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[INTERVIEW] Fran Wilde on UPDRAFT, Worldbuilding, Literary Inspirations, and More

Photo by Dan Magus

Photo by Dan Magus

Fran Wilde writes science fiction and fantasy. She can also tie a bunch of sailing knots, set gemstones, and program digital minions.

She’s taught writing and digital media at two colleges, a high school for the creative arts, and a long-distance program for young writers.

Her first novels will be published by Tor beginning in September 2015 with Updraft.

Her short fiction has appeared in venues including Asimov’s, Nature Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Tor.com. (Bibliography.) Her poetry has appeared in The Marlboro Review, Articulate, and Poetry Baltimore. Her critical work has appeared in Educause Quarterly.

Her digital media projects include games, dynamic widgets, and 3D immersive narratives.

She holds an MFA in poetry and an MA in information architecture and interaction design. She is a 2011 graduate of Viable Paradise and attended Taos Toolbox 2012.

She reads too much and is a friend of the Oxford comma.

Fran was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new fantasy, Updraft.


Kristin Centorcelli: Congrats on the new book! What inspired you to write Updraft? Will you tell us a bit about it?

Fran Wilde: Thank you!

Inspirations came from all over, and threaded through the book in odd ways. The first story in the bone universe was actually a response to a writing prompt at a workshop (Viable Paradise), mixed with some Milton, a lot of singing, and wings. The bone towers and the wings were there from the first, and the characters in Updraft are new. But even then, I knew I wanted to write more in this world. The voice of the city fascinated me.

Then I wrote another short story about a winged knife battle in a wind tunnel, and fighting to be heard. That turned out not to be a short story at all, but the seed of the novel.

KC: Why do you think readers will root for Kirit? Will you tell us why you think she’s a compelling character?

FW: I can’t speak for other readers, but I know I was rooting for Kirit because she wasn’t perfect, and often she got into trouble and had to work to figure her way out. Sometimes without me telling her where to go, actually. She’s a known outline-scoffer.

Both Kirit and Nat, who she was raised with like a sibling, are compelling because they want to fit into the city around them, but they don’t, not quite. They were deemed ‘unlucky,’ early; and Kirit’s fate has recently changed, which has sparked resentment. Also, Nat asks too many questions, and Kirit’s voice makes others wince when she sings — and the community’s memory system is based on song. Kirit’s not always impulsive, but when she’s mad, she still does things before she thinks, and then she faces the consequences. I like that she is both a thinker and a do-er; that she becomes a fighter, but sees that there are consequences. I like also that she notices things like wind and light and birds when those around her are busy trying to rise above each other to notice. I like that she feels real – all her fears and determination, her love for her family (blood and chosen family, both), her mistakes and her triumphs.

KC: What secondary characters did you particularly enjoy writing about?

FW: Nat. And Elna, his mother, and Ezarit, Kirit’s mother. I enjoyed writing Sellis. But most of all, I loved writing Tobiat. I can’t tell you all of why I loved writing them, though – not without major spoilers. But Sellis does have her own gif meme, running between me and my editor.

KC: What research did you do for the book?

FW: A lot in several different areas. One will become apparent to readers but is a sufficient enough spoiler I won’t mention it here. Others include high-altitude foods, bone development and structure, man-made wings, wing and kite fighting, birds and cephalopods, sewing with sinew, golden orb weaver spiders and cloth made from their silk, wind tunnels (I did some indoor skydiving for that one), cloud formations, wind behavior around tall structures, songs and memory, natural medicines, injuries from falls, guano, bone carving.

KC: Will you tell us a little more about the “world” of Updraft?

FW: Updraft is set within a city composed of towers of living bone. Most of the towers have a central core, and plates between the tiers, along with bone formations that help create divides. As each tower grows, and the core spreads out, occupants have to move up the towers … which is what they want to do anyway because when everyone above you is throwing their trash down, the bottom is the worst place to be.

Long ago, the city rose through the clouds, and the Singers — a group that lives in a central tower called the Spire — helped them survive that dark time and figure out how to help the towers rise faster. Now the Singers dispense laws and determine the city’s needs. They also build bridges between the towers in each quadrant, which allows for easier commerce than flying, as well as stabilizing the towers. But what Singers give, they can also take away or refuse to build, and Singers are feared. So too the Spire – in part because it’s misshapen and has an outer core, rather than a center core, making it somewhat of a fortress. But the Singers do help keep the towers from preying upon each other, and they help defend the towers from other predators as well, especially those of the invisible monsters that lurk on the wind.

KC: Speaking of worlds, what are a few of your favorite literary worlds? What authors have inspired you the most?

FW: Favorite Literary Worlds – good today only as all values are subject to change: Borges’ Library; Mieville’s Bas Lag; Novik’s villages near the Wood; The Night Circus; Bear and Monette’s Boojumverse; Gibson’s Sprawl; Stephenson’s New Atlantis & surrounding areas; Mafouz’s Cairo; Milton’s pandemonium; Ian M. Banks’ Culture; Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya; Genevieve Valentine’s circuses; Catherynne M. Valente’s fairyland; Italo Calvino’s invisible cities; Elizabeth Bear’s steamy Pacific Northwest.

Authors and Inspiration is a harder question because mine are laced through with poets and non-fiction writers and composers. A few of them: Jorge Luis Borges, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula Le Guinn, China Miéville, Gibson, Pat Cadigan, Candas Jane Dorsey… Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Milton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seamus Heaney, Wyslawa Szymborska, Anna Ahkmatova, Eavan Boland. More – teachers, including: Rita Dove, Charles Wright, Larry Levis, Eleanor Wilner, Elizabeth Bear, Steven Gould, James D. Macdonald, Sherwood Smith, Nancy Kress, Walter Jon Williams, Andy Duncan, Gregory Frost, John Kessell. And the writers I have the privilege of working with now and then as colleagues, some you’ve heard of, some you’ll hear more from soon — they all inspire me — John Chu, Max Gladstone, Ilana Myer, Kelly Lagor, Nicole Feldl, Lauren Teffeau, Sara Mueller, Siobhan Carroll, Chuck Wendig, Sarah Pinsker, A.C. Wise, Chris Gerwel, Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho, Kevin Hearne, Beth Cato, A.T. Greenblatt, Michael Underwood, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley…. hi I can keep going but I should stop now.

KC: Are you looking forward to reading any particular books this year? What are you currently reading?

FW: I have just finished both Aliette de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings and Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown – both magnificent. I’m looking forward to several books upcoming, including Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky and Ada Palmer’s Too Like Lightning. I’m hoping Max Barry comes up with another book soon. Lexicon was brilliant. And I cannot wait to have time to read The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin.

Also I really can’t wait to watch Steven Universe. Everyone’s seen it but me.

KC: What’s next for you?

FW: I’m working on the third Bone Universe book – currently called [Horizon] (brackets indicating title subject to change); putting finishing touches on a couple short stories, and a novella coming from Tor.com next spring called “The Jewel and Her Lapidary”; and editing Cloudbound–the second Bone Universe book, coming in 2016 from Tor.

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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