Otherworld | Behind the Scenes: Setting

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I decided it might be cool to give readers a glimpse into the creation of Crooked Raven and I thought to start I’d talk a bit about the world-building. If you’re curious about this sort of stuff then read on but if you’re worried it might spoil things (which it shouldn’t) then feel free to shut your eyes, run, and maybe come back later if curiosity happens to strike after you’ve read the book.

So for those still curious…Onwards! 

With this book it all began with a feeling. Whaaat? Yes just a mere…feeling. Sort of like when you wake up from a vivid dream but even so it’s faded and you can only catch wisps of images and this feeling that settles over you that will too fade quickly. I don’t know if this description made any sense to you but it’s the only way I know how to describe it.

And from that “feeling” I began seeing an island wreathed in fog and almost as if I was a bird swooping over it I began to see mountains, forests, towns, and curiously enough a desert. As I let my imagination wander the island shifted landscapes in an impossible way and as I got closer there were people.

Map in progress_Oneiroi_Talis Jones
In Progress: Map of Oneiroi – Talis Jones (2015)

I’m an outliner. I love making lists, outlines, anything organizational. And I’m also very linear. I like to start at the beginning and work my way straight through to the end. None of that bouncing around stuff. However that being said no matter how much I plan and outline and cover my wall in pictures, notes, string, timelines, and insanity, my characters command the story. When I write it’s often as if someone is telling me the story and I’m merely writing it down, throwing in details to describe what their words call up in my mind’s eye. I always outline but because my characters tell the story things never go quite according to plan. If you look at my original outline and compare it to the book you’re holding in your hands you’ll be utterly flummoxed because they are but vaguely similar with only the spine of the plot remaining mostly the same.

There were, however, three scenes that I saw right from the start. They weren’t in order but they were vivid and remained unchanged throughout the many drafts. (No spoilers, don’t worry, I’ll remain vague but after you read the book you’ll know what I’m talking about) First was the scene of Crown Dismas on his throne with the songbird. Second was the scene of Adrianna under a spell. Third was Cassandra’s private confrontation with Dismas.

With those three scenes in my head and an island to place them in I grabbed a pen and began writing writing writing. I keep a journal titled “Random Nonsense, Vol. 1” and it’s filled with, well, random nonsense. But from this I was able to piece together an outline.

But back to the Island of Oneiroi! (Sorry I’m awful at focusing when writing blog posts)

Bocklin Isle of the Dead III
Isle of the Dead (III) – Arnold Böcklin (1883)

As I said, I just sort of saw the island, I felt it. And then came the crazy part. I happen to love the painting “The Woman in Red” by Giovanni Boldini and on a total whim I looked it up on Google Images to make it my computer background and of course you get other recommendations and you rabbit hole down the tunnel that is the internet and lo and behold I stumbled across a painting by Arnold Böcklin called “The Isle of the Dead” and I just stared. Because although Oneiroi was far more vast and varied than this simple painting it just called to me and it felt like I was staring at the Oneiroi in my book (although at the time it had yet to be named). It wasn’t and yet it was. Then along with images of this painting was another. A self-portrait of Böcklin with Death playing a fiddle by his shoulder. And at that moment I knew what the island I wrote was, who lived there and why. My island though wasn’t death in finality, it was an in-between place of sorts and it still needed a name.

Bocklin self portrait
Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle – Arnold Böcklin (1872)

So instead of death I thought of dreams. Sleeping is a strange state where our bodies can seem as if dancing on the brink of death while in our dreams one can go anywhere, be anyone, do anything and that too seemed to fit with my island. So I went back to 10th Grade English class and recalled a truly random tidbit: Oneiroi. Oneiroi comes from Greek mythology. The Oneiroi were the personification of dreams and lived near the gates to the Underworld and, well, there you have it. It fit far too perfectly.

So I grabbed my journal and wrote and wrote and wrote and came up with (sigh) a revised outline and from there I wrote everyday and finished the first draft in exactly one month. Aaaaaand then I spent several months revising because (especially as it was my first novel) it really needed it.

giovanni boldini_the woman in red
The Woman in Red – Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931)

Now just two more things. (Just two, Talis? Only two? Yes. I’m sorry I write too much.)

One, you’ll read about some characters called Whispers and that was inspired by a strange combination of Neverland’s Lost Boys and the fact that Oneiroi was an island between death and life.

Two, the reason why Oneiroi is so impossibly diverse in its landscapes is both because I just happened to visualize it that way and also because it just makes sense, no? People from everywhere come there and so it’s a mishmash of cultures from around the world and that’s not only reflected in the human-made aspects but is embedded into the island itself. Do you think Heaven is really gonna be naked babies bouncing on clouds or is going to look only how your home looks? Nah. I hope it’s as diverse as the earth (but, like, better as in I can finally hug a lion ’round his neck and call him Aslan without worrying it’ll bite my head off haha).

So there ya have it!

This post was way long (sorry!) and I didn’t really get into any details of the setting for this book but I didn’t want to spoil it and when you read the book you’ll find out anyway. (But you can browse my Pinterest board for more if you’re interested). I just thought it might make a slightly interesting (or boring) post to talk a bit about how the book came to be. Next week I’ll write a bit about the characters.

Stay tuned…

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(You can look at the map below for reference)

Adhan – [ad-HAN] The capital of Llyr; name comes from the Legend of King Arthur as the name of Merlin’s mother

Ailill – [ael-EEL] The Southwestern territory that remains independent of the Crown; name comes from Gaelic for “elf”

Aztlan – [az-TLAN] The northeastern territory subservient to the Crown (name comes from the mythical origin of the Aztec people)

Banha – [BAN-ha] A coastal city in Llyr; name comes from Portuguese for “to bathe”

Barnum – [BAR-nuhm] Major town in north of Ailill; name comes from the Barnum & Bailey’s Ringling Bros. Circus

Circ de Apa – [SERK deh AH-pah] Largest city in Ailill; name comes from Romanians for “circus of water”

Jardín – [har-DEEN] The capital of Ailill (name comes from the Spanish word for “garden”)

Llyr – [LEER] The southeastern territory subservient to the Crown; name comes from Welsh for “sea”

Mordréda – [mor-DREH-dah] The capital of Quidel and seaside residence of the Crown; name comes from the character Mordred from the legend of King Arthur

Navitas – [nah-VEE-tas] Hometown of Shaun Omri and Sarai Morrigan; name comes from latin for “new energy”

Olanta – [oh-LAN-tah] A border town between Aztlan and Quidel; name derived from “Atlanta” the city I was living in when I wrote Crooked Raven

Oneiroi – [AW-nee-ree] An island located in an in-between place neither of life or of death; name comes from Greek for “dreams” and the myth of the Oneiroi whose domain some say lies between the sea and Asphodel Meadows – where spirits lie after death

Oom – [OOM] A small town in Llyr and the birthplace of Tom and Novo Myrddin; name inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia

Privatus – [pree-VAH-toos] A port city Titus commonly uses to bring new arrivals to Oneiroi; name comes from latin for “freed; delivered from something”

Quidel – [kee-DEL] The northwestern territory subservient to the Crown; name comes from the Native American language Mapuche for “burning torch”

Sea of Bithia – [BIHTH-ee-ah] Sea between Ailill and Llyr; named after Bithia, the Egyptian Princess who saved baby Moses

Sherwood – [SHER-wood] Small forest town in Quidel; named for the forest in the legend of Robin Hood

Silas Mountains – [SEYE-las] Thick wooded area laced with magic bordering the north of Oneiroi and home of the Whispers; named after Silas, a companion of Paul the Apostle

Silvanus – [sil-VAH-noos] Covers the entire northern mountains on the island and is home to the Whispers (others rarely enter without a Weepy or Whisper guide as magic runs through the mountains and it’s nearly a promise you’ll become lost); name comes from latin meaning “of the woods” and from the myth of Pan

Telmar – [tel-MAR] A town at the border of Ailill and Quidel; name inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia

Tevka – [TEV-kah] Small village in Quidel; name inspired by The Fiddler on the Roof

Map of Oneiroi_Otherworld Trilogy by Talis Jones_2018


Some words incorporated into my story as part of the Oneiroian dialect are taken exactly from existing languages while others are merely influenced/derived from the phonetics of a word or phrase. As Oneiroi is home to all nations it seemed only right to have this truth seep into the language as well.

Acta non verba – “Deeds, not words” (Latin)

Ahktun – “Attention” (German)

Alea iacta est – “The die is cast” (Latin)

Alvidar – “Goodbye” (Hindi)

Belísama – “Beautiful” (Italian)

Bihana – “Morning” (Nepali)

Bon – “Good” (French)

Chavi – “Child” (Romani)

Cosechapan – A type of Aztlanean sweet bread made during the Rujan Festival (“Cosecha” is “Harvest” and “Pan” is “Bread” in Spanish)

Et insurgent filii in – “The Children will rise” (Latin; Matthew 10:21)

Indit – “Go” (Sudanese)

Intermezzi – “Intermission” (Italian)

Ja – “Yes” (Spanish; Mexican dialect)

Jourdie – [JOR-dee] Citizens of Oneiroi; People whom have come to Oneiroi to live out the rest of their lifeline/a second life; Includes those born on Oneiroi; word derived from the Norse element jord meaning “land”

Noche – “Night” (Spanish)

Nyet – “No” (Russian)

Porfabór – “Please” (Spanish)

Rom Baro – The Boss/Leader (Romani)

Slahncha – “Cheers; Good health” (Irish Gaelic)

Spaseeba – “Thank You” (Russian)

Suverenye/a – “Sovereign; King/Queen; Highness” (Russian/Norwegian)

Tseloti ina tinikaree – “Prayer and strength” (Amharic)

Veni vidi vici – “I came, I saw, I conquered” (Latin)

Weepy – Guests of Oneiroi; Visitors whom come whilst dreaming in the Outer World

Whisper – Guardians of Oneiroi; Immortal beings whom cannot be murdered or taken by disease

*Please keep in mind this is a work of fiction. Not a language lesson. While I tried to get first-person sources it wasn’t always possible and I had to trust the internet.
No insult is intended. 

Don’t forget to order your copy of CROOKED RAVEN on
June 26, 2018!
~Available as a paperback and a Kindle eBook~

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