In case you haven’t heard, our own Marion Deeds‘ novel Copper Road was recently published by Falstaff Books. After reading and reviewing it, I had some questions about the story, the world Marion created, and her writing process. I’m pleased to share her answers with you. Marion will send a signed copy of Copper Road to one of our commentors with a U.S. address (if our winner is outside the U.S., we’ll send a $5 Amazon gift card).
Bill Capossere: I mentioned in my review how meticulously constructed the plot felt. I loved, after reading it once, in my rereads being able to mark spots where various plot points or character moments were set up. Can you talk about your plotting process? Are you an outliner? Did you go back and drop seeds for items that had already come to full bloom?
Marion: You say, “meticulously constructed.” I say, “Frantically backfilled when I realized something wasn’t adequately foreshadowed.” Yes, a lot of the time I went back to the appropriate place in the manuscript to plant something. Finding the “appropriate place” is one of the most challenging aspects of revising for me — not just storywise and plotwise, but working it into the text so it flows and doesn’t chime off-key or clunk around in the text like a half-converted Transformer robot.
I am a hybrid writer — I start off “pantsing,” writing to see where the story goes, and about two thirds of the way through I go back and make a chapter-by-chapter outline, and from there often move forward in outline form. That sounds weird, but I can’t organize until I have something to organize, if that makes sense.
So there are lots of interesting parallels between our world and the Langtree’s world, as well as a major mysterious cataclysm that changed literally everything in their world. I’m curious about your thinking in how to fill the reader in on that backstory. In particular, I’m wondering about your decision process in terms of how much to reveal and how soon, as well as how that information would be revealed?
What a great question! I started thinking about this and it led me to thoughts about the construction of a multi-book story, because things included in the first book have an impact on things in the last one. Specifically with Copper Road, backstory was structurally tricky because I had to make a large infodump interesting. The Erin Reads a Bunch of Books section was a struggle.
I knew I needed information about the parasites because stopping them is the main goal for Erin and Trevian, but I also planted some clues about the cataclysm. And I had to introduce some named characters and places, like Orchard Hill, that are going to be important later on. I over-wrote the Copper Coalition section, largely for my own benefit, and then cut several large passages that didn’t pertain to the two central questions: 1) Where do the parasites come from? And, 2) What happened here in the first place?
For me it’s almost always an issue of pacing. How can I work in the needed information without slowing down the story, or derailing it? And I hope by the end of this one some readers are getting an inkling of what happened, which is finally fully explained in the third book.
A note about writing a multi-books story; sometimes you head-desk because you’re now committed to something you threw in with the first book and now you can’t retcon or handwave it, and sometimes a little detail you put in for pacing or imagery suddenly provides the answer to a question in Book Three. In AL I succumbed to the temptation to let Trevian have a dream sequence. In the third book, that sequence was the key to an important mystery he’s wrestling with. It’s funny how that works, just one of the joys of storytelling.
Family, I thought, plays an interesting role in the novel. It’s in the background, and yet it drives so much of the story and the characters in so many ways. There’s estrangement, disrespect, a desire for approval, a befuddling love for one another, a desire to prove oneself, a desire to break out family expectations or legacies, betrayal, loyalty (even if questionable), and absence (one of my favorite moments is one of a shared grief at a mother’s absence). How do you see family working in the novel? Can you recall for us any of your decisions on crafting family roles/interactions for particular purpose?
Family forms the background these stories from the start. Years before I wrote Aluminum Leaves, I played with stories set in this world, including one following Oswald (Trevian’s father) and his brother Oshane as teenagers, being dragged all over the countryside by their dad Fergal. I got really interested in the idea of multigenerational trauma. I remember discussing that concept with you when we reviewed Robert Jackson Bennett’s THE DIVINE CITIES books. Bennett does it so well, and I’m nowhere near that proficient, but I couldn’t look away from it as a driver of the motivations of the present-day characters of Copper Road. 90% of Aideen’s problems, for example, would have been avoided if her father had just been able to see each of his children for who they were. But he couldn’t.
My dad was a wonderful person, caring, curious, smart and generous, who viewed the world with bitterness and distrust. He passed a good deal of that distrust down to me. As an adult, I figured out how much of that came from his terrible early years with an abusive stepfather, combined with societal and economic conditions during that time — the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. That’s a bit personal, but it definitely influenced my choices here. Aideen and Trevian both wrestle with a worldview handed down from a grandfather they never even knew.
With Erin, while I was also having a little fun at the expense of the Chosen One trope, I wanted to explore the idea of legacies. Frankly, no one in the past hundred years ever expected any guardian to have to actually do something with their artifact. Far from feeling like a glorious hero come to save the helpless, Erin believes her legacy kept her from the life she wanted.
As much as the book is filled with tension and action, there are more than a few humorous moments (Prince). Do you aim to “write funny” at those moments, or do they naturally flow from the dialogue or voice you’re in? Do you ever “check” your humorous lines with others or are you satisfied if it makes you laugh/chuckle?
The Prince reference felt like it came right from Erin in the moment, even though it’s pretty obscure by this time.
Thanks for commenting on the humor. I think I tried more for wit, here, or an archness, particularly with Ilsanja. I did try to deflate the authoritarian bully in a couple of places, and I really enjoyed writing the scene where he tries to withhold a chair from Aideen. Also, sadly, it’s kind of hard not to poke fun at Trevian sometimes because he’s such a stick.
I did originally think that culture clash, especially semantic and linguistic, would play a bigger part in all the books, in a few ways. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t enough space to devote to what I wanted to do there. I really wanted to steer away from the “foreigner who messes up figures of speech” trope because it’s so cringeworthy, but at the same time, Erin literally does not speak the same language as the others.
I don’t beta-test the lines I hope are witty, but my writers workshop does comment if something’s funny or if they don’t get it, so I’m not working without a net.
Our (negative) impact on our own environment is a point that comes up a few times, via Erin, albeit briefly. Is this a personal passion of yours, a mild concern, or simple realism? If the first, did you wrestle at all with how much of a focus to give it?
Our own environment and how we interact with it are concerns for me. As a writer, I’m interested in how societies use resources, and this series is a response to that in several ways. Erin is often embarrassed by what people have done back home in her world… even though she’s discovering people did many of the same things in Trevian’s world. I keep some of the environmental issues in the background, but I hope readers are thinking about them when they finish the book. In some cases, like Merry Lake itself and the fire elementals, I did worry that I was billboarding it.
I had some amazing blind spots, too! In my defense I’ll plead that in both Aluminum Leaves and Copper Road, I had a lot of elements to juggle, but my friend Linda read AL and said, “How come there’s no waste plastic in this world?” It was a forehead-smack, “I coulda had a V8!” moment. Thus, plastic appears in Copper Road.
Is there anything in the finished novel that gives you particular satisfaction? A problem or obstacle you struggled with, something you took several shots at, that finally clicked? Or something that just feels so “right” for a particular character, or a piece of descriptive writing that “nailed” what you were trying to convey?
I have a story about that! Without committing spoilers, in one specific section Erin’s POV shifts to a different mode. That required a lot of concentration and attention to get right. When my brilliant editor at Falstaff, Erin Penn, sent back the manuscript, her margin note read, “Holy crap! I got so caught up I forgot to edit! I have to read it again.” I was pretty proud of that.
Other things are tiny. Ilsanja is the kind of the character I love to read about but wasn’t sure I could create. And I liked the horses.
Generally, it’s a story with a lot of world-building and an intricate plot, and while I certainly see the gaps and the flaws, I do think I pulled it off, and that gives me satisfaction.
At this point you’ve written short stories, a novella, and a full novel. Can you speak to the different challenges and/or the similarities you discovered while working in all three forms?
I think novels are my strongest form. I love novellas, but novellas I write turn into novels, so there you are. I am in awe and mouth-frothing envy of people like Alix E. Harrow or our friend Kate Lechler, (or you), who can write beautiful, strange, deep stories that transport the reader to another world in fewer than 3,000 words, but I work best with a larger canvas and usually a large cast of characters.
Short stories are like a classical guitar solos. Novels are symphonic. As Plotline A declines to a rest, Plotline B must rise. Motivations must harmonize, and all the beats need to be met. It’s more challenging, but rounder somehow.
At the other end of the continuum, flash fiction is more like poetry to me. Every word matters, and you start a flash story very close to the end. I admire the purity of it. It’s an exercise in distillation for me.
Two questions about the future:
- Can you say anything about what’s next in this universe/series?
- And outside of BROKEN CITIES, what’s next for you?
I’m waiting for a revision letter on the third book, which still has a working title at this point (Golden Rifts), and it should be out in early 2022. It completes this storyline, and you will find out what happened “when the earth turned.” Erin also confronts, in a very specific way, the death of her parents and grandmother, and faces what those losses mean to her.
(An aside, when you start with “Golden” and add a geological feature, do you know how many titles end up sounding either like a romance novel or porn? Seriously, try it!)
In March, 2022, my short Jazz Era fantasy novel Comeuppance Served Cold will be released by Tor.com. I am so excited! Comeuppance Served Cold is my homage to Dashiell Hammett, in a world with magic and Prohibition, with tough, snarky women, speakeasies, shapeshifters and cocktails.
Right now I’m working on an urban fantasy set in central coastal California in a magical town that’s shaped like a nautilus shell. Obviously, they had some strange city planners. I’m having fun with it.
As you well know, we like to ask our interviewees about their current favorite beverage, or one that kept them company during the writing process, or maybe one they celebrated with at the end. Do you have one you’d to share?
Some variation of “coffee” is the real answer, but recently Sarah Madsen, author of Dreamweaver’s Folly, introduced me to a yummy gin-basil martini, perfect for summer! Muddle a cucumber slice and some fresh basil in your shaker, add two parts gin to one part fresh lime juice and some simple syrup (to taste), shake with ice. Garnish with a cucumber slice or a basil leaf (or both! Why not?). I wasn’t a huge fan of gin but I am converting, and this is tart and refreshing, plus it’s a lovely translucent green color in a cocktail glass.
Thank you for interviewing me!
Marion will be giving away a signed copy of Copper Road to one of our commentors with a U.S. address (if our winner is outside the U.S., we’ll send a $5 Amazon gift card). Leave a comment for a chance to win.
I cannot wait to try that drink! Obviously not the main point of the interview but this is what my life is now. Haha
I’m right with you! I incorrectly identified it as a basil martini but in fact I think it’s a cucumber-basil gimlet, if anyone asks you as you are sipping it with a contented look on your face.
That drink looks awesome. I may make one tonight.
I can’t wait to read Marion’s books. Hoping for an audio version, but I’ll read them in print if needed.
I’m not in the contest, cause I just won the last one, but I wanted to say: I love the covers and love the fact that family is important. That’s what I liked about Walking Dead. I don’t like horror, or zombie stories much, but I watched the show with my sons because the focus on family made it more believable.
I already know that you’re an amazing author because I read your short story. These are on my list.
I’ve been so happy about the covers.
Would love to win this book
Congrats on the book release! Can’t wait to read this!
A New book by Marion! Sign me up. Congrats.
Wow! I didn’t know about the book release. Congratulations, Marion!
Congratulations, Marion! I love the creepy covers!
I read and really like Aluminum leaves! Would love to read this one as well.
tom Mmore, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of COPPER ROAD!
Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away.
I will sign it–let me know if you want it personalized.