Tag Archives: Stormwrack

Stormwrack: Blame the Museum Stores!

imageI have a short article about the worldbuilding in Child of a Hidden Sea up at the Tor Forge site, called “Enough with Zombies! Bring on the Pirate Apocalypse!” Essentially, it argues that you can blame the coffee cups at the American Museum of Natural History for everything I do.  (Later in the week, I am planning to blame porn. Because nothing is my fault!)

Meanwhile, there’s another review of the novel, and quite a good one too, at Cherry Blossoms and Maple Syrup.

There will also be a Goodreads Q&A soon, but as of today I can’t quite work out how to turn it on. I’m pretty sure there’s a PICNIC error involved, and have sent craven pleas for assistance to qualified persons.

How young is too young for a bit of sex and murder?

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A few years ago I had the awesome good fortune to meet Greta Wenzel at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Greta has many fantastic qualities, and she curates one of my favorite Pinterest humor boards. We cross paths on Facebook too, from time to time.

She also has children.

Because I have been posting a good deal lately about Child of a Hidden Sea, she reached out on the weekend and asked how kid-appropriate it might be. She is not concerned about her two eldest, but her youngest is eleven years old, and would love a seagoing fantasy adventure.

This is the kind of question I find incredibly difficult to answer, because I grew up in a house where nobody ever thought to try and stop me from reading whatever text happened to waft my way. I remember reading both Jaws and Roots at around eleven, for example. The former was gory and the latter was rapey, though neither was as sensational as the family pornography archive.

(I also remember asking about the plot of Romeo and Juliet after seeing an epic Man from Atlantis episode based thereon, whereupon one or the other parent handed me the complete works of William Shakespeare.)

Some of that reading was beyond me, and bits of all of the above-mentioned works went over my head. (Except, of course, the Man from Atlantis episode.) What I’m tempted to say when asked about who my books are fit for is “It kinda depends on the kid.” But that’s not a great answer for school librarians trying to figure out if my novel’s going to get them in trouble with the parents of children I’ve never met.

What I would always say with Indigo Springs was that there is a sex scene. Onstage sex! Not overtly raunchy, but nothing hidden either.

(I’m sure it’s tactful to pause here to allow any smuthounds time to rush out for a copy of that first book.)

Anyway, the new novel. Two of the characters do have a fling. But the steamy action’s not onstage. I’m trying to build up to the steaminess slowly, if you know what I mean.

As for violence and without getting spoilery, this book has a few on-stage killings. There’s mention of a possible sexual assault in the past. There are a couple of brawls. Some arm-breaking. At least one animal and a couple of monsters die. (The animal is not fluffy, if it makes a difference.)

So now I’m polling: What do you think? Would this have stopped you at eleven? Should it have? Would your parents have made you wait a couple years? I am especially interested in the answer to this if you have already read it and/or have children.

I’m thinking my standard answer should be that Child of a Hidden Sea falls somewhere between PG and PG13.

Anticipation! For Child of a Hidden Sea!

imageI am on a couple “Most Anticipated” lists this week. One is at Audiobookaneers, and the other is io9′s Most Astounding Must-Read Science Fiction And Fantasy Books In June.

Most astounding. You just can’t read that, as an author, and not feel awfully big-headed.

The book is out in 15 days, which means this blog may be taken over by it, to some extent… although I expect kitten-related entries to make it into the mix, too. I’ll be guest-blogging some more at Magical Words, and in some other venues, and doing a lot of jumping up and down going “Eeeee, looka meee!!!” If there’s anything you want to know or talk about as that’s all happening, let me know. I am still pondering some of your What should I Blog About requests but I haven’t reached publishable conclusions yet; in the meantime, I’m always welcome to suggestions.

In which I QUILTBAG with @kellyoyo ! Eee!

write memeI 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.

CHS Review at Behind the Lines and Back Again

imageOnce again, I’m unabashedly posting one of my favorite bits, this one by reviewer Molly Wright, who says:

I really enjoyed this book, it had a taste of the humor/lightness of a young adult novel with the underlying messages and depth of a older book. I don’t know how it was light and deep at the same time, but maybe the author use a spell of some kind like Mary Poppins or Hermione Granger. It also had a wonderful magic system which combine some classic elements with the new.

The body count in my first book, Indigo Springs, is pretty low. By which I mean that perhaps a dozen people die in it, and only three of those are named characters who get it in the neck onstage. Nevertheless, it’s not a bubbly book. It opens after a magical-environmental disaster has turned much of Oregon into an enchanted, if litter-strewn, forest. Astrid Lethewood has lost her home, her freedom and just about everyone she loves. Will Forest, the police profiler tasked with finding out just how she got to that place, is struggling with the disappearance of his children.

Nobody’s real happy, you know?

In Blue Magic, the follow-up, the death toll is several orders of magnitude higher. I like to think the book has a happy ending, but you may have to squint to see it. (Do you agree? I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about the ending of Blue Magic with anyone.)

By chance, the stretch of time when I was working on that second book included some pretty rough seas. I lost a number of loved ones, and there were other things going on, things that enhanced that illusion we all get now and then, the one where Life, with a capital L, has chosen your ass as her personal scratching post.

When I set out to write Child of a Hidden Sea, one of my first priorities was to write a fun book, dammitall. Fun for readers, of course, but also for me. One whose point of view character was cheery and optimistic and someone I’d enjoy hanging out with even when her life was turning to crap. No matter what bleak happenstance I also packed into the story–mass extinctions, homicide, kids with abandonment issues, lost friends, a never-ending war with diplomatic red tape, debt, taxes, you name it–I wanted it to have lots of light notes. Froth, even. Bright skies, sandy beaches, and the occasional bit of silliness.

Did I succeed? Judge for yourself. Tor has posted the first chapter here. 

Child of a Hidden Sea – a free taste @tordotcom

Tor has posted the first chapter of my new book here for your reading pleasure. It begins thusly:

Sinking.

Sophie Hansa had barely worked out that she was falling before she struck the surface of an unknown body of water.

First, there’d been a blast of wind. A tornado? Rushing air, pounding at her eardrums, had plucked her right off the ground. Howling, it had driven her upward, pinwheeling and helpless, over the rooftops of the houses and shops, carrying her up above the fog, in a cloud of grit and litter, trashcan lids, uprooted weeds, discarded heroin needles, and a couple very surprised rats.

Those of you who’ve read “Among the Silvering Herd,” and “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti,” might notice that the novel starts about a dozen years further on. Gale Feliachild is older, and Garland Parrish is no longer the first mate of Nightjar–he’s the captain. (Then again, chapter one doesn’t quite get us to Parrish, and Gale’s got a lot on her plate, including a near-fatal stab wound and a niece who overshares when stressed, so maybe that’s not obvious.)

I’m so excited to see this book making its way out to you all! If you have any questions or comments, throw them my way–either here or at the Tor site.

A couple of you have asked about things that inspire me, so I thought I’d mention that this trilogy owes a huge debt to the BBC Nature team and particularly the various series presented by Sir David Attenborough. The moth migration and resulting prey bonanza described in this chapter were inspired by any number of real-world natural events. Here’s one such event, from Life in the Undergrowth. It’s sardines, and not insects, but it’s amazing footage, the kind Sophie Hansa aspires to shoot one day. You can see the predators gathering, above and below, to take that bait ball apart.

The BBC videographers lavish resources on photodocumenting parts of the natural world I can only hope to visit one day, along with parts I’ll never see, either because they’re inaccessible or, sadly, likely to disappear in the not too distant future. I transmute their work into fiction. Inspiration, like everything, is an ecosystem of sorts.

Enjoy!

Where do little Erinthians come from?

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.

Reviews for Child of a Hidden Sea…

Alyx portrait 2014 smallWith Child of a Hidden Sea coming out in 39 days and counting, reviews are starting to appear. This morning I’m quite enchanted with this write up by Eric Raymond of the Armed and Dangerous blog. He says many good things, along with this, which is my favorite bit of not-so-positive feedback so far:

The writing is pretty good and the worldbuilding much better thought out than is usual in most fantasy; Ms. Dellamonica could write competent SF if she chose, I think. The book is slightly marred by the sort of preachiness one expects of a lesbian author these days, and there is a touch of Mary Sue in way the ultra-competent protagonist is written. But the whole is carried off with a pleasing lightness of touch and sense of fun. I’ll read the sequel.

It’d be easy to put my nose out of joint about the lesbian preachiness comment, but I am a queer environmentalist and no less prone to having Opinions, some of which leach into my writing, than any artist.  It’s a well-considered and balanced review and I was especially pleased that Raymond found Sophie to be something of a grown-up:

Sophie is not some angsty teenager who spends a lot of time on denying her situation and blunders into a coming-of-age narrative…

This is an interesting stage of things: once a book is out in the world, it ceases to belong entirely to the author and editorial/production team who coaxed it into being. Everyone gets to say what your book is or isn’t after it’s gone. The process can be exciting, nerve-wracking, delightful, disappointing, and surprising by turns. There are moments of relief and surprise, and it’s tempting to second-guess yourself. There are writers who don’t read their reviews for exactly this reason. There are writers so secure they post every single review, no matter how scathing. (Jay Lake, I admire you for this as I do so many other things.)

As with everything, there’s no one-size-fits-all; you have to figure out what works for you.