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An Interview with A.M. Dellamonica

Nature of a PirateI’m delighted to welcome A.M. Dellamonica back to my blog today to talk about The Nature of a Pirate, the latest installment in her Hidden Sea Tales series, which is officially out tomorrow. To refresh your minds, or to introduce Alyx to those new to her work, I’ll shamelessly steal from her author bio…

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 at the University of Toronto and through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Dellamonica’s first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her latest, A Daughter of No Nation, was released by Tor Books in the summer of 2015 and won the 2016 Prix Aurora for best SF/F novel.

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

Welcome back! Congratulations on The Nature of a Pirate, the final (more on that later) book in your Hidden Sea Tales trilogy. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about the final installment in the series?

I sometimes call the Hidden Sea Tales trilogy “Narnia for environmentalists,” and by this third stage of the story, Sophie Hansa and her brother Bram are having huge problems maintaining their lives in San Francisco while simultaneously vanishing for months so they can conduct research into the magical realm, Stormwrack, that they’ve discovered.

On Stormwrack, meanwhile, there’s a new scheme afoot to topple the delicate international balance of power. Someone is sinking ships within the Fleet of Nations, and tempers are rising each time a ship goes down. The the sinkings are magical in nature, but the government is desperate enough, once again, to ask Sophie and Bram if science can shed any light on what’s happening.

A follow up question, as the cool kids say. I assume cool kids say that, don’t they? Anyway. In our last interview, you described the Hidden Sea books as ‘at least three books’, to paraphrase, and you’ve written several related short stories. Are there more stories to tell in this world, and what form do you think they’ll take – short form, novel, other?

You do seem awfully cool to me. I do have an idea that the short story series, The Gales, will need one or two more novelette-length chapters to bring it to a conclusion. There are four of those stories out now and a fifth coming from Tor.com next year. The stories are about Gale Feliachild at the height of her career, and about how her life has been shaped by a prophecy that she will be murdered.

In CHILD OF A HIDDEN SEA, the first book, we see what becomes of that prophecy. But in the stories, Gale’s fate is still years off, and she’s grappling with, among other things, the accumulated consequences of living every day of her life as if it might be her last.

My dream is to do a third series exploring the relationship between Tonio, the first mate of the sailing vessel Nightjar, and Bram Hansa. There just wasn’t room to do that justice in the first trilogy. I’m not sure yet what form that storyline might take.

A follow-up to my follow-up – what is it that keeps you coming back to this world? The characters? The world? A combination of both? Or something else?

When I created Stormwrack I rolled out a massive canvas for myself–it’s a big world with a lot of countries, each with their own form of government, their own microclimate and their own magical spells. I wanted a world I could revisit for the rest of my life. I wanted room to plant seeds in one story and then see what they could grow into in another. It was scaled for this kind of bigness all along.

I love creating cultures, and a world like this offers a chance both to build new island nations and simultaneously place them in the greater context of the Fleet. What if there’s an island where all the medical students are magically given a third eye, one which allows them to perceive the nature of their patient’s injuries and ailments? How do you poison someone right under their noses? How do they offer their services to other countries? What if someone’s poaching the manta ray whose sting is necessary to the inscription that runs the spell?

I haven’t even created that island and I have three story ideas right there!

Your Hidden Seas novels and stories touch on marine biology, sailing, pirates, magic, and many other complex subjects. What kind of research did you do to inform the background of your world? What’s the oddest, or most obscure fact you learned in the course of your research, whether or not it made
it onto the page?

The best thing I did was go on a sail on a tall ship in Victoria, British Columbia, to get a sense of what hauling sails and travelling asea under wind power was like. The rest was far less hands-on: I watched a lot of nature documentaries, for example, and read a lot of books.

One of the coolest books I read for this most recent novel was called “Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification,” by Simon Cole. It talks about how fingerprinting proliferated, as a forensic science, via the mail: police in various parts of the British Empire, and elsewhere, wrote to each other and taught each other dactyloscopy. Cole talks too about how a lot of the impetus for those early efforts was a desire by white law enforcement officers to distinguish between the people of color whom they had colonized and were, in various awful ways, oppressing.

Fun fact: what some cops wanted from fingerprinting was actually predictive. They wanted to be able to say “This kind of fingerprint means this person is inherently bad.” We see an echo of that kind of misguided desire within practices like racial profiling, and the attempt to track various kinds of traits within human DNA.

To switch gears a bit, I like to ask authors about their non-writing related jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest non-writing job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I have had lots of weird jobs. I’ve been a bouncer in a Star Trek IRC channel, and I’ve written questions for trivia games… but I think the strangest and most story-gristy thing I ever did was go to work on the graveyard shift for an answering service and alarm monitoring company. It was about 1990, a time when phones were getting fairly computerized. But this particular place was the phone hell that time forgot, complete with mid-century cord boards and alarms that ran–I kid you not–on frickin’ ticker tape. If someone broke a window at a car dealership (or, sometimes, if the temperature reached 30 below zero), the ticker tape would start banging out a code in zigzags on a spooling piece of paper. The printout looked rather like a heart rate monitor! The operator then had to decode the zigzags–which client was it, where in the building was the alarm coming from, etc.?–and call the police.

In between alarm calls–a whole year’s worth of false alarms generally netted one actual burglar–I was taking body pick-up calls for a funeral home, emergency calls from drunk drivers to the city’s one 24-hour lawyer, oil rig emergency repair calls, and even calls from random perverts who’d worked out that they could raise a woman at 2:00 a.m. on one or another given number.

That sounds like an amazing job, in a really strange way. Switching gears again, I have to ask about License Expired. Subject to the timey-wimey nature of interviews, I have either already asked, or will ask, your wife, Kelly Robson, about this as well. You both have stories in the anthology, which for those who don’t know is a Canadian anthology of James Bond stories since the character is considered public domain in Canada. Did you grow up a James Bond fan? Did you and Kelly collaborate or consult each other at all as you worked on your respective stories? What was the best part of writing in Bond’s world?

I wasn’t a Bond fan before the antho: there were movies I’d liked, and movies I hadn’t cared for. When LICENSE EXPIRED came up, I had to re-evaluate, which meant first of all taking a good look at an actual Ian Fleming book, CASINO ROYALE.

I had decided upon a Moneypenny story quite early in the process, and had also settled on the idea that it’d be fun to write a story where James Bond was literally incapable of telling women apart. After that, and after I’d had time to research a neurological condition that somewhat fit the bill (prosopagnosia) the story almost wrote itself.

My memory of the writing period for the story was that neither Kelly nor I told the other much, if anything, about what we were working on beyond saying, in gleeful tones, “OMG, my story is so coooooooollll!!!”

If you could pick any other character (whether they’re currently public domain or not)
to write an original story about, who would it be?

I love being paid to write fanfiction, so that list would be long. It would also, probably, change every day. Right this minute, though, that part of my brain has been thinking a lot about the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, perhaps especially Natasha Romanov, Matt Murdoch, and Tony Stark.

I would absolutely read any and all of those! To switch gears yet again, I adore your story ‘The Color of Paradox’. One of my favorite things about the story (and there’s a lot to love) is the fact that a woman is the first time traveler. In many traditional time travel stories, women are either completely absent, a goal the time traveling man is working toward, or someone left patiently waiting at home. Was this trope something you consciously sought to address with your story? Regardless, how do you feel about the trope? What was the original inspiration behind the story?

Part of the idea behind Wills is that she isn’t the first time traveller, exactly. She’s the first who survived. Project Mayfly dropped two men into its base in 1920s Seattle, and they both died. Only then did they decide to see if trying a female traveller would make a difference. Wills had the intestinal fortitude to crawl off the decomposing bodies of her predecessors, beat back the madness, and figure out how to get on with physically surviving her mission.

The next people Mayfly sends–some of them, anyway–are able to survive because Wills has made a place for them. Unlike her, they have somewhere safe to land, medical assistance, and a nice hot cup of soup waiting.

I’ll leave you to decide what I’m addressing there.

The core idea is a difficult one for me. Time travel in the Souring universe is a one way voyage. You can go back, but you can never go home. You can send information forward, via time capsules, but it’s a very imperfect process.

I have done tons of noodling and planning and imagining in that universe–a few times, I’ve even conceived it as a TV show!–and for years, none of that work had ever quite come to anything. Then one December, Jules came to me, like a brilliant and horrid little holiday visitor, and with him came the Mayfly device and Dr. Stefoff. “The Color of Paradox” came together.

I want to write more there. I’m still struggling to find another way in.

Finally, now that the last (maybe) installment in the Hidden Seas trilogy is out, what else are you working on or do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

I am simultaneously working on a novella and a novel that are near-future greenpunk. The novella takes place in about twenty years time, during a period called the Setback–a period when climate change is escalating, fascism is on the rise, and war and other kinds of chaos have the world on the edge of falling apart. In this novella, a young journalist named Drow tries to level up his approval rating within global social media networks… and instead he ends up a pariah. This forces him to do something quite desperate.

The novel takes place during Drow’s daughter’s time, during the Bounceback. After decades of rationing and various other measures, humankind is slowly bringing down atmospheric carbon levels and the population, and there’s some hope that we’ll terraform Earth back into a sustainable habitat for homo sapiens. The next step is reoxygenating the oceans, a project that’s moving towards success even as it slowly crowdfunds the carbon credits needed for its launch.

In the novel, which is called Win Conditions, Rubi is a public defender working for Crowdsight, the organization that determines everyone’s social capital. She basically does advocacy on support tickets for people who’ve fallen into huge disfavour with the rest of the human population. But now Interpol thinks her latest client–a guy who’s been trying to draw Likes away from the oxygenation project–might be an AI, constructed by someone who doesn’t want humanity to survive.

That sounds fantastic! Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for having me!!

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