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.
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.
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.
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.
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.