On Wednesday the third of the Gales, “The Glass Galago,” will be launching at Tor.com. (The first two Gales are “Among the Silvering Herd” and “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”.) This new story takes Gale Feliachild and Garland Parrish to the Fleet itself. It’s not the first visit for either of them, obviously, but it’s their first time together. Gale learns a little more about what it was that got Garland disgraced and kicked out of the service. I hope you guys like it.
I was offline a fair bit during the holidays: didn’t eschew Facebook or Twitter, by any means, but I definitely spent more of my waking hours away from the computer. When I was working, it was often on fiction. There’s a proposal I’m pulling together for what might be my next ecofantasy novel; its working title is Tom the Liar, largely because in my head the main character shares some traits with the Hiddleston Loki. My editors have also sent some notes back on The Nature of a Pirate, so I’m keen to buckle down to revisions. I worked on setting up a spring book tour, and should be announcing dates soon. I thought about some teaching stuff and tried mightily to finish reading David Jaher’s The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, but didn’t quite get that done before the new year.
The holidays themselves were low-key and pleasant. There was some sleeping in, some feasting, some wonderful time spent with friends. And now it’s snowing in Toronto, and 2016 has come, and I am looking forward to a year filled with wonders and surprises.
I am pleased to announce that Christopher Morgan at Tor.com has bought the fourth of The Gales, a story called “Losing Heart Among the Tall,” which tells the story of how Gale Feliachild and Garland Parrish convinced Gale’s sister, Beatrice, to hide a certain powerful object that plays a big role in the conspiracy at the heart of Child of a Hidden Sea.
This fantastic news comes hard on the heels of receiving my beautiful Richard Anderson cover art for the third of The Gales, “The Glass Galago,” which will be out early next year.
I thought I’d celebrate by running down the list of every last one of the fictional things I have on the Tor site, available to anyone who’s interested for absolutely free.
Moving on to a completely different series, you can check out my sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” which is a tie-in to the world of my award winning first novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.
Last but by no means least, I have two stand-alone works: a time travel horror story called “The Color of Paradox” and my ever-popular ‘baby werewolf has two mommies’ story, “The Cage,” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Fleet, integral to the governing of a world that is mostly water sprinkled with a number of islands, must deal with a unique form of magic, inscription, which is so subtle that its effects can sometimes only be known in retrospect. When a ship of the Fleet visits an island where scripping is common, the crew members of the sailing vessel Nightjar are at a disadvantage when faced with local matters of which they know little. Strangers on the shore, indeed, they may enjoy the local customs… but also may attract unwanted attention that could cost them more than embarrassment or money.
The Castello di Putti has a suggestive sound to it, but don’t be deceived. This is a story of civil strife, of culture shock, and ultimately of the risks and rewards of naval duty. Filled with Dellamonica’s fresh, inventive worldbuilding and the joie de vivre of a society in flux, it shows a side of Stormwrack very different from that presented in the previous tale.