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Anthropology, World Building, and Book Excerpt from "Cargo of Bones" Fantasy Author, Z. Lindsey

What do sheep, llamas, and denizens of the underworld all have in common? They all inhabit the rich, if slightly bizarre, world of Cargo of Bones, the second installment in the Saltwater Chronicles fantasy series from author Z. Lindsey. InkSpired invites you to read a free excerpt of the book along with a guest post from Lindsey on world building in writing.

Don't miss out, too, on the chance to win a $25 Amazon/B&N gift card and a digital copy of the book in the giveaway below!  


Book Details:

Cargo of Bones

by Z. Lindsey

Publication Date: June 24, 2024

Genre: Fantasy


Devil bureaucrat Essimore Darkenchyl barely made it out of the jungle alive, but next she’s going straight to hell—aka her hometown. When she finds out about a dark and desperate plan for immortality originating from her own people, her family ties, her sense of right and wrong, and her silly sense of humor will all be put to the test.

Here's the "cargo" you'll unload in this sequel:

  • A strong and geeky female lead

  • A doomed romance

  • A dark but hopeful storyline

  • Llamas!

In the second book of The Saltwater Chronicles, the stakes are higher, the villains are scarier, and the jokes about cannibalism are more common.


Book Excerpt of Cargo of Bones

“What’s happening now?” Two Rabbit shouted.


“Looks like some kind of sheep,” Merritt said.


Essie’s eyes shot open.


“Sheep?” Two Rabbit asked.


She still couldn’t move. She was staring at the sky again. Purple storm clouds.


“Essie?” the doctor asked. “Are you awake? You hear me? You’re bleeding to death! For Aro’s sake, let down that shield or aura or whatever you’re projecting.”


He was just out of sight. They were all out of sight. Essie desperately tried to sit, but it only made the storm clouds choke in on her faster. 


“Whoa!” Connie said. “Those are some mean sheep.”


“Sand sheep?” Boon asked.


Their voices made her head throb. She tried to follow, but couldn’t. It sounded like nonsense.


“By Aro—the sheep stepped on that guy’s crotch!” Merritt shouted. “Please don’t say we’re being rescued by sheep.”


“That’s if they don’t attack us, too,” Boon said.


“Holy Mother,” Two Rabbit said. “I’ve never seen a sheep spit like that.”


“Ohhhh.” Essie smiled as much as she could. “Llamas.”


Then she passed out.


Anthropology and World Building with Z. Lindsey

The No*-Research Approach to Worldbuilding

I study anthropology, and I read a lot of fantasy, which means I have an intimate understanding of how often fantasy writers flub fictional cultures. They’re unreal, or illogical, or there’s some horrifying implication raised by their existence that is just completely unexplored. For example, there’s the creep factor of love potions in the Harry Potter series. 

Harry Potter’s not unique in this sense, it’s just been debated more than most fantasy works. That means it’s easier to pick on. On the other hand, it is, of course, an incredibly well-known and beloved work, so maybe the squickiness of love potions isn’t all that big of a deal. 

But the farther away from the release of Harry Potter we get, and the more the controversial actions of its author alter our perspectives on the story, the more I hear, “Wait, isn’t it messed up that XX?” instead of conversations about the high points of the story. 

So the first step of being a good author is probably not alienating your fans. But the second is making sure your worldbuilding is consistent and logical. If a love potion was literally used in the conception of the most evil wizard of your world, you better have a good explanation for how teens are so easily able to get their hands on the recipe and investigate what adults think of that. 

That doesn’t take outside research, though. No amount of outside research on historical love potions could have avoided the squick of love potions being used both by teenagers to goof around and to nonconsensually conceive a horrifying villain. Rather, it’s internal logic you want to focus on. 

People think that because I’m an anthropologist, I do a lot of research into real-world cultures for my works, and I actually don’t. I do a little spot research while I’m writing. (“Hmm … She’s touring the sailing ship. Hey Google, what rooms were there in a typical brigantine?”) But I don’t do big research for my book. 

I’ve done a lot of research into real-world cultures for fun and because my professors required me to, but my worldbuilding doesn’t use real-world cultures as a starting point. The cultures I’ve studied may help me resolve problems (“Hmm … my characters are in a jungle, I’ve studied the Maya a lot, so how did the ancient Maya survive in the jungle?”) but I try to have a character-focused worldbuilding, where the world is built logically around the needs and beliefs of the main characters. This helps keep the story focused on the characters and their opinions of your fantasy world, meaning you’re less likely to do info-dumps. The only thing you’ll know, at first, about your world, is what is important to your character, so nothing you share will be irrelevant to the story. As you write in the same world for longer and longer, you’ll start pulling things from other places in your world when your characters have problems. (“Hmm … my character needs a sedative, luckily there’s a poisonous caterpillar that likes to eat ship sails that she can happen across.”)

The difference between reading about something for fun and reading about it for a specific novel may seem small, but they’re tremendous. If you’re writing a novel about, say, colonial Spain, and you pick up the first biography of Isabel I of Castilla you find, you may find one that accidentally replicates anti-Spanish propaganda, which you will then put in your book without realizing it. Or you may find one that does the opposite--one of the anti-Jewish biographies of her written during the Franco era of Spain. 

If these are topics you’ve studied already, for the fun of it, you’ll already be aware of those kinds of debates, and you risk putting less stereotypes in your work. And I know some writers say, “Well, I’m making stuff up, I can write what I want,” but stereotypes make writing feel hollow and phony, and they distract from your story. So no matter where you stand on a writer being allowed to write about whatever topic they want regardless of their background, I suspect you don’t want to sound like a fool. 

Thanks to the Dunning–Kruger effect, we think we know a lot more than we do. It’s a cognitive bias that we all succumb to. I don’t think I’m free of it by any means--it’s actually why I prefer the low-research method. 

That’s why I think, if you write about European-style fantasy, for example, you probably want to read about Europe during the Middle Ages fairly extensively--not for specific books but to have a general understanding of the time. That info will filter out into your writing organically. 

I don’t think it’s a huge ask of writers. We hear the advice that writers should be big readers anyway, but we forget that that needs to include both fiction and non-fiction. 

I suspect that if you read about Isabel for fun, then later decide to include thematic elements based on her life in your fantasy novel, you’ll do a more nuanced job of it than if you read a book about her for the purposes of writing your novel. In the second case, you’ll be shoving data you’ve learned for the novel into your work with less regard for the story and more regard for making sure the information you read appears in your work. 

*Some research may apply. 



Author Info:

Zac Lindsey is an anthropologist and a linguist who focuses on the Maya people of Quintana Roo. Since childhood, he's had a not-so-secret love of weird, silly, and well-structured fantasy. When other people's parents were reading them picture books, his mom was reading him Terry Brooks. He typically writes hopeful and character-driven fantasy.


Today, he lives in Quintana Roo, Mexico with his wife, daughter, and various stray cats.

Author Links:


17 views2 comments


6 days ago

This looks like a terrific novel. Thanks for sharing and hosting this tour.


Sherry Strode
Sherry Strode
7 days ago

This sounds like an interesting book and I also like the cover.

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