At the last two writing conferences I attended, world building was addressed. Each speaker noted that in order to create a world for a paranormal, dystopian, or fantasy novel, every detail is important. Michele Burke, editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, said people, history, and objects play an important part in world building.
I don’t write the type of books the speakers talked about so I never thought of simple objects being an integral part of world building unless the objects were the main focus of the story. Thinking more on the subject of world building, a picture of a cowboy hat ashtray flashed into my mind. It was a focal point for imaginary play when I was young.
This ceramic ashtray sat on an end table in my grandmother’s house for as long as I can remember. It was still there when she passed away. I took it. It’s ugly, and I would never use it for anything except for the wonderful memories it evokes. I don’t recall ever seeing ashes in it, but I do recall playing with it. It was a time when westerns were popular on television. Like horses and cowboys, that ashtray was a part of my life. It represented the pony I wished for and never got. I was magically drawn to the cowboy hat ashtray. I transformed my grandma’s living room into an imaginary western town. I spent hours creating western adventures that always included the cowboy hat ashtray.
If I did write fantasy, dystopian, etc., I’d make the cowboy hat ashtray play a vital role in a world of futuristic cowboys. Anyone in possession of the ashtray would have the ability to wield his power within certain limits. If those limits were surpassed, the ashtray would become volatile. The holder of the cowboy hat ashtray would have to know how to maintain a perfect balance of good and evil. If he didn’t, the ashtray would explode and destroy everyone and everything in the futuristic world. Who knew my grandma’s ashtray could be so powerful. It’s smokin’ hot!