Thank you, Lindsey, for hosting me here today. I’m looking forward to you coming to visit my blog soon, as well. And thanks to Lindsey’s blog readers and anyone else who stops by for reading.
When Lindsey and I were discussing topics for blog posts, she told me she’s always interested in hearing the origin stories for other writers’ novels. It’s not something I’ve explained in much detail with The Silk Betrayal, though I actually began the first draft for the novel some ten years ago. So here it is at last, the origin of The Silk Betrayal.
I forget now where I first heard the advice, but someone once told me that discrete ideas for stories are easy, but on their own those ideas often fizzle out. It’s only when we juxtapose two seemingly different ideas that a story really takes off. The world of Eghsal definitely began with that kind of juxtaposition.
On the one hand, I liked the idea of a land that was cut off from the rest of the world by snow and ice, a far northern land where the people only managed to survive because of volcanic forces warming the valley. I had a character to fit this land (someone who was later cut from the novel), but little more.
At the same time, I found myself drawn to the idea of a strict caste-based society. In an essay on SF, Ursula LeGuin writes that SF writers don’t write about the future, except by accident. All they can do is tell you about the present, their lives as they’re living them. I’ve always felt the same idea applies to fantasy and historical time periods they might seem to fit, and that for whatever reason, for whatever things that were going on in my life at the time, I wanted to explore the idea of castes more, of being stuck in a prescribed role. Of resisting.
Those two basic ideas gave me the start for the world itself, for the isolated northern valley of Eghsal, though it still wasn’t a story.
Before I could tackle that, I immersed myself in learning about real-world castes and the societies around them. It would have been easy to simply take my own assumptions about such things, received stereotypes and ideas, but I wanted to better understand how they really play out, not just how an outsider might think they do. So I read about and spoke with people from India, approaching the caste system--as it’s existed at different times in history--with what I hoped was openness and humility.
Then I sat down to write a short story. I often do that when I create a new setting, hoping to get my mind into the world before I’ve committed to the novel’s story. “Untouched by Fire,” which would eventually be published in Guardbridge Books’ Myriad Lands anthology, centers on a high-caste girl who has been cast out, made untouchable, because of an accident involving fire.
After that story was done, I began to see the character that the novel would center on. He would be an enigmatic man who could blend in to any caste, someone with an uncanny ability to fit in wherever he went and be overlooked. In fact, I saw, that ability would be a form of magic, not just a magic to blend in but rather a magic that could play on peoples’ assumptions and ideas, on the archetypes of how they saw the world. A performance magic that’s new and exciting for its practitioners. I pictured him meeting the famous but aging discoverer of this magic, being introduced to the world of performing, pictured it as a sort of young Bob Dylan meeting Woody Guthrie moment. And with that I knew Pavresh and his place in this northern, volcano-warmed world of Eghsal.
But a funny thing happened. Usually the stories I write to get me into a new world are one-off things, the characters there to serve that specific story but nothing more. But I kept coming back to Jaritta, the high-born outcast of “Untouched by Fire.” She was clearly important, too. And so was the world she’d left behind, the brother who was still a part of the city’s high-caste rulers.
Once I had those three characters figured out, then the whole story began to fall into place. A story of court intrigue, new magic, revolution...and betrayal.
Today, Sunday April 1, is the release day for The Silk Betrayal in ebook format. It has also been available since December in paperback and hardcover formats.
Daniel Ausema is a writer and stay-at-home dad from Colorado. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, Diabolical Plots, and many other places. The Silk Betrayal is the first book of the Arcist Chronicles, published by Guardbridge Books. Daniel is also the creator of the Spire City series of books and stories. He can be found online at his blog Twigs and Brambles.