Joys of the Shared Universe

A study in contrasts
I’ve been in a Cobalt City state of mind recently. Seeing as how I’m deep in edits on the new Dark Carnival anthology for this fall, writing new podcast scripts, and formatting one of the novels, it makes sense that the city would be on my mind. But the fun thing is that Cobalt City is on other peoples minds right now also. That makes for extra-special fun time!

See, there is this knot of authors working on projects set in the city right now. And no matter how much I think I’ve fleshed it out, there are always going to be unanswered questions. It’s natural for them to come to me for answers, and the fun begins when I realize I don’t have an answer.

Because that’s when things get collaborative! And being able to figure out those answers makes the whole world richer.

For example, I got this text: “Where did the name Cobalt City come from?”

I’ll be honest with you here and now. I never gave it a moment of thought. I mean, I figured it was coastal, and water is blue, so I came up with a name that reflected that. But that’s a lame-ass reason for people in a real city to name something. Maybe one of the early settlers was Bob Cobalt, and he was a used canoe salesman. Maybe it’s something else entirely. A few of us, including the person who asked the question, talked it over at writing group. Cobalt is used for ceramics. By making Cobalt City an early hub of ceramics manufacture, it does all kinds of things for the world. For instance it gives us a ceramics museum in Cobalt. It gives us nice ceramics in old buildings – door knobs, for instance. It gives us failing companies as the industry changes, leading to shuttered industrial kilns for disposing of bodies. It gives us the possibility of someone trying to innovate and create ceramic armor. Harlequin, one of the villains (to appear in an upcoming Neighborhoods story) uses a ceramic-coated staff, and now that ties in cleanly.

I had another author ask me about sports teams in the city. I figured there had to be a few pro teams. I gave them an NBA team called the Cobalt Blue Blazers. There’s probably a baseball team and hockey team also, possibly both minor league, but they’re there. That neighborhoods story I mentioned? It involves basketball. So answering that question provided me with a story and a richer feel for the culture of the place.

And this morning, I was asked for details on the riverfront part of downtown, particularly what kind of industries were there. The ceramics thing had come up previously, so I was able to offer that up. And the sports arenas are there, as is a bit of warehousing, including rented cold storage facilities. This was all easily available, not because I had written it up in notes years ago when I stared the Cobalt City process, but because they had come out of discussions and development as part of a shared universe.

The best thing about working in a shared universe, at least for me, is the opportunity to be constantly inspired by the things other people bring to the table. For instance the word Cobalt has roots in the German “Kobold,” and there are a lot of immigrants from Germany, particularly in the Karlsburg neighborhood. Does that mean there are kobolds in the hill? Maybe humans weren’t the first people to settle there! Maybe there is a deeper, stranger history that we have yet to tap.

Only the future can tell us.

Well, the future and the five exciting projects we’re developing at Timid Pirate for 2012.

Now, if you’ll forgive me, I have to get back to the carnival before the Ringmaster realizes I’ve slipped out.

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