Having written a four book series (the Nanshe Chronicles series), a six book series (the Bulari Saga series), and From Earth And Bone, the first installment of the new Ramos Sisters series, writer Jessie Kwak is going in a completely different direction — or dimension, as the case may be — with her new book, a sci-fi novelette called After The Tide (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Kwak discusses what inspired and influenced this short story.
To start, what is After The Tide about, and what kind of a world does it take place in?
After The Tide takes place on a faraway planet, in a charming coastal town called Tarry-By-The-Sea. The lower half of the city was drowned centuries earlier, but on the night the book takes place, a historically low tide means the city’s inhabitants can walk the ancient streets for the first time in generations. The whole town is out and about, enjoying the carnival atmosphere — but a certain seedy subsection of society has been attracted by advertisements for an underground game.
Our hero, Adria, is one of those who’ve gathered to play — only she’s not here for the cash prize. She’s here to scatter her father’s ashes throughout the city as a final goodbye. After all, it’s the sort of ridiculous thing he would have loved. Of course, this is no ordinary game, and Adria’s about to discover something wildly dangerous lurking beneath the city’s surface.
Where did you get the idea for the plot of After The Tide?
The story pulled itself together slowly, and I’m actually having trouble pointing to a single inspiration. I started with a Tarot draw to get my mind wandering, which brought me my troubled con artist protagonist and inspired me to structure the story as a game with distinct challenges. And the influencing card I drew was the 3 Of Swords: heartbreak and grief. I knew that somehow Adria had entered the game as a way to overcome her grief, which led to the idea of her scattering her father’s ashes.
The setting came from an image I’d saved in Pinterest years ago, on a board I call Fantastic Places — I often turn to that board when I’m trying to think up a fun setting. And I don’t remember where the idea for it to be an historically low tide came from, but once it showed up I drew heavily on my childhood fascination with the idea of tidepools (thanks, Grandma Clark!) and how the retreating tide uncovers amazing new worlds, only to cover them up again.
It sounds like After The Tide is a cosmic horror story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I would describe After The Tide as science fiction more than cosmic horror — but more in the realm of Iain M. Banks where the author delights in building immersive, strange worlds rather than fussing about hard technology. I can see where there’s a cosmic horror element in who is overseeing the game (not a spoiler — the overseer makes its presence known very early on, and in the book’s blurb), but it’s more Banksian than Lovecraftian.
After The Tide is your twelfth book of fiction after the four in your Nanshe Chronicles series, the six in your Bulari Saga series, and From Earth And Bone, which is the first in your Ramos Sisters series. Are there any writers who had a big influence on After The Tide but not anything else you’ve written? You mentioned Iain M. Banks…
After The Tide is definitely a departure from my other books. The Nanshe Chronicles and Bulari Saga series are both sci-fi crime, following outlaws and mobsters (respectively) as they try to save the world from the real bad guys. And From Earth And Bone is a supernatural thriller set in modern-day Seattle, about ghosts and two sisters who love each other despite being sisters.
The short format of After The Tide gave me a bit more space to be experimental with the structure and point of view than I have before. While my other books are pretty standardly written, After The Tide actually has a dual point of view that bounces between Adria’s thoughts and an unnamed first-person narrator’s commentary. It took a lot of work to make that function without being confusing — and I appreciate my publisher Patrick Swenson’s willingness to take a risk on something a bit odd! (And his help in sorting the point of view out.)
All that said, Kathe Koja’s Under The Poppy was a huge influence on this book, but not so much the others. It’s one of my favorite books ever, because of how fluid Koja’s language and use of POV are. It’s simply gorgeous, and I leaned into her rhythmic delight in the English language when I wrote Tide.
How about non-literary influences; was After The Tide influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I was definitely influenced by the surreal fantasy role-playing game Invisible Sun. I was invited to a game a few years ago by my friend Monte Lin. It was a wild game to tackle as my first RPG, but Monte’s an excellent GM and great storyteller, and he really encouraged us to lean into the weird and surreal aspects of the game. That, plus all the gorgeous game art, was definitely an influence on the surreal nature of After The Tide.
Now, unlike your other books, it sounds like After The Tide is a stand-alone story…
It is. For now at least. ‘ve gotten myself mired in writing several long series lately, and I wanted to play with a story that was entirely self-contained. So I didn’t have any intentions of expanding the story, but my husband really loved the world and keeps nudging me to think about writing a longer series set there. But we’ll see about that…
I asked a moment ago if After The Tide was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Tide would work as a movie, show, or game?
Because After The Tide is structured as a game, it would probably make a delightful game. I could see it being a super fun board game where you’re competing against other players to solve puzzles and collect clues. Or it could make a fun video game in the style of Hades or Flame In The Flood, where your character is trying to survive a series of challenges on the way to the finish line. (And, of course, while the tide is rising.)
Finally, if someone enjoys After The Tide, which of your other books would you suggest they check out next?
If people enjoy exploring strange worlds that are actively trying to kill you (with allies who you’re not yet sure you can trust), they should probably check out Ghost Pirate Gambit, the first book of the Nanshe Chronicles. In Ghost Pirate Gambit, my scrappy crew of outlaws take a job that leads them to an abandoned space station that’s almost probably not actually haunted. Ghosts or not, though, none of them will leave the station with their secrets intact.