Nälu Worldbuilding: Behind the Scenes with J.L. Mbewe

Happy Saturday, dear followers! :)

Today  I have the privilege of J.L. Mbewe guest posting here on The Fox Hole!
She is the author of Secrets Kept, the first in her Hidden Dagger trilogy, and the second book in the series–Darkened Hope–just released earlier this month! Her worldbuilding has always floored me, and so I invited her over to talk about how she built Nälu.


The Post:

JL Mbewe guest post

The journey to Nälu has been over ten years in the making, and it’s getting harder to remember how the world of Nälu came to be. But I do remember that I had the characters and rough idea of the story. Ayianna, Kael, Desmond, etc. were just cardboard cut-outs at the time, although their names have changed considerably from the initial concept. As I was building the characters and the story, questions arose which pushed me to explore their backgrounds, their cultures, and customs. So it was kind of like a dance. A lot of two steps forward, one step back, and sometimes, I had to take five steps back before I could move forward one. Thus the world of Nälu grew up around them as the story grew from a thirty page rough draft into three novels that expanded into nine books.

In the early stages of writing the first draft, I sketched maps to get an idea of where everything was located. I LOVE maps, so I might have spent longer on it than I needed. But I had to get everything just right. I studied climates and world geography to create a believable terrain and weather interaction. The initial map went through several drafts until I finally solidified the final markings, but even then the names kept changing right up until Secrets Kept went to print back in 2013.

The nations and cultures that rose up were influenced by where they lived and my studies. I love the various cultures and ethnicities our world has and I wanted Nälu to reflect that. In Nälu, we have humans, elves, dwarves, feline-shapeshifters, merfolk, giants, fairies, and pygmies. As my story grew, my characters faced questions of their own histories and how that influenced their interactions with each other, their motivations, purpose, etc. The information kept growing and getting harder to manage. It was a beast! So I ended up creating an Excel document with all the nations and their influential events and people from the beginning of their recorded time until their end.

The second most important thing I had to nail down was the languages. I couldn’t have all these nations running around with only one language. Sure, I have the common tongue and Táchil, the language of Zohar and power. Then each race has their own language: Zjótharyn (elves), Tarôc (dwarves), Nihi (merfolk), Hazrul (feline-shapeshifters), Pyamor (giants), and even the jungle natives have one (Raklho). I love languages. I can hold my own speaking Spanish and know a few good phrases in Nyanja (hubby’s language). But I am no J. R. R. Tolkien. Now, I am going to tell you what I’ve only told a few people. The base of each language is a code. Yes. I know. I’m a hack. But it works. From the code, I used my knowledge of Spanish and Nyanja and tweaked it. But I had to stop by myself before I started creating a whole list of verbs to conjugate. Ack! There is a fine line between keeping it real in fantasy worlds and going too far. I don’t know if I will ever do that again for future worlds.

Once the foundation of each race was built (where they lived, what they look like, major history events, languages, textiles, agriculture, military, etc.), I started layering social customs. I created another Excel document with a worksheet for each race and started filling it out like a character sheet. How did they greet each other? Express sorrow? How did they treat/punish criminals? I wrote out their social expectations, educational system, laws, and such.

Building Nälu took years. I hope to take what I’ve learned through this and apply it to the future worlds I’m building. I do hope you all enjoy it.


The Blurb:

BSB Darkened Hope smallerThe Secret Keeper is on the run, but does she know the secret she keeps?

Ayianna is a cursed half-elf betrothed to Desmond, but her heart belongs to another. After discovering the cure for the Sorceress’s curse, she and her companions embark on a dangerous quest to retrieve the ingredients. 

 When dragons descend upon their party, Ayianna realizes the Sorceress is searching not just for the corrupted dagger, but a human sacrifice that will open a portal to the underworld. Battling deadly creatures and natural disasters, Ayianna is forced more and more to confront her insecurities and conflicted heart.

 Now she must decide whether to be true to her family or true to herself. As the nations rally for war, betrayal threatens to destroy them all, and it’s a race against time to return before the curse devastates the plains people.


The Author:

Writing as J. L. Mbewe, Jennette is an author, artist, mother, wife, but not always in that order. Born and raised in Minnesota, she now braves the heat of Texas, but pines for the Northern Lights and the lakes of home every autumn. She loves trying to capture the abstract and make it concrete. She is currently living her second childhood with a wonderful husband and two precious children who don’t seem to mind her eclectic collections of rocks, shells, and swords, among other things. Here, between reality and dreams, you will find her busily creating worlds inhabited by all sorts of fantasy creatures and characters, all questing about and discovering true love amid lots of peril. She has two short stories published in The Clockwork Dragon anthology, and four short stories set in the world of Nälu. Her debut novel, Secrets Kept, was nominated for the 2014 Clive Staples Award, and its sequel, Darkened Hope is coming May 2016.

Stay up-to-date with all things Nälu and her journey as a writer mama at JLMbewe.com. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest.


A Chance to win the books:

The Darkened Hope Facebook Launch Party which is TONIGHT!!!! *throws confetti*

FB party DH launch 2

There will be so many things that you can win at this party.

party prizes 1

The Grand Prize.

party prizes 2

Awesome playing cards.

party prizes 3

Groovy journal.

party prizes 4

Elegant mug and gift card.


Buy the books:

Here are links to buy Secrets Kept and Darkened Hope! (Oh, and btw–the Kindle edition of Secrets Kept is on sale for only $0.99 for this month only! Go buy it!)


The other stops on the tour!

The Fashion of Nälu.

An Interview with Prince Vian. (Guys, Prince Vian is one of my one true loves from fiction. You should go check out this interview with him.)

An Interview with J.L. Mbewe.

The Powers of Nälu.

The journey of The Hidden Dagger Trilogy and what it means to J.L. Mbewe.

P.S. – review of Darkened Hope forthcoming.

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