A work-in-progress meme (Carrie Cuinn made me do this)

/ Thursday, October 4th, 2012 / 5 Comments »

UPDATE 10/17: Claire Cooney’s response to this meme can be found here, and there’s a roundup by Rose Lemberg of several more here.

UPDATE 10/11: Juliette Wade’s response to this meme can be found here.

UPDATE 10/10: Nicole Kornher-Stace’s response to this meme can be found here.

UPDATE 10/6: Rose Lemberg’s response to this meme can be found here and here.

My future publisher (of The Button Bin and Other Stories,) Carrie Cuinn, filled out a “Next Big Thing” meme over at her blog, and then tagged me, among others. At the time she did the tagging, I was working on the final edits (perhaps,) for the novel I have coming out through Black Gate. The ms. is now turned in to other future publisher John O’Neill, but I ran with it as my work in progress. The idea, Carrie says, is to “to answer ten questions about your current work in progress. That might be a novel, a short story, an anthology … whatever. What are you working on? they asked me.”

So here goes:

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your book?

The Black Fire Concerto (formerly The Reed Player)

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Hoo boy. There isn’t a short answer to this question, though I will attempt it.

The Black Fire Concerto began life as a novelette called “The Reed Player.”

The “Reed Player” novelette starts from two completely different points of origin. The first, an idea for a character that’s been with me a long time, a tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired woman, deadly accurate with a firearm, who travels from town to town and has encounters along the dark fantasy and horror spectrum, only a few shades removed from Stephen King’s Roland.

The second: a fellow I know in Roanoke, Jonathan Overturf — when we were both regulars at the local No Shame Theatre skit/music/poetry/storytelling/unclassifiable/whatever venue — shared a dream with me that he’d had about a restaurant where the patrons eat zombies, and send unsuspecting tourists into the cellar, where the zombies are kept, to be bitten and then become dinner. He welcomed me to make use of it.

I am not sure what inspired me to apply the first to the second, but the result radically transformed both. The setting became a post-apocalyptic world where magic works. The restaurant became a moored riverboat modified into a fortress. The patrons became wealthy cultists and a black-clad crew. The gunslinger became a musician named Olyssa, who plays a unique sorcery-empowered pipe. This alchemy also required two new characters: a villain named the Chef — inspired by a figure in a nightmare I had as a teenager — who is my riff on Cormac McCarthy’s The Judge; as well as a young girl, a harpist, held prisoner in the riverboat after her parents are murdered. The girl, Erzelle, ended up being the story’s protagonist, the events that unfold seen through her eyes. The first draft was written in 2009. It underwent many beta readings and was bounced from many markets.

Fast forward to Autumn 2011. My buddy Claire Cooney approaches me with a mad idea to contribute to a line of e-books that John O’Neill of Black Gate wants to launch. After hemming and hawing I ask Claire to read “The Reed Player” and ask if it would work for her as an idea for a longer book. See, I always had this idea that Olyssa and Erzelle could have many more adventures — I’ve always wanted my own sword-and-sorcery style wanderers — though there seemed little point in generating more when their first adventure hadn’t seen daylight.

Claire called me after reading it, and I believe her exact words were, “Please, please, please, make this a novel for me, please?” OR something, awfully close to that. It’s also of note that Anita’s words on the matter were, “Oh, you’re doing that.”

In “The Reed Player,” Olyssa is searching for her lost sister. Not long after that early draft, my longtime buddy from Hollins University days, Cathy Reniere, suggested to me that in expanding that world further I should consider tying the story of the missing sibling to the story of how the entire world was transformed. There were also, in the original draft, later trimmed, references to a wolf-like people. I made them vulpine instead and decided to find out who these vulpines were. Those two threads fueled the next 61,000 words of what turned out to be a 69,000-word novel. I was originally shooting for a total of 40,000. Oops!

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Though some sf leaks in at the very edges, and there’s horror throughout, I’d say fantasy. There’s definitely sorcery. Even a sword!

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I never think about my work in these terms. That said, though she doesn’t look like how I picture Erzelle in my head, I think Jodelle Ferland could have played her quite effectively (I suppose now she’s too old unless you want to pull a Judy Garland.) Olyssa is much more difficult to cast. I know of no Hollywood actress that fits. A turn to Bollywood shows me Bipasha Basu, who is the closest I’ve spotted, though they would have to do some things with her stature along the lines of what was done for Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises. (Addendum 10/7: Having seen John Carter, I think Lynn Collins could probably do it, though Olyssa has dark eyes, is taller than most men, and would never dress like Dejah Thoris.)

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

Magic-wielding musicians battle the undead in a post-apocalyptic world.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

As if that’s an either/or question! Neither. It will be published as an e-book by Black Gate. At present it’s scheduled to appear before Christmas.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

That’s complicated. I no longer remember how long it took me to write the first draft of “The Reed Player,” though I recall it as being fairly painstaking. The first draft of the remainder of the novel, though, was written in two months. Though I’m pleased to know I’m capable of that level of word-gushing when the need arises … I definitely do not recommend this approach to anyone. Kids, don’t try this at home.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

I’m sure similar books are out there somewhere, though I haven’t read one. There are certainly books I’ve read that inspired elements of this one — there’s some seriously, almost ridiculously over-the-top Eternal Champion-level magic in there, some blasts of raw magical force akin to the power of the white gold in Donaldson’s The Wounded Land, some madcap Zelazny weirdness, maybe a wan shadow of Wolfe’s wandering torturer.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See answer to #1.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Hmm. Sly fox-people in hidden cities. An enchanted rifle that never misses. Some seriously troubled family histories. Spells woven through improvised music. War machines made out of the undead. Wooden horses that fly. The highest corpse count (not death toll, mind you, corpse count) of anything I’ve ever written.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

I did that in the beginning. Now, to do some tagging of my own. Hmm … Nicole Korner-Stace. Claire Suzanne Elizabeth Cooney. Rose Lemberg. Juliette Wade. Alex Dally MacFarlane. Sonya Taaffe. Consider yourselves tagged.

That was fun!


  1. […] Allen’s responses are found on his blogs (Descent into Light; Livejournal mirror). Tagging Sofia Samatar, Mat Joiner, Ann Leckie, Lisa Bradley, Amal El-Mohtar, […]

  2. […] off, Jessica Corra, John Stevens, and Mike Allen did their “Next Big Thing” posts, and so did R.S. Hunter (who I’ve published at […]

  3. […] Lemberg, was tagged by Mike Allen, and she in turn tagged Sofia Samatar, Mat Joiner, Ann Leckie, Lisa Bradley, Amal El-Mohtar, and […]

  4. […] project that consumed huge chunks of my year is even more experimental. I wrote my second novel, The Black Fire Concerto, specifically to be published as an e-book by the folks behind Black Gate Magazine. There were […]

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