Please welcome C. L. Clark to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Unbroken is published on March 23, 2021 by Orbit.
Please join The Qwillery in wishing C. L. a very Happy Book Birthday!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
C.L.: Hi! Thanks for having me! First thing I really remember writing is a horror story in third or fourth grade in the vein of R.L. Stein. I think. I used to tell ‘ghost’ stories to my cousins on the hour long drives to church every Sunday. Ironically, I’m a scaredy cat now.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
C.L.: At this point in the game, a plotter. My first draft of The Unbroken was largely pantsed with some ideas for where I wanted to go, but that ended up with so many full revision drafts, trying desperately to figure out how to make the story work. In the middle of that process, though, I read a lot of craft books trying to find a way to make that process easier. One of them was Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and overall, I jived pretty well with that process and though I’ve adapted it to my own style, it’s a pretty intuitive way to plot at least the first outline. What happens after I start drafting, though...heh.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
C.L.: Mm. Writing politics. Which, as you can imagine, makes writing military/political-fantasy a very particular challenge...let’s just say I question my life choices on a regular basis.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
C.L.: Everything. Maybe that’s a copout, but it’s true. Music, especially folk songs. History. History or historical societies inspire me a lot--The Unbroken came from several different historical ideas, like the European powers and their colonization of Africa, the conscription of soldiers from the colonies to use in world wars and their treatment (as well as treatment of Black soldiers in the US), and the forced separation and re-education of indigenous and colonized children across the world. I suppose historical isn’t necessarily accurate; all of this is ongoing in some way or another.
TQ: Describe The Unbroken using only 5 words.
C.L.: Mmm, I think it’s summed up pretty well with the tagline on the cover (thanks, Angeline!): “Every empire deserves a revolution.”
TQ: Tell us something about The Unbroken that is not found in the book description.
C.L.: The mother-daughter relationship is key. I love it.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Unbroken? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?
C.L.: History, as I mentioned above but specifically, this project came from three classes I was taking at the same time in university: post-colonial literary theory course, and Francophone African literature, as well as this independent research project I did on violent women in fantasy. The thing that appeals most to me is getting to do cool shit--but I’m also an academic, so I like being able to do cool shit like write about riding dragons while also grappling with the real world.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Unbroken?
C.L.: Oh, man. A lot, though some of it was what I gathered incidentally from classes. In grad school, I added war literature to my post-colonial focus. More actively, I also took some intensive courses in Arabic in the US and Morocco and spent some time researching at l’Institut du Monde Arabe (the Institute of the Arab World) in Paris so that I better understood the colonial relationships past and present. Lots of primary and secondary sources in both places, as well as the friends I made in Morocco who talked about their experiences. This was already my area of academic focus, but traveling made things much more personal. There are a lot of commonalities in Black lives in the US and present/past colonized people all over the world.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for The Unbroken.
C.L.: IT IS THE BEST!!! It’s a Tommy Arnold (you might know him from his Gideon and Harrow the Ninth covers), and was designed by Lauren Panepinto. We wanted play with the trope of the male protagonist on the front cover in power poses and thrones, but with a woman. So this is Touraine, standing amidst the pillars in the Grand Temple. I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled with how it turned out.
TQ: In The Unbroken who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
C.L.: Touraine was the character whose voice was hardest to nail down, and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I have yet. The Jackal, I think, was the easiest, though she didn’t show up until the last draft before querying. Once I did, though, everything about her was crystal clear--it unlocked a lot of the story.
TQ: Does The Unbroken touch on any social issues?
TQ: Which question about The Unbroken do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
C.L.: What are some books you think The Unbroken is in conversation with?
What I was directly thinking about while I was writing...The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson and The Thousand Names by Django Wexler and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar. Baru, because I also wanted to think about what happens to the colonized kids raised within the system, and the Shadow Campaigns series by reversing the usual hero/villain role in conquest fantasies, and finally The Winged Histories because I wanted to show the different perspectives of women in war, those who choose violence, those who choose peace, those who choose poetry, those who heal (originally, Djasha was also a point of view character and I wanted the teacher, the politician, and the soldier).
Other (first in series) books to pair it with that came out recently: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine and Savage Legion by Matt Wallace.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Unbroken.
C.L.: Ohh...I think my favorite ones are all spoilery. Hm…oh, here’s a favorite:
“Balladaire was a land of gifts and punishment, honey and whips, devastating mercies.”
TQ: What's next?
C.L.: Working on the second and third books of The Magic of the Lost trilogy mostly, but I’m also a guest editor for the upcoming We’re Here: Best of Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, which I’m editing with Charles Payseur. It’s coming from Neon Hemlock later this year. I’ll also have some short stories, essays, and a few virtual interviews over the next few months.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
The Magic of the Lost 1
Orbit Books, March 23, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 544 pages
"A perfect military fantasy: brutal, complex, human and impossible to put down." – Tasha Suri, author of Empire of Sand
In an epic fantasy unlike any other, two women clash in a world full
of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a
crumbling desert empire.
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and
die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But
now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion,
and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the
bayonet's edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the
rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting
her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms,
Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some
things aren't for sale.
C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University's creative writing MFA. She's been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she's not writing or working, she's learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle and Uncanny. You can follow her on Twitter C_L_Clark.