BATOMI – Worldbuilding: Music


For those who don’t know The Trial of the Kouzinns is a high fantasy novella I’m currently planning out set in the world of Batomi. The rough draft of which will have monthly chapters posted on my Patreon. More details here!

This post is about how music and worldbuilding come together for me. I know a lot of writers who can’t write with music that contain vocals. I’m the opposite. I love to have music playing while I write scenes. Sometimes the music I’m listening/chair-dancing to is just whatever I’m loving at the moment. However I also often make playlists for novels I’m working on and these are more specific. The songs are selected for many different reasons: themes, worldbuilding, scene soundtracks, inspiration, character motivations and more.

Here are four examples in three categories.

Personal Character Themes: Some songs are about specific characters, how they feel at the the moment, what keeps them going, something that speaks to the core of who they are.
Bibi Bourelly – Ego

This is Constance’s personal theme song. She feels misunderstood by the family that she loves. She feels out of place and pulled between two worlds, longing to do well in one world while still wishing it was different. She knows the world is unfair but she still believes herself to be excellent enough to achieve over all of it. This is all fine and dandy but in some ways it blinds her to things she should have been noticing all along. It takes something big to change Constance’s worldview but it’s important that she is willing to change it. What she won’t change is thinking that she’s great and worth it because of who she is not because of whatever superstitious things her mother is spouting.
Sometimes I’ll listen to this song when I’m trying to understand how Constance would react to a situation and to underscore her confidence when writing tough scenes she has to push through. Having a personal theme song for a character can give you some unique insight into that character and remind you of the way they would react to certain situations rather than how you (the writer) would react.

Specific Scene Soundtracks: These songs often act like movie soundtracks and outline certain scenes. They’re useful for capturing the emotion and pace of a scene.
Janelle Monae – Violet Stars, Happy Hunting

This song is a theme for one of the early scenes – a chase scene. However in a lot of ways it is also acts as a theme for the novella The Trial of the Kouzinns as a whole. The first novella is very much a time sensitive plot that takes place over the course of five days. It starts out a little slower but becomes frenetic and fast-paced very quickly and stays that way until the end. If I get stuck on the scene for whatever reason the song acts as a reminder of the pace the scene is supposed to set and the emotions I want to evoke in the reader. These kinds of songs can also help with visualization in a scene.

World-Building/Framing Music: These songs say something about the world or culture I’m writing itself. Sometimes the music is what I imagine music to sound like in the world and sometimes they represent an aspect of that world.
Los Tigres Del Norte – La Reina Del Sur

I love this song, it tells the story of Teresa Mendoza, a woman who rises from a money changer in Sinaloa to ruling a criminal empire that spans the entire south of Spain hence her title La Reina del Sur – The Queen of the South. It’s based on a novel that then became one of the top telenovelas of all time La Reina del Sur which is pretty great (a sequel La Reina del Sur 2 is coming out in 2018 and I can’t wait!). It’s currently getting an American version on USA called Queen of the South which is good as well (TW: sexual assault for both versions of the show). This is on my playlist for two reasons, I wanted the culture I am creating to be one that creates songs to honor people and tell their stories which this song does. Also the story within the song has some (very small) similarities with the arc I’m planning for the three Batomi novellas to tell. Mostly in terms of a young woman rising to power in a criminal organization.

Lianne La Havas – Good Goodbye

This song is in a scene in my head where Constance is home resting for a few minutes before taking off again and she hears her older sibling singing. So technically this could belong to the second category but the song is a theme for the world. Cultures change and shift naturally, some things fall out of vogue or become more popular, beliefs are born and die. However in Batomi this is being forced by a corrupt King who is trying to shape the culture into something that benefits him, bringing in elements of misogyny, colorism, homomisia, strict binary gender definitions and other things that the people of Batomi evolved past centuries ago. The mourning in this song is for a culture that is not naturally dying but is being murdered and what it is being turned into against its will.

These are just a few ways in which I use music to help me with my writing. I hope I gave you some ideas or at least introduced you to some awesome music you hadn’t encountered before. If your interested in reading the draft chapters of The Trial of the Kouzinns, the first Batomi novella they start going up on my patreon the first week of November.

If you wanna see the whole Batomi playlist on Spotify? It’s here.

BATOMI – Worldbuilding: The Beginning aka “Where do your ideas come from?”

This is the beginning of a series of blogposts about worldbuilding and novel writing using one of my in progress novellas – The Trial of the Kouzinns. Some of the blogposts will be here for free and some will only be available to those on patreon, where I will also be posting the draft chapters of Batomi for my patrons.

Note the first: None of these blogposts are meant to imply that this is the definitive way things are done. AT ALL. I’m not even saying this is the way I work all the time.
Note the second: A specific thing I do as a writer but not everyone does – I don’t plan out the whole world before I start writing. I work out the basics I need and start writing and then build the world and write in tandem.

Where do your ideas come from?

A lot of writers I know dislike this question because it’s completely subjective and hard to articulate in a general sense. So I’m going to be talking specifically about where some of the core ideas for the world of Batomi come from. Like many of my works it was more a number of smaller ideas coming together.

1. A vague memory of a culture which had multiple queens and only one king, where the queens’ only power was deciding if the king should be replaced and who the new king would be. This resulted in the old King being put to death. (I can’t recall if this is history or from a book but it stuck with me for over two decades)
2. Current politics in the U.S. with a white supremacist sympathizer president and those who defend or appreciate the things he does that hurt other citizens feeling unaffected and privileged. I wanted to make it more of a discourse on culture though so it’s about the King obsessed with outside countries who look down on his own and view his country as “uncivilized”.
3. Organized crime and marginalized identity. The ways in which organized crime can become something like organized resistance when the people/organization that is supposed to protect/care about you no longer gives a shit and is actively working against you. I was thinking about gangs and people that have to police themselves and their own community. When does a protection racket become a informal police force?

The combination of these three ideas gave me the basic set-up for the world and the story I was going to tell: A corrupt king who had somehow circumvented the queens to stay in power for decades and was obsessed with turning his people into something they never were. A young girl, Constance, struggling to thrive, survive and care for her family being pulled into a life of crime that is also a life of resistance.

For myself as a writer, once I have the basic plot elements I ask myself a few questions about the world before I get started. For this work the questions were:
What’s the setting look like?
What’s the government look like?
What’s the religion look like?


Now that I had a general idea it was time to fill some of the details of the physical setting. In terms of landscape I knew I wanted a nation of islands. Now most folks would go straight to Venice (and don’t get me wrong I love Venice) but I wanted to skew it more towards my own cultural heritage. My mother and her family are from the southern U.S. and are mostly Creole from Louisiana so I wanted to do something rooted in the geography of the southern U.S. So Batomi was going to be a delta, a huge bayou nation made up of 97 islands where freshwater met saltwater on the outer edges. Some islands are large and vital and some are tiny enough that only one or two families live on them.
I decided that Batomi was a historically powerful nation but because they were islands they lacked metal which of course affected their technology level. Therefore much of their technology is plant-based. For example firearms, elsewhere in the world they are at the level of flintlock pistols but these are rare except among the extremely wealthy or extremely well connected in Batomi. They do have homemade firearms in Batomi but they are larger, almost hand cannon things that are usually manned by two people with a barrel of treated and hardened plant trunk that can’t handle an actual bullet but is filled with shrapnel made of hardened tree sap. Swords and daggers are still widely used by most everyone and universally guns aren’t very accurate since they are almost all smooth bore.

For flora and fauna I was going to use the way I view nature in general and bayous in particular, always waiting to kill you. The surrounding environment would be beautiful and dangerous filled with gorgeous deadly snakes, brightly colored insects that could easily swarm, large herons that call in the night, flowers with delightful smells and deadly protections, crocodiles nesting on many islands and hippos…why hippos? Cause I wanted it and I love hippos! Finally I questioned whether I was going to call them by their real names or call a rabbit a smeerp? I decided to just use the real world names for real world plants and animals and save the smeerps for any flora or fauna I decided to create or…import (like hippos perhaps.)


I wanted to use the traditional terms of King and Queen but also fuck with what those titles mean because as we know words and definitions change through time. I decided to use the King and multiple Queens scenario as a beginning point in the history of Batomi. In the past the King was a man married to the Queens who were five women with very little power on their own. In the current age though the five Queens are elected district positions with specific power over parts of the government that are more outward facing (diplomacy, economics, education, wetwork & the military) and also the ones who decide when the king needs to be replaced. The King is selected by the Queens and is the representative of the people, the public face of the government and in charge of more internal matters. Though the current King identifies as male there are no longer any genders associated with these specific titles.

Except that the current King has collaborated with outsiders, killed one queen, married another and the other three have been missing for well near 30 years. Three queens are needed to oust a King and since the three queens are missing and not dead and Queens are elected for life the districts cannot vote for new ones until they have proof of death. As for the one queen he killed? That seat has remained empty, with no one willing to take it up. The King has been listening to outside nations and adopting outside fashions, slowly exiling followers of the Beasts from the central islands first and now working on doing the same to the followers of the Invisibles. He’s been bringing in outside music and styles and slowly edging out his own culture, while not an outright tyrant he is known for his harsh punishments of those who commit crimes – some of which include traditions he has decided to outlaw. Constance, the main character, is of a generation that grew up with this King in power, while she knows things are wrong she believes the lie that everything is improving.


Anybody who knows me, knows that I’m fascinated by religion and belief so religion is something I always work out when I’m worldbuilding. I decided that Batomi had 63 separate powers, divided into three groups – Beasts, Invisibles & Blessed. Each with a very different position and power in society. Why 63? Because there are 97 islands and 9×7=63 (this is something I like to do in my writing, small number connections and other things like meaningful place and people names that will probably never be talked about in story but are part of my internal story telling)
Blessed gave up their physical forms aeons ago to exist as ideals that influence and guide all of Batomi and its people (or are supposed to). They lost their names when they did this and are now only known by their attributes such as Love or Justice. They are universally viewed as good. Even those that might be viewed as evil or ambiguous by those outside the culture such as Decay and Hunger are positive to those of Batomi. This of course ties into the ecosystem they live in and the clear vision they have of the cycle of life/nature. The Blessed at their embody balance.

Invisibles can take physical form but usually don’t and they do have true names but only those dedicated to them remember them. Each of them claimed a month, a season or equinox as their holy time of influence and are remembered by those names. Those dedicated to the Invisibles are easy to spot, they are covered head to toe, only the Invisible they are dedicated to and their religious siblings are allowed to see their bodies uncovered. They are based on mystery cults and have influence on society depending on when their Invisible is in ascendance.

Beasts are in physical form almost all the time. They are called Beasts specifically because many resemble humans with various animal additions. They embody principles that rest in the body, they are viewed as dangerous and capricious because the things they represent not being clearly good or evil (such as Passion or Hatred or Leadership) but are things likely to go to ones head and take control. They live on various islands of Batomi and have their own worshipers who recognize their necessity and power and accept their shifting moods as beyond their understanding. They are also why Batomi has always been inviolate, they protect their people even if they also rumored to prey on the people of Batomi.

Now your questions may be different. Hell with a different book my questions are different but these were the things I needed to start planning out and writing Constance’s story. If you’re interested in reading Constance’s story draft chapters of the first Batomi novella – “The Trial of Kouzinns” will be going up monthly on my patreon starting November 1st.

National Poetry Day 2017 – the boy in the shell

Today is National Poetry day 2017 so I decided to share a rough first draft of narrative poem I’m working on. Hope you like it!

the boy in the shell – 9/28/2017

the witches wanted a child
but held no want of men
or their seed
so they prayed to the sea
and loved each other in the waves
when they returned home
one of the five found a small lump below her belly

the boy was born in a tiny shell
iridescence transferred to skin
he grew up brown
he grew up rainbow

his mothers cared for him
he soaked their love in
and returned it in kind
laughter filled their small house
and outsiders, those on the road

he cared for his mothers
the boy was polite and helped others where he could
and as his mums curled into age
a town sprung up around them
folk arrived, carried by whispers and tales
they rode with expectations between their thighs

the boy did not learn his mothers magic
instead he took ordinary and made it magic
clothes he mended learned to protect
meals brought tears and joy and hope
and for some death
though those were buried quickly
the boy was good, he could be nothing else

then his mothers began to die
and the boy began to withdraw
the town had become a city
the neighbors of the boy became merchants
his labor and favors sold to make them rich

when the last of his mothers died
a crowd gathered at his home
they begged him
to continue to mend for them
to help the city thrive

“I did not ask you to come.”
they yelled and gnashed their teeth
“I cared for my mothers because they cared for me.
Now they are gone and I will be too.”

they cried out

“I have not been a boy for many a year.”
they fell silent
they looked at him

finally he spoke
“I will stay…”
they cheered
but he held his hand up
“…if one of you can recall my name.”

the city took the boy as their patron
parents struggled to forget
children refused to remember\

the boy was born in a tiny shell
as he grew the shell stayed stuck to his body
at 2 it sat on his head like a cap
at 5 cupped his bottom
at 10 it covered his right eye
at 14 it acted as elbow guard
at 17 it sat on his tongue like a candy that would not dissolve
at 20 it was his pinky nail
and there it stayed
until the day he died

Patreon Launch!

Some of you know that I’ve had a Patreon for a while but I haven’t really advertised it. Originally I wanted to do a launch at the beginning of 2017 but circumstances meant I really had to focus on deadlines and moving across the country. So it was there and I have some patrons (thanks!) but I haven’t really been doing anything with it. Since I have now moved and am working on getting my life in order one of my priorities has been revamping my Patreon!

That is going to change starting next month!

The main thing that I’m going to be offering is draft chapters of an ongoing high fantasy novel I’m working on. If you follow me on twitter then you’ve heard me talk about Batomi as my queer brown girl mafia revolutionary YA novel. Though as it’s conceived now it’s more like three multiple chapter novellas that tell the main character’s story. So every month a new draft chapter of the first novella will go up until it’s complete and then the second novella and so on. There will be more posts about the story and the world in this space and some exclusives on Patreon before the chapters start posting on November 1st.

There are also some other exciting things I’m going to be doing. Some will be patron-exclusive only but some will be patron-exclusive for 6 months and then I’ll share them here or elsewhere.

You can check it out here.

I’ll still be fiddling with the tiers and goals a little bit so if you have feedback please let me know

$1/month (PATRON)- access to a draft chapter of the ongoing novella every month

$3/month (X-RAY SPECS)- access to a draft chapter of the ongoing novella every month
+ a blog post about the worldbuilding/writing (exclusive for 12 months)

$5/month (RAVENOUS READERS) – access to a draft chapter of the ongoing novella
+ a blog post about the worldbuilding/writing (exclusive for 12 months)
+ a daily draft of a poem/piece of flash fiction! (exclusive for 12 months)

$10/month (NEWSIES!) – everything from the lower tiers
+ a monthly newsletter with updates on my projects, short entertainment
recommendations, calls for submissions y’all might be interested in & other
miscellaneous things.

$25/month (QUESTIONERS) – everything from the lower tiers
+ a monthly Q&A video answering your questions – writing, recommendations,
even personal advice if you want (no guarantee its good)! (exclusive for 6

$50/month (SEEKERS) – everything from the lower tiers
+ two short story critiques a year (first available after six months of
patronage, second after a year of patronage)

$100/month (EPHEMERA PROTECTION SOCIETY) – everything from the lower tiers
+ a yearly bound and illustrated chapbook of up to 6 Patreon pieces (mails
in May/June)

$500/month (COLLECTORS) – everything from the lower tiers
+ an personalized signed author copy of everything I publish that year
including anthologies.
$5000/month (BUY A BLACK FRIEND!) – everything from the lower tiers
+ I’ll be your black friend this includes one phone call a month of up to
30 minutes (after your monthly patronage comes through) and one tense
filled family dinner/gathering a year (after a year of patronage).

(Note – That last one is mostly a joke but if someone rich pays it I’ll definitely come through.)

The ones from $50 up are limited by number but if demand is a lot and they fill up I’ll think about adding more slots as a stretch goal. Speaking of stretch goals there are also goals based on $/ per month that have cute little prizes and here they are!

$500/month – a monthly drunk live tweet of a sf/f movie or TV pilot decided by Patreon poll!

$1000/month – the monthly Q&A video will become available to patrons at all levels (though questions will still come from patrons of levels $25 and higher)

$1500/month – all digital content will be come available for all patrons
+ there will be a draft of a short story posted every month

$2000/month – a monthly Spotify playlist will accompany each short story with a blog post explaining how each song fits in with the story
+ plus an downloadable audio version of one of Patreon pieces every month

$2500/month – a new monthly video series on writing marginalized identities and being a marginalized writer (exclusive for 12 months)

$3000/month – I don’t think we’ll reach here but if we do I’ll think of something awesome to do for y’all!

So there it is! Keep an eye on this space where I plan to tempt you into becoming a patron of my work so that I can keep creating work and y’know eat and stuff.

Writing Updates!

Hey all!

So in news, as some of you know I have been busing moving my whole life from the West Coast to the East Coast. I just arrived last night and am getting over my travel fatigue and trying to get my life in some sort of order.

Anyway while I was traveling a couple of pieces of writing of mine were published and I wanted to let y’all know about them!

Firstly my flash piece “Culture House” (which was originally published in Eleven Eleven) has been collected in The Best Small Fictions 2017 which was released just a few days ago! The 2017 edition was edited by Amy Hempel while the series editor is Tara L. Masih and you should pick it up!

Secondly my review of the delightful Martha Wells’ novel The Harbors of the Sun (the final book in the Books of the Raksura series) was published by Strange Horizons. You should check that out as well.

Also check this space out for more updates and announcements of projects I have in the planning stages right now.

I’m back baby!


The website is back up and everything! Yay!

So a few big things have happened since the website went down.

First of all my book The Root was made the 2017 Rainbow List Top Ten which is decided by the American Library Association! Which is such an honor and feels pretty amazing!

Second of all my short piece “Culture House” which was originally published in Eleven Eleven was selected by Amy Hempel for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions 2017. So look for that it should be out this September.

Me right now:


In not so great news my second book, The Tree, sequel to The Root was delayed because I was late with the manuscript. It’s in and going through edits now but the release has been pushed back to January 2018. I’m very sorry about that but I hope it’ll be worth it in the end. I’m proud of The Tree and I think it’s even better than The Root and moves the story forward in a great way.  I’m sure there are things that could be improved because I’m not perfect and never will be but I think my writing has definitely grown since the first book. A silver lining to this news is that the final book in the trilogy The Fruit is still on track for June 2018 so the gap between books two and three should only be six months or so.  For a little bit of sorry I’ll just tease that the opening scene in The Fruit is someone walking on water and it only gets more trippy and fabulous from there.

I think that’s all for now but look for this space to start popping up with more posts – thoughts on writing, plot & story, pop culture shit. All the same kind of stuff you get when you follow me on twitter @Naamenism (which you should do by the way.)

Next Post: Fix It Jesus – America’s Next Top Model <1st in a series>

PW Review: The Root///Surviving Negative Reviews

The first review for my debut novel The Root is out from Publisher’s Weekly and I want to profusely thank whoever took the time out of their day/life to sit down and read my book and write this review. I know a lot of books are submitted for review and they chose mine. However the review itself, is…not complimentary.

I was sick in bed when my publicist emailed this to me and like a good publicist pointed out the one or two nice things they said about me (Thanks, Bri!) so it was another blow on a bad day. I took a while to sort my feelings about it and I arrived at this post. As a debut novelist it’s been interesting to chronicle my expected reactions to things to my actual reactions. I was talking to a friend recently and mentioned that I was just waiting for the first review to come out because good or bad it would be like pulling the band aid off quickly and at least the waiting would be over. I’m surprised at how true that is. I’m not as completely devastated by this as I thought I would be.

I’m not saying I don’t feel bad about the review and won’t feel bad in the future. I suffer from depression and I know I’ll beat myself up about this at some point but here’s the thing – I knew that getting a book published meant that there would be reviews and not all of them would be great.

Did I want them all to be positive, raves about my genius and talent? Of fucking course I did. What author wouldn’t? This is a novel I worked over for the past two years, I sweated, cried and damn near died over this book. It’s my first time exposing myself to the wider reading world and I wanted it all to be this amazing experience but I’m a realist down to my core.

And I have a choice when a mixed or negative review comes in (and I’m sure there will be some whether professional or not for this book and every other book I author in my long career, that’s the life of an artist) I can let it make me angry and scream at the reviewer/review site on social media about how they just don’t understand, I could let it damage my self esteem so much I stop writing (those may seem extreme but I’ve seen both) or I could try and learn from it, re-dedicate myself to working harder on my craft and move on to the next step in my career.

I have confidence that there will be more reviews of my book and that it will find it’s audience. I also know that a review is only one person’s opinion. Maybe my book just wasn’t for that person or for some other reason they didn’t enjoy it. Is that on me as an author? Yes and no. It is on me to be the best at writing what I want to write the way I want to write it, after that it’s up to quite a few other factors whether someone likes it or not.

I don’t think any writer should view themselves as done growing as an artist, done at getting better. I think when you decide you’re good enough? That’s when you start to stagnate. I know I’m a better writer than I was even six months ago. My writing style is never going to be for everyone but it’s going to get better because I am going to get better and there’s no limit to that.

“I’mma keep running cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”
– Beyoncé

Writing Self-Challenge: 2 weeks of HELL

Every once in a while I get a bit manic and overconfident and give myself a challenge to complete in an effort to “fix” my life/trajectory.

This should not be news to any creative types out there I think a lot of us do this on different levels. This time however I’ve bitten off entirely more than I can chew.

My debut novel The Root is due out on June 7th. The MS for the second in the trilogy The Tree is due in July. I’ve been working on it and other novels piecemeal throughout the last few months but the time has come to really focus on concentrate on working on the second novel.

However, there’s this YA novel (tentative title: Deader Suburb Blues or DSB for short) I’ve been working on, that’s sort of a zombie detective novel mixed with gov’t conspiracy and surveillance state/reality show stuff.

And I want to finish it before I focus all my attention on THE TREE. So I’m giving myself the next two weeks, until April 1st, to finish a really rough (like incredibly rough) first draft of DSB. 

I’m putting it out here on my site because having other folks know about it will make it more of a deadline for me and I do well with deadlines. I don’t know if I can actually do this but I plan to do my best.

Should I mention that the draft is only at 2k words right now? Maybe not.

I can do this. Beyonce is always telling us we can do whatever we want, I’m clinging to that.