I first featured Marie Brennan here. I saw her again at last year’s WorldCon, and when I found out that that there would be a novel featuring Dragon Naturalist Lady Trent’s granddaughter, I couldn’t wait to spread word about it. The book debuted yesterday, and is now available.
As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.
When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.
In our last interview, you said, “[Objectivity] still requires you to sort through the advice you get and figure out which parts ring true, and that’s much easier said than done.” Which situations or projects have you found it most difficult to remain objective as a writer?
That’s a tough one! I think some of the hardest projects in that respect have been ones where the idea has been with me for a really long time, because they’re so ingrained in my mind that it’s difficult to change them.
I ran into that particularly with LIES AND PROPHECY, which was (in its original draft) the first novel I ever finished. I *know* it has structural flaws — the viewpoint structure being the most significant one — but they’re so baked into the concept that in the end, I could only do so much to change them. In the end, the book is what it is, and I can’t make it be something different.
I have sort of the opposite problem with another idea whose earliest roots date back to junior high school. It started out as fanfic of something else, and during late high school and college I started working on filing off the serial numbers so that I could make it an independent piece of fiction, while keeping the bits that were important to me. But there were so many bits that felt important, and yet they didn’t all fit together sensibly without the supporting elements I’d taken away, that I wound up trunking that for a long time, hoping I’d get the distance (and objectivity) I needed to really strip it down to the essentials and then build up again from there. Instead what’s happened is that I’ve gone back to look at it, and when I try to pick out the core bits I really want to keep . . . the whole thing crumbles to bits. I’m not sure any part of it has been strong enough to really survive and win back my attention. So if that thing ever sees the light of day, it will be as something only tangentially related to what it was before.
It makes sense that the longer you are with a project, the harder it is to complete the often necessary process of figuring out which parts to keep and which to throw away. You also drew from an existing universe in TURNING DARKNESS INTO LIGHT. Audrey Camherst, Lady Trent’s granddaughter, makes her way into the foray of her own Draconean journey. When did Audrey first come to you, and how did you know her story needed to be told?
I owe roundabout thanks for this to a girl named Elizabeth, whom I met at the Tucson Book Festival.
When I was signing a book for her after a panel, she asked if I’d thought about writing anything else in that setting. I started giving her my stock answer, which is that I’d love to do a kind of “nonfiction” companion volume for the Memoirs with Lady Trent’s field notes and such . . . and then out of nowhere, I got mugged with an idea.
That idea was not the idea I wound up writing! My first notion was to do a kind of in-world historical novel, written by someone in Isabella’s own country, about ancient Draconean civilization. But I’m more inclined to mythology, so my thoughts drifted from “historical novel” to “mythological epic” — which doesn’t entirely work as a novel in the real world, since those tend to operate differently from modern fiction. On the other hand, an epic lent itself nicely to the scholarly angle you see in the Memoirs, so I had the notion of interleaving sections of a Draconean epic with sections of story about the people translating that epic, with intrigue and adventure surrounding the finding of the text and its meaning for the present day.
At that point it was only natural to make one of the translators someone connected to Lady Trent — to wit, her granddaughter. Audrey popped straight into my head: a more 1920s kind of young woman, compared to her late Victorian grandmother, and struggling against the weight of expectation placed on someone connected to so illustrious a family.
What a great way to interweave story! How do you know which projects to prioritize and which to shelve?
It’s a complicated dance. Ideally I could just decide based on what has fired up my imagination enough that the story is demanding to be written — and sometimes I get to do that. But 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.
I try to pay at least some attention to what will segue well out of what I’ve done previously, too. When I signed a contract with Tor for the last two novels of the Memoirs plus one more novel, our tentative agreement was that the latter would be a book called THE CHANGING SEA. But as I wrapped up Lady Trent’s story, I looked at that idea and realized it wouldn’t make anything like a good follow-up to what I’d been doing: its setting is a strange ocean that exists between worlds, its main characters are a bunch of people cursed for their sins in life, and the protagonist is a guy. I think it’s a cool concept, but that didn’t really seem like the right time for it. So my editor and I agreed to put that aside, and instead I wrote TURNING DARKNESS INTO LIGHT.
Shelved isn’t the same thing as chucked out, though. I do still hope to write THE CHANGING SEA someday, or one of the other projects currently on hiatus.
It’s nice to be reminded that shelved projects aren’t necessarily dead in the water! If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?
Honestly, Younger Me had her head screwed on pretty well. This kind of question is usually about steering yourself away from mistakes or dead ends, but I don’t have any that I truly, profoundly regret — there are certainly things that could have gone better, but in the end those things still got me to where I am now. So I think that I’d mostly just give Younger Me a pep talk, reassurance that yes, this is indeed a long game, that it may take me a while but I’ll break through. I believed that was true at the time, but there were stretches where it would have been nice to have the confirmation.
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