Sci-Fi Wire Interview

This interview was conducted by John Joseph Adams for SciFi Wire, but it appears his archives have since been taken down. I include it here for posterity.


(1) In your own words, please briefly describe the plot of the book.

I call it my Elizabethan faerie spy novel. Thirty years ago, Princess Elizabeth, imprisoned by her sister Mary in the Tower of London, made a pact with the faerie Invidiana. Now they are both queens, Elizabeth ruling the mortal world from Westminster, Invidiana ruling the fae from a palace hidden beneath London. There’s a secret alliance between them still, with each manipulating politics on both sides for their benefit, but they don’t exactly get along . . . and that particular house of cards may be about to fall apart.


(2) Please talk about the genesis of the book, how you came to write it, where the idea came from, etc.

The answer to that is one of the classic sins of fantasy: it’s based on a role-playing game.

In 2006 I ran a game I called Memento, after the Guy Pearce movie of the same name, because we went through 650 years of English history backward. The Elizabethan segment of the game really stuck with me — the faerie queen I had invented for that period, the backstory driving that particular segment of the plot, and so on. So I removed the arc-plot of those 650 years, filed off the few bits that were game-specific, and expanded what remained from a skeleton into a fully fleshed-out book.

To step back a little further, I’d say the genesis of this story was Invidiana, the faerie queen. I was dissatisfied with the faerie history of England provided in the sourcebooks for the game, so I set out to write my own, and she was the first thing I came up with. She’s Elizabeth’s dark mirror, reflecting in twisted form certain characteristics of the mortal queen, and she set the tone for the entire story.


(3) Please tell me about–or rather introduce the readers to–the protagonist.

I seem to have a thing for dual protagonists, which in this case means one each from the mortal and faerie courts. Michael Deven is an ambitious young gentleman from a family on the rise, who is angling for advancement and Elizabeth’s favor. Lady Lune, on the other hand, has lost Invidiana’s favor, and in that cutthroat court, it can be a death sentence. She’s scrambling for a way to restore her position, and that brings her into Deven’s path — just as he starts to suspect there’s a hidden player in English politics.


(4) Did the writing of this book present you with any significant challenges (i.e., was it particularly difficult to write, or did you have to do a lot of research, etc.)? If so, please tell me about that. (6) What kind of research did you have to do for the book?

I’m going to answer these two together, because research was most definitely the signature challenge of this book.

I had a general understanding of the Elizabethan period when I started out, both its key events and the life of the times, but had to give myself a crash course in the details. Originally I thought the story would feature a few real people and a lot of fictional ones; in the final product, almost every single mortal character is real. I researched all kinds of things: Anglo-Irish politics of Elizabeth’s later reign, architecture of certain royal palaces, English faerie folklore, street layout in sixteenth-century London . . . one professor mailed me a bound copy of his dissertation on the Gentlemen Pensioners, the group Michael Deven belongs to, so I could add in relevant details about them.


(5) Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I can think of personal connections to a lot of other things I’ve written, but less so for this one — possibly because of its first incarnation as a game. The person running an RPG has a very different role in the story than the players do; I had more of a God-level position, rather than an embedded one. Certainly English history has always interested me, and I suppose I’m ambitious, though not in the political fashion my characters are; beyond that, it’s hard to see a personal connection.

Then again, seeing something like that usually takes perspective. Five years from now I might be saying, oh, obviously this is where that figured in.


(7) Tell me a bit about the fantasy elements and/or worldbuilding used in the novel (if you didn’t cover that above).

You can read Midnight Never Come through several different genre lenses, and one of them is urban fantasy. I love when that subgenre fits the fantastic into the shape of the world we know, adding a layer without disturbing the one already there. That’s why I became obsessive about my research; I wanted the faerie court to influence the mortal world in ways that would feel like a revelation of history instead of a revision.

As for the fae themselves, I decided to preserve regionalism as much as I could. Which is to say, much faerie fiction is syncretic; it gleefully mixes up Scottish kelpies and Greek centaurs and Japanese kitsune, or whatever else suits its purpose. I enjoy that, but for a novel set in the sixteenth century, it felt more appropriate to differentiate the various cultures. So I worked hard to strip away the Celtic elements that everyone associates with the fae — all the bits drawn from Ireland or Scotland or Wales — and to use English concepts wherever possible. (Which turns out to be remarkably difficult. The vast majority of the lore comes from those places, and if not from there, from the corners of England, such as Cornwall or Yorkshire. The home counties around London? Not so much.)


(8) What’s up next for you?

I’m writing another Onyx Court book, a “standalone sequel,” which takes place during the mid-seventeenth century. I call And Ashes Lie my Stuart faerie disaster novel, since it will cover the English Civil War, the Great Plague, and the Great Fire, which burned down most of London. There will be connections between the two — obviously, writing about faeries, I can have recurring characters no matter how much time has passed — but if all goes as planned, a reader will be able to pick up And Ashes Lie without having read Midnight Never Come, and not have any trouble.

How far I’ll keep going, I don’t know just yet, but this may turn into an entire series of London-based historical fantasies, scattered throughout the centuries.