Notes from the Teleidoplex

The Next Big Thing

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So there’s this thing going around a bunch of people’s blogs where we talk about our current writing projects. I got tagged, and after blowing it off for a week or two, I finally got around to making my post. It’s a long one, but hopefully it sounds interesting. Really hopefully, cause I’ve been slogging away on it for a while now! Stick to the end and I will link back to some other blog posts by other authors, and I will also tag some new folks. IT COULD BE YOU!

Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

 

1. What is the title of the work-in-progress that you’re hoping will get you Rowling/Meyer/King money?

Chiaroscuro (also sometimes goes by The City of Light and Shadow)

2. Where did you steal this idea?

So there’s this song, Nara, by E.S. Posthumus, that has been used as the temp track for, like, every epic movie trailer ever. The first time I recall hearing it, I got an image in my head of a Venetian-style harbor. I think I might have come off a recent viewing of Dangerous Beauty, and I had Veronica Franco on the brain. But unlike the flat, marshy landscape of Venice, the port city I saw was carved into these Andean-style cliffs, giving the entire city a vertical geography. Because of that vertical geography, I imagined not only merships coming into a merport, but dirigible aeroships coming into an aeroport, with the city as a linchpin of trade between the two.

That first image of the city (now named Benechiaro, with the lower slums called L’Scuro) got me thinking about the geography and history that would go into the making of that kind of settlement, and something about gold rush era San Francisco felt right. Someone found a rich lode of unobtanium in the mountains (called teled, a slightly radioactive substance that can be used as a clean-burning fuel, but also refined into a billion other products. Think oil and rubber combined). Settlement in the little harbor of Benechiaro happened quickly, lots of people got rich, and the trading port sprang up because the forbidding coastline offered few natural harbors.

From there, I started thinking about social structures and economics, politics, the history before settlement, religions, traditions, and how they all interconnected. Y’know… anthropologist stuffs. While the original idea for Benechiaro was based on Venice, I knew this was a marginal/periphery city, with the centers of civilization being more like the Middle East, India, and China (some might argue that this isn’t actually a change at all).

I was also reading a lot on alchemy and early Enlightenment humanism at the time (especially Spinoza’s Ethics), which seemed to mesh well with the Venetian décor, so alchemy and humanist philosophy ended up being the basis for a secular sort of belief system based on the hierarchy of metals and the belief that spiritual change took place in the imminent through self and social improvement. This stood in contrast to the theist religions of the original Al Azsharan, Denkali, and Qi Zhuan prospectors who came to Benechiaro.

From those underpinnings, I started laying out a social order based not on our understandings of race/class/gender, but on a structure of Materia (with people divided as Terrans/Aerisians/Ignans/Aquans, according to their family lifeways and geography) and Caste (with different orders in the Caste system legally allowed to engage in different kinds of economic and social behaviors while being restricted from others). The idea here was to show the constructedness and yet the historic and social embeddedness of race/class/gender as identity categories.

So I had a world, but not a story to put into it. On a long drive from Texas to Indiana, my partner and I were talking about this world I’d been noodling over, and he said the thing I needed to hear: “If this were a game, how would you run it?” That question got me thinking in terms of story and characters and plot, rather than worldbuilding. From there, I kind of went a ‘disaster movie’ route. A threat is introduced early in the story, and the impending threat lurks under the everyday doings of the various p.o.v. characters as they go through their day-to-day lives and suffer ‘normal’ complications, but all the while, you know this thing is coming to destroy the people and the city that I’ve hopefully made you fall in love with.

3. What genre does your manuscript wear like a coat, and what’s the shockingly skimpy & alluring genre that shows up once you open the book?

Contemporary Fantasy, I guess? But really, it’s like China Miéville and the Wachowski siblings had a love child. It’s all Marxist economics and philosophy and genderfuck under the hood. I have also discovered that when other writers get bored, they throw in a plot twist or an action sequence. When I get bored, I throw in another romance.

4. Which actors would you kidnap and force to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Like any good disaster movie or epic fantasy, there are a bunch of different p.o.v. characters with a bunch of different storylines that come together in the climax. However, because I’m working with a smaller geographic area, the storylines are much more intertwined. This means that the p.o.v. characters knock boots a lot more often than they do in, say, Song of Ice and Fire or Wheel of Time (which means you don’t have to go a hundred pages without running into your favorites, and that while a scene might progress Plot A, I can also make Plot B run streaking through the scene to show a little progress on other fronts). It also means that I get to show contrasting viewpoints on the same issues and events, where a poor sailor might have a very different interpretation of something like the Caste system than a rich nobleman.

Narrowing down from the cast of thousands, here’s my main eight and a few of their close buddies.

Signore Matteo Trujillo
Materia/Caste: Terran Piccola Aristo
Details: Exiled former aristocrat, sailor on the run, in a developing romance with Amedea
Special power: Constantly gets recognized
Played by: Michael Ealy

Conté Sebastian di Adami
Materia/Caste: Terran Grande Aristo
Details: reluctant heir to the Principe, sarcastic political commentator, Pippa’s brother, Kate’s lover, Giules’ betrothed
Special power: will become Principe no matter how hard he tries to avoid it
Played by: Justin Hartley

Amedea/Harlequino
Materia/Caste: Terran Rietto
Details: Crossdressing spy, Commedia Fool, Badass, Antonio’s twin sister, in a developing romance with Matteo
Special power: Can talk her way out of just about anything, has an awesome brother
Played by: Greta Gerwig

Fideo Antonio
Materia/Caste: Terran Maestro
Details: Priest of Sanno Argenta, Generally good guy, Amedea’s twin brother, in a developing romance with Scarlotti
Special power: Tolerates Amedea’s snark, has true faith in people
Played by: Ryan Gosling

Belladona Pietralina “Pippa” di Adami
Materia/Caste: Terran Grande Aristo
Details: Financier, budding abolitionist, Sebastian’s sister, in a developing poly romance with Giules and Visri
Special power: Economically and politically savvy, can overcome a crippling fear of heights
Played by: Ellen Page

 

Belladona Giuliana ‘Giules’ Trinchero
Materia/Caste: Terran Grande Aristo
Details: Aeronaut, abolitionist, Sebastian’s betrothed, in a developing poly romance with Visri and Pippa
Special power: Getting Pippa into trouble, flying aeroships
Played by: Jessica Williams

 

Rigger Visri
Materia/Caste: Aerisian Maestro
Details: Aeronautical engineer with wings, in a developing poly romance with Giules and Pippa
Special Power: Infinite patience. Wings.
Played by: no clue. Someone exceedingly androgynous, preferably male

 

Sadaz (aka, Kofi)
Materia/Caste: Ignan Schiavo
Details: Transgender clockwork golem, escapee from justice, revolutionary abolitionist
Special power: is secretly a pretty princess trapped in the body of brutish barbarian
Played by: No clue. My mental image is kind of a young Daniel Day Lewis.

 

Giacomo Scarlotti
Materia/Caste: Terran Maestro
Details: Heretical painter, in a developing romance with Antonio
Special power: really good at art, knows everyone
Played by: My friend Ray

 

Ekaterina “Kate” Dubynich
Materia/Caste: Terran Maestro
Details: Composer, former ‘La Citta’, Sebastian’s lover
Special power: Political powerhouse, knows everyone
Played by: Kate Winslet

 

 

5. When someone demands to know about this brilliant project, what’s the one sentence you give them?

Clockworks and courtesans, rapiers and repartee, Dumás meets Dangerous Beauty

6. If it doesn’t get repped/bought by an agent/editor, are you going to trunk it or self-publish?

Self-pub. I don’t really believe in trunk stories. If I loved it enough to put this much into it, someone else might find something in it for them. No story ever changed the world by sitting in a trunk.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The worldbuilding and the first 15k I wrote a few years ago. That sat around for a while. I started working on this in earnest back in January 2012-ish. I just broke 100k, and I anticipate the final first draft will be around 150k.

8. What other books in the same genre do you hope people will compare your story to?

Song of Ice and Fire, Perdido Street Station, Kushiel series. Hey, dream big, right?

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Sources of inspiration include:
An Honest Courtesan, by Margaret Rosenthal
Ethics, by Spinoza
Undoing Gender, by Judith Butler
The Chemical Choir: A History of Alchemy, by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart
Globalization and its Discontents, by Joseph Stiglitz
The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld, by Herbert Asbury
The Deryni series, by Katherine Kurtz

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Dude! Clockwork golems! Aeroships and merships! Androgynous bird people and cthulian merfolk! Transgender romances, gay romances, straight romances AND poly romances! Pseudo-Italian enlightenment stuff! Alchemy! Economics, globalization, humanist philosophy, gender, race, and class critiques AND the promise of a disaster!

No seagulls will be killed onstage. Promise.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

My CW2012 classmate Carlie St. George tagged me, and several of my C-dub cohorts have posted. See all below for some awesome projects.

Cory Skerry

Helen Marshall

Kim Neville

Blythe Woolston

For my tagging… um… let’s poke one CWest person and some of my favorite non-CWest writing buddies:

 

Georgina Kamsika

S.L. Knapp

Marie Brennan

Mike Underwood

Alec Austin

Aight, Cory. I want my art like you promised!

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