Please welcome Carrie Patel to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Buried Life was published on March 3rd Angry Robot Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Carrie: I'd scribbled poetry in high school and college, but I was always drawn to longer fiction, particularly since that's what I spent most of my time reading. I probably wrote about half a dozen first pages at various points, but none of the concepts really stuck with me. It wasn't until a study trip to Argentina just before my junior year of college that I started thinking about a story that had enough character and plot momentum to keep me writing.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Carrie: I am a creature of conflict and indecision, so I end up being a bit of both. However, even when I end up writing a progression of scenes in a more-or-less organic fashion, it only works when I have a pretty clear mental sketch of where it's all headed. With a project like The Buried Life (and its upcoming sequel), in which numerous characters and interests are set in motion, it's useful for me to have notes on the major players and their trajectories. It keeps my writing time focused, and it forces me to articulate motives and subplots that might otherwise get vague.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Carrie: Worming my way into a character's head can be a huge challenge, but it's a worthwhile one because it makes such a difference in the quality and focus of the writing. Once I find my way there the first time, I can usually find my way back, but forging that initial trail can be a chore.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Carrie: I love China Miéville, and I definitely see him as a major influence for The Buried Life. Perdido Street Station was a brilliant novel that bundled complex characters, a thrilling plot, and a unique setting. His world comes alive with sweat, soot, and steam, and even though it has a Victorian flavor, it's a totally unique creation. The characters shape and are shaped by their world, which is rife with corruption and political complexity, but the politics don't overtake the story.
I also thought of Mark Frost's The List of Seven and the Agent Pendergast series from Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They're fast-paced thrillers featuring eccentric detectives and dark, unusual mysteries. The gaslight-and-shadows atmosphere of The List of Seven was something I particularly remember enjoying.
TQ: Describe The Buried Life in 140 characters or less.
Carrie: Two inspectors chase a murderer, dodge politicians, and unearth a conspiracy in an underground city.
TQ: Tell us something about The Buried Life that is not in the book description.
Carrie: It features old grudges, fancy manners, and salmon canapés.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Buried Life? Angry Robot describes the novel as Science Fantasy? What is Science Fantasy and why did you choose to write in that genre? Would you like to write in any other genres or sub-genres?
Carrie: Visiting Argentina and the Recoleta Cemetary jump-started the process. From there, it was just a matter of teasing characters and a story out of a specific setting and atmosphere.
Science fantasy encompasses elements of both traditional science fiction and fantasy. In some cases, I think it also describes a work that falls through the cracks of both genres and doesn't land solidly on horror, New Weird, steampunk, or anything else.
It wasn't something I specifically set out to write--in fact, I was curious to see how Angry Robot would categorize The Buried Life--but it turned out to be a great fit. I tend to be a fairly omnivorous reader, and I enjoy writing across the spectrum of speculative fiction. My short story, "Here Be Monsters," is an alternate history with sea monsters, and I have another novel-in-progress that's near-future science fiction.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Buried Life?
Carrie: The research was a mix of studying actual underground environments and researching random minutiae to flesh out the details of a technologically regressed setting: fabrics, firearms, modes of transportation, etc. I particularly remember reading about laundry methods of the 1800s to fill out an early scene with one of the protagonists. When you're inventing many of the details in a fictional world, having a few realistic reference points can add a layer of believability.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite character?
Carrie: Roman Arnault was probably the easiest. He's not a perspective character, so I never had to get inside his head to write him--I generally wrote him from the vantage point of the two perspective characters, both of whom have strong (and opposing) reactions to him. In fact, most characters have a pretty strong reaction to him one way or the other, so they always have something colorful to say about him.
Inspector Liesl Malone, on the other hand, was pretty hard. She's deadpan, which can come across as bland, and she's a by-the-book badass, which can become a cliché. With a character like her, nuance is key. You have to show the brittleness that accompanies her rigidity, the sense of humor beneath her solemnity, and the hollowness that belies her sense of purpose.
My favorite character is definitely Roman. He's a troublemaker and a snarker, and he guarantees hijinks of some sort whenever he shows up. I think he's also the biggest puzzle for readers, and all of these aspects made him a ton of fun to write.
TQ: Which question about The Buried Life do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Carrie: People have asked me how long it took to write The Buried Life, where I got the idea for the stories, and what inspired the characters, but
no one has asked whether the novel features explosions. The answer is unequivocally yes.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Buried Life.
"For whatever reason, a fugitive on the last leg of flight almost always made for the surface the way a wounded rabbit crawls to the bushes to die."
TQ: What's next?
Carrie: I've finished the sequel, Cities and Thrones, and am awaiting the edit letter! Cities and Thrones will be out later this year, and it will trace the aftershocks of events at the end of The Buried Life. Beyond that, I've returned to a near-future science fiction novel about Mars colonization and the "bare branches" problem. I'm also looking forward to the March 26 release of Pillars of Eternity, the RPG that I've been writing for over the past year!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Carrie: Thanks so much for having me! It's been a pleasure, and I'm looking forward to the rest of your debut author features.
The Buried Life
Angry Robot Books, March 3, 2015
(North American and eBook)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.
When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…
File Under: Science Fantasy [ Thriller | Society in Ruins | Fully Booked | New and Weird ]
Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and worked in transfer pricing at Ernst & Young for two years.
She now works as a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, where the only season is Always Perfect.