The Big Idea: Marie Brennan
Posted on August 30, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 7 Comments
We’ve all heard the expression “good things come to those who wait.” Is it true? Perhaps not always or in all cases, but with her new novel With Fate Conspire, author Marie Brennan found that there might be some advantages to have some time between when one thinks of an interesting story idea, and when one finally sits down to bring it into the world. Find out how she who hesitated was not, in fact, lost.
This would be a very different book if I’d started writing it in 2007, like I originally intended.
Midnight Never Come (which had its own Big Idea feature here a few years ago) was supposed to be stand-alone. During an interview for that book, though, somebody asked me what a faerie mirror of Queen Victoria would have been like. My take was that she wouldn’t have had one — but that got me thinking about the fact that her reign saw the beginning of the London Underground. Which is, y’know, under ground. Which also happens to be where my faeries live.
And they don’t much like iron.
Writers being sadists, I knew at once that I had a sequel in my hands — albeit one taking place nearly three centuries later. I soon came up with ideas for a pair of books in between, too, one each century. My thought was that I would do the Victorian book first, then backtrack for those two. But after a few months researching nineteenth-century London, I realized a bite that big would take more chewing than I could give it just then, so I postponed it and took the series in chronological order. (This resulted in me biting off and attempting to chew the English Civil War instead, which was not any easier. But that’s neither here nor there.)
The delay didn’t change the Big Idea of the book; it’s still about the Underground and the threat it poses to the faeries of London. But taking things in order means that conflict ended up with a foundation it would have otherwise lacked. To borrow a metaphor that I think originated with Jo Walton, now there’s a spear behind the spearpoint. Some of the fae have spent three books and three hundred years in London; they can’t surrender that easily. We’ve also seen change creep over their world, as mortal society shifts around them; the fact that they’ve survived all of that makes the seriousness of this threat all the more real.
And one thing I didn’t foresee, when I first thought this up: the foundation laid in the previous book, A Star Shall Fall. That one takes place during the Enlightenment, and brings faerie magic up against mortal science. Usually those two things are treated as being antithetical to one another — which goes hand-in-hand with the standard narrative of “oh, alas, magic is going out of the world; woe, technology has driven the faeries away.” That’s a very Victorian narrative, so I couldn’t exactly ignore it . . . but I could have an argument with it. The fae of the Onyx Court worked out a kind of “faerie science” in the eighteenth century, and now, in this book, they use it to fight against the dangers that are trying to force them from their home.
I wouldn’t have had that if I’d taken the series out of order. I wouldn’t have had a lot of the elements that fed into this book; each novel’s plot essentially stands on its own, but there’s a natural accumulation of details that make this book — which is the conclusion of the series, at least for now — the sum of the things that went before. The Big Idea got bigger, because it had more time to grow.
So in the end, I’m glad I waited.
With Fate Conspire: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s journal.
I quite enjoyed the previous novels in this series, though I’ve always wanted to see what happens to the Court during the Blitz! I’ll be picking this up for sure.
I read Midnight Never Come after hearing your fantastic fight-scene-writing lesson at the Sirens conference. Since then I’ve read pretty much every novel I’ve come across that involves the Fae. Thanks for introducing me to this subgenre. Can’t wait to see what you’ve done in the Victorian era!
Fletcher — there may be a Blitz book eventually! It all depends on how various things go (sales for this book, my ability to flesh the seed idea out into an actual premise, etc.) I needed a break before continuing on, though; all the research was turning my brain into oatmeal.
Iliadfan — oh, I’m glad you enjoyed that. It was a lot of fun to run!
Shame the cover illustration has a train with a cowcatcher on the front. As far as I know London Underground has never actually needed those… not even on the vast lengths of the ‘Underground’ that operate on the surface.
For the uninformed, the Underground is really underground — quite deep in places — and not a subway as in New York. However that is only in the city centre and surrounding areas, and then mostly north of the Thames. The suburbs not only have the service on the surface but in some places on viaducts above the ground.
But maybe the book is more accurate than than the cover art…
Sting — I can promise you, no cowcatchers appear in the book. :-) At the date when the story takes place (1884), all of the Underground track was still being laid by the “cut and cover” method; the Circle Line and early parts of the District Line are all very shallowly laid, and in many places just run through an open, uncovered trench, because they needed to be able to vent the steam from the tunnels. Deep tunneling didn’t come until later, along with electric trains.
(They did, however, buy their rolling stock from the overland train companies, so for all I know some of the locomotives *did* have cowcatchers, if nobody got around to removing them. The one I looked at didn’t, though.)
Hopefully that proof of research will win back whatever goodwill the cover error may have lost!
Thank you for your thoughtful reply Marie, and of course your are totally accurate here. However as someone raised on the Piccadilly line I had no truck as it were with those old fashioned Circle and District lines :)
But if it helps, I am so impressed with your thoroughness here I will go and buy the book. The cover art I can ignore.
Oh, the Circle and District are *ancient* (as transit systems go), and it shows. But I was glad of it while doing my research; if they’d been replaced, it would have robbed me of a useful experience. (As it was, I had to be satisfied with Baker St. for an example of what the stations looked like back then.)
I hope you enjoy the book!