July 8, 2015

Taking a breath – UPDATED

First things first: I’ll be in Fayetteville, Arkansas next week for a writing workshop, and the week after that, I’ll be at Armadillocon here in Austin. Check it out.

Also UPDATED looks like City of Stairs is up for the 2014 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Wow. I did not expect that and am absolutely flummoxed. So yeah, wow. I am already going to New York Comic Con this October, but I guess now I should swing back around to Saratoga Springs in November, and maybe make a holiday out of it?

Also, serious props to the World Fantasy peeps for NOT notifying the nominees in advance. This was the first time this has happened to me, and it was a whole lot of fun.

ALSO, wow, as I’ve said before, David Mitchell is one of my absolute favorite writers, and was actually a really big influence on City of Stairs. It would be super cool to meet him in person and hold up my book and be like YOU DID THIS but he wouldn’t know if I meant in a positive way? I guess what I’m saying here is I only have bad interactions with alive people in meatspace. And that’s the way things are.


I’ve just now sent on my copyedits of City of Blades, the sequel to City of Stairs. Usually this moment comes with an immense feeling of finality – but not this time. Partially because I’m currently in the proposal stages for a third sequel in the series, likely the final one for this particular stretch of books.

I did not initially intend to write a sequel to City of Stairs. I felt like I’d done everything I’d wanted to do in that book, and once it was done it was done. And primarily, it was Shara’s story that was done: at the end of Stairs (spoiler if you haven’t read it), Shara has answered a lot of questions she had about herself, and has decided to approach taking up a senior leadership position – though how senior wasn’t clear, and won’t be until you read City of Blades.

Shara had figured herself out. She had figured out who she was and what she wanted to do in this world. I didn’t wish to revisit her decisions. Books are fascinating when the protagonist starts broken (or gets broken during the course of the book), and then you get to see them try and put themselves back together. I didn’t want to break Shara again.

So it wasn’t until I realized that I could write a sequel from another character’s perspective, one that could involve Shara but not directly feature and (most importantly) interrogate her character as City of Stairs did, that I felt truly comfortable with writing a sequel at all. 

So the task of picking up a sequel and figuring out “what happens next?” has fallen to perhaps an unlikely person – Mulaghesh.

Turyin Mulaghesh was a character that completely came out of the blue for me. I’d originally planned for her character to be a man, and not a major character at all, just a military figure that Shara would work and dupe to get what she wanted. But I found this strangely pat and unsatisfactory, and it wasn’t until I asked myself, “Why not make her a fifty year old woman?” that she suddenly came to life. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get her in a scene with Shara and Sigrud and see each other bounce off one another.

Mulaghesh is Shara’s opposite in countless ways. Where Shara is quiet, Mulaghesh is definitely loud. While Shara is content to play her cards close and keep her opinions to herself, Mulaghesh is perfectly happy to staple her opinions to your forehead while reading them aloud. Shara is a political backroom dealer; Mulaghesh is a soldier and accustomed to the frontlines.

And perhaps more interestingly, there is a distinct contrast of ends and means between the two characters. Shara is used to dealing in shades of gray, compromising herself and other people to achieve what she feels to be an idealistic end. Mulaghesh, however, is a creature of code and conduct, unwilling to allow the ends to justify the means, and she is far less convinced of humanity’s noble possibilities. The two are alternatingly rigid and yielding in strangely complimentary ways – no wonder Shara goes out of her way to keep Mulaghesh around. Which is, of course, what she does.

And Mulaghesh, like any career soldier, has a lot of baggage. She’s broken in a lot of ways that are worth examining.

City of Blades comes out in the US in January of next year. I like to sort and organize all my books as I write them, and I’m already putting together a spreadsheet in my head of the themes and emotions each book explores, and which character does the exploring. The current version looks like:

CaptureBut that’s all I can say on that for now.