Today I’m joined by my friend and fantasy author Deborah Kalin to celebrate the impending Easter launch of her collection, Cherry Crow Children from Twelfth Planet Press.
I’m reliably informed they are four dark and disturbing stories, but they are also full of heart and emotion and beautiful imagery. I’ve spent hours writing in cafes with Deb over the past couple of years as she’s worked on this collection and I know she’s poured all of herself into it.
Oh… and it features an introduction to the stories by none other than best-selling fantasy author, Kate Elliott.
I’m so excited to help Deb spread the word and celebrate the launch of this book!
Cherry Crow Children – A collection by Deborah Kalin
Tulliæn spans a fractured mountaintop, where the locals lie and the tourists come to die. Try the honey.
Briskwater crouches deep in the shadow of a dam wall. Ignore the weight of the water hanging overhead, and the little dead girl wandering the streets. Off with you, while you still can.
In Haverny Wood the birds drink blood, the dogs trade their coughings for corpses, the lost children carve up their bodies to run with the crows, and the townsfolk stitch silence into their spleens. You mustn’t talk so wild.
The desert-locked outpost of Boundary boasts the famed manufacturers of flawless timepieces; those who would learn the trade must offer up their eyes as starting materials. Look to your pride: it will eat you alive.
Sooner or later, in every community, fate demands its dues — and the currency is blood.
- Introduction by Kate Elliott
- The Wages of Honey
- The Briskwater Mare
- The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood
- The Miseducation of Mara Lys
Pre-order from Twelfth Planet Press | Will be available as e-book soon
Some thoughts from Deborah about writing the collection and motherhood…
What kind of experience can readers expect from Cherry Crow Children?
A bit of an unforgiving one, I think. These stories were written while I was adjusting to the realities of being a new-made (and later not quite so new-made) mother, and a lot of that experience has soaked into their substance. The sense of isolation from one’s community, for example, looms large in these stories and that’s probably no accident.
I also hope it will be an immersive experience. More than anything else I’ve written, these stories were about crafting worlds. In each story, the setting is a character in and of itself. These are places with a flourishing ecosystem, always sensed and often glimpsed, but never wholly grasped, that I hope a reader will sink into.
What do you love most about the finished collection?
Oh, goodness — that it’s finished? No, no, that’s too glib. There’s more.
Each of the stories came with incredible difficulty, because they’re very personal and touch a lot of my raw nerves. I love my main characters: the fierce and unapologetic ambition of Mara; Eliane’s open, generous heart; Claudia’s dogged curiosity and yearnings toward science; and Cadan’s mercenary pursuit of joy.
All of the stories are precious to me, of course, but I do admit a particular fondness for “The Briskwater Mare” and “The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood.” Those two stories both feature an introverted, thoughtful young woman as the protagonist, and I guess out of all my protagonists, I relate to those two most. Plus, I’d totally live in the forests around Haverny Wood.
More than anything, though, I think I adore my monsters. They were the key, for me, to understanding each story, and I get a silly little glow about me every time I think of the cherry crows and coffin dogs, the rosalind, and the thorn girls.
What was the hardest aspect of writing this collection? What was the easiest?
Hands down, the hardest part was writing around a newborn/toddler. Or more precisely, writing around motherhood – because my choices on what sort of mother I was had an at least equal impact on our circumstances as my daughter’s needing to be fed/changed/bathed etc.
The sudden time-poverty was the obvious hurdle, but it extended further than that. There was the fact I hadn’t slept in months (and then years); and mental capacity, let alone coherency, quickly became an even scarcer resource than time. The pressure of being accompanied, at every moment of the endless day and infinite night, took this introvert some getting used to.
As time went on, I trawled the internet and picked the brains of any parent I came across, desperate for suggestions on how to write while mothering a child, and I tried every trick they threw my way – and in truth not much of it worked. But that did teach me some deeper truths about my writing process.
Turning up, time and again, when I couldn’t see a way through any of the stories and the deadline was limping further and further into the past, was an exercise in just chipping away. I had to learn to put aside or channel the fear, whichever worked best on the day, and keep going.
Oddly, though, turning up was also the easiest part of the process. I couldn’t keep away, even if I wanted to, even if I tried (and there came a point when I did just that). At the end of the day, it turns out I can’t not write.
What aspect of storytelling (or writing) are you most passionate about?
For me, if there’s no character, I can’t connect to a story. As a reader, I can appreciate its technical elements, the plot progression, the layering of theme, the way an author uses a particular narrative technique… but I can’t get to the heart of anything unless the characters feel real to me. (I can hate their personality, that’s fine; I just can’t find the character to be flat or a placeholder.) As a writer, if I don’t have at least one character to anchor me, I can’t write the story. I can make a note of plot elements to include, tidbits that intrigue me, or themes I’d like to explore, but until I have someone to write about, everything’s unhinged and I have nothing to write.
In the case of this collection, the character which started each story was the setting. My approach to developing a setting is essentially chaotic: if I think of it, and it sounds or feels good, it goes in to the story. I remember asking a friend to beta-read “The Wages of Honey” when I thought I’d broken it. Her conclusion was I had two worldbuilding elements, each competing to be the shiniest, and that’s why I was feeling torn.
Her advice, if I wasn’t going to lose one of them (she knew me too well to suggest that!), was to find a way to unify those disparate elements so they both deserved a place. I promptly gave myself permission, in each story following, to have multiple creatures or worldbuilding elements compete for primacy of the reader’s attention. It was awesome. In the end, I had to trim the world back so there was room for the story, which is always so much easier than having a story standing stark and alone and trying to train up around it these wispy little saplings of possibility.
What is it about the fantasy genre that inspires you — as a reader, as a writer?
As a reader and writer both, I love exploring complex worlds, and I love reading about the spectacular made mundane, and how that might impact our development as a species. What might we take for granted, if little dead girls roamed our streets? What might we deem routine, if tourists picked our home town as a popular spot to suicide?
As a writer, speculative fiction, in whatever subgenre, gives an unparalleled chance to explore. There’s a power in the mythological tropes that taps deep into our collective memories, and I love that the age-old question of “what if…?” is applied, not just to relationships and human interactions, but to the cosmos itself.
About Deborah Kalin
Deborah Kalin is the author of The Binding books (Shadow Queen and Shadow Bound) and a survivor of Clarion South. Her short fiction has twice been nominated for an Aurealis Award. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, subject to the whims of a toddler who thinks she’s a cat and a cat who thinks she’s a person. Both of them whinge, mostly about sleep and food. (The toddler wants less of each, the cat more. Both want more outside time.) Deborah herself hasn’t slept uninterrupted through the night since March 2012.