Since I have illustrated and designed the covers for Alora’s Tear, I invited Fantasy author for a guest post.
Nathan Barham tells about his inspiration for the locations of his Epic Fantasy series “Alora’s Tear Vol. III – The Voice Like Water” – is coming for sale this 9th August! The paperback and e-book versions will be available on popular book retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and so on. Check www.barhamink.com for more info.
I’ve always hoped the places my characters visit feel real and lived-in. Often, I tell my students that their characters shouldn’t simply be disembodied heads floating around empty rooms. But more so than having the places feel inhabited, I want Vladvir, Tolarenz, Grafmark, and the rest to be characters that readers know and understand in the way they understand John or Brâghda, Thomas or Askon.
If Tolarenz is empty, we should feel not just Askon’s loneliness, but the loneliness of the valley itself. Grafmark should threaten and glower, irritated that our heroes dare set foot within its bounds. King’s City should go on without taking notice, bustling and busying itself with the mundane, the everyday, even as fleeting moments of the fantastic pass through its streets.
One of the challenges in working on the covers for the series is deciding what will make up the background. Now, as should be made clear, my calling this process hard is laughable. Isis does the real work of bringing these places and people to visual life, but I play my small part.
Each character stands before a specific location somewhere in Vladvir, and each of those comes from a place where I have lived or visited. Many of the settings in the story are fantasy versions of places with which I am familiar. Some of them are what I call “special places,” locations in the real world that feel as though they’ve stepped out of a story, that have a power, an energy one feels when in their presence, a spirit. Lover’s Fall, for instance, is modeled after Multnomah Falls in Oregon, a place I’ve visited several times, one special enough that I will go hours out of the way simply to stop just to listen to its water, watch the mist sparkle, and feel the cool shadows.
Askon passes the Vladvir version in Volume I, just before his company reaches Austgæta. But it is after the events that take place there, just before his defining choice in the first book that we see him as he appears on the cover with the mountains behind him looking down into the plains far below. This too has a real world counterpart. The two valleys in which I grew up, the first, on the Clearwater River in Idaho, and the second, at the confluence of the Clearwater and the Snake (which coincidentally flows into the Colombia, along which one will find Multnomah), both show signs of at one prehistoric era being under an enormous body of water. Such are the hillside bluffs west of Austgæta.
For Volume II, the moment and location are similar generally, mountainous terrain and a character looking out onto a valley. However, Grafmark itself, the site of the second book’s cover, is an amalgam of the forests in north Idaho where I spent summers working for my father’s logging company. Many mornings, I would arrive on the job while it was still dark. The nature of my particular work had me there by myself most days. And when the wind picks up in the pines and spruce, when the darkness is deeper than you thought possible, when you ask yourself where all the stars have gone and if that sound in the trees is only just the wind, you’ve known what it’s like to stand in the forest of Grafmark, and what it’s like to walk from the pickup to the machine on an early north Idaho morning.
Another prime example of a location directly from the places I have lived is the Æsten Ridge. Almost a footnote in the adventure from book two, the Ridge is iconic to anyone who has ever lived in Lewiston, Idaho or Clarkston, Washington, twin towns only twin because the river and the state line separate them. Swallow’s Nest Rock is the original, and though the Æsten Ridge is even larger, the real world place still holds its own.
But the Lewis-Clark valley is only one source. Above it, and to the north, a long stretch of rolling hills called the Palouse spreads in all directions. In the spring, its fields are as green as Tolkien’s Shire and in the summer epitomize the “amber waves of grain” from America the Beautiful. These hills and dales, fields and little streams that the locals call rivers, scattered with a willow or a cottonwood, make up the inspiration for the South Kingdom, where Volume III takes place. Here, sunsets fan out over the whole of the horizon, right on the edge of what the Montanans call “big sky country.” And in the winter, when the snows bury the wheat fields, the nights are bright enough to see for miles.
And though these places are merely inspirations for the land of Vladvir, and though there are many more to discover, each with their own story, I hope they breathe and emote within the Alora’s Tear series as much as my characters do. I hope that were they to come to harm for some reason, that the threat would be as though the world itself might experience pain, anguish, and terror. And, that if our heroes are victorious, the world too experiences joy and exultation.