|The Steel Seraglio|
The new novel, The Steel Seraglio, didn't seem like the kind of book I'd gravitate towards at first glance, but as I checked out the synopsis with the idea of a harem turned small army, my interest grew. Add in the fact that the three authors are a family and I'm downright intrigued. So, here's a guest post from the familial trio on how they decided to work on a novel together, and how the idea for that novel came to pass. Enjoy.
Burton, Spizzico and Dropbox - Attorneys at Law
by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, & Louise Carey
So we decided to write a novel. The three of us, together.
The three of us are:-
Middle-aged woman who writes YA fantasy – works in a museum three days a week, is halfway through an MA in Modern History and raises three kids in her copious spare time.
Middle-aged guy who writes comic books, novels, screenplays – works from home, if typing counts as work, and is much given to a form of Eastern meditation called “staring out of the window”.
Twenty-something (actually twenty-nothing) student in the second year of an English Lit degree – commutes between London and Oxford, is heavily involved in peer-counselling, and has most of The National’s lyrics playing in her brain on a continuous loop.
That’s Lin, Mike and Louise, respectively; or alternatively, that’s mom, dad and daughter.
We had some previous form, as far as working together goes. Mike and Lin had been on the script team for a kids’ fantasy animation series, Meadowlands, that never actually got made. Lou and Mike had co-written a graphic novel called Confessions of a Blabbermouth. But a three-way collaboration was something we’d never considered. Too hard, we thought, and too time-consuming – bound to run aground on the massive differences in our daily rhythms. How the hell would we ever get in synch?
But we had this great idea. We wanted to do a story that would be heavily based on Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights Entertainment – but didn’t borrow a single word or plot or situation out of that book. We wanted to use The Arabian Nights as a formal model – to write a book that would have a frame narrative and a LOT of digressions. Stories within stories, stories branching out of stories, stories used as confessions, weapons, seductions, disguises, disinformation, and covering every genre under the sun.
We went back and forth on it a lot, really excited about the idea but really baffled by the question of how to implement it. This stage of the project was dominated by a lot of long working lunches at an Italian restaurant around the corner from where we live – Spizzico’s, in Barnet. Except that they weren’t really working lunches, at all: they were “let’s talk about the fun idea some more” lunches. They weren’t a preparation for work, they were an alternative to it.
But somehow, along the way, we accidentally came up with a working plan. It was okay, it was fine, we were in no danger of actually having to write the book because we didn’t have a commission.
Until Mike and Lin bumped into Sandra and Brett of ChiZine Publications at 2010’s Eastercon. We got on like a heretic on fire, and after a while we moved from the dealers’ room to the bar – where we had a conversation that went something like this.
“So what are you guys working on right now?”
“Oh, you know. This and that. We’ve been playing with this Arabian Nights homage thing – a suite of stories that turns into a novel when you’re not looking.”
“Sounds interesting. We’d publish a book like that.”
So now we had a commission, and suddenly the whole thing was real. Burton and Spizzico had left us in a fine mess.
But the actual writing of the book was kind of effortless, after all that. Our saviour was the free-to-casual-users Dropbox programme. Dropbox allowed us to build a skeleton of the book, to which we all had access, and then to lift out individual chapters for writing, editing or reference whenever we needed to. We could all monitor how the book was coming in real time, instantly get alerts when new stuff was added to the folder, and give feedback to each other even when Lou was in Oxford and Mike was a comic convention in Dublin or Norway.
So we built this novel. And ChiZine published it.
It’s set in an ancient, more or less mythical Middle East – the Arabia of Haroun Al-Rashid, Shahryar and Scheherazade. It’s the story of a group of concubines, exiled from the city of their birth, who decide to retrain as an army and conquer the city so they can come home again. And if that makes it sound light-hearted, it’s because we suck at summarising. It’s actually… well, it’s kind of a tragedy, kind of a love story, kind of a fantasy adventure. Like Richard Burton, we throw every spice we’ve got into the casserole and turn the heat right up.
To quote the book, which puts it better:-
This is not my story. It’s the story of Zuleika and Gursoon, Hakkim Mehdad, the legate En-Sadim, Imad-Basur, Anwar Das, Bethi, Imtisar, the Lion of the Desert and the seven Djinni. It’s the story of the City of Women; of how it came to be, how it flourished, and how it was destroyed by a reckless and irrevocable act of mercy.
Thanks to the Carey family for the great guest post. I'm really looking forward to reading this novel now. And the fine folks at Chizine were kind enough to provide a link to an excerpt in PDF format, which everyone can read by clicking HERE. There's even a book trailer via YouTube that you can watch: