This story just oozes atmosphere, reminding me a little bit of some recent Ann Leckie and Kameron Hurley novels. What was your process for writing this story?
Lots of layers! I kind of think of it as a Photoshop project: layers and layers that you fiddle with individually (sometimes forever) until it looks right, then you can compile it into a seamless whole. Much like “Tomorrow When We See the Sun,” this one took a long time to piece together in a way that clicked. I wrote a proto-draft to this story that was pretty unrecognizable (it had a whole other plotline that made no sense, honestly), but it provided the bones: I knew this story’s core was about Kitshan’s journey and dealing with his loss.
If you’ve read “Tomorrow . . .,” then you probably already know how this one ends, in time. It was tricky to then construct a tale whose ending is shown in the opening of a different story, and make it work without seeming entirely . . . pointless? Maybe that’s not the best word. It was hard to find the balance between inevitability and hope, because even though Kitshan’s fate is shown later, I didn’t want this piece to be entirely bleak.
And I’ve always loved stories that allow agency to characters who seem to be bound to a specific destination. Yes, Kitshan dies. It’s what he does before, how he chooses to help Vale-So-Bright and come to terms with his past and his decisions, where agency lies and the emotional core of the story rests.
Kitshan and Vale-So-Bright make a great team, and I think it’s their dependency on one another that makes them so. How did you approach writing these characters and how did their eventual team-up change or affect the narrative?
I have a total soft spot for innocent, still-growing characters who are slightly alien but also very relatable and humane. And Vale-So-Bright provides a very clear contrast to Kitshan, which made their interactions so much fun to write. I knew early on in writing this story that their relationship would be crucial; however, given that Mere and Forever Brightness were also integral to Kitshan’s story, it was definitely a surgical balance of spotlighting Vale-So-Bright and keeping the others key in the narrative. Balancing act: nightmare mode.
I finished this story satisfied with its conclusion, but I had so many questions regarding its vast universe, because you weave in so many different concepts, characters, and ideas. What do you think the advantages of writing in this sci-fi/fantasy hybrid are? How the heck does the Courts of Tranquility sound so scary yet so cool at the same time?
One thing I love about this story world is I can just add everything shiny. I love over-the-top shiny in my fiction. Why hold back? Like a cat, if it fits, into the story it goes . . . and cats are a liquid, so they can fit anywhere.
True fact: when I first read Orwell’s 1984 (back when I was a tiny!Merc and didn’t quite get a lot of the political commentary), I was miffed that things like the Ministry of Truth and the Ministry of Love were not literal. Tiny!Merc was outraged that these names were, in fact, hiding something quite different. When I grew older and eventually got the irony, it really became all that much scarier. Naming something that has connotations of positive concepts when the thing is really fucking terrifying is a mind game all its own. The Courts of Tranquility definitely got named because that place is nightmare fuel and yet no one in this universe would actually name it something literal like “Court of Murderous Sun Gods Who Murderize Everything.” It just doesn’t have the same ring to it, y’know?
Do you have any projects coming up that you would like to talk about?
There’s a few things I’m not sure I’m allowed to share yet, but if all goes according to plan, I will have short stories in a couple of very cool anthologies next year!
Oh, and if you like my Principality Suns storyverse, I have a short story in the Humans Wanted anthology (ed. Vivian Caethe), which I hope you’ll check out.
Spread the word!