I mentioned not long ago that I had sold “Queen of the Flies” to Michael Matheson’s QUILTBAG: START THE REVOLUTION anthology. Now Michael has released the TOC, which means I’m free to explain the comment I made about this one being special.
Why’s it special? Because my wife, Kelly Robson, has a story in it too. What’s more, it’s a stunning, scary, beautifully-written gut-wrencher of a piece called “Two Year Man.”
This will be our first appearance in an anthology together, so naturally I am very jazzed.
As you’ll see from the TOC, QUILTBAG will also have stories by Charlene Challenger, Leah Bobet, and E.L. Chen, to name three. It’s going to be entertaining and challenging, and it’ll be out early next year.
Between now and then, Michael Matheson is planning to attend Clarion West. If you’d like to help him get there, click here.
In 1995, I went to the Clarion West writing workshop, where Gardner Dozois made a passing remark about how many fantasy and SF worlds created by newer writers, were comparatively simple, politically. He was describing a one planet, one government, one language, one culture kind of formula. He used a phrase like “failure to fully imagine a settomg…”
It was an observation, not a rant or a lecture; I doubt more than one breath went into it. But it set me back on my heels a little. There was a “Oh, yeah!” moment. Since then, I’ve taken that throwaway remark as license to write complicated, messy worlds filled with different tribes, factions and languages.
I tell you this because Paul Weimar of SF Signal asked: What were your inspirations for the various cultures we see in Child of a Hidden Sea?
Pick an Island, Add Magic
There are about 250 island nations on Stormwrack, so I thought I’d start with Erinth. (At some future point, if you’re all interested, I’ll do entries on Verdanni and Sylvanna. Not until after the book’s out, though, when it’s less spoilery.)
A lot of us get our early image of spellcasting and magic from depictions of warty, cackling crones over a cauldron, dumping eye of newt and fillet of a fenny snake into a cauldron as they chant, “Bubble babble, toil and trouble, let’s trick MacBeth into making some bad choices. Evil Magic Soup FTW!”
I wanted Stormwrack to have a wisp of this–specifically, the eye of fenny snake element–in its magic system. Each of those 250 island nations has its own microclimate, and the specific types of newt, toad and creeping kudzu available to a people determines what kind of spells they can work with it. In one archipelago, you might have five islands with seven variations of newt and seven completely different resulting magical effects.
To this foodie-influenced cooking element, I added contract law. The spellscribe has an intention, you see. They want to make you beautiful or restore your lost hearing or give you angel wings or help you do lightning-fast calculations in your head or cause you to keel over dead. They cook up their ingredients, usually following a recipe set out by earlier researchers. They write the precise text of the spell, using a magical language with its own magical alphabet. The spellscrip has been imagined here by cover artist, Karla Ortiz–there’s some on the sails of Nightjar, on the Child of a Hidden Sea cover.
The spell must be written with specific materials, on other specific materials. It’s an exercise in perfection. Get it wrong–imprecise materials, flawed writing surface, misform a letter wrong as you’re engaged in calligraphy–and nothing happens. That newt died for nothing. Get it just right, though, and you have a form of magical contract. The nature of reality is changed…
… for as long as the physical artifact, the inscription, remains intact.
That’s right. Spells are, on Stormwrack, things you can literally break. Destroy the contract, the spell doesn’t necessarily fizzle. Reality reasserts itself as best as it can. If you had a magical appendectomy twenty years ago and somebody rips up your scroll, you might get your appendix back, inflamed and ready to pop. Then again, if the appendix has been sitting pickled in a jar for twenty years, you might get that, formaldehyde and all.
Tame a volcano? What could go wrong?
This brings us to Erinth. One of my earliest notes on Stormwrack was a long list of possible spells, which said, “there’s an island that uses magic to hold the local Santorini-like volcano in check…”
Say you’re the Conto of an island whose population is tired of having the neighborhood volcano wipe out the capital city, or a substantial portion thereof, every sixty years or so? Say you set all the magicians you can afford on researching a way to write an intention that will calm the mountain down.
Cindria, Erinth’s capital, lives in the shadow of a volcano calmed by such an intention. It’s described here, in “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti.”
“See for yourself.” Tonio swept out an arm as they reached the cliff top, and Parrish saw the figure of a woman, sculpted in rose marble and fully fifty feet high. Clad in a modest robe, hair bound at the nape of her neck, she stood on the inland lip of the caldera, hands out in a soothing gesture, the hushing pose of a mother calming a child in its cradle.
Ice-blue spellscrip glimmered on her arms and hands, written from shoulder to fingertip.
In the shadow of those big stone hands, the molten stone churned like a pot aboil. Beyond it, the flow of lava seemed orderly and civilized.
One obvious inspiration here, then, is nature in the form of my favorite volcanos: Mount Saint Helens, or Santorini, to name two.
I had already decided this much about Erinth before a trip to Italy in 2012. Since I was going, I went to Catania to see black lava buildings, not to mention Mount Etna. I went to Naples to see Vesuvius and one of the cities, Herculaneum, that it destroyed in 79.
Erinthians live in the shadow of a killer mountain, and they know that when something finally happens to their Lady, all the stored energy from all those becalmed eruptions will come bursting forth in spectacular fashion. They deal with this reality in a very human way–by posting guards around the statue and hoping for the best. If it weren’t for the time honored concept best articulated by the phrase of “La la la, I can’t hear youuuuu,” most of us would spend all our waking hours in the fetal position.
Having taken a bit of inspiration from the landscape of Italy and the history of Santorini, I married the terrain to another of my early notes on politics, which read “…there’s an island a bit like Florence under the Medicis.”
You might say my approach to worldbuilding is additive. I’m not quite as much of an extrapolator: “If this happens, then naturally the people will worship this kind of god and develop that kind of technology…” I admire people who do that and make it seem effortless. I’m more of a pinch of this, dash of that, see how it tastes, add something else kind of writer. I’ve got the magic figured out? Yay! Now I’ll add the volcano. Got the volcano tamed? Let’s add some Renaissance Florence! How does that all work? Oh, there’s some extrapolating, I suppose. They’ve got the tame volcano, so maybe there’s a local industry in volcanic glass. And pumice. Maybe pumice figures into beauty spells?
As I write this, there is just over a month days before Child of a Hidden Sea‘s release date. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say we’ll be going back to Erinth for awhile over the course of the novel. It’s one of Gale Feliachild’s favorite places, a place where she feels truly at home. Naturally, I hope all of you enjoy being there and getting to meet the older versions of Tonio, Secco and some of the other characters from the above-mentioned story.
Child of a Hidden Sea cover flats came in the mail yesterday. The only picture I’ve taken so far is this somewhat goofy one-handed tablet selfie. There will be more and better pics soon.
In other news, I am pleased to announce that my Stormwrack story, “Queen of the Flies,” has been accepted for publication by Michael Matheson for his Quiltbag: Start a Revolution anthology.
“Queen of the Flies” is not one of the Gales–you won’t see Gale Feliachild, Garland Parrish or any of the crew of Nightjar in the story. There is a slight connection with a character from the Child of a Hidden Sea sequel, a memorician named Krispos. If all goes to plan, you’ll be meeting him in this story first, and in that book (whose working title is A DAUGHTER OF NO NATION) later in the same year.
Which is when? The Quiltbag anthology is slated for an early 2015 release, I believe, and Matheson will be posting the ToC shortly. I’m extremely psyched about this one; it’s going to be truly special. I’ll tell you all more as time goes on.
Tonight at 6:30 p.m., authors Saladin Ahmed and Chuck Wendig will be appearing at Bakka-Phoenix books, to read or mud-wrestle, as the whim takes them. This is a definite can’t miss event. Are you local? Will I see you tonight? I sure hope so. Here are the details.
Paul Weimer of SF Signal asks: Do I have a map for Child of a Hidden Sea?
I must, right? You write a portal fantasy, and one of the perks must be that you get a gorgeous map, drawn by a professional, with Game of Thrones steampunky fabulousness and vast deserts and picturesquely named verdant forests, all populated by something way cooler than Ewoks.
This is one of my favorite kinds of question, because there are several answers, and some of them just about contradict each other.
Answer #1 – Yes! Stormwrack is the same size as Earth, though its orbital tilt and the length of its day are different. It takes 365 days to orbit its sun. Zero latitude and the international date line run through the great Verdanii city of Moscasipay, which is the home of something Wrackers call a World Clock. In more comprehensible terms, the Greenwich of this world is located on the same latitude as present-day Saskatoon.
I made the above choices because I wanted to be able to look at a map of our world and say “Okay, The Autumn District of Sylvanna is roughly where Tennessee is, and that means the sailing time from Moscasipay, in a ship moving at X speed, is Y days.” This makes things much easier for me, as someone who has some deficits in the map-reading area. It also fits with my having given Stormwrack many Earth-like qualities: the same gravity, tides, a similar ebb and flow of the seasons.
Answer #2 – No! There will be no actual map printed in Child of a Hidden Sea.
Why? Stormwrack is mostly ocean. The land there takes the form of small archipelagos of islands. They’re much like the Galapagos: little blobs of terrain, each with its own microclimate. The biggest land mass is, again, Verdanii, and that’s not even as big as Australia. So here’s the problem: a map of the whole world, printed at the size of even a double hardcover page, would be water, water, water and more water. Take a page of blue construction paper, sprinkle a pinch of basil on it, and you’ll get the idea.
Aha, you may be thinking, do a partial! Excellent point. Some months ago I had a conversation with my editor, Stacy Hague-Hill, about whether there could be a map of the region where Child of a Hidden Sea takes place. But Nightjar crosses from one archipelago to another in this book: Sophie visits Stele Island and then Erinth (the island where “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti” is set.) She sails from there to a place called Tallon and finally ends up hooking up with the Fleet of Nations, at sea. There are also a few stops in San Francisco.
In the second and third books, Sophie and Parrish spend a fair amount of time on Sylvanna, without so much zipping around, so maybe we’ll revisit the issue.
Another Yes! Of course I have an actual map of Stormwrack at home, laid out atop of a map of Earth, with pins marking important locations and saying which sea is which.
But also, No! Since I can’t draw, at all, the islands on the above-mentioned artifact look like someone pounded a bunch of Pop Rocks and blue-green wax crayons into some silly putty and threw it all into their microwave.
Finally, Yes and No–there are lies! I have a Gale story drafted, called “Island of the Giants.” In it, Parrish finds out that the official Fleet Maps of Stormwrack contain some politically motivated fibs. I don’t know yet when Sophie’s going to work that one out, but I promise she will be deeply unimpressed.
Paul Weimer was kind enough to pitch me this question a couple of weeks ago when I started asking what all of you who read this blog might want to know, about me or the books or, really, anything.
Here’s the original request. I am still gratefully taking your questions.
I am still working on answering Blaise’s question: are editors still needed? And I’m pondering your other questions, excited about answering them, and grateful to know what interests you. If you haven’t weighed in yet and there’s something you want to know, tell me! I’m happily building up the list of requests.
In the meantime, a few current snippets of news from the land of Dua Moving Insanity:
–We got the keys to the new place this week, and floors are going in. The shower may be leaky, so we’re going to look into fixing it ASAP. Since it’s the one truly gnarly-looking thing in the place, this is going to turn out to be a blessing. I am packing boxes and have just about reached the point where I’m going to be hiding away things we will actually want but not need between now and next week.
–Okay, there’s one other gnarly looking thing, but it’s so outrageous and improbable that I’ll tell you about it another time.
–The new place is also grubby. I keep reminding myself that when we moved into Woodland Drive in 2001, the apartment was omg, seriously, so filthy! This isn’t bad. Another improvement on our 2001 experience is that the previous owners at Dua Central didn’t fail to move out a whole bunch of wall art, furniture and a seventy billion pound exercise bike. We’re really ahead this time! Nevertheless, Kelly and I plan to spend Good Friday scrubbing. If you’re in Toronto and want to drop by to see us cleanifying an empty apartment, shoot me a text. And just so you know, I do mean see us cleanifying. You will not be allowed to help.
–“The Color of Paradox” and “Snow Angels” have hit the next stage of pre-publication, which means editors Ellen Datlow and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, respectively, have sent me notes on them, small questions about things that may need fixing. I’ve been so delighted to have a chance to write a few stories this year, and it’s nice to see these moving through the process.
–Although we will not do anything about acquiring new offspring before we are in Dua Central, Kelly and I have jumped a few pre-adoption hoops at a no-kill cat shelter here in the city. It turns out that being able to perform basic tasks like brushing my hair, cooking, walking across the room, lying in bed unconscious and drinking water from a glass–not to mention packing all my worldly goods!–without constant feline supervision is simply depressing. I cannot handle the autonomy.
–We went to the monthly ChiSeries reading featuring Sam Bieko, Keith Hollihan, and Jerome Stueart, with comical SF-themed songs by Kari Maaren and Peter Chiykowski. It was a terrific night. The readings were great, the musicians hilarious and we saw many friends. I’ll be one of the readers in July–I’ll let you know more as the date approaches.