Hello Fiction Dwellers!
New year, new goals, new beginnings, and of course new segments on An Ode to Fiction. I am happy to introduce Fiction Digest, a new guest feature of the blog where authors, fellow bloggers, aspiring writers, and bookish content creators can have a nice conversation about anything and everything related to books.
Last year I read a lot of debut books by a lot of amazing new authors. A particular debut book that stood out to me the most is The Unbroken, the first book of the Magic of the Lost series, by C. L. Clark. The first thing that caught my eye is the beautiful cover illustrated by Tommy Arnold. The arms got me simping at first sight. When the publishers sent an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) to me I immediately read it and loved everything about it. The themes and characters compelled me to write a lengthy review and probably my longest book review with over 1.5K word count, which you can find here (ARC – Review : The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost #1). I am honored that C. L. Clark joins as my first ever guest to be featured on Fiction Digest and I’m so stoked to share the discussions we had, from being a part of the sapphic trifecta, the writing process, a few tips on how to get those toned Touraine arms, and many more!
Before that I would like to thank Cherae for sparing a little bit of their time amidst their busy schedule to answer a few of my questions. It means a great deal for me that I can interview the author to one of my favorite books of 2021. Cherae’s answers are so thoughtful and I really do hope this interview will get everyone interested in reading The Unbroken. Without further ado onto the interview~ <3
The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost #1) by C. L. Clark
Published by Orbit
Release Date : March, 23rd 2021 (US & UK)
Every Empire Demands Revolution.
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.
Author Interview : C. L. Clark
Lia : Hello, Cherae! Thank you so much for visiting An Ode to Fiction as our very first honorary guest here today. For the Fiction Dwellers who are meeting you for the first time, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’ve been up to?
Cherae : Hi, everyone! I’m Cherae, an SFF author and editor (most recently edited short fiction at PodCastle and nonfiction at the SFWA Blog, though I retired from both in 2021). My first book, The Unbroken, came out in 2021 and lately, I’ve been focusing on finishing The Faithless (the sequel) and getting a new post-Magic of the Lost project cooking. I also write short stories and essays, which you can find all over the internet.
Lia : For the Fiction Dwellers who haven’t yet read your debut novel, can you pitch The Unbroken in a single sentence?
Cherae : A conscript and a princess struggle for control of a desert colony, and sometimes they want to kiss about it; sometimes they want to kill about it.
Lia : The Unbroken is the first book to the Magic of the Lost series and your debut novel. It explores major themes such as colonialism and the implications thereof, weaving magic and war in a world inspired by the North African deserts. What kept you coming back to this story again and again throughout the writing process?
Cherae : The thing that kept me coming back to this story again and again was my desire to explore Touraine’s story and her relationships to her homes both old and new. I kept asking myself–and still do as I write the next two books–if she had to choose just one, where would she go, and why? What would she leave behind and how would that leaving impact her? It’s a question many minorities must ask when they find themselves tangentially benefiting from hegemonic power structures.
Lia : How was your process in researching the historical inspiration of The Unbroken? Were there any challenges during the process? Are there any historical books or other kinds of media that you referred to during your research?
Cherae : The spark for The Unbroken, as you’ve written about (thank you!) is the colonial relationship between France and North Africa in particular, but about colonial relationships in the world in general. Some texts or subject areas for folks to look into: The Wretched of the Earth (Franz Fanon); The Battle for Algiers (film); Harlem Hellfighters (Canaan White, Max Brooks; graphic novel); A People’s History of American Imperialism (Howard Zinn; graphic novel); the stealing of native and aboringinal children in the Americas and Australia, especially to re-educate them or use them as domestic servants; the British Raj…this list is nowhere near exhaustive, but it’s a springboard.
Lia : The Unbroken is a character-driven story with dual POVs following the princess Luca, and the conscript Touraine—two characters with their own unique ambition and motivation, one being the colonizer and the other, the colonized. I found that you did an excellent job of balancing the POVs of these two characters. What were the challenges that you faced while writing this element of your story?
Cherae : One of the greatest challenges was toeing the line between telling an honest story and exploring the systems of colonialism……..and making Luca somewhat sympathetic, or if not sympathetic, at least making her POV chapters compelling. How much people like her varies WIDELY and I actually think that’s one of the best results I could have asked for. She’s a polarizing character, but I hope that the people who love her see her for what she is. Similarly, her and Touraine’s relationship–balancing the power in it. I loved exploring the problems in that tangle. We’ll do more of that in book 2…
Lia : Without spoiling, do you have a favorite chapter or scene from The Unbroken? And why?
Cherae : I do have a favorite scene! And it’s definitely a spoiler scene. But it’s the one toward the end about rocks. I love it because that relationship really solidified what the book would be to me, and it came in the last draft right as I was ready to give up. That scene in particular came to me out of nowhere and I scribbled it in a notebook and forgot about it. I almost forgot to put it in entirely!
Lia : A part that fascinated me the most in the world building of The Unbroken, is the social conditioning in Qazāl and the ranks of Sands within the Balladaire military specifically the condemning of religious practices and displays of faith. Was it your plan all along to make religion a major theme in the story? And will it have a stronger presence in the coming sequels?
Cherae : It was not, actually! Magic and religion were actually one of the later pieces to come into the story. I was initially interested in exploring a world where the magic was lowkey, either hidden or nonexistent. It actually gained prominence when I got stuck in the initial drafting process and realized that I needed to build the rest of the world better–figure out what people are fighting for, what they’re hiding, and what they want most. Those who are looking for more will definitely find it in The Faithless and probably even more in Book 3.
Lia : The Unbroken is one of three books that achieved legendary status on Book Twitter as part of the Sapphic Trifecta. What are your thoughts or initial reaction on being bestowed this title alongside Tasha Suri author of The Jasmine Throne and Shelley Parker Chan author of She Who Became the Sun? Do you have any recommendations of sapphic books that we absolutely have to read?
Cherae : I LOVE IT. It’s probably one of the best, most fun things to ever happen to me. It really does feel legendary, especially because I adore Tasha and Shelley as people, as well as their books. I could not ask to be in better company. Other books to read in particular if you like The Unbroken, though…The Councillor (MC has an ex gf) by E.J. Beaton; Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton; A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. And obviously the Baru Cormorant books.
Lia : As a former personal trainer and proven power lifter of the Sapphic Trifecta. Can you please share the secret or routine in achieving buff arms like Touraine for someone that never went to the gym?
Cherae : For someone who’s never been to the gym? Well, that’ll take some time first getting in a gym or starting a bodyweight or home routine. And then just sticking with it for a while. Touraine’s arms were built over a lifetime of military workouts, after all. Lots of sparring and strengthening. For a true newcomer, I actually wouldn’t focus on biceps at all! I would focus on compound movements like pushups or dumbbell chest presses for the front of body; pullups or lat pull downs and rows for the back of the body. Also, can’t forget the legs–squats and lunges are a must because Touraine would never skip leg day.
Lia : As an award-winning writer and editor of multiple Sci-Fi Fantasy magazines. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there that are trying to get their work published?
Cherae : Write what calls to you and take the rejections on the chin. They’re going to come and it could be for so many reasons! But nothing that you can control except for your craft. Read some craft books; pay attention to your sentences. I like finding writing where the voice is deliberate–even if the voice isn’t for me or isn’t familiar to me, it shows that the story wasn’t put together by accident. Most importantly…keep writing fun. If it ever gets too hard, go back to the reason you came to it in the first place. I came to it because I wanted to pretend I was in cool stories having adventures. I was also too young to buy a sword, so writing that I had a sword was the next best thing. (Now I do have a sword and I have sword lessons.)
Lia : The hype for the reappearance of Touraine’s arms in the sequel, The Faithless, is REAL. Can you please give us an exclusive snippet or quote to look forward to?
Cherae : Ohhh, man. It’s hard for me to pick one right now and there might be something specific coming from the publisher whenever our official announcement of The Faithless comes out (maybe with a cover reveal?) But if you follow my newsletter or Twitter, I occasionally drop little teasers. In the meantime, though, look forward to meeting one of my new favorite characters, Sabine LeMarchal de Durfort. In her own words, she is “The marquise de Durfort, at your service. The most charming of the High Court, the best swordsman in the empire, renowned seducteur, and loyal servant of the future queen.” She was an absolute riot to write and I hope you’ll love her as much as I do.
Lia : Lastly, having been a featured writer of many renowned Sci-Fi Fantasy magazines in the past, what have you learnt from the transition to being a more traditionally published author?
Cherae : The magazines I’ve been published in are fairly traditional, to be honest. But if you mean as a trad pub novelist, I’m learning a lot of hard lessons about knowing when story ideas will and will not work. I haven’t fully learned this lesson, just had some drastic wrong turns that required heavy course corrections; and with short stories, a wrong turn puts you out maybe a couple thousand words. A wrong turn in a novel might mean a hundred thousand wrong words. I’ve learned to trust myself though, when something doesn’t feel right, and to trust that I can, eventually, find the right way–and part of that lesson is learning that there isn’t always one right way. There’s just the way I choose. Every novel opens up like a multiverse, and you’re just writing through one universe.
About the Author
C.L. Clark is a BFA award-winning editor and Ignyte award winning-writer, and the author of The Unbroken, the first book in the Magic of the Lost trilogy. She graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA and was a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in FIYAH, PodCastle, Uncanny, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.