CL Clark tells us about his fantastic new book, The Unbroken
Action, politics, magic and heartbreaking romance: The Unbroken is one of the first major fantasy novels of the year. Author CL Clark tells us about it.
The uninterrupted is the first novel by CL Clark, and the first of his Magic of the lost trilogy. It’s a grainy fantasy that tells the story of a soldier caught between two worlds. Touraine Sand is a conscript of the Balladairan Empire, withdrawn from her ancestral homeland of Qazāl when she was a child to serve in the Imperial Army. The story begins with the return of Touraine to Qazāl in adulthood, a cog in the imperial machine intended to impose the enslavement of the colony. She is constantly forced to walk the knife edge between loyalty to the two nations, while trying to protect her conscripts from the Qazali rebels and Balladairan officers who view them as expendable second-class citizens. Things get even more complicated when she argues with Luca Ancier, the Princess of Balladaire, who came to Qazāl to prove her worth as a ruler by creating lasting peace there.
Of course, things are rarely that simple in The uninterrupted. This story was unpredictable until the end.
To celebrate the novel’s release, CL Clark stopped by to talk about writing, the publishing industry, and how she created the living world of The Uninterrupted. Interview following this magnificent cover:
DANIEL ROMAN: For readers who may not yet be familiar with your work, can you explain a bit how Magic of the lost arrived at? What was the genesis of this series?
CL CLARK: Of course! Therefore the Magic of the lost was born from the merger of a few courses in which I was at university, a course in French-speaking African literature, a literary theoretical English course where we spoke more about post-colonial literature, and a independent study where I examined the ways in which women are allowed to be violent, especially to cause harm to others. (Most of the time the answer was, in defense of themselves and the children, but they were rarely allowed to be warriors for glory, as men so often were in fantasy.) these thoughts in my head, i just had this scene that kept popping up, of a colonial conscript executing her countrymen and not being that torn about it. Not at the beginning, anyway …
DR: I read on your blog that you met your literary agent at the PitMad Twitter pitch event. What was the journey from this event to the exit The uninterrupted? Was there anything in particular that surprised you about the process?
CLC: I did it! It’s been pretty awesome, honestly, Mary is amazing. In fact, I didn’t sign with her for two years after my first question. She liked the partial I sent her, but it was fire season in California, so she declined the requests. We didn’t connect until a few years later, when I passed the book through one final round of revisions. I’m learning new things all the time throughout this process, but honestly I’m not sure if anything surprises me – wait, no, I was (and am) surprised at how quickly the post can evolve. We all hear so much about the freezing pace of the post, but in reality sometimes it’s just slow on the outside. Sometimes a single year can elapse between contract and publication, which means that year is jam-packed. So even though it’s horribly slow because I want to see my book on the shelves, if it was any faster… phew.
DR: I imagine releasing a first novel has its own set of challenges, even in the most normal of times, which it obviously doesn’t. Did the pandemic affect your release in any particular way?
CLC: Honestly, if that’s the case, that’s new to me on the writing side. The main thing is to what extent the promotion of the book consists of digital events. I don’t think they were that prevalent until last year, but now it’s become a bit of a welcome equalizer – anyone can do a reading in a bookstore because you don’t need to. ‘be near them and therefore do not have to pay to travel. That said, it does mean it’s hard to do book autographs, so there also appears to be an increase in book swag and ex-libris.
Now, how that affected my writing process… heh. Eh eh. We don’t have to talk about it.
DR: Something that really defines The uninterrupted aside from other fantastic stories, this is how the town of El-Wast and the various cultures that stand against it are richly realized. I read on your website that you travel quite a bit, so I was curious: how much has your own travels influenced your world-building? And are there any places in the real world (whether you’ve visited or not) that have particularly inspired you?
CLC: My travels inform my construction of the world a lot, yes. I have stories running through my head with rainy seasons like India, crispy anchovy snacks like Taiwan, tea habits like Morocco … travel is a great way to remember the English world. / European mores and customs is not omnipresent and encourages creativity in the construction of the world. And like The uninterrupted is inspired by the colonial relationship between France and North Africa, I went to Morocco to study Arabic and learn a bit more about how the legacy of colonialism shapes a place. Where remains the sort of … carcass of colonial power, how people reclaim a city. What remains or blooms again from the original cultures. It’s really interesting because technically the United States is also a colonial state, but in the absence of a revolution against the settlers, it’s a little more difficult to find those buttresses. It kind of consumes whatever comes out again. Sorry, it’s a bit of a tangent.
DR: Let’s talk for a moment about Touraine and Luca. Their relationship is so complex. Can you tell us a bit about how you developed their complicated relationship and how you managed to keep it unpredictable until the very last page?
CLC: I’m glad you found it unpredictable. I don’t think they’re happy with it, though. It’s difficult, however, because Luca isn’t a great person, even though she thinks she is, and compared to other Balladairians she’s great – but that’s not always enough, especially when the power within a couple is so out of balance. One of my favorite tropes is “enemies of lovers”. I love it, I don’t know why, but I think it’s the idea that hate comes so close to love – to hate someone properly you have to be so intimate with them. So I always spoke of Luca and Touraine as “enemies-to-lo-ene – ???” because… if Luca wants to convince Touraine that she’s not full of shit, she’s going to have to do something miraculous. And honestly, even I don’t know if she’s capable of it … Add in Touraine’s very complicated feelings about Balladaire, and you’ve got a relationship that isn’t really about transparent chemistry. Love itself would be a political choice, and it’s also an agency choice – I think it would be very difficult to love someone unattended if you lacked agency in the relationship and you were aware of this power differential. It could be tinged with all kinds of things – avoidance, denial, resentment…
DR: Was there a scene of The uninterrupted which one did you prefer to write, and why? Conversely, was there a scene or piece of the plot / character that was particularly difficult to understand? (Speaking cryptically to avoid spoilers, of course)
CLC: YES. My favorite scenes are those with Touraine and a certain rebel. Coincidentally, this was also the most difficult to pin down, because originally this character was… someone else. The draft didn’t really fall into place until I made this change, however, and then I knew. One of my favorite passages in the whole book. Mmmm.
DR: One of the many things I liked The uninterrupted was the way you play with the idea of who “belongs” to a culture (ie. Can you tell us a bit about how you approached this idea?
CLC: It’s a very common topic among diasporas and immigrants, actually. It’s complicated to be an emigrant from a place if you still have ties to it, and complicated not to have ties to ancestral homes – or even not knowing what those homes might be. And then complicated relations with the family back home, all that. It comes up in a lot of what I read, and I talk about it with my friends as well. There are also a lot of power dynamics at play in there; I think of the power of a passport or an American or European accent, and how that opens doors in other countries because of the taking over of the money, for example, or the protection diplomatic. And if it’s in a place that you almost want to call home, but you’re apart from it… a lot of complicated feelings live in that space. And that doesn’t even touch the real language barriers.
DR: Can you give us any clues as to what awaits us in the series?
CLC: [insert smiling face with single tear]
There will likely be a few new POVs from some characters you know – or at least have heard of. Well, I will also add that I intend to keep some of these promises that I made in these last chapters. I hope.
DR: Before publishing The uninterrupted, you were already a fairly well established short story writer. Where can readers find some of these stories?
CLC: I have stories to Under ceaseless skies, Astonishing, and to PodCastle! And a new one will be released at BCS the same week as the novel! They are very much in my brand of complicated bitter / sweet queer love.
DR: To end on a lighter note… what are the three most recent stories that you immersed yourself in and really enjoyed?
CLC: I was lucky to have a few ARCs, actually, and so two stories that I still can’t get out of my mind are Sthe one who became the sun by Shelley Parker Chan and The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri. Both a good, complicated queer romance that will likely end in heartache – I think I mentioned earlier that this is my jam? BUT, for the sake of variety, I can’t wait to get into Winter orbit by Everina Maxwell, which promises something a little warmer.
DR: Thank you very much for joining us to talk about The uninterrupted! The book is fantastic, and we can’t wait to see where you get the series from!
CLC: Thank you very much for having me! It was a pleasure.
The uninterrupted releases March 23. Watch for our review of the novel next week!
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