“Being a quadruplet definitely helped there, I think. I don’t think being a quadruplet is necessarily unique from being any other kind of sibling, but there are moments when the world treats you different and denies you a full sense of personhood.”
The black sheep in a family of royal quadruplets is called back home to help resolve tension revolving around the line of succession. It’s set in a world that’s had both a magical and scientific apocalypse before. It’s got court intrigue, there are castles made from the skeletons of giant animals, there are cyborg horses, science-swords with human thyroid batteries, sonic guns that run on vocal cords, and this is getting a bit long for an elevator pitch, isn’t it?
Can you tell me about the title you ended up with? Why a quote from The Lion in Winter?
I called this book A Trim Reckoning up until a couple months before the book launched, when I realized it was too vague, and I needed something better. The Lion in Winter was basically the inception for this book–if I ever write anything even half as good as that play, I can die happy. It’s one of my favorite pieces of anything to ever exist. Ever since I first watched it I wanted to explore the space it plays in–where it’s equal parts court intrigue, politicking, and family drama. Like how does having that much power and privilege fuck with your head–especially when your political enemies are often your direct relatives, y’know? So when I needed a new title I went back to the original source of inspiration. That quote stuck with me, and I thought it would be especially reflective for this book, since this book opens with Petre having to choose between two options–both of which will fuck him over, and he has to essentially figure out the best way to absolutely blow up his own life, and I thought that quote was especially indicative of the bind he often finds himself in.
Who are your biggest literary influences?
Outside of The Lion in Winter, I think Robin Hobb and N.K. Jemisin I think are the two authors who, for me, most redefined what you could do with SFF. Both from a character perspective and making the larger world into a reflection of a character’s inner life, or chewing over larger sociopolitical structures, or systems. I dunno if I wrote anything thatmind-blowingly fantastic, but it’s definitely what I shoot for.
This is your second book, after your debut The Sword in the Street. If someone’s read The Sword in the Street and comes to this, what similarities will they find? And what differences?
I’ve had a few people comment on some flairs in my prose they find especially poetic, and I think there’s a lot more of that here. Petre, the POV character, has autism, like Edwin, and they’re both navigating a complex political web full of hard choices. Though The Fall is All There Is I think is much more of a head trip, in terms of how bizarre the world is, with people living in houses with walls of thatched baleen, or a forest of granite trees with chalcedony leaves. And I while I wouldn’t go so far as to call it epic fantasy, I think the world is a bit bigger than the one presented in The Sword in the Street, and the stakes are much higher.
What does your day to day writing and editing process look like?
I do not write every day. Usually I do more of a slow ramp up. I get distracted easily so I like to have a really comprehensive plan. I’ll start with writing down a paragraph summary of a bunch of stuff I think would be cool, usually they’re more like a short story collection than an actual book. And then over the course of a week I outline each paragraph, blocking out the contents of each chapter with basic movement and rudimentary dialogue. I’ll add memes or make jokes too so it doesn’t feel formal. Usually that outline is about 30K. Then usually in another two weeks I’ve actually written the outline out to a full 60K. Then I go back to the start and figure out where the missing pieces are, or if anything needs to be changed, and I outline the missing pieces using the same process. I keep doing that until I have a whole book. Usually by the end very little of what I actually put into draft one has actually survived. I think 30% of Sword in the Street made it to the final draft. Fall probably has even less. At best like 5-10% of the initial draft survived to the end. Most of that is in the third act.
A series about royal quadruplets is going to involve plenty of interfamilial conflict. How did you sort out the interlocked personalities, histories, loyalties, and so on?
Being a quadruplet definitely helped there, I think. I don’t think being a quadruplet is necessarily unique from being any other kind of sibling, but there are moments when the world treats you different and denies you a full sense of personhood. Where you’re like a fraction of a whole. You see that a lot with twins, too. So I started there, knowing everyone was going to be chafing against being compared to the other four. A lot of the rest of it arrived as I wrote. I don’t think I had a clue where I was going with any of this until around February of this year. The original 208K draft of this book was completely different from the final draft. Only about 40K of that survived, and the rest was a lot of trial and error and archeology of what survived to figure out what I actually had to do with what was left. It was like I left clues for my future self. So I’d catch myself going “oh there’s this one family who wants control over this trading outpost? What can I do with that?” And applying that to the new vision as I stitched together what I had left.
Petre has actually been in my head since I think July 2013, when I was 17. He’s narrated a ton of different stories since then, so he’s the guy I turn to when I want a voice I’m really familiar with. And going into this I already knew he was really good at family dramas, because he’d volunteered to narrate a few of those before. He’s always been first person, because he has a very casual style, like he’s talking directly to a reader. There are times when writing it felt like he was making a big 120K confession.
And as far as how he plugs into this story–I think he worked because Petre was the one actively attempting to divest himself of his own power and privilege, to a degree. So I figured it would hurt more to have the people and the system you actively don’t want to be a part of dragging you back in. Plus, the tension over succession is a matter that required a subtle approach. Petre is a lot of things, but subtle has never been one of them. So I figured it would be really interesting to throw him into the exact situation he’s least prepared to handle.
Are there themes you find yourself mining again and again, whether intentionally or not?
I dunno if autism counts as a theme but that’s definitely been a constant. And I really enjoy writing stories about people who are in a weird bind with their own power and privilege. A lot of the stuff I write ends up being an interrogation of what the responsibility of people with power is, and should be.
How are you finding the difference between a stand-alone and an ongoing series?
I am not used to leaving this many threads dangling!! I have a few ideas on how to progress things, a couple key beats down the line. I think it’s so far been a bit more stressful to work on the series, because I think it forces me to be more on top of where I’m going with everything, and make sure I’m not throwing in anything that I can’t resolve. There were times where I thought there would be a really cool detail I could add, but I held back on it because I knew if I introduced an element I wouldn’t have room to wrap it up in a satisfying way, which was a new challenge to consider.
You’ve mentioned putting lots of weird stuff into this book. As a huge fan of Weird Stuff, I’d like to hear a few examples, and some of your thought process on integrating Weird Stuff into this particular book.
There’s ghostfog, which is a mist of people whose lives have ended, now reduced to a gaseous state. And since they’re a gas you can actually breathe them in, and get infected with another person’s ended life, and their unfinished business becomes the only thing you can focus on forever, which is called going Gaunt.
There’s swords with thyroid batteries stuffed through a wirework that control the temperature of the blade to heat it up, as well as sonic guns powered by vocal cords. The thyroid and vocal cords are actually grown out of the ground, too. Farmed by the scientists in this world, called labcoats.
There’s cyborg horses, one of which peels apart in a mess of accordion shapes and pencil-shaving patterns at one point. One lady with a cyborg eye has a horned boxcar made of iron, sinew, black scales, and buffalo fur.
There’s a castle of steel and concrete built inside a massive lizard skeleton, and another inside a gigantic mastodon. One of them has a curtain wall made out of turtle shell. It’s great. I love it.
Other than the typical read a lot and write a lot, what is your best writing advice?
FINISH YOUR SHIT!! FINISH IT!!! Even if it sucks, get in the habit of getting it done. Also please do something other than writing. Exercise or go outside or whatever. Find skills you can use, even if you just think of all of it as research.
What are you working on currently?
I am planning out book two, and also trying to figure out an Avram novella for my newsletter.
Avram is the best, so my final bonus question: I’m going to ask you: when Avram’s not on the page, why aren’t the other characters asking ‘Where’s Avram?’
Avram got a bit of a black mark on his record after being kicked out of the capital a few years back as punishment for [TRUCK DRIVES BY, HORN BLARING], which is tragic because these people don’t know what they’re missing. He’s great!