I’ve featured Marie Brennan’s books before, for both Turning Darkness into Light and Within the Sanctuary of Wings. When I heard the premise of DRIFTWOOD, I was immediately hooked:


Who is Last?

Fame is rare in Driftwood- it’s hard to get famous if you don’t stick around long enough for people to know you. But many know the guide, Last, a one-blooded survivor who has seen his world end many lifetimes ago. For Driftwood is a strange place of slow apocalypses, where continents eventually crumble into mere neighborhoods, pulled inexorably towards the center in the Crush. Cultures clash, countries fall, and everything eventually disintegrates.

Within the Shreds, a rumor goes around that Last has died. Drifters come together to commemorate him. But who really was Last?


In our last interview you, said, “Just because I’m passionate about something doesn’t mean that editors will be, so there are various projects that have gotten shelved for lack of interest on that end.” What is one project that was difficult for you to shelve, and why?

All of them are difficult to one degree or another, because if I was excited enough about them to submit a pitch to editors, then I’m disappointed not to be able to pursue it in the foreseeable future. And if the math works lopsided enough out on enthusiasm vs. likelihood of me selling it to a publisher, there’s always Book View Café, the author co-op through which I’ve put out a number of titles. Most of those have been backlist or short story collections, but my Wilders series is original, and fell into a really awkward gap between what the YA publisher wanted and what the adult ones were looking for.

But of things which are (currently) still shelved, probably the one I was most sad to lay aside is the novel that follows on from my Varekai novellas. At the same time, my idea for that book is sufficiently ambitious that it may not be a bad thing for me not to have sold it yet: it’s entirely possible that I’ll come back to it years down the road and be in a position to write it as a much better novel.

I know what you mean about awkward gaps between YA and adult markets. Speaking of the “in-between”, I love how DRIFTWOOD explores what happens when fragments of different worlds collide. How did this idea come to you, and in what ways do you feel it might be relevant to readers, especially in 2020?

I honestly can’t remember where this one came from! It began with the short story “Driftwood” (which is the opening section of the novel), and I know the idea began with the setting — but what caused me to come up with the idea of this conglomerate place, all about entropy and liminality, I couldn’t tell you.

As for relevance, oof. I would have been happy for it to be less topical, y’know? But the Publishers’ Weekly review calls it “hope in the face of apocalypse,” and I suppose we need some of that right now. All of the stories that make up the book are about things ending, about how individuals and groups respond to the awareness that their worlds are dying and taking them and their traditions with them . . . which makes it sound really grim, but the beauty (ideally) is in seeing how they still find happiness and hope, how they find ways to move forward despite everything. And the frame story that holds the individual narratives together is all about community.

That’s beautiful; especially the part about how communities hold narratives together. You’ve described The Memoirs of Lady Trent series as a “world and a half” fantasy. Can you elaborate on this in regard to the logistics of fantasy worldbuilding?

That started as a tongue-in-cheek term, but I’m starting to use it more often — maybe it will catch on! By “world and a half” I mean a setting that isn’t our world, but you can still draw clear lines of analogy from the places and customs that exist there to the places and customs of our own world. So in the Memoirs, Scirland is obviously Britain, Yelang is China, the Keongan Islands are Polynesian (geographically based on Hawaii, but with cultural elements from other Polynesian societies), etc. It’s the kind of thing Guy Gavriel Kay writes pretty much all the time, and other authors as well.

From a worldbuilding standpoint, it’s an interesting hybrid position to be in. It has a lot in common with the work I did for the Onyx Court series, where I’m researching the facts of actual history — but unlike that series, I’m not bound to adhere to those facts when they don’t suit me. I decided, for example, that there was no good reason the dominant religion of the Europe-analogue continent couldn’t be Judaism instead of Christianity, and so I made up a division between the Temple and rabbinical forms of the religion to echo the Protestant Reformation in European history.

In the case of the Memoirs, my reason for picking this was that I didn’t want to grapple with the question of how history might have been changed by the presence of dragons. (Which is a question other authors blithely ignore, and that’s fine; but I knew I couldn’t make *my* brain do it.) And it gave me the freedom to screw around with my world conditions in a fashion that doesn’t entirely erase the problems of colonialism and so forth, but also doesn’t make it quite as much of a one-sided game as it was in our history. Yelang is a powerful country, rather than suffering the weakness of the Qing Dynasty, and — something that appears nowhere in the story, but was always in my head — the “New World” continent always experienced enough contact with the rest of the world that it didn’t suffer the horrific vulnerability to infectious disease that was so devastating in reality. There are still imbalances of technology and wealth and political power, but there’s no large-scale smallpox epidemic or transoceanic slave trade.

It’s definitely a great world to spend some time in! In what ways do you avoid burnout, especially in light of recent events, like COVID-19?

My feelings on this are kind of odd. I write full-time and work from home normally, and my husband also works from home more often than not, so on a day-to-day basis our lives mostly haven’t changed. I was also weirdly lucky — maybe “lucky” would be a better way to put it — in that, for reasons utterly unrelated to the pandemic, I went into March more behind on a deadline than I’ve ever been in my life. So by the time lockdown began, I was already up to my eyebrows in “oh crap oh crap oh crap gotta get this thing written,” and I think that helped me stay focused on work rather than spiraling down into anxiety about the world. (Much better to be anxious about a looming deadline!)

So I’ve managed to keep writing pretty steadily, despite everything. My recipe for that has been to ignore the news for the most part, and to double down on something I sporadically forget to do, which is to feed my brain. I’ve placed some massive orders with various bookstores to help support them, and I’ve been working my way steadily through the resulting pile of books, both fiction and nonfiction. A while back I described myself as “an anthropological compost heap from which stories occasionally spring;” I’m most likely to get burned out when I neglect the maintenance of that heap. Also, what I’m working on at the moment is the second book in the Rook and Rose trilogy, which Alyc Helms and I are writing together under the joint name of M.A. Carrick, and it helps a lot to have someone else to keep the energy high.


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For Marie Brennan’s other works, click here

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  1. […] Karen McCoy, on their eponymous blog, interviews Brennan about DRIFTWOOD. […]

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