Please welcome Cat Sparks to The Qwillery as part of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Lotus Blue was published on March 7th by Talos.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Cat: According to some of my old school friends, I always wrote stories and shared them around, but I don't remember entertaining early ambitions of being a writer. What I wanted was to be a filmmaker, so I went to art school to learn the nuts and bolts. Turned out I was truly terrible at it. I didn't have the skill set, the patience or the vision. I didn't really fit in with the film crowd. So at the tender age of 21, I threw in the towel, feeling like a complete failure of course, but in hindsight I'm so glad I didn't waste the next decade trying to hammer square pegs into round holes.
Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy eventually nudged me in the direction of writing it myself. I sold my first story in 2000 after many years of rejection and disappointment. I think I'm what you call a late bloomer.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Cat: A plotter – totally. Years of random, unfocused pantsing brought me nothing but trouble. I didn't know what I was doing, and consequently hundreds of thousands of words from early drafts of Lotus Blue and the abandoned novels that preceded it ended up in the bin. What's that saying – you need to write a million words of rubbish before you succeed? I well and truly wrote a load of rubbish.
My last couple of short stories have been bashed out pantser style after doing a ton of research, so who knows -- perhaps it's time for a sea change?
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? How does being an editor affect or not your writing?
Cat: It is so much easier to determine what works or doesn't work in somebody else's story rather than your own, because of the lack of emotional attachment. As an editor, my duty is first and foremost to the reader. But as a writer, I get carried away by rhythm and flow. I'm a bit of a style pig and sometimes I end up drowning in it. There is nothing more helpful to me than a professional editor who knows what they're doing when it comes to slash and burn.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Cat: The spectacular prose of other, better writers. I stand in utter awe of authors such as David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Simon Ings, Margo Lanagan and Michael Marshall Smith. True artists, I salute them all.
TQ: Describe Lotus Blue in 140 characters or less.
Cat: In a war-ravaged future, 17-y-o Star & a disparate crew fight to stop an ancient, deadly weapon before it wakes & remembers what it’s for.
TQ: Tell us something about Lotus Blue that is not found in the book description.
Cat: In my head, the port town of Fallow Heel that Star winds up in was designed as a hybrid of real world C17th and C18th whaling ports. The hunting of rogue tankers was based on pre-factory ship whaling, back in the days when it really was man against monster with not much technology between them. I read a bunch of old mariner’s diaries. Whaling was a deadly, dirty, batshit crazy business.
TQ: What inspired you to write Lotus Blue? What appeals to you about writing post-apocalyptic fiction?
Cat: I've been wallowing in post-apocalypse narratives since I was a kid. Something about the end of the world and the crumbling ruins of civilization has always appealed to me, possibly the graphic contrast between such landscapes and my own safe suburban childhood. I guess wanting to contribute to the genre I adored was my main inspiration for writing the novel. Of course, the last thing I ever actually want to experience is an apocalypse for real. Climate change, big business and weak governments are pushing us pretty close to the line.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Lotus Blue?
Cat: My research included: development and advances in military technology, transportation vehicles, self-repairing building materials, artificial intelligence, weather modification and potential weaponization, climate change, refugees, the Tuareg people who live in the Sahara and that desert itself, war poetry and the aforementioned whaling.
TQ: Please tell us about Lotus Blue's cover.
Cat: I love the cover to this book so much. The artist is Lauren Saint-Onge [www.laurensaintonge.com]. My editor Cory and I were in utter agreement as to which scene from the novel should be depicted on the cover: the moment where my protagonist, Star, and her people watch an ancient ‘Angel’ satellite falling to earth, an action with severe ramifications that kick starts her epic journey.
TQ: In Lotus Blue who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Cat: The easiest was the stowaway-grifter-street kid Tully Grieve – he just kind of tumbled out onto the page, possibly because I've known a few guys like him in real life. Grieve’s a good guy at heart, but flawed by hardship and circumstance. Trusting the wrong person in his world will get you killed. He's become very practiced at looking after number one. Caring for anyone else does not come easy.
The hardest was definitely Star. Many authors project elements of themselves through their protagonist, however I'm not anything like Star, and so I had to figure out how to free her up to make choices I would never make myself -- and do things I would never do. She's much tougher than I could ever be. Everyone’s tough in Lotus Blue. This future is particularly harsh and unforgiving.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Lotus Blue?
Cat: I have a great personal interest in social justice themes and my previous short fiction has always reflected this – in fact, I've been criticized for it in the past (your fiction is always about something, Cat – what’s with that?) Some people prefer fiction to be as light and escapist as possible. I'm not much interested in storytelling that doesn't resonate real-world concerns. Our world is in trouble and it needs all the help it can get. That's not to say that fiction should be preachy or didactic, or that fantasy shouldn't be full of… fantasy. My aim is to build real-world concerns into the narrative landscape at a cellular level, allowing readers to feel wider perspectives.
TQ: Which question about Lotus Blue do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: How influential was the Mad Max film franchise upon Lotus Blue?
A: Not at all – although I don't expect anyone to believe me! All up, the novel took about 10 years to write – and get right. In my head, I was always writing a Dune homage. I delivered the completed manuscript to my agent before Fury Road hit the cinemas. It's a fabulous film – they're all fabulous films, particularly #2, but I didn't see the similarities myself until first readers started mentioning it. Go figure.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Lotus Blue.
Lucius waved and brought his camel closer. “Coming up on Axa,”
he shouted again for the benefit of those who’d never passed this way.
Not that there was much to see. A stark black cylinder surrounded
by sun-baked flats. Star stared hard at the shimmering thing. So little
was known about the fortress cities. The flats surrounding Axa were
booby-trapped with mines. That much she knew was true—that’s how
Kendrik lost his arm.
Mighty tankers were on the move, travelling in tight formation
grids. Working together, not attacking each other. Not something you
saw every day. Those mechabeasts had once roamed wild and free,
following their own whims, their own flights of fancy. But something
had changed. Something had gotten hold of their minds. Synchronous
rhythm locked them into step. For Marianthe, the sight brought on a
stream of flashbacks: glory days, when command and strategy spiked
through her arteries like a virus. Like a drug. A platoon full of hearts
beating in syncopation. You could feel your brother and sister soldiers,
know they had your back, your breath, your sweat.
TQ: What's next?
Cat: Next up, I need to finish my PhD which is over a year past due. My exegesis examines speculative fiction’s role in regards to the future. I've enjoyed the research immensely but I'm looking forward to reading, writing and researching other things. I have an idea for a new book – a sci fi thriller set in the present day -- completely different to Lotus Blue in every possible way. Can’t wait to get stuck into it!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Cat: You're most welcome!
Talos, March 7, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 388 pages
Powerful war machines of the far-future collide across a barren desert world in this post-apocalyptic debut novel from award-winning Australian author Cat Sparks.
Seventeen-year-old Star and her sister Nene are orphans, part of a thirteen-wagon caravan of nomadic traders living hard lives travelling the Sand Road. Their route cuts through a particularly dangerous and unforgiving section of the Dead Red Heart, a war-ravaged desert landscape plagued by rogue semi-sentient machinery and other monsters from a bygone age.
But when the caravan witnesses a relic-Angel satellite unexpectedly crash to Earth, a chain of events begins that sends Star on a journey far away from the life she once knew. Shanghaied upon the sandship Dogwatch, she is forced to cross the Obsidian Sea by Quarrel, an ancient Templar supersoldier. Eventually shipwrecked, Star will have no choice but to place her trust in both thieves and priestesses while coming to terms with the grim reality of her past—and the horror of her unfolding destiny—as the terrible secret her sister had been desperate to protect her from begins to unravel.
Meanwhile, something old and powerful has woken in the desert. A Lotus Blue, deadliest of all the ancient war machines. A warrior with plans of its own, far more significant than a fallen Angel. Plans that do not include the survival of humanity.
Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning Australian author, editor and artist whose former employment has included: media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer, Fiction Editor of Cosmos Magazine and Manager of Agog! Press. She’s currently finishing a PhD in climate change fiction. Her short story collection The Bride Price was published in 2013. Her debut novel, Lotus Blue, will be published by Skyhorse in March, 2017.