Say what you will about Starbucks, but apparently it can be a creative place. Not only did a barista with bad spelling inadvertently name the planet of Scarif in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but in the following email interview with writer Corry L. Lee about her new fantasy novel Weave The Lightning (paperback, Kindle), she says she got the idea for this tale while waiting for in line at one in L.A.
I always like to begin with a plot overview. So, what is Weave The Lightning about, and what kind of world is it set in?
In a Russian-inspired fascist state, magic from storms is returning decades early…
Gerrit is the son of Bourshkanya’s Supreme-General. Despite his powerful storm-affinity and the State’s best training, he can’t control his magic. To escape the brutal consequences, he runs.
Celka is a travelling circus performer, hiding both her link to the underground and her storm-affinity from the prying eyes of the secret police. But Gerrit’s arrival threatens to expose everything: her magic, her family, and the people they protect.
Where did you get the idea for Weave The Lightning and how did that idea change as you wrote this story?
On a trip to L.A., I started talking with the man ahead of me in a long line at Starbucks. He’d recently moved to the U.S., and I asked him what he thought. “It’s great,” he said. “Here, the secret police can’t break into your home in the middle of the night and arrest your family.”
Juxtaposed against the glittery spectacle of Los Angeles, that visceral horror stayed with me.
In a library, I came across a beautifully illustrated book on the circus. One black and white photograph showed a young woman dressed like a flapper, the mottled coils of a python wrapping her waist and shoulders. The caption said, “The big snakes, when well fed, are docile and not dangerous.” I loved that caveat, loved the calm defiance in her stare.
Those two elements merged with my desire to build a magic system that would create social mobility and erase the power lines often drawn between men and women. Contrasting Russian-flavored fascism against the circus’ cheery spectacle, I wondered how that world would shape the dreams of a youth — on both sides of State oppression. And what it would take to shake beaten-in convictions and give a person the will to fight.
It sounds like Weave The Lightning is a fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
Definitely fantasy. It’s been called historical fantasy, as the technology level is roughly WWI, but Bourshkanya is not in our world and we definitely don’t have magic lightning (alas).
Now, Weave The Lightning is your first novel, but you have written a number of short stories, including “Shutdown,” which appeared in the anthology Writers Of The Future, Volume XXVIII. Are there any writers, or specific stories, who you think had a big impact on Weave The Lightning but not on anything else you’ve written?
I’d read a lot of Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks before I started exploring the ideas that became this book, and I wanted to try my hand at a “crunchy” magic system — one that had rules understandable to the reader, somewhat like physical laws. But I had also just finished my Ph.D. in physics, and I wanted to stay far away from hard SF (which, at the time, seemed too much like real work). To me, this meant creating a crunchy magic system that still felt mysterious and magical, one that interacted with the wielder in deep, irreversible ways, and carried serious psychic risk.
Once I decided on a fascist state and resistance fighters, I did a ton of research. One of my strongest influences is Lucie Aubrac’s memoir Outwitting The Gestapo, a fascinating account from a WWII French resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied France.
What about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, and video games? Did any of those have a big influence on Weave The Lightning?
I watched a lot of films and documentaries about Soviet and Communist Russia, WWI, and WWII. This gave me too many nightmares, but I think it made the book stronger.
And this is my last question about influences: As you mentioned, you have a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard. How, if at all, did your knowledge of physics influence the story in Weave The Lightning?
I know a lot about lightning now?
But more seriously, the ways of thinking I trained during my Ph.D. influenced my worldbuilding. There’s a scientific edge to how State-trained mages in Weave The Lightning understand magic. While this is sometimes helpful, it also constrains their thinking. Celka, not trained by the State, approaches magic in a more intuitive way. She and Gerrit clash on this, but also have a lot to teach each other…if they can overcome their prejudices and actually listen.
Now, as you may know, some fantasy stories are self-contained, and some are part of larger sagas. What is Weave The Lightning? Is it a stand-alone story or the first book in a series, and why is it whatever it is?
First book in a series. For sure. This is a bigger story than a single book can tell.
So, what can you tell us about this series as far as it being an ongoing one or a set number of books, what it’s called…?
It’s a trilogy. Book 2, The Storm’s Betrayal, comes out in Spring 2021; it’s written and revised (though I’ll likely revise it several more times, because that’s how I roll). If all goes well, the third book, Imbue The Sky, should be out in 2022.
The series is called [mumble mumble]. What? You didn’t get that? Oh, maybe because we haven’t actually come up with a good series title. Any ideas?
Seriously, I’d love to hear them.
Bob. Call it Bob. Now, as you may also know, some people wait until every book in a series is out before they read any of them, and some of them then read them back-to-back. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait to read Weave The Lightning?
I get the temptation to wait until the full story’s out, but seriously, Weave The Lightning has a travelling circus! Resistance fighters! A fascist state! Magic from freaking lightning strikes! You don’t want to wait to start reading that, do you?
Earlier I asked if Weave The Lightning had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Weave The Lightning into a movie, show, or game?
Not that I’ve heard of so far. But I think it could adapt really well to a visual format. I mean, WWI-era Russian-esque secret police hunting lightning mages in a travelling circus? It could be gorgeous.
And if that happened, who would you want them to cast as Gerrit, Celka, and the other main characters?
Finally, if someone enjoys Weave The Lightning, what somewhat similar fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Rachel Caine’s Great Library series, beginning with Ink And Bone, has a similar (yet very different) blending of tech and magic, young protagonists fighting a powerful empire, great characters and quick action. On the Russian-inspired side, Naomi Novak’s Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s The Bear And The Nightingale. For WWII spycraft, dimension-bending horrors, and explosions, Ian Tregillis’ Bitter Seeds. For pure fantasy awesome, N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy.