THE NATURE OF A PIRATE: AN INTERVIEW WITH ALYX (A.M.) DELLAMONICA

If it be a piratical adventure on the high seas you're after then hoist the main sail and climb the shrouds. A book lay just off the port bow . . .cough . . . cough . . . okay, I can't keep up the pirate voice for too long.

But if you love seafaring adventure and portal fantasy, you'll want to check out A.M. Dellamonica's Stormwrack series. Tor is releasing the third book, THE NATURE OF A PIRATE, on December 6th and Alyx swung in with teeth clutching a cutlass to talk to me about the new book.

SG - THE NATURE OF A PIRATE is the third book in the Stormwrack series. I’d read that you initially wanted it to be a trilogy. Any plans for more books in the series?

AD - I will definitely do more storytelling on Stormwrack—I’d like to write a Bram trilogy!--but the very next thing I’d like to do on that world is wrap up the story arc for my series of novelettes about Gale Feliachild and Garland Parrish. One of those stories is newly out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – it’s called “The Boy Who Would Not Be Enchanted,” and it contains a major piece of the backstory about Gale’s long-prophesied death and Garland’s role in her murder. (Story is at http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/the-boy-who-would-not-be-enchanted/).

It was foretold at Gale’s birth that she would die at someone else’s hand, and everyone—including Gale herself—assumed that meant she would be murdered as a comparatively young woman. The fact that she’s still kicking around having adventures in her sixties is as much a surprise to her as anyone else. She never expected to live so long! She has always lived, in fact, as though she might be dead tomorrow. So I want to write a few more stories to round out that set, and continue her espionage career.

SG - The Stormwrack series is portal fantasy. Why did you decide to have Sophie Hansa be a character from our world? 

AD - There’s a sense in which my first two books, Indigo Springs and Blue Magic, are also portal fantasy… they take place in our world, but characters from Oregon travel to and drain magic from a devastated wasteland that was, at one time, the realm of the fairies.

As this probably implies, they’re rather dark books.

When I set out to write the Hidden Sea Tales, I wanted less darkness and more fun, for myself as much as for my readers. So I started with a list of things I absolutely love. Portal fantasy was at the tip-top of that list!

It was awhile ago, and my recollection’s fuzzy, but I probably decided on a portal world before I had solidified either Sophie Hansa’s character or the basics of what Stormwrack was like. (As for Stormwrack itself, some of the other things on my love list were: biodiversity, tall ships, the history of fingerprinting, pirate fantasies… well, you get the idea.)

SG - How much pirate history inspired you or found its way into the world of Stormwrack? 

AD - The history of marine piracy is too much romanticized: all that swashing of buckles is a popular narrative that’s offered to us without nuance. It’s like the homogenous paradigm of “The” Wild West, or stories where organized crime bosses are lovable galoots who only ever harm their competition, or stories where serial killers are somehow cool. A person can like those stories, but they shouldn’t necessarily assume there’s much reality baked into them.

With Stormwrack, I had a clean slate, and the nations of the Piracy reflect that disconnection from Earth history.

When this trilogy begins, the pirate nations have been largely stopped from raiding, but their leaders yearn for the good old days. They’ve glossed over the times when they preyed on weaker nations-- taking hard goods and prisoners for the slave market—and sell it to their kids as a period when they were cunning and brave in the exercise of a legitimate cultural practice.

I couldn’t entirely resist the aesthetic of Hollywood-style piracy entirely, though, so Convenor Brawn reappears in this book, complete with his glorious outfits, flowing hair, and magically-enhanced ornamental fingernails.

SG - What can you tell us about the fright?

AD - What can I tell you? More than you would probably ever want to know! I will say that the fright that appears in chapter one of The Nature of a Pirate is colloquially known as a wood fright… but there are a number of fright spells. (In the second book in the trilogy, you may remember, the sailing vessel Sawtooth was set upon by salt frights.)

Part of the book’s central mystery is that a treaty banning frightmaking had been enacted on Stormwrack decades earlier: the process was seen as so universally destructive that all the nations of the Fleet tried to stamp out the spells that create them. Sophie and the crew of Nightjar realize that there’s a rogue frightmaker on the loose, a spellscribe who resurrected the banned spells and who now specializes in such enchantments.  They’re incredibly dangerous and cause a lot of damage.

SG - Favorite scene from THE NATURE OF A PIRATE?

AD - In the first book, Child of a Hidden Sea, Sophie’s full name name falls into the wild… which means that anyone in possession of it could potentially enchant her. In The Nature of a Pirate, she finally deals with a legal name change, Stormwrack style. It’s not quite what she’s expecting!

SG - Your wife, Kelly is an author herself. What’s it like being married to another writer?

AD - Kelly is a jaw-droppingly imaginative, thoroughly fantastic, rip-your-guts-out-and-make-you-like-it author! (If you haven’t read her work yet you’re in for a treat: check her page http://kellyrobson.com/stories/ for the full list).

The best part of our life at present is that we always have the option to take a step out of the real world, to insert ourselves into a waking state of shared dreaming. We take in facts and observations and experiences… bounce them back and forth and, in the process, transforming them into fiction. We talk about the stories we’re writing, or want to write, and the people we want to write about.

Kelly and I can be walking down the street, or in a museum, and we’ll be talking about… I don’t know, some abstract term we’ve picked up, like virtue signalling… and one of us will say “That might make a good story, if—“ Ten minutes after that “If,” we’ll both have a completely different idea of what kind of good story we might make out of the initial topic of conversation, and our backbrains will be churning the possibilities.

It’s a lot of fun in other words.

I started selling fiction back when the Internet was in its Model A stage—where you still had to start it with a crank and profanity. My first genre publications were in hard-to-get print magazines like Tomorrow SF and Crank! The online community of SF writers was coalescing around some very fractious unmoderated message boards, and everything real got done by snailmail. You might occasionally hear that someone read your story and liked it, especially if you went to conventions, but that was a rare experience indeed.

Having an opportunity to watch Kelly’s career unfold now, in the age of social media—in what almost seems like another world--has been wonderful and delightful, particularly since her work is so brilliant and has gotten such wide, sincere, and justified acclaim.

SG - Best book you’ve recently read?

AD - Lately I’ve been reading advance copies of books by authors I know, but if I rave about those it’d be so unfair—your readers won’t be able to get their hands on things like Lara Elena Donnelly’s excellent and heartbreaking  Amberlough until February, for example! For something you can buy right now, let me say that horror readers should not miss the chilling Gemma Files novel Experimental Film, which just won the Shirley Jackson Award and the Sunburst Award.

SG - Best writing advice you ever received?

AD - When I was in my teens I encountered Heinlein’s rules of writing: you must write, you must finish what you write, you must put what you write on the market, etc. (Rob Sawyer has a good article about the rules, with some commentary, on his site. http://www.sfwriter.com/ow05.htm)

The Heinlein rules aren’t about craft, obviously, so much as they are about showing up, but as a young writer that may be what I needed most—a fundamental lesson about the all-important butt in chair factor. The idea of finishing, as opposed to endlessly toying with beginnings, was especially important. I love beginnings, but until I started writing complete drafts, I didn’t really understand how stories worked.

The other thing about butt-in-chair is it does take you a long way toward improving your craft, simply because practice truly is the key to getting better. I encountered other ideas on how to get better, both from face-to-face encounters with my heroes and via their written How-To advice, but none of their insights would have penetrated if I hadn’t first absorbed that initial set of concepts: Do it. Keep doing it. Send it to market and do it some more.

THE NATURE OF A PIRATE releases December 6th, available at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Google.

From the cover:

The Nature of a Pirate is the third book in acclaimed author, A.M. Dellmonica’s high seas, Stormwrack series. The Lambda Award nominated series begins with Child of a Hidden Sea.

Marine videographer and biologist Sophie Hansa has spent the past few months putting her knowledge of science to use on the strange world of Stormwrack, solving seemingly impossible cases where no solution had been found before.

When a series of ships within the Fleet of Nations, the main governing body that rules a loose alliance of island nation states, are sunk by magical sabotage, Sophie is called on to find out why. While surveying the damage of the most recent wreck, she discovers a strange-looking creature—a fright, a wooden oddity born from a banished spell—causing chaos within the ship. The question is who would put this creature aboard and why?

The quest for answers finds Sophie magically bound to an abolitionist from Sylvanner, her father’s homeland. Now Sophie and the crew of the Nightjar must discover what makes this man so unique while outrunning magical assassins and villainous pirates, and stopping the people responsible for the attacks on the Fleet before they strike again.