Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Interview - Carrie Patel (Author of The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones)

We've got something a little different for you today. As alluded to in the post below, Carrie Patel, author of The Buried Life, is going to talk to us a little about herself, about her new novel, Cities and Thrones, and about life, the universe, and everything.Thanks awfully, Carrie - the below was a lot of fun, and gives a lot of great insight.

Perhaps the first thing I should do is start with an introduction – so, who is Carrie Patel?

I’m a writer and narrative designer. I work at Obsidian Entertainment, a game development studio, by day and write novels and short stories the rest of the time. I have a particular love for fantasy and science fiction, but my genre tastes are fairly broad.
The second book in your Recoletta series, Cities and Thrones, is out on the 2nd of July.  What can fans expect from this latest volume?

Big changes! If you read The Buried Life, you know it ends with a pretty significant development for the city of Recoletta. Cities and Thrones picks up immediately afterwards and follows the maneuverings of Recoletta’s neighbours. It also follows the original characters as they cope with the political machines at work around them.

Can you talk a little about what inspired you to write Cities and Thrones, and the wider Recoletta series?

In writing Cities and Thrones, I wanted to tell the story of the consequences and complications of the seemingly triumphant changes that occur at the end of The Buried Life. I was inspired by all of the fascinating (and often heartbreaking) stories of idealists and reformers who take over only to end up creating more problems than they solve.

With regards to the series as a whole, I’m not a die-hard mystery reader, but I love the mysteries that often end up in a lot of my favourite science fiction and fantasy. And to me, telling a story about an underground civilization built on secrets and ruled by a corrupt group of elites seemed like the perfect setup for plenty of turns and intrigue.

As a follow up: History, and the fear of the past, is a key theme throughout both The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones. What made you approach this topic in particular?

Once I put the setting together, a dark history seemed to emerge as a necessary part of the story. After all, if Recoletta and the other cities had been founded to protect people from a disaster that no one was talking about, it seemed important to build that history—and people’s fear of it—into the story. It seemed like Chekhov’s gun—once the idea was there, I couldn’t leave it untouched.

Liesl Malone is a unique and intriguing character – what were your inspirations in creating her?

Detective stories are filled with brilliant oddballs, many of whom are great with facts and terrible with people. I wanted to take a character like that and dig at her manias and vulnerabilities a bit. I wanted to find the situations and personalities that might crack through her exterior so we could see what she’s made of.

Readers will always have their favourite characters in any book – which of yours is your favourite to write about?

Definitely Roman Arnault. He’s a pretty colourful character—by turns he’s crafty, mulish, and suave—but he’s pretty much always up to something. Writing him through the eyes of the perspective characters observing him is always pretty entertaining.

Again as a follow up: Are any of your characters particularly difficult to write?

Malone is probably the most difficult. She plays her cards close to her chest, but she’s definitely affected by events around her, especially in Cities and Thrones. Communicating her reactions and her metamorphosis is one of the more difficult bits of the novel.

Cities and Thrones takes your characters out of their comfort zones a little bit, and gives us a broader perspective on their world – what sort of research was required for Cities and Thrones, compared to The Buried Life?

I spent some time looking at actual revolutions and their outcomes—when they fail, how they fail, and the nature of the narratives that grow around them. The events of Cities and Thrones obviously aren’t based in history, but I wanted them to feel robust and true to life. The nice thing there was that it was fairly easy to build stories for the characters around that—there was plenty of action and complexity for them to confront new challenges and find their own niches.

Did you find writing Cities and Thrones, a sequel, harder or easier than completing your debut, The Buried Life? And in what ways?

The two processes were very different. I wrote the first draft of The Buried Life in a year and then spent years revising it on and off. In that time, I developed the skills I needed to write (and revise) a publishable book. I wrote Cities and Thrones much faster—the process of writing, revising, and plot-tinkering took about a year, and it was much less “linear” than the process for The Buried Life, where I made iterative processes at essentially the same manuscript. Both processes felt difficult when I was in the middle of them, but I’d say the process for Cities and Thrones was more challenging overall.

You’re also a narrative designer for Obsidian; were you able to draw on your experiences there whilst writing the Recoletta sequence?

I actually started working at Obsidian at almost the same time I sold The Buried Life. In terms of subject matter, the Recoletta series is very different from Pillars of Eternity, which I’ve written for at Obsidian. However, writing for computer games is a wonderful exercise in structure, and that’s something I’ve tried to apply to all of my writing.

As a reader, what type of book do you enjoy – and what are you reading right now?

I like a range of genres, from science fiction and fantasy to literary fiction, thrillers, and mysteries. I just finished Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress and am also near the end of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves.

Can you tell us a little bit about your average day/week as a writer?

I usually get up early during the week—often around 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning—so that I can get ready, have breakfast, and spend a couple hours writing (or taking care of writing business) before work. Many days I take my writing laptop with me to the office so that I can find a place to sit down and write some more after work. I’ve found I’m often most productive if I do my evening writing away from home.

Weekends are a bit more variable, but I try to carve out a little writing time during the morning or early afternoon on Saturday.

Another follow up; some authors plan their novels in great detail before setting pen to paper; others seem to take a more seat-of-the pants approach. How would you describe yourself on that continuum?

I’m a hybrid, but I’m definitely closer to the planning end of the spectrum. I tend to outline and take a lot of notes because I need some sense of direction before I start writing. But I often find that many of the “aha” moments occur while I’m writing, so my plans and outlines tend to evolve as I go.

What made you first want to become a writer? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do, or has it come upon you more gradually?

I’ve always loved stories in general and books in particular, so I was always interested in writing. But the decision to become a writer professionally—and the requisite skills for the job—developed over a few years.

Have you found the rise of social media has had any impact on you as an author?

It creates an additional opportunity to connect with readers and other authors, which is great. But it can become a distraction from the writing, so I’ve found that I need to set my expectations when it comes to my own involvement with it.

What will we be seeing from you in the coming months?

On the fiction side, I’m polishing a few short stories and working on an outline for the third book in the Recoletta series. On the games front, I’m writing for The White March, the expansion to Pillars of Eternity, and I’m especially excited about introducing a new companion: the Devil of Caroc.

Finally – any words of advice for budding authors out there?

Keep writing! Find writing partners or a critique group if you can. It’s important to get feedback, and knowing that you have an audience is a huge motivation.

      Biographical Notes (courtesy of the lovely folk at Angry Robot)

      Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and worked in transfer pricing at Ernst & Young for two years.

She now works as a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, where the only season is Always Perfect.

You can find Carrie online at www.electronicinkblog.com and @Carrie_Patel on Twitter.

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