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Kristine Kathryn Rusch on Worldbuilding

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Guest posts for Ways into Worldbuilding will appear most Wednesdays through early November. Today’s post is from one of our industry’s most versatile writers and editors, Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

International bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes under several names and in every genre she can think of. She’s won more awards for her fiction than she can count, and she also edits. Her latest editing projects are The Best Mystery and Crime Stories 2016, which she coedited with John Helfers, and The Women of Futures Past. Her next novel, The Falls, will appear in October. For more information on her work, go to or sign up for her newsletter.

Aside from reader expectations, why do you build worlds? Is it more of an obligation than a pleasure? If the latter, what is enjoyable or rewarding about this aspect?

I’m constantly thinking about other worlds, other times, and other cultures. A big part of my what-ifs (the source of my fiction) is: What if I was born in that country? Or in that time period? Or on the Moon in the future? What would it be like?

As a kid, I used to imagine myself into photographs—what does the air smell like? What does the ground feel like? I still have a coffee table book of photos that my parents owned. I used to stare at it all the time, imagining myself watching those people or being them.

It was great practice. I studied history to learn more about other times, and then I became a journalist to force myself out of my comfort zone. All of that informs my world-building. I can’t write a short story set in a made-up world without thinking about things that will never make it into the story.

Worldbuilding is kinda who I am.

How important is worldbuilding in your novels? Is it a goal for you to create an innovative world, or do you favor having the milieu sit more comfortably in the background?

Well, huh. The answer to the first part of the question seems very elementary to me. You can’t write about a place without knowing what it is, where it is, what it smells, tastes, feels, sounds, and looks like. That’s worldbuilding.

The second part of the question could have been in Greek, for all I understood it. Innovative? Background? The world is the world, just like our world is our world. I don’t try to make something different from other writers—that’s working out of critical brain, and that destroys fiction, in my opinion. I don’t try to make something unusual: that will just happen. Down the road from where I live, people live differently than I do. Their lives—with children, dogs, day jobs—are very different from mine. So that will seem unusual to me.

As for “comfortably in the background”? If the world is in the background, I’m not doing my job. Anyone who has been stuck in a snowstorm knows that the world is rarely background. So, I try to be very detailed, very hands-on, and very deep in the story.

Do you apply any sort of process to worldbuilding? How does a coherent world emerge in your work?

I wish I was one of those people who outlined everything ahead of time. I need to make copious notes as I go along, because I discover the world as my characters do. Often, I’ll write a novella or short story to explain to myself a part of the world I haven’t seen yet.

It’s complicated and disorganized, and somehow it works for me.

In a series, do you lay in mysteries, trusting that readers will be intrigued and look forward to learning the answer in later books? How do you feel about making the reader wait to learn important world features?

Kris’s secret of writing: I write for me.

I love mysteries and the unexplained. I’m willing to wait to find out information, so the readers are going to have to wait sometimes as well. I’ve got an entire science fiction series, set in the far-future Diving universe, that is just now beginning to answer the central mystery of the entire series, six books and several novellas in.

Those things keep me interested, and if I’m interested, I have to hope the readers will be too.

Any peeks you’re willing to disclose about your next world or what we might learn about your latest world in your next book?

Right now, I’m focusing on science fiction in the novel form, under the Rusch name. (I have several pen names.) So as I mentioned above, I’m working on a huge far-future universe that has ships and time travel and intergalactic mysteries. I’ve just finished two books in that universe, The Falls, which started out as a novella to explain something to myself, and turned into a full-blown novel in a sector base planet (something I hadn’t written about before), and The Runabout, which explores, literally, a gigantic spaceship graveyard. The Falls comes out in October, and The Runabout next spring.

But I also write historical mysteries as Kris Nelscott, and I just finished a huge project there, called A Gym of Her Own. Set in Berkeley in 1969, the book follows three women as they work to establish a gym for women. All the skills I use to build sf/f worlds, I use in the Nelscott books, because the past is gone, and I have to recreate it in full. That’s fun, and hard, and exciting to me.

As for my fantasy fiction, right now, I’m doing mostly short fantasy fiction, primarily for a series of anthologies called The Uncollected Anthology. Several other writers and I pick a topic, then write a fantasy short story based on that topic. My most recent, The Latest Madame Fortuna, just appeared in Fortune Tales. You can find it here:

Speaking of worldbuilding, that’s what’s slowing me down on returning to my Fey fantasy universe. I’ve written seven books in the Fey world, and need to return for a new trilogy, but I have to put that world back in my head completely before doing so. That’s a problem with 300,000 of worldbuilding materials (set aside from those books) and big fat fantasy novels to review.

Heart-Readers-ebook-cover-web-285-1But I’m doing it, albeit slowly. I’m really proud of those books, and they’re still available. If you’re interested, start with The Sacrifice and work from there.

Or if you want to get one of my other fantasy novels relatively inexpensively, I’m in a storybundle with several other authors. The Epic Fantasy Bundle ( contains my novel, Heart Readers.

As you can see, I’m really busy with all kinds of projects. I haven’t even mentioned the worldbuilding in my Kristine Grayson paranormal romance and YA novels (which are going to branch toward mysteries soon), and the three witchy sisters who are magical dramaturges, whom I plan to write more about, and, and, and…

Oh, but one more thing! If you want to see just how eclectic I am, come to every Monday to read a free short story. Sometimes the story is fantasy, sometimes it’s sf, sometimes it’s mystery…it varies from week to week, like my work does.

Thanks for reading! And Kay, thanks for asking me onto the blog.


About this post. Ways into Worldbuilding is a series of interviews I conducted in the summer of 2016 with SFF writers, asking about their opinion on, and approach to, creating fictional worlds. Watch this space for upcoming interviews with Sharon Shinn, Django Wexler, Louise Marley, Tananarive Due and more amazing writers!

Previous interviews: Martha Wells, L. E. Modesitt, Jr

Next interview: Claire Cooney, September 28

Worldbuilding with Martha Wells

Guest posts for the Ways into Worldbuilding series will appear most Wednesdays through early November. Today I welcome one of my favorite authors to the site: Martha Wells.MarthaWells_byIgorKraguljacsmall

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including the Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including the nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasies, short stories, media tie-ins, and nonfiction.

Aside from reader expectations, why do you build worlds? Is it more of an obligation than a pleasure? If the latter, what is enjoyable or rewarding about this aspect?

I enjoy it, and it’s one of my favorite parts of developing a story.  I like coming up with the details, and exploring how the world has affected my characters, and how it can determine the direction and feel of the story.  I find it rewarding to come up with something that feels true and consistent no matter how fantastic or far out it is.

How important is worldbuilding in your stories? Is it a goal for you to create an innovative world, or do you favor having the milieu sit more comfortably in the background?

I find it pretty important, and I try to make as much use of it in my fantasy as possible, since it’s something I enjoy a lot in the books and stories I read.  I try to use it to shape the story and develop the characters.

I like to try to create an innovative world, but I also feel it should be fairly transparent to the reader.  Getting across what is unique and interesting in your world without weighing down the pacing or plot is important to me, and it’s something that I think takes a lot of experience and practice, and reading other authors who do it really well. Read More…

Worldbuilding with L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Guest posts for the Ways into Worldbuilding series will appear most Wednesdays through early November. We lead off with L. E. Modesitt, Jr. Lee-pic3B (1)

L. E. Modesitt, Jr. is the author of more than 70 science fiction and fantasy novels, a number of short stories and technical and economic articles. His novels have been translated into German, Polish, Dutch, Czech, Russian, Bulgarian, French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, and Swedish. He has been a U.S. Navy pilot; a market research analyst; a real estate agent; director of research for a political campaign; legislative assistant and staff director for U.S. Congressmen;  Director of Legislation and Congressional Relations for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; a consultant on environmental, regulatory, and communications issues.  His first story was published in Analog in 1973, and his latest books are Solar Express [Tor, November 2015] and the forthcoming Treachery’s Tools [Tor, October 2016].

Aside from expectations, why do you build worlds? Is it more an obligation than a pleasure? If the latter, what is enjoyable or rewarding about this aspect?

I build worlds because (1) I can’t conceive of having a meaningful story without it being set in a consistent and multifaceted world; (2) setting up and deepening the world enriches the story, both for me and for the reader; and (3) it just feels right.  The entire process is rewarding because the details bring a richness and an “aliveness” to the world, at least for me. Read More…

The Cozy Con with Big Inspiration

Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni

What do Robert Dugoni, Agent Rachel Letofsky, and memoirist Bonnie J. Rough all have in common? A: They’ll all be in Wenatchee WA for Write on the River in 5 weeks!

Join us on the sunny side of Washington State for a day-and-a-half conference on the beautiful campus of Wenatchee Valley College. The Write on the River Conference annually attracts approximately 120  writers to learn from the experts, including New York Times best-selling authors like Robert Dugoni and Rebecca Zanetti. Read More…

When the cover artist nails it

When you get a knock out cover for your novel, great happiness ensues. OK, so we writers are a superficial lot. But after working for a year or longer on a novel and investing your heart and hopes in it, the day your editor sends you the cover, your finger hovers over the keyboard. Um. To open email or wait for supportive spouse to come home?

Of course you’re not going to wait. And ta DA! It’s fabulous. Not only beautiful, but just exactly, maximumiceperfectly right. The artist nailed it. Celebration ensues, with giddy pleasure all out of proportion, kind of like sitting in front of your very own generous wedge of cherry pie. (Well, maybe not That good.)

I have had this experience five times over my career of 13 books. In deference to the cover artists who tried to nail it, I won’t mention which books they were–except for the one shown here,  my PK Dick nominated novel, Maximum Ice.  Cover artist Matt Forsyth captured so much about this story:

  • The wonder of a crystalized world.
  • The mystery of an ancient habitation abandoned and rediscovered.
  • Zoya, my major character, in communion with an unknowable place.
  • The ambiguity of Ice, both natural and designed.

Well, I told you I was giddy when I saw it.

Maximum Ice is one of 11 PK Dick-nominees and winners available for the next nine days. (Ends October 14.) Pay what you want for this extraordinary group of books!  At StoryBundle.

Includes novels by Walter Jon Williams, Liz Hand, K.W. Jeter, William Barton, Sarah Zettel, Lewis Shiner, Kathe Koja, Gwenyth Jones, and Lisa Mason.

All Covers Large