My favourite Disney film was Aladdin. According to Twitter, that means something.
Every kid had a favourite Disney film growing up, and for my friends it was The Little Mermaid or Snow White but I had always been a tomboy growing up. I’d climb trees, whack other kids with plastic swords, and pretend to be the hero. The stories of princes saving princesses didn’t do much for me. I wanted Lord of the Rings style fantasy. I wanted swashbuckling swords, adventure, and the underdog rising to defeat the big bad. And, though I didn’t understand it then, I also wanted my bad guy to be tall, dark and handsome. You can’t tell me Jafar isn’t that!
Disney’s version of Aladdin ticked all those boxes for me. I became obsessed with the film. I had the soundtrack, the video games, the life-like dolls and a magic carpet I would use to re-enact their stories. I never cared for Princess Jasmine, I didn’t want to be her. I wanted to be Aladdin. In Sand Dancer, this desire comes through my main character. A girl who wants to become a warrior.
If I was to look at my interests and list all the things which led to the creation of Sand Dancer, Aladdin would be near the top of that list. Tamora Pierce would sit on the throne. As I explained in my post about strong female characters, I wanted to write a story of a warrior woman first and foremost. My original idea was of a woman warrior who is captured by the enemy and falls in love with the enemy king. Original, I know. But I wanted the sword fighting and the romance. As the story took on life and became its own unique thing, I needed to create a whole new world (see what I did there?) and my thoughts turned back to Aladdin.
I thought to myself… why not set it in a desert? Why not create a culture based on a god of fire? What would that mean? Why not write a story where the young female protagonist has more important things to worry about than boys?
Whilst my initial inspiration was Aladdin, I researched Persian and middle eastern cultures because I wanted to learn and become aware of the stereotypes around those cultures. Sand Dancer includes a mix of Persian and middle eastern flavour in the way I designed the world, but I don’t claim to represent those cultures. The world, religion, and culture of Sand Dancer is its own second world – its own separate existence. They don’t experience the same histories and struggles of these cultures in the real world. There are plenty of fantastic books out there already who take inspiration from One Thousand and One Nights and the real middle east (which I’ll do a separate blog on!). Sand Dancer is not one of them. But I’m glad I spent the time learning more and researching more of these cultures even if Sand Dancer incorporates none of those things.
I can’t tell those stories because they are not mine to tell.
There are many influences that make a book. Many threads are woven subconsciously, and I’ll have no idea where they came from. The sword dancing aspect of Sand Dancer came straight from video games. I love my books, my fantasy, yes, but I also grew up on video games. When a shy kid can’t go out into the world with a sword and become a warrior, she’ll do so in other ways, and that’s where my unhealthy obsession with role playing games and MMO’s come from.
There are a few role-playing games from my youth that inspired minor aspects of Sand Dancer, from place and character names to battle scenes. As mentioned, sword dancing was inspired initially from playing games, and when I picture Mina fighting in my head, I imagine the graceful dancing style of Hwang and Xianghua from the Soul Calibur series. Once I started writing Sand Dancer of course I looked into real sword dancing and scimitar fighting styles, shoving my research into medieval facts and YouTube re-enactments of duels.
As for fire magic, shadow creatures, and the rest of it, that all came later. I find, when it comes to world building a fantasy story, you just need a few key themes or ideas and the rest of it follows naturally.
It’s popular within the writing world to sum up your entire book with comparisons to other books, but if I was to sum up Sand Dancer based on its true origins, I would say it’s Tamora Pierce with the flavour of Aladdin, a dash of The Last Airbender and a touch of Mulan.
So basically, the best things, right?
Image Credit: @bmk001