Saddle up and ride into the sunset with the final book in the Children of the Drought series, DREAMS OF THE EATEN, from Solaris. Author Arianne "Tex" Thompson rolled in with the tumbleweeds to talk about her latest novel.
SG - You’ve called the books in this series “rural fantasy”. What’s the distinction from fantasy western if any?
TT - Well, I like to think of "rural fantasy" as an umbrella term with room to include the kind of frontier or country-set stories that don't necessarily feature cowboy hats and six-guns. Think about HBO's Carnivale, or a Wizard of Oz reimagining with flying monkeys and talking scarecrows spilling out over dustbowl Kansas. They're rural, but not necessarily Western - and there is so much potential there!
SG - Appaloosa Elim has been through a lot since he first appeared in ONE NIGHT IN SIXES. What can we expect in this final book?
TT - This is pretty much the end of the road we set out for him - for several of the characters, actually. The quest that was set at the end of One Night in Sixes - to take home the body of Dulei Marhuk and answer for his murder - will be completed. The question is what that will cost, and who will have to pay for it. The divine forces that were introduced or hinted at in Medicine for the Dead will also drive a wedge up through our mortal players, without any single person or entity controlling the board (or even being fully aware of all the other pieces on it). There is hope, and potential for resolution, but it won't come without significant sacrifice - even from those who consider themselves mere spectators.
SG - You have many different races in the series, from fishmen to the Eaten. And with Elim you have a man whose skin makes him look like a painted horse and is treated poorly because of it. Was this a topic you planned on exploring with the books or did it just happen organically?
TT - I'm so glad you asked! Speaking as a chronically conflict-averse card-carrying squishy white woman (CCACCSW, for short :) ), racial unrest was the last anthill I felt qualified to stick my nose into. But it became a moral mandate the moment I decided to write an epic fantasy series rooted in American history. Sure, there are plenty of monsters and mythological creatures in American folklore, and those are worth featuring - but the defining struggle of our nation is this ongoing 300-year quest to free our incredible promise from the incredible violence that it's been steeping in. We are the Rebel Alliance and the Empire. We are Narnia and we are Panem. And Elim's not a bad avatar to explore that with: for better or worse, we are all judged by an appearance beyond our control, and we are all stuck dealing with inherited messes not of our own making.
SG - DREAMS OF THE EATEN marks the end of the Children of the Drought trilogy. What are you working on now?
TT - I'm so glad you asked! I really like this Droughtworld sandbox, and I think it has potential to host many more stories. We'll let this set of characters rest for the time being, but I would love to follow in Terry Pratchett's footsteps, and explore other corners of the same world. More to come!
SG - I listened to one of your classes at DFWCon a few years ago. Do you still teach? And what do you still want to learn yourself?
TT - Honestly, teaching is the perfect complement to writing, for me. It's everything that writing isn't: social, performative, focused on others, and with a big dollop of instant gratification on top. I now teach for the Writers Path program at SMU in Dallas, and have a catalogue of classes/workshops that I take on the road with me. (Have Powerpoint, will travel!)
I tell you what, though: in my darkest, most selfish moments, I dream of running away to finish learning Spanish and get a degree in linguistics. I pine for it. I lust for it. That's a big reason so many of the characters in the Children of the Drought trilogy are multilingual, and consider it strange not to know a second language. I don't have a power-fantasy per se - but those books are my knowledge-fantasy writ large.
SG - Favorite scene from DREAMS OF THE EATEN you can talk about?
TT - You know, there's a moment somewhere in the first few chapters of the book, when everything is balancing precariously on a knife's edge. The fishmen have been chemically hypnotized into a murderous rage, and are hell-bent on slaughtering the Dog Lady. The Dog Lady can communicate telepathically with those who know her, but has no human tongue to speak with. Shea knows the fishmen's language and the Dog Lady's mind, but is still too far away to be heard. Hakai knows that one of the fishmen is the group's translator and might be prevailed upon, but he's blind and has no idea which one it is. Which leaves just Dia, who only knows the amphibious words for "I love you", repeating it to each of them in turn, frantic to identify the translator and snap them out of their daze before the whole lot of them swarm and kill her - a delicate glass key trying a dozen rusted iron locks. It's not a long scene, but there's so much realness in it. Our national discourse is struggling with just this same issue: collectively, we have all the tools to solve the problem and understand each other - if we could only hear the right voice, saying the right thing, at the right time, to the right people. It is both the simplest and the most impossibly difficult task we have, and unbelievably frustrating to all of us.
SG - Best writing advice you ever received?
TT - My favorite question! And here it is, my favorite answer, for all the striving scriveners out there: "If you want to do something that hasn't been done before, include someone who hasn't been included before." Zombie apocalypse? Done to death. Unless your main character is a Type-1 diabetic. Figure out *their* quest for survival and you have something special. Just so, there are a million "Chosen One" medieval fantasy novels out there - but write one where the person who pulls the sword from the stone is a single mother of three, and I'm sold. There may be only handful of plots in the world, but there are a MILLION characters out there - and a million more readers who would love to see themselves and their experiences cast in the starring role.
From the Cover:
As the funeral cortege draws near, the crows begin to gather...
The stunning conclusion of this extraordinary trilogy.
After trials by fire and thirst, Appaloosa Elim's quest to bring home the body of the crow prince is finally nearing its end.
But the coffin is missing, the funeral party is hopelessly scattered, and the fishmen are hell-bent on revenge. Worse yet, the pilgrimage has disturbed an ancient power – and the earth is crumbling in its grip.
As the ground shakes and the crows gather, the final reckoning promises to unite the living and the dead in a battle for the land itself. One way or another, blood debts will come due, Elim will face his judgment, and the World That Is will be forever changed.
Arianne "Tex" Thompson is home-grown Texas success story. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in literature, she channeled her passion for exciting, innovative, and inclusive fiction into the Children of the Drought – an internationally-published epic fantasy Western series from Solaris. Now a professional speaker and creative writing instructor at SMU, Tex is blazing a trail through writers conferences, workshops, and fan conventions around the country – as an endlessly energetic, relentlessly enthusiastic one-woman stampede. Find her online at www.TheTexFiles.com