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An Interview with A.M. Dellamonica

A.M. Dellamonica was kind enough to drop by my blog today to talk about her latest novel, A Daughter of No Nation (released today!), among other things. To get things started, as I frequently do, I will shamelessly steal her author bio by way of introduction…

A.M. Dellamonica moved to Toronto, Canada, in 2013, after 22 years in Vancouver. In addition to writing, she studies yoga and takes thousands of digital photographs. She is a graduate of Clarion West and teaches writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Dellamonica’s first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her most recent book, Child of a Hidden Sea, was released by Tor Books in the summer of 2014 and was a finalist on the Lambda Award ballot.

She is the author of more than thirty-five short stories in a variety of genres; they can be found on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and in numerous print magazines and anthologies.

ACW: Welcome! Congratulations on the publication of A Daughter of No Nation. Could you talk about the novel a bit and the Hidden Sea Tales Trilogy in general? Did you always plan for the books to be a trilogy, or did you find yourself coming to the end of the first book and realizing there was more of the story to tell?

AMD: I conceived of the Hidden Sea Tales as a trilogy from the start–or, really, “at least three.” The basic scheme was to create a world I could keep visiting from now until death, with an abundance of political and physical settings and cool photogenic wildlife and intriguing magic and pirates. Writing three to begin with was in some sense reining myself in… limiting the initial story to Sophie Hansa and her journey.

Except I didn’t, which is how I ended up writing The Gales. More on that soon.

ACW: I’m always curious about process and what goes on behind the scenes of an author’s work. After finishing Child of a Hidden Sea, did you jump straight into writing A Daughter of No Nation, or did you give yourself a break in-between to work on other things and recharge your batteries? Is there anything in particular you find easier or harder about writing the second book in a series as opposed to the first?

There was a bit of back and forth. Initially sent an outline of the story to my editor at Tor and tried to work on other things–they could have said no, after all–but then I couldn’t leave the world of Stormwrack alone. I’d made all these shiny things, after all! So I wrote some backstory on Gale Feliachild and Garland Parrish, which eventually turned into the first of the story cycle I call The Gales – “Among the Silvering Herd.” That gave me some insight into some things that happened in the first novel, and I couldn’t quite keep from writing another big chunk of that. Then I got to the part of Child of a Hidden Sea that takes place on Erinth, and I remembered I wasn’t “supposed” to be writing the novel yet, but I wanted to explore Erinth. And hey, that would help with the book anyway, right? So I wrote the next of the Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti.”

And then I simply couldn’t contain myself so I went back to CHS, until I found myself wanting to do some story development on the Fleet itself, so I wrote “The Glass Galago” (which’ll be out on tor.com in the not too distant) and then I worked on the book until everyone got to Tallon, at which point I stopped and wrote a story set there: “Losing Heart Among the Tall.” (ACW note: Losing Heart Among the Tall will also be published by Tor.com sometime in the future.)

It was something of a process of wallowing in my own splendid creation, and being thoroughly pleased with myself.

At some point, to make a long story long, I got to work on ADoNN. I don’t remember there being any kind of delay between books. The only thing that was really hard about the second book was that in writing it I used up most of the nifty plot turns I’d proposed to Tor for both books two and three. So the hardest work came when I then had to figure out the story within the third book, The Nature of a Pirate…

ACW: Did you have any trouble slipping back into your characters’ voices and their world? Were you ever constrained by something you’d written in the first book that closed off an avenue you suddenly found yourself wanting to explore in the second?

I have trouble slipping into specific pieces of the setting sometimes. That “should” voice of mine is pretty sure I ought to finish off the next of the Gales, “Island of the Giants,” but there’s some piece of that setting, the island Nysa, that is holding me at a distance.

ACW: Since we’re both Canadian, I feel the need to ask – do you think there are particular tones, themes, or subjects that make a piece of literature quintessentially Canadian? If so, do you ever consciously draw on them in your own work, or even consciously avoid them?

People tend to say Canadian SF is more engaged with the environment or landscapes that surround the characters. I’m not sure I entirely buy this–it sounds like a generalization–but it’s certainly true that the ecofantasy I write is very much about terrain: the mutated semi-enchanted, entirely-feral forest that erupts in Indigo Springs and Blue Magic when the magic gets loose, for example, and the microclimates of the Fleet of Nations in this new series.

ACW: On a somewhat related note, there seems to be quite a few excellent speculative fiction writers living in and around the Toronto area. Is there anything about Toronto that makes it such fertile ground for speculative fiction writing? In general, what are some of your favorite things about the city – bookstores, parks, museums, restaurants, must-see places you’d recommend to someone visiting for the first time?

AMD: I am still getting to know all of the amazing people who live and work here–it’s very exciting. (Though of course I miss all my Vancouver friends, writer and otherwise, too.)

Is Toronto especially fertile ground for speculative fiction? I suspect that the thing that makes it so is population density. I’m a big believer in the idea of a scenius, a critical mass of like-minded artists who essentially inspire and push each other, and I think that happens more in face to face contact than online. Toronto is the city where events like the ChiSeries readings happen monthly, which means that every 3-4 weeks there’s a gathering of writers. Those personal connections and the conversations that arise from them increase our productivity, help us plow through rough patches in the creative (and professional) process, and also add fun to what can sometimes seem like a solitary grind.

ACW: You have a background in theater, and you’re also an avid photographer. Do either play into your writing at all?

AMD: I have written theater stories, though in recent years more of those have been straight mystery-genre stuff than speculative fiction. Music–I used to sing–and dance come into my work quite a bit too. As for photography, I write about it all the time, and Sophie Hansa, the main character in the current trilogy, is a marine videographer as well as a biologist. She’s a modern woman from San Francisco running around a Narnia-Galapagos mash-up, with a single tank of oxygen and a camera, in other words.

ACW: Finally, aside from the third book in the Hidden Sea Tales trilogy, what else are you working on or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

AMD: As I write this, I’m prepping The Nature of a Pirate for submission to my editor at Tor, and I really cannot see past that. I have a few ideas about what my next project will be, but finishing Sophie’s story is like a huge wall, blocking out everything. It’s an unfamiliar sensation–it seems weird. I do have an arc for the Gale and Garland stories, which I call “The Gales” in my head, and Should Voice says I ought to finish “Island of the Giants” and then write two more novelettes in that timeline, preferably one of which would feature Sophie’s birth father. But these are just the haziest fumblings toward the future; I’m not really sure where I’m going next.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by!

AMD: Thank you for having me!

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