Behind the Scenes – City of Xin


While many authors would share a status update of where they are in the process of a novel, I’m in the middle of the “copy edit” phase of things (editing for compliance to all things grammar and format related.) So I really don’t want to inflict this upon you. Copy editing is about as exciting as watching paint dry. The old-fashioned kind of paint that takes forever to dry and gives off a really nasty stench in the process.

Instead I thought I’d share a bit about the more interesting parts of the process, how I come up with some of the world-building, which several beta readers have commented seemed very life-like. Specifically, details for the city of Xin (which as I hinted at the last post, is one of the main locations for the novel.) This may be a fantasy world, but I still like to make things feel as real as possible, which means taking real world inspiration.

To start off with, how did I come up with the name? I really have no idea. Honest. It just sounded cool, and according to extensive research, Xin is not a curse word in any other language. It actually means “new” in Chinese, and “please” in Vietnamese, but I had intended it with the English pronunciation (e.g. the “z” sound.) I always run my fantasy names through the translator just to be sure. With harpies featuring so prominently in the novel there’s more than enough deliberate cursing without worrying about accidental cursing as well.

I try to base any description starting with real world examples – fortified cities that I’ve visited over the years, plus internet research. Then extrapolating how such real world historic cities would have evolved differently if the citizenry were defending itself not against an invading army, but giant fantasy creatures. And finally, style, architecture, and color schemes – while it’s easy to invent such things, basing them off a real world style really adds to the authenticity. In this case, I chose Ottoman Empire architecture as the base – a fascinating and underutilized style in fantasy literature.

The result: I have over ten pages of descriptive writing about the history and architecture of the city of Xin that I’ve written as a reference for myself, Despite the fact that in the novel there are only a few sentences here and there describing what the city looks like. Hey! I said I’d reveal my process – I didn’t say it was a very efficient process!

For historical references on city wall construction, I’ve had the privilege of visiting:

Aigues-Mortes, France, which has an intact medieval city wall which must be seen to be believed – the amount of (manual) labor that it must have required to build something on that scale is quite remarkable.

Aigues Mortes
By Baptiste Rossi – Own work, Public Domain,

Dresden, Germany, which has a fantastic archeological excavation of one of the city gates, describing how the city defenses evolved over hundreds of years to keep pace with changing technology. The city was almost continuously building and upgrading – and they never had to contend with fantasy monsters. Note that the image is of nearby Königstein, as the museum is mostly underground, and images don’t do it justice.

By Fritz-Gerald Schröder – Fritz-Gerald Schröder, CC0,

And of course the very popular tourist attraction of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France. Which is well worth a visit should you ever have a chance. I first saw it in a poster at my aunt and uncle’s house as a kid, and thought such an amazing place couldn’t possibly be real, but many years later I was finally able to visit.

By Ryan R Zhao – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

I’ve regrettably seen the following places only virtually:

Mdina, Malta

Pingyao, China

Itchan Kala, Uzbekistan

Dubrovnik, Croatia

My reference photos for Ottoman Empire era architecture are too numerous to list.

Hope you’ve found this look behind the scenes interesting!



Harpyness is Only Skin Deep blends outlandish fantasy, the most unlikely of friendships, and endearing characters in a uniquely witty, charming style.

A fantasy novel for adult readers

Harpyness is Only Skin Deep is live! Available in eBook, paperback and hardcover.

Ebook (Kindle ASIN: B082Z44YDG)
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7 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes – City of Xin”

  1. I like doing the research before I write or create art, and I have been blessed with being able to visit some outstanding places of architecture and history. In fact, I almost enjoy the research aspect more than I do writing! The last two dollhouses I created were period pieces, so I wanted to be as true as possible to the era! Thanks for bringing us all along on your journey and sharing your works!

    • You’re absolutely right – we are fortunate to have traveled a bit. Sometimes what we’ve seen makes it consciously into our works, and sometime it’s subconsciously, but it definitely has an impact. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Reading this was a most interesting experience. Thanks for sending this.
    As Debbi implied, researching is fun and interesting.
    I also find copy and other editing a pleasant experience.

  3. Love seeing the real world sites that inspired you… it adds great layer to the book. Also, they are very close to what I pictured in my mind, and as I said your descriptions are wonderful.

    • Thank you! Appreciate your dropping by. Now if I could only visit someplace with dragons or harpies, it would help my research tremendously.


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