining himself as a person and not just an offshoot of Orochimaru, especially since so much of his involvement in the story revolves around him either impersonating or being mistaken for/judged on account of Orochimaru. The fact that he's able to work past this, and accept that there are people that, truly, see him as an individual, is in line with these themes.
There are other, smaller examples of this. Naruto's relationship with his biological daughter Yomena; Hanabi's mental illness using tradition and hatred towards change as a means of coping; Nobuhiro's hatred of ninjas on account of the actions of one really, really messed-up ninja. And this isn't even getting into how this applies to the clones. Every clone, not just Ooda and Yakata, though their cases are particularly special because they are aware of their genetic identity.
Related to this is the theme of accepting people for who they truly are, rather than who you expect them to be, or who you want them to be. Sasuke exhibits this most strongly towards his children, especially Inou, and later Yakata. This is also integral to the stories of the clones, and especially apparent in Karin's treatment of them.
Branching off from this is the theme of choice as a key component to happiness. This comes through most strongly in the women of the story, especially with regards to gender roles, but they're not necessarily the only people it applies to.
Probably the only person I deliberately wanted to make a point with, on this, is Ino as a housewife. Though she's largely unsatisfied at the start of the story, she is happy when she has her own her own agency in the management of her family; it's only when Sasuke becomes abusive and controlling that she becomes miserable. The demonization of the domestic woman is something that really worries me; I'm of the opinion that it's women who are forced into the role or feel they don't have any other choice but marriage that gives the role of housewife the unsatisfied, sad reputation so often seen in famous literature. Choice is absolutely key to happiness, as far as these kinds of things go; gender roles and gender performances are not inherently negative. It's the projection and expectation of them onto people and not giving them a choice in the matter or a means of variation that turns them toxic.
For some further examples, Kiine is absolutely furious at having no choice in her marriage or future until she is able to take the situation into her own hands, after which she is actually very happy with her arranged husband. Nadeshiko forsakes a life of battle and glory because of her personal convictions, resisting being forced into the role, where she would be miserable, and instead living a quiet, domestic life. For the boys, Yakata and Ooda become truly happy when allowed to make their own path in life, as well as Inou, who truly blooms after he's allowed to embrace his Yamanaka heritage and gifts instead of trying to fit himself into the Uchiha mold.
There's also a theme of the many ways in which family can manifest, and how it's not blood that makes a family, but love. There are tons of different forms of family in the story. There are nuclear families and chosen families; happy marriages and miserable marriages. Families with and without children; families with adopted children. Children with one parent; children with three parents. Unmarried partners as devoted as married couples; partners that might as well be divorced, and the children caught in between. Father figures, mother figures; friends becoming brothers and sisters. Only a handful of families in ITB are what you would consider "traditional." I wanted to show how varied these situations can be, and how they are all family, how they are all "normal" at the end of the day, even if they're less-than-ideal.
Not exactly a theme, per say, but something I also wanted to accomplish with this story was as equal a ratio of men and women as possible, as well as a realistic presence of queer and differently-abled characters. I think I did a pretty decent job of that; it's not a cast full of yaoi boys, but it isn't like everyone's straight either. I didn't want to make it feel like these people were token inclusions, either, like something to fill a representational quota. They're just people that happen to be gay, or trans, or blind, or whatever. They're not meaningless or superficial labels - these traits are a part of their identities and how the world sees them - but they're only facets of a personality, and not the Chief Defining Trait of the characters. These characters don't make up the majority of the cast, but they're still there, and an active part of the story.
...that was a bit of an essay of a reply, but I suppose that's what happens when you discuss the themes of any sort of work. Even your own!
Will we see more works from this universe in the future?
I doubt I'll be writing any side-stories for the ITB-verse any time soon, though I do have some ideas for side-stories that I wouldn't mind visiting as drabbles or oneshots in the future. I'll list them here since I'm sure you're all terribly curious.
- Yuki's journey in becoming a father, since it's particularly long-winded and arduous for him and involves some burning, long-standing infatuation for Kiine that ends in canon OT3 confirmation since Kou is actually pretty cool with it.
- The story of how Fugaku met Mikoto, and his battle with her own, poisoned-honey flavor of emotional abuse.
- Yakata meeting Itachi in the flesh, with the help of Murasaki, and the conversation they'd have with each other.
- An omake consisting of Jiraiya and Kisame taking it upon themselves to contact the spirits of the "parents" of the clones, and telling them about their "kids," and how they react.
- Yakata's first serious girlfriend and all the lovingly awkward situations that result from him introducing her to his parents, and then his extended family.
You're all welcome to write your own stories based on these prompts, or make up something completely new for the ITB-verse! I would be utterly glad to read them and see your own take on the world I made.
Who do you really think would have a better chance at becoming Hokage? Kotoji or Han?
Kotoji has the advantage, given his age, but I think he'll be lured away by other passions as he gets older, so my answer is Han.
How is it that Kumori seems to able to tell his way around just fine even if he's blind? Like does he have some sort of special thing that he can just tell his way around? Is he some sort of sensor nin? Also, in that special school that was mentioned, what exactly do they do? What do they teach?
Even though Kumori is physically blind, he still comes from a long line of people with supreme chakra sensitivity, which he's adapted to his unique senses. He's able to "see" the chakra signatures of living things, and as such is able to approximate where they are in relation to him, but the same does not apply to non-living or non-organic material. So, if he's put into an unfamiliar house or area, he'd still have to feel the walls or use his cane, but he'd be able to tell where people and other things are, and at exactly what distance. This makes him an absolutely sublime sensor-nin, since he becomes very accurate with training, and identifying subtle differences in chakra for identifying people or telling if they are lying. The "school" he is enrolled in at the end of the fic is actually a training program for sensor-nin, and eventually leads him into his adult career.
The experience of acting as Orochimaru is probably one of Ooda's most painful life experiences. In keeping with the inspirational happy endings, might he revisit that 'role' professionally and get up where he fell, so to speak?
I actually do see him doing that sometime in the future! A biopic of the Sannin is absolutely inevitable, especially given how popular the genre is in our world. Ooda's performance of Orochimaru would be an utter tour de force, and I think it would be entirely appropriate thematically as one of the highlights of his career. He'd totally win an Oscar for it.
Just for giggles I've also imagined him cast as Jiraiya, with the help of prosthetics and makeup, just to mix things up. He'd be equally convincing, I'm sure.
So, who has been your favorite character to write? Do you have a particular favorite pairing?
- Just Another Fan
Oh, gee, that's a hard one... I enjoyed writing almost every character in some way or another, either for the challenge, or their voice, or because I wanted them to be happy - or to suffer.
Sasuke was particularly fun to write for the challenge aspect, because in writing him I wanted him to be at once disgusting yet understandable, for his actions to be unacceptable yet logical. The best villains aren't the ones that are just being evil for the sake of evil, or to spite everything the protagonists (and only the protagonists) stand for; they are the ones that are doing what makes sense to them, what benefits them, or what they think is right. There was also the fact that I wanted Sasuke realistically redeemed by the end, and that his angry self-loathing was compellingly transformed into shameful self-loathing, followed by depression, guilt, and acceptance by the end.
The same goes for characters like Ino and Karin, whose behavior and motivations follow their own logic, but are probably well outside the experience of a typical reader. In Ino's case it was accurately conveying the toxic mindset of someone in an emotionally abusive relationship, in a way that wasn't begging for pity or putting blame on her shoulders for not seeking help. In Karin's case it was the enormous tangle of emotions and motivations that her character goes through, as the story progresses.
Inou was also super fun to write, especially in his more confident moods, when he truly gets to shine. The same goes for Ooda. His self-image issues just made me want to take him out of my computer and pat him on the head and tell him it would all be okay… and I'm his dang creator!
(...that said, I do kind of have a Type, when it comes to characters like him... Nightcrawler from X-Men was and remains my favorite superhero, and his struggle to accept his fuzzy, blue self when it's so frightening to others was probably a big influence on how I developed Ooda.)
Speaking of superheroes, Fuzan was a joy to write, and I'm so glad that he was so well-loved in the end!
Other favorite things… well, if you're going to make me choose favorites, writing Takeru's recovery was exceptionally fun, considering he's such a wonderful jerk beforehand. Breaking him both emotionally and physically was almost as entertaining as recreating Sasuke was. Getting to bounce him off of Shikake was just a plus.
Yakata and Nadeshiko's relationship was also very satisfying to put together, especially in how they ended up helping each other, ultimately, and remained friends into their adult lives. Yakata hugging her for dear life after going through hell with Orochimaru and the Riverman was one of the things I anticipated most, in writing, because I just wanted so badly for him to not hurt anymore. Poor kid.
This transitions nicely into discussion of pairings, I guess!
I'm actually kind of surprised that so many people seem to ship Nadeshiko and Yakata, despite the age difference and the fact that, genetically, he's her uncle! They're very sweet to each other and I can see the appeal, but I wrote them only ever with the intention of platonic, familial love - but a very, very strong bond, as you probably can tell.
Truthfully and honestly, though, Nadeshiko and Ooda are my OTP for the fic. Nobody even comes close. They had a hold of my heart as soon as I started thinking about them as a possibility, and even three years later I still get little flutters when I imagine their life together and how they kind of saved each other from loneliness and self-hatred.
Kiine's little OT3 with Kou and Yuki is also one I'm very fond of. They're not as overtly a threesome as the other poly group (Yamato, Kakashi, and Hashiki), but the eventual bond that Yuki develops with Kou, especially after hating him out of jealousy and fear so early on, is something I really treasure, even if it is, in the end, just a really small part of the fic.
As far as non-OC ships go, I've been a steadfast commander of the Sakura/Lee ship since my very early days as a Naruto fan. Sakura's just such a rad lady that I believe she deserves nothing less than someone that respects and loves her one-hundred-percent, and that person for me has always been Lee.
Suigetsu and Karin are also a rare treat because, while I do like them from time to time in their canon incarnations, the relationship I developed for them in ITB - the bickering, the wordless trust, their whole not-marriage-not-love - is way more meaningful and satisfying in my opinion.
What prompted you to choose In The Blood as the title?
The short answer: puns!
The long answer: I wanted something that worked on multiple levels. In The Blood can be in reference to genes - obviously very important with the clones and kids involved here - but also non-genetic traits that people nonetheless believe can be passed down, like evil or goodness. It's also in reference to one of the clues linking the clones together: Karin's chakra seal, the evidence of which is found in their blood cells.
Did you originally plan on Sasuke getting character development? And did you plan on having him get arrested or killed?
Sasuke was always going to go through an arc of growth and redemption, but the means of him achieving that changed greatly as I wrote the story.
The earliest drafts had him living in his childhood home after the fallout over Hajime's baby and learning Takeru wasn't his son and trying to win his family back out of loneliness or neediness once things quieted down. It was kind of superficial, sort of "Okay, I'm a jerk, I guess I'll be nicer to you because I can't stand being alone."
When the Riverman Incident began developing, it presented the perfect means of having someone whom Sasuke would listen to tell him how much of a monster he was, since he's so self-justifying and in denial about his behavior. Nobody less than Itachi or Orochimaru would be able to get through to him, and so both of them ended up showing up. Originally he was going to leave the hospital by himself, afterwards, and ask Naruto if he could stay over for a while, but his self-loathing reached such levels as I developed him that a suicide attempt didn't seem so unreasonable.
I never had any intention of killing off Sasuke for good, though. That would be too easy an escape for him, and too cruel to his family, having to deal with all that grief and guilt and unresolved anger. Sure, it would make an emotionally raw story, but I'm not that kind of writer, and this isn't that kind of story.
How did you come up with the characters?
What a question! So short, yet the answer is going to be so long.
I have a very organic method of character development compared to most - at least, based on other "On Writing" style essays by other writers. Generally, I start with a skeleton of a concept and build around it as I write.
For example, with Sasuke's kids, after I figured out how many I wanted to play with and what their genders were, I started building - birth order forms a pretty good "skeleton" in the context of a family. Hajime is the first child, so he would probably be super burnt-out from all the high expectations that come with being eldest. Takeru is the second of two boys, so Sasuke would totally project onto him and favor him unfairly, so he'd be super entitled and smug. Nadeshiko… originally I saw her as taking after her mother, being something of a self-absorbed fashion plate with no interest in combat. If she had any talent at all, it wouldn't be recognized since she had two heirs ahead of her. Inou, being a third son, would be even more looked-over, so he'd try extra hard to get his father's attention and approval. Karai is the youngest and a girl, so she has the least amount of expectation thrown onto her and is probably much more carefree than her siblings.
Following all that bare-bones characterization, I put them into a context and started seeing how they mixed with other characters, how they'd react, using a similar method. How would Inou prepare for chuunin exams, given his mindset? What is Takeru's opinion of his other siblings? How does Hajime cope with the stress of his family's expectations? And this is all before I start tossing them into the plot and seeing what happens. I give the characters a lot of freedom, in terms of defining themselves as I write them out. Sticking to a rigid rubric isn't my style; real people grow and change in ways you don't expect, sometimes, and characters are no different.
The clones were similarly drafted out, mostly with "what-if" scenarios behind them. The canon cast received the same treatment, though their skeletons were the foundation set up by Kishimoto, and the addition to that was almost thirty years of age and the mental and physical changes that result. This took me places that had me asking questions like "What would happen if Shikamaru kept his adolescent attitude into adulthood?" "What would make clones of Haku and Zabuza not get along?" "How fundamentally opposite can I take a character while keeping their core elements intact?"
The last one applies to both clones and canon characters in a major way, and was something I was constantly asking myself as I developed the story. With canon characters, again, I had the bedrock of Kishimoto's characterization to draw from, and anything I wrote that deviated from that had to be believably grown-out. For example, Sasuke's obsessive personality has always been present in canon, but the flavor present in ITB was only possible after a fair amount of history and change with his character. "I am going to restore my clan" remains his chief motivation, but the interpretation of that phrase and mode of thinking changes based on his experiences. Restoring his clan can mean biologically, through having children; spiritually, through projecting his childhood onto his family; socially, as far as family reputation goes; etc… Sasuke experiences all of these, sometimes at once, at some point in his life.
With regards to the clones, thematically, I wanted some very basic, raw elements of their originals' personalities to be present, or a trait that can be tied to genetic factors, like innate genius. Ooda and Yakata are most obvious, being that they both have the quick minds of their fathers; Ooda's struggles are particularly marked because this capacity for quick thinking makes for both fine skills as a doctor and an actor, but his awareness of his nature as a clone has him believing that the medical talents are in-born and unavoidable. Even though he's grown up in an environment saturated in medical knowledge and was trained from an early age to be his mother's assistant, which accounts for this second-nature familiarity.
The other parallels are more subtle, but were a conscious focus of my "what-if" skeletons for the clones. Kurunari and Jiraiya are both writers, but Kurunari ended up being inspired to write horror, thanks in no small part to his nature as a vessel of a slug-creature, and his upbringing. He is also fundamentally opposite from Jiraiya in that he is fairly terrified of women, again, thanks to his upbringing. Kiine and Kushina are both firecrackers, but end up with very different taste in men, and Kiine actually follows through on her goal of gaining power, rather than Kushina's childhood Hokage boast.
Fuzan and Zabuza both have a strong sense of justice at their core; Zabuza's is the revolutionary kind, while Fuzan's is more idealized and tied to fiction and smaller deeds. Yuki and Haku are both utterly devoted to a master of some kind, but the reasons for this devotion are far from alike. Yakata and Itachi have gentle hearts and desire peaceful lives, but their life circumstances are, obviously, extraordinarily different, and as such the reason for their desires doesn't match.
Nadeshiko is more of a copy of Itachi, personality and motivation-wise, which was in fact a major part of her character-skeleton. In working with the concept of Yakata, I found myself asking, "How would Sasuke behave if one of his own children physically resembled Itachi very much? Behaviorally? Ideologically?" Nadeshiko seemed the perfect vehicle for this, since I was unsatisfied with the "lazy genius" initial concept of her, but wanted to keep the "has talent and skill but chooses not to use it" aspect that she also had. Itachi's pacifism explained everything quite nicely, and combining it with my development of Sasuke resulted in her character arc in the story.
Returning to the clones, the younger kids have parallels that were more tied to the stories of their originals, rather than their personalities. Asaoto's relationship with Juugo turns the tables on his previous relationship with Kimimaro, since it's Juugo taking care of him and not the other way around. However, Juugo views Asaoto as Kimimaro's son, rather than his legacy; this is in direct contrast to Juugo's canon view of Sasuke as Kimimaro's "reincarnation." Kotoji's such a young child through most of the story that his chief defining feature was "a Senju that's friendly with Uchihas." Honestly, Hashiki has more of a Hashirama-based skeleton than him, for obvious reasons. Osato spends 3/4ths of the fic as a fetus, and her baseline theme was "terrifying uncertainty" - over her health, her eyes, her nature, etc. Her embrace of medical talent was to thematically oppose Nagato's destructive legacy and beliefs - healing and life versus destruction and death. As Ooda's character arc developed, it took on a layer of "joyfully accepting what brought pain to another person" as well, which I didn't initially intend when I first started developing her.
The dust-zombies - and by that I mean Riverman and Hashiki - were developed off the mixed-personality concept that inevitably followed once I asked myself, "Man, wouldn't it be cool if the Sound kids that were used to ground the Edo Tensei'd Hokages actually lived and took on aspects of said Hokages?" This question came up when I was first tossing around concepts in the very early stages of ITB, when the plotline was little more than disconnected goals: "I want to write a story about clones." "Chosen identity as a theme, and Nature vs. Nurture." "A next-gen story that's more than a few years separated from canon, where the original cast isn't young and pretty, and the children are more than just background detail or exact copies of their parents when they were young."
Speaking of Nature vs. Nurture, Takeru's status as a bastard and not actually Sasuke's biological son was born to connect to that theme. It was initially conceived much in the same way that Nadeshiko/Ooda happened, a.k.a. "oh man that would totally infuriate Sasuke if he knew." But as it continued and I took it more seriously, the greater course of Takeru's character arc began to firm up. Shikamaru and Sasuke are both geniuses, and have similar phenotypes, and the only thing, genetically, that could give him away would be Shadow-Stitching, since none of Sasuke's other sons get a Sharingan. Since Takeru isn't raised to expect he can Shadow-Stitch, he never uses it. Takeru largely exists to prove that being an Uchiha is a state of mind, more than anything. His status as half-Nara is only relevant in the genetic context. He makes a very nice parallel to the clones, in that respect.
As you can kind of see, from that wall of text above, the extent of my "planning" for characters and their stories begins and ends with "this is a point/conclusion I want this character/the story to reach," like Sasuke's redemption arc, Nobuhiro's turnaround on ninjas, Naruto and Yomena connecting, etc.
I suppose I could say that this same mode of thinking also applies to the way in which I construct plots. I make a skeleton out of things I want to have happen in the story - the major scenes/themes I want to convey - and connecting tissue follows as I think further and more deeply about it all. How I can pull such a scene off, what sorts of setup it will require, how, logically, one scene flows into the next. Throwing in the characters is like putting muscle on top of those bones and ligaments; they give motion to the solid structure beneath. The world's greatest plot is nothing without compelling characters moving things along, I think; it's part of the reason why I adore Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings but am not fond at all of the books. Tolkien's plot is wonderful, but his grasp of character development and dialogue is a bit lacking/stiff. Jackson and his co-writer, Fran Walsh, were able to fix that quite spectacularly, and flesh out compelling characters from Tolkien's histories and basic character traits. The best stories are also the ones where the characters are active and move the plot along due to their actions and interactions, rather than the plot happening to them and the characters passively reacting and having very little influence on whether things happen or not.
Despite all this talk of organic plot development and stuff, and letting development happen as it will, I actually don't like stories where there's no sense of far-reaching consequences, and I avoid that with my plotting/planning whenever possible. Playing with only immediate results and repercussions can work for shorter stories, but certainly not anything more developed, like a novel. I'm similarly not a fan of writing by the seat of my pants, as it were. If something important happens or has happened in the story, you can surely bet that I'll have the roots and branches of those actions stretching out into the future and past, and that requires some planning.
It's kind of a balance to maintain, or something. If you rely too much on planning and make the skeleton too big or thick, then you end up with a rigid monolith of a creature that can't get much done. Too little structure and you get a feeble thing that falls apart if you poke at it too much. Metaphors!
...so, yeah! That's how I came up with my characters. And some other things.
Are you fluent in Japanese, or any other language? Can you read Classical Chinese?
I would not be so arrogant as to say I'm fluent in Japanese, not by a long shot! My knowledge of wordplay and alternate kanji readings are mostly thanks to jisho dot org, which is an online Japanese dictionary with a vast database of words. It was my chief resource, in terms of naming characters and other things.
I am, however, fairly fluent in Mandarin Chinese! And I can read Classical Chinese to some degree; the grammar is actually not terribly different from Japanese, if a bit clunkier to parse. I can also speak/read a very, very small amount of French, and can carry on in American Sign Language if I need to.
So, what's next?
Presently I'm working on an original story! The gist of the plot is that it's a world ruled by gods that use colors as their names and heralds. And these gods love using the world as their playing field for their petty rivalries and family feuds - and what self-respecting pantheon isn't without those?
There are three continents/land-masses, each ruled over and named after the gods that made them. The Green Lands are heavily-forested; the Blue Lands are more varied, climate-wise, with mountains to the north, grasslands to the south, and a large desert near the equator; the Red Lands are an archipelago. The cultures of these lands were directly influenced by these chief gods - all twelve gods unarguably exist, but because of rivalries and feuds, some gods may be completely unknown to one culture, or villainized and feared as demons. For example, the god named Rose is respected and worshiped by the Red people, but is a god of temptation and evil for the Blue people.
I can't decide yet if it will be one big novel or three smaller novels, since there are three plotlines involved, but they all end up connecting to each other in the end. I'll just list them here, for now.
The first plotline - titled Three Moons - concerns a man named Silver, his sister March, and their youngest sister, Sunday, who was chosen to be the human incarnation of the god Green, whose domain is creation and growth. Through visions and guidance from Green, Silver is able to begin working at peace among the highly-territorial people of the Green Lands, and uses Sunday to work miracles on the side to help gain influence. However, the presence of the god in Sunday's body causes increasingly harmful side-effects as she gets older - both to the girl and her immediate surroundings. Uncontrolled bursts of power accompany the rapid degradation of her health, and so she must embark on a journey across the world to have the god safely removed from her body by another god - Green's sister, Red, who is a god of destruction. Sunday is accompanied by March for the journey (since Silver is unable to join them for Plot Reasons), as well as a god named Yellow, the son of Green, who acts as their guardian on the journey.
The second plotline - Caster of Ashes - is a game of influence between the three chief gods: Green, Blue, and Red. Green and Red are mentioned above as gods of creation and destruction; Blue evens them out as a god of time and stability. The rules are simple: whomever has the most believers by the end of a century wins. They each choose an avatar to act as their point of influence, and the game begins.
Blue chooses a high-born girl with connections to royalty, whom Blue plans on guiding into becoming queen, and catalyzing her people into further faith. Green and Red, however, decide to skew the game by choosing avatars from the Blue Lands as well; Green's choice is the daughter of a Green immigrant living on the coast, while Red's is the daughter of a Blue soldier. Red's avatar is born with albinism, the worst of omens in Blue culture, and her mother dies in childbirth, which all but guarantees a great calamity of some kind; however, Red compels the girl's father to grab her and run, and they eventually are led to the house of the Green avatar and her mother. The parents of the two avatars fall in love, and they're raised as sisters.
Green and Red further skew the game by pursuing a strategy of promoting polytheism, rather than trying to convert people into singular worship of them, and with their two avatars combined they instigate a polytheist movement whose influence rapidly spreads across the Blue Lands and eventually causes a revolution. Blue's avatar is ejected from her high seat and is returned in shame to her homelands, and the avatars' father takes the seat of power.
Obviously, none of this ends well. Especially since this summary is quite detached and from a god's perspective; the novel is told through the avatars themselves, who have to deal with how much it sucks to be the Chosen One of a god with an agenda. Red's avatar also has limited precognitive abilities and has a great amount of anxiety over how much control she has over her fate and the fate of her loved ones.
The last story - The Witness - concerns people in the Red Lands, focusing on a woman named Link and her daughter Ruby, who is coming of age. Ruby is a prodigy in a spiritual art known as Diving, where one communes with the "consciousness" of a place or an object, and can gain knowledge from it. It forms the basis for the caste system that has developed at this point in the story, and your ability to Dive defines your social status. Link has no Diving talent at all and is very low caste, while Ruby is a prodigy and may choose to elevate herself into a higher caste in a ceremony when she comes of age. However, this would not only require abandoning the community she was raised in, friends and family and all, but also the material world in general, as the highest-caste people live in a constant state of Diving, passing on the knowledge they receive to scribes, and being cared for like living statues.
That's about as much as I can say, without giving too much essential stuff away. These are basically the first acts of each of the stories. What ties them together are the gods, naturally, but also characters that persist through time due to circumstances that make them effectively immortal. The long-term consequences of actions are also what tie them together - the polytheist movement that begins in the second story has become the dominant religion by the third, and so on.
So, one of the things that I've always disliked, ever since I was little, was fantasy that gave everything ridiculous names. It's pretentious as heck, more often than not, and is a nightmare to translate, both linguistically and culturally, especially for non-Romance languages and cultures. Since I speak Mandarin, I'm well aware of how clumsy transliteration of western names can be; even very common names like Harry Potter have to be written out phonetically in a way that's pronounceable for the language in question, which makes less common names - Nymphadora Tonks from the same series, for example - even harder to adapt. And this isn't even touching high fantasy series like Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire.
So, every place name, character name, and concept is a word you can find in a dictionary and easily translate. Instead of viewing things through a lens of an Other, made-up language, it's what the names would mean in that language. If, fate willing, the stories are published into other languages, I'll insist on the names being directly translated into that language, rather than transliterated. Simple as that. It should be pretty cool.
Related to that, there will be, as best as I can manage, as equal a ratio of male and female (and other!) characters as possible. This isn't going to be some Feminist Utopia where men have been done away with, nor will it be the typical Swords and Sorcery type story where the women are all princesses or sorceresses and don't get to do anything. It'll be different.
I'll be posting information about the novel at my tumblr, which is linked in my author's profile! If it does end up getting published, whether through traditional means or something crowd-funded or self-published, I may add an addendum to this chapter to give you more information on where you can buy it, if you're so inclined.
Thanks for all the great questions! I'll certainly respond to reviews with further questions in the future, provided it's signed so I can send a PM.
Until next time!