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VISITING THE OUTER ISLANDS Q &A 

For this Q & A we asked Dark Fantasy, Horror, and Epic Fantasy Author and Poet, our good friend A. F. Stewart to tell us about her world building process. Anita (as she is known amongst her friends) has been building this epic world that takes place on the Seven Seas called The Saga of the Outer Islands and her most current release Renegades of the Lost Sea continues  the story of Captain Rafe Morrow.

Her approach and execution of these tales are unique, intricate, and very interesting.  A. F. Stewart herself is a prolific writer from Canada, who has more than a dozen books and collections out there and has contributed to a good many anthologies. 
  1. ?

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    Take us on a trip through your world, where are some places to pay attention to, some landmarks we might want to keep in mind, and some creatures we come across that might be important in future stories within this world?
    My world is all about gods, ghosts and sea monsters, and the trilogy’s story revolves around Captain Rafe Morrow, God of Souls, and the crew of the sailing ship, Celestial Jewel. As for its basic geography, I think the name of my world, the Seven Kingdoms and the Outer Islands, describes it well enough. The aforementioned Seven Kingdoms is the world’s main landmass and the Outer Islands are a combination of a peninsula and various different islands. In the trilogy, the Seven Kingdoms is briefly mentioned here and there (but it will star in another planned series) with the action taking place on the high seas, at different ports of call in the Outer Islands and places beyond. Some important stops are the trading ports of Crickwell Town, Llansfoot, and Abersythe, the naval station of King’s Rock Fort (for a trial) and two temples of the God of Souls: the Rock Island Temple and the Temple of Star Reef. There are also side trips to the Pirate Keys, the Isle of Shadows, the Archipelago of Nightfall and the Wakeford Islands. Pirate Keys are, of course, the hazardous stronghold of various pirate clans and the Celestial Jewel takes a brief trip there in book two. The Isle of Shadows is the home of the gods and the Archipelago of Nightfall is where the Goddess of the Moon lives, as well as other equally dangerous creatures; both are good places to avoid as they are highly perilous. The Wakeford Islands is a separate kingdom south of the Outer Islands, known for its tea, and near the Lost Sea, and that is where much of book three takes place.
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    Why did you decide to write and center your world for Saga of the Outer Islands in the high seas?
    The trilogy is based a flash fiction story I wrote, which in turn was based on a picture of a sailing ship in front of a large moon. So that’s one reason. The other is that I’m from Nova Scotia, Canada and we have a long tradition of sailing. I wanted to write a story that utilized history. That’s also where the idea for the ghosts on the ship came from; Nova Scotia is also rich in ghost stories.
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    What did you learn about pirating that you didn’t already know?
    Not too much, as I already had a store of knowledge about pirates (Nova Scotia also has a colorful tradition of pirates, privateers, and rum-runners), although I had to research how the British navy constructed temporary gallows, which was interesting. I did expand my knowledge about sailing ships in general, learning how they docked, maneuvered, anchored and fascinating details on how they fought battles at sea.
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    How did you do your research, did you write the skeleton of the story and its arc first, go back and put in the finite details of pirates and the high seas, or did you research as you went along, or do it all up front?
    I generally do some basic research about whatever time period and mythology I’m using as inspiration and things like geography, weather, types of gods, etc. and then begin the first draft. During the process, as I hit certain points that need more information I’ll either do additional research immediately or just write a skeleton of a scene and jot down a note to expand with further research later. For instance, in the first book, Ghosts of the Sea Moon, when I hit the first traveling scene between ports I had to stop and work out the sailing speed of the ship and distances, to calculate the time it would take them to travel. But in book three, for the sea battles, I simply left a note attached to the scene and researched the nuances of that after finishing the first draft.
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    How much was writing this story about having strong female characters and what characteristics internally and externally did they absolutely have to have for you to invest in writing them and how much were you willing to compromise as the story unfolded?
    Other than my main character and his father, the gods in the book are all female, so, of course, they had to be powerful and, for me, comfortable in that power. They also had to have some growth and certain adaptability. Lynna, the sea goddess, is solitary, most at home in the ocean, but by book three she has broken out of her comfort zone and is exploring new things. The Goddess of the Moon is damaged in book one, mentally and emotionally, but by the end, she has achieved some peace and is working on her issues (although she remains eccentric). Even Death, who is far more of a force of nature than any of the gods, gets some closure in book three. The female characters in the books who are mortal are all, to some extent, authority figures, being harbourmasters, a ship captain, a criminal, a museum curator/librarian, an Oracle, a priestess, or witches. Again they are all comfortable in their positions and power if they don’t always make good decisions or get a happy ending. The closest I came to compromising is with the character, Anne, who borders on the damsel-in-distress. She tangles with the pirate Black Axe Morgan and loses, becoming a bit of a pawn in his game. However, her story does get a bit of twist with her rescue.
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    What was your favorite creature to create and why?
    I’m partial to the Kraken, because, well, it’s a Kraken, but the monsters of book two, Souls of the Dark Sea, were fun to bring to life. Ashetus, the book’s big bad, is inspired by Cthulhu with red eyes and lots of tentacles, ready to rise from the sea. And the other monsters of Souls, the walking skeletal dead, are an homage to Ray Harryhausen and his special effects from Jason and the Argonauts.
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    What did you purposely avoid that would have been very cliche to this setting in creating this world?
    I tried to avoid the all-powerful god scenario; my gods are very, very dysfunctional and have issues. Also, the gods and mortals are not detached from one another; they mix and mingle. My main character, for instance, can do amazing things, but he’d rather hang out at the tavern and drink ale. Also, there is no separation of genders in my world; women and men are equally capable. Rafe has four sisters, three of whom are far more badass than my captain.
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    How in depth are you into the world you are creating? maps? language? dogma?
    The world has its own history, its own creation myth, maps, magic system (and a sort of spell language), god pantheon, a list of creatures, and character back stories (I even have one for the ship’s cook who doesn’t appear in the books). I’m currently writing book supplements of all this world-building that will be available free on my website sometime in the near future.
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    How much of the world stems from real places and ideals?
    The Outer Islands is loosely based on a mix of cultures: 19th-century British sailors and British seaports and the Mediterranean islands. My gods are based on Greek mythology and some bits of Norse myth. The sea monsters are cobbled together from folklore, but some of their behaviors, such as swimming speed, are based on actual marine life.
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    If you were to give another writer writing a strong female character, advice, what would that be?
    Don’t write a “female”, just write a strong character. If you start separating your characters by gender, that’s how they’ll appear on the page. Instead of asking how would this female character react or how would this male character react, ask how would Sarah react, or how would Johnny react. Every character should be different according to their personality, not their gender. Gender may factor into that personally, say Sarah likes bright pink lipstick, or Johnny likes flashy cars, but it shouldn’t define the character. And sometimes flipping typical gender traits can make for a more interesting story. It is a far different plot line if Sarah likes flashy cars and Johnny likes to wear pink lipstick.
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    Give us a little taste of what we can expect in each story in the series?
    Book One, Ghosts of the Sea Moon: Rafe and the crew of the Celestial Jewel battle his slightly insane sister, the Goddess of the Moon, and her sea monster children while the Nightmare Crow schemes from afar. Book Two, Souls of the Dark Sea: The Nightmare Crow returns and tricks Rafe’s sister, Bevire, into awakening Ashetus and his hordes of walking skeletons. Rafe goes on a quest to find the weapons to destroy the beast and uncovers family secrets. Book Three, Renegades of the Lost Sea: The Nightmare Crow teams up with resurrected-from-the-dead pirates, led by Rafe’s old enemy Black Axe Morgan, in an attempt to kill Rafe and steal his magic. Rafe discovers secrets from his past as his father, Reis, and his mother, Death, show up to help him vanquish the Nightmare Crow.

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