Please welcome Cate Glass to The Qwillery. An Illusion of Thieves (Chimera 1) is published today by Tor Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Cate: A short story for my tenth grade English teacher. It was the first time an assigned story could be about anything we wanted. I wrote about a brother and sister growing up on an isolated hardscrabble farm in some version of the Midwest. Their very strict but loving father had taught them that the only way to survive was to focus on the here and now, on what was real, forbidding them to make up stories or otherwise use their imaginations. Then Something Happened in the woods one day to upend their beliefs—and explain why their father was the way he was. The teacher asked to keep the story, and, foolishly, I let her. That was it for fiction writing for many, many years. When a friend persuaded me to take up writing as a hobby, I expanded that story into a novel, which still sits in my trunk, yelling at me for attention.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Cate: Definitely not an outliner/pre-plotter. But I do know where I am going when I sit down to write. I call myself an Organic Story Developer. I develop enough of characters, world, and situation to write an opening scene and get a general idea of the shape of the story. I just don’t know the details of how I am going to get there. As I move forward, I learn more and more about the characters and the world, which feeds the plot, clarifying events that need to happen to develop the characters and to deepen the world. Rinse. Repeat. To me it keeps the story new every day.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Cate: Verbiage. I love words, and I obsess over getting just the right feel, sound, and rhythm on the page. It makes me a slow writer.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Cate: Everything. Nature, music, art, museums, travel, politics, history. Tidbits I hear on National Public Radio. Archeology news. Science. Living. Stories I love. I do believe that a writer brings every experience to the page in some fashion.
TQ: Describe An Illusion of Thieves using only 5 words.
Cate: Forbidden magic. Four sorcerers. Intrigue.
TQ: Tell us something about An Illusion of Thieves that is not found in the book description.
Cate: The reason magic is forbidden: Sorcerers are believed to be the descendants of a beast the gods imprisoned under the earth after the Wars of Creation. This same beast causes volcanoes and earthquakes. Those who carry the taint of sorcery are condemned to die, lest they use their talents to set the beast free to wreak the world’s end.
TQ: What inspired you to write An Illusion of Thieves? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
Cate: I watched a recent Mission Impossible film and my exceptional spouse and I started comparing it to the original TV series about an ensemble of people with specific talents who accomplished off-the-books missions that legit spies couldn't do. That got me asking "what if...?" What if the very specific talents were magical—maybe in a world where magic is forbidden, and sorcerers are very rare? What if there were really impossible missions that they believed needed doing? Once I started thinking about possible talents that would make up such a group, Romy, Placidio, Neri, and Dumond came alive, insisting that their stories be written!
I enjoy writing fantasy because there are no rules. I grew up reading just about every genre of fiction. I loved mysteries, double agent and other kinds of spy novels, adventure stories, historical novels, romantic suspense, political thrillers, mythology, fairy tales, and fantastical adventures like Alice in Wonderland. As a fantasy writer, I can tell any of those stories in a world of my own making! What could be more fun than that?
TQ: What sort of research did you do for An Illusion of Thieves?
Cate: I wanted to set the Chimera stories in the kind of world where intrigue and skullduggery abounded. Rather than empire-building battles, I wanted to focus on more localized struggles, where the important conflicts take place in salons or dining rooms, artisan workshops, public buildings, and the like, and involved matters like hostage-taking, poisonings, assassinations – and, yes, thieving. When I settled on a locale much like that of Renaissance Italy, I was led into research about every thing from the materials available in an age of burgeoning exploration and trade to Mediterranean vegetation, poisons, wine production, barge traffic on rivers. As the Chimera's first mission has to do with art forgery and a statue of great antiquity, I read up on bronze casting. And as one of my four is a professional duelist, I read up on dueling regulations, weapons, and protocols. As the series goes on, I've gotten into researching the cloth trade and divination schemes, the history of geology, and numerous other topics.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for An Illusion of Thieves.
Cate: The artist is Alyssa Winans. Rather than reflecting a specific incident, her gorgeous cover art reflects the hidden energies in a world where magic has a meant a death sentence for thousands of years. Sorcerers spend their lives suppressing their gifts. The person on the cover is Romy of Lizard's Alley, a law scribe who for nine years was a courtesan bound to the most powerful man in her city. She tells the story of An Illusion of Thieves...how magic caused her to forfeit one life and find another.
TQ: In An Illusion of Thieves who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Cate: The easiest was Neri, Romy's almost-sixteen-year-old brother. Maybe because I have three sons of my own. Maybe just because his emotional drivers were so clear. He has grown up in grinding poverty with a family who is terrified of him. He is illiterate and ignorant about the wider world, possessing one incredible gift that he dares not use. His eldest sister, whose name no one speaks, is the only other person he knows who has magic, but she lives in luxury with the richest and most dangerous man in the city. This is one angry, resentful kid, and yet that elder sister is the only person in the world who was never scared of him.
The hardest was Romy herself. We are in her head, so I had to learn everything about her. This is not a romance, so what was it that defined her relationship with the Shadow Lord both before and after the split that changed the course of her life? It would have been very easy to fall into the "lost love" cliche or the "woman scorned" cliche. I wanted her strong, but flawed. Intelligent, but her knowledge of the world is through the very specific lens of her past. Conflicted, but not wallowing in the past. And always interesting and unexpected.
TQ: Does An Illusion of Thieves touch on any social issues?
Cate: I never set out to address social issues. But I do try to make my worlds feel real, which means issues of morality, justice, bias, fanaticism…you name it…will eventually come into play.
TQ: Which question about An Illusion of Thieves do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Cate: Does Romy believe there is really a monster imprisoned under the earth? No. But events tell her that magic is only one hint of the extraordinary in the world. The mythos will creep quietly into the Chimera stories as they go on.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from An Illusion of Thieves.
Cate: When Romy the courtesan is dismissed, she’s thrown back into poverty and saddled with an angry teenaged brother to feed:
“I sat in the dark fretting over what kind of work I might do that did not involve lustful men, libidinous women, haggling at the market, or incessant stares from strangers. After four-and-twenty years of haphazard education, I ought to have a few useful skills besides the obvious.”
And Placidio di Vasil always has a pithy comment:
Placidio examined the dagger’s grip, quillions, edge, and point as a physician explores skulls, tongues, and urine. “Well chosen,” he conceded. “A good length. But what need has a Beggars Ring boy for a new blade and finer skills? Have you acquired a new enemy? ’Twould likely be cheaper to hire me to fight, than to teach a hothead to skewer a dunderwit.”
TQ: What's next?
Cate: Next up is the second Chimera adventure: A Conjuring of Assassins, coming in February 2020. Romy, Placidio, Neri, and Dumond think their new mission is a simple one—break into a prison cell, find out where the prisoner has hidden a very dangerous document, and be off to destroy it. But things get complicated very quickly when the prisoner isn’t at all what they expected, and Romy rescues a half-drowned stranger who has some most unusual talents.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Cate: Thank you for having me!
An Illusion of Thieves
Tor Books, May 21, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
A ragtag crew with forbidden magic must pull off an elaborate heist and stop a civil war in An Illusion of Thieves, a fantasy adventure from Cate Glass.
In Cantagna, being a sorcerer is a death sentence.
Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy's aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life—and the price is her banishment.
Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she has just her wits and her own long-hidden sorcery to help her and Neri survive. But when a plot to overthrow the Shadow Lord and incite civil war is uncovered, only Romy knows how to stop it. To do so, she’ll have to rely on newfound allies—a swordmaster, a silversmith, and her own thieving brother. And they'll need the very thing that could condemn them all: magic.
Cate Glass is a writer of the fantasy adventure series Chimera. Cate Glass is also a pen name of Carol Berg, award-winning and bestselling author of fifteen epic fantasy novels and half a dozen novellas and short stories.
Though Cate's home has a great view of the Colorado Rockies, she has lived a large portion of her life in realms of mystery and adventure - Middle Earth, Camelot, Amber, Wonderland, Harry Dresden's Chicago, Jim Chee's New Mexico, Cheltenham race track or the colleges of Oxford, Victorian London, Cold War Berlin, the Welsh borderlands, River Heights, Marvel's version of Hell's Kitchen...you get the drift.
While studying mathematics and software engineering at Rice University and the University of Colorado respectively, Cate carved out a special place for studies in English and History of Art and reading, reading, reading.
A few years into a career as a software development engineer, Cate took up a hobby of writing her own fiction. Many manuscripts later (see Carol Berg's bibliography) Cate is deep into the stories of the Chimera.
Cate enjoys binging on movies and (well-written!) TV, as well as camping, hiking, and biking with her mechanical engineer spouse, and three sons who juggle music and teaching, software and carpentry, rocket science and ice hockey.