Friday, March 09, 2018

Interview with Tristan Palmgren, author of Quietus

Please welcome Tristan Palmgren to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Quietus was published on March 6th by Angry Robot.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?

Tristan:  Hi! Thanks for having me! I'm sure I had written things before, but the first I can recall with any clarity was in fourth grade: a piece of Star Trek fanfiction in which I tried as hard as possible to mimic the books I'd read. Characters brooded! They thought in italics! I turned it in for an assignment, and can't remember what my teacher thought, but I was very excited.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Tristan:  I outline my novels in excruciating detail, pay attention to that for the first few scenes, and then bin it.

It's telling that, for my current project, I wrote detailed notes for the first few scenes and then just stopped. I haven't missed them.

To date, I also have done most (not all) of my writing in pants.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Tristan:  Maintaining focus and not drifting to other tasks. It's too easy to blame social media for this, but even before I became active on such terrible places as Twitter, I would stop writing in the middle of a paragraph or sentence and hop onto some blog or website that had popped into my head for no reason.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Tristan:  Kim Stanley Robinson's SF has a contemplative side I continually find mirrored in my own writing, whether I set out to do so or not. The Years of Rice and Salt lit a fire under me. It was the first alternate history I'd read that, rather than approach history as a puzzlebox seeking a new solution (not always bad!), was an intimate story about two characters. The speculative history was a means to better explore the ways in which people perceived and lived through ours.

There's more than a little Iain M. Banks in Quietus, from the headiness of his worldbuilding to the scale of his threats.

TQDescribe Quietus in 140 characters or less.

TristanQuietus is a science fiction novel set during the Black Death about a transdimensional anthropologist, a Carthusian monk, and radical compassion in impossible circumstances.

TQWhy the Latin title? One of your characters, Niccoluccio, is a Carthusian monk. Why did you choose the Carthusian Order for Niccoluccio?

Tristan:  Quietus is a nice, underused word with some heft to it. It makes me think of not only death, but release and repose. I could think of no better single word to describe the feeling I wanted to write about.

I decided on the Carthusian order for a few reasons. Niccoluccio's historical model, Petrarch's brother Gherardo, was a Carthusian. The pervasive silence of a Carthusian monastery, and the way silence makes all the little sounds of life more noticeable (and their absence especially so), was important to the way I thought the Black Death should manifest to his senses.

The Carthusians are also relatively more severe than other orders. I did not want Niccoluccio to have an easy time when he joined. He needed to have wanted it, and demonstrably so.

TQTell us something about Quietus that is not found in the book description.

Tristan:  Many of its descriptions, thoughts, and terror of death came from my experiences working as a coroner's assistant.

The worst of those, though, came from the same place as everybody else's: staring at the ceiling at night, sleepless.

TQWhat inspired you to write Quietus? What appeals to you about writing SF?

Tristan:  Reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century. There are only a few chapters on the Black Death, but they were written with such striking detail that I could not get them out of my head. That started a long road of research. Barbara Tuchman is a novelist's historian, and I try to take as many lessons from her craft as I can.

SF bends the real just enough to make our world seem just as alien as it actually is.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Quietus?

Tristan:  Books, books, books. Western State Colorado University's library was especially helpful here. Julie Kerr's Life in the Medieval Cloister is a good place to anyone curious about medieval monastic life to start reading.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Quietus.

Tristan:  The cover depicts a scene very early in Quietus, so no real spoiler! The anthropologist Dr. Habidah Shen has just left plague-ravaged Messina, and is waiting for her team's shuttle to pick her up. The shuttle has a modest camouflage ability. It seeps out of the clouds more than it descends from them.

The art is by the wonderful Dominic Harman, who you can find at

TQIn Quietus who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Tristan:  I thought Niccoluccio would be my biggest challenge, as there were so many details about monastic life that I felt I had to get right. The anthropologists, though they come from a different universe, were deliberately given a "modern" perspective, and so I thought their voices would come a little more easily. But Niccoluccio and I turned out to be after broadly the same things in life.

The most challenging character to write for was one of the anthropologists on Habidah's team, Meloku. Meloku is the most alien of Quietus's viewpoint characters. She's been living with an AI companion inside her head for years, embedded in her thoughts, and that's shaped her in all the worst ways you can imagine. She's not cruel, but she is cold in a way that I found difficult to write while maintaining reasons to care about her.

The key to unlocking her turned out to be her anger. She's a very angry person, though she does not acknowledge that. She has fair reason to be angry.

TQWhich question about Quietus do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: Will the dog be all right?

A: The dog will be all right in the end.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Quietus.

Tristan:  "Courts were in session. Habidah listened in on one case, a nephew and a stepbrother disputing the inheritance of a small house. The previous owner had left a will, but all five other beneficiaries had died. When the court reconvened the next day, neither claimant arrived. Habidah tracked them down. They'd perished overnight."

TQWhat's next?

Tristan:  It's a secret--for now. But there will be a "next."

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Tristan:  Thank you!

Angry Robot, March 6, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 512 pages

A transdimensional anthropologist can’t keep herself from interfering with Earth’s darkest period of history in this brilliant science fiction debut

Niccoluccio, a young Florentine Carthusian monk, leads a devout life until the Black Death kills all of his brothers, leaving him alone and filled with doubt. Habidah, an anthropologist from another universe racked by plague, is overwhelmed by the suffering. Unable to maintain her observer neutrality, she saves Niccoluccio from the brink of death.

Habidah discovers that neither her home’s plague nor her assignment on Niccoluccio’s world are as she’s been led to believe. Suddenly the pair are drawn into a worlds-spanning conspiracy to topple an empire larger than the human imagination can contain.

File Under: Science Fiction [ The Watcher | Darkness Comes | The Light of Faith | Darkness Beckons ]

About Tristan

Tristan Palmgren has been a clerk, a factory technician, a university lecturer, a cashier, a secretary, a retail manager, a rural coroner’s assistant. In his lives on parallel Earths, he has been an ant farm tycoon, funeral home enthusiast, professional con-artist impersonator, laser pointer chaser, and that guy who somehow landed a trademark for the word “Avuncular.” Jealous. He lives with his wife, Teresa, in Columbia, Missouri.

Website  ~  Twitter @TristanPalmgren


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