Carrie Patel is the Narrative Designer at Obsidian Entertainment. She writes games by day and books by night. Her first nove, The Buried Life, is being released by Angry Robot Books this Spring. Carrie kindly answered some questions about her self, her work and her forthcoming novel.
Carrie Patel, author of The Buried Life, kindly answered a few of my questions about the new book, and more.
Paul Weimer: So, who is Carrie Patel?
Carrie Patel: I am a writer, game designer, snow skier, and bread pudding enthusiast from Houston, Texas. I’ve been in California for over a year now, where I am consistently amazed at how darn pleasant it is to be outdoors.
PW: So what does a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment, as you now are, do? How do you think your gaming creations cross and inform your fiction writing?
CP: As a narrative designer, I help develop the stories behind the game–the ones that drive quests, introduce players to important characters, and generally motivate the action throughout the game. I also spend a lot of time–most of it, probably–writing dialogue. RPGs are filled with characters, and their dialogue is one of the key methods for drawing players into quest content and fleshing out the world of the game.
As for overlap with my fiction, RPG writing is a great way to explore story structure. Most of the story “units” in a game–an individual quest line, say, or the arc of a companion NPC–are considerably shorter than a novel. Yet you still have to take a player through the paces of a story, whether it’s setting up the premise of a stolen relic/weapon/what-have-you, laying a trail of breadcrumbs from the player, and building to a climactic showdown with the antagonist, or introducing a sidekick character, developing her key conflict, and bringing her to a moment of decision. Working these micro-stories out, and keeping them focused but flavorful, is a fantastic exercise for writers who work in any medium.
PW: What is your elevator pitch for The Buried Life?
CP: In an underground city where history books are hidden under lock and key, an inspector and a laundress must catch a killer who’s murdering the city’s ruling elites.
PW: Although the reason why Recoletta is underground is a major spoiler and reveal, why did you choose such a setting? What and how did you research to design the city?
CP: At the time I wrote the novel, I had this aesthetic fascination with gloomy, Gothic Victoriana–fog-choked streets, moonlit cobblestones, and all the rest. When I visited Argentina in 2005, I saw the famous cemetery in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires, which is filled with gorgeous mausoleums. It looks almost like a tiny city itself. I loved the image and built the city of “Recoletta” around it.
As for research, I tried to look at as many underground environments as I could. I didn’t want Recoletta to feel like a bunch of connected caves and bunkers, but I also didn’t want to get stuck thinking about it as if it were simply a conventional city nestled in a really big cavern. Some of my favorite references were the Wieliczka salt mine in Poland and the underground cities of Cappadocia, Turkey. However, I think John Coulthart’s incredible cover art captured Recoletta’s look best of all!
PW: One of the best features of the novel for me is that you have two very detailed and strong female protagonists to anchor the novel in Liesl and Jane. What were your inspirations in creating them? Who came first?
CP: I realized pretty early in the plotting phase that I wanted to tell two different but intersecting stories–a conspiracy about murders, politics, and history, and a story about a young woman navigating the cutthroat world of the wealthy and elite “whitenails.” It felt like these stories belonged to two different characters, so I developed them around those roles–a hard-nosed inspector with great instincts but a tragic lack of introspection and an unassuming but shrewd laundress with nerves of steel. I think Liesl came first, though. How can you not put an inspector in a city like Recoletta?
PW: So, with its genre stew of elements and styles, do *you* consider this novel New Weird? What is New Weird to you?
CP: I tend to think of New Weird as a wide swathe of speculative fiction that’s hard to classify according to traditional genre categories. The speculative elements don’t fall neatly into the magic systems of conventional fantasy or the conjectures and what-ifs of science fiction, and they often feel like a blend of both. I think they also lean toward the dark and the gritty, and you get the sense that a world in the New Weird tradition is less of a playground and more of a nightmare.
With all that in mind, I’d consider The Buried Life to be somewhere at the edge of New Weird. The speculative elements in The Buried Life are somewhat subdued, so I think it’s hard to pin it at the center of any particular subgenre. But it definitely straddles the boundary between fantasy and science fiction, and as much fun as I had writing an underground city, I don’t think the speculative aspects are romanticized.
PW: So, what comes next for you?
CP: The manuscript for Cities and Thrones, the sequel, is with Angry Robot right now. While I wait for edits, I’m outlining the third book in the series and drafting something completely different, a hard science fiction novel about Mars colonization and bare branches youths from India and China. It’s something I’d had to put aside for a while, so I’m stoked to get back to it!
PW: Where can readers meet you, virtually and otherwise, and learn more about your work?
I’ll be at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego for a signing and launch event on Saturday, March 7 at 2pm. As far as conventions go, I’m attending Comicpalooza in Houston, Worldcon in Spokane, and World Fantasy in Saratoga Springs.
PW: Thanks, Carrie!