When I met Fran Wilde at LonCon 3 last summer, I was instantly taken by her passion for the fan community and the books that bring us all together. She seemed to know everyone who crossed our path, and interesting discussion bloomed around her. I didn’t know at the time that she’d sold a fantasy series to Tor, but when SF Signal revealed Stephan Martiniere’s cover for her debut, Updraft, my interest grew immediately.
So, I reached out to Wilde to chat about the novel — why an airborne city? How about that awesome cover? What’s coming next?
She was kind enough to answer my questions, and my anticipation for the novel is higher than ever.
In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.
Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.
Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother’s side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city’s secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.
As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn’t destroyed outright.
Airborne societies are scarcity societies.
Fantasy is often a very grounded genre, set in worlds that are familiar to readers – rolling hills, dark caves, turbulent oceans, I mentioned to Wilde, how did an airborne society change your approach to worldbuilding and storytelling? “The city above the clouds emerged from a set of prompts given to me at a writer’s workshop (Viable Paradise 2011) — including the word ‘mega-cities’ and a wind-up toy monkey — followed by a conversation I had with author Steven Brust,” Wilde told me. “All those pieces fit together to turn ‘mega-city’ into a city of living bone that rose above the clouds.”
That initial prompt didn’t result immediately in a novel, but rather a (very) short story. “It was about 1500 words,” Wilde remembered. “When I disassembled it, however, I realized I wanted to know much more about the kind of society that would live on towers of bone — how they survived and fought, what their fears were.
Airborne societies are — often — scarcity societies. You get to keep what you can carry. They all have at least one major predator: gravity. (Mine has several more, but gravity’s still a big bad.) So when I built the world, I had to think about everything from food — what can survive at altitude, what can be propagated — to clothing and supplies. An airborne society doesn’t have much grazing land, but it does have birds and other climbing and flying critters on hand to work with. In an early draft, I discovered I’d set up a situation that required an impossible cow… so I had to go back and fix that. That was just the beginning.”
“The cover artist is the amazing Stephan Martiniere,” Wilde said when I asked her about the gorgeous cover. Martiniere’s a favourite of mine, and it’s lovely to see him exploring the world outside of his usual cityscapes. “I love how the cover captures motion and flight,” Wilde continued. “As well as the true strangeness of the towers, and the society that’s grown up with them. I am eagerly awaiting the wraps, because the landscape Martiniere’s created is so stunning. The colors — sky blue, cloud and tower whites — and those wings! I’m delighted that the towers seem so mysterious and weird while the flier on the cover already feels familiar, strong, and pretty badass.
Expect a few carnivorous elements. And secrets and revelations. And man-made wings. Lots and lots of wings
But what’s a pretty cover if the words inside don’t excite you? Readers don’t have to worry there, as Wilde was eager to tell me about all the “adventure and unexpected twists” between the covers. “There’s this odd knife-fight in a wind tunnel,” she said. “I did research at the same indoor skydiving center where at least one military school skydiving team trains in order to figure out what the physics might feel like.
“Also expect a few carnivorous elements. And secrets and revelations. And man-made wings. Lots and lots of wings.”
Updraft is Wilde’s first novel, and the just the beginning of a grand tale. “I’ve just turned in the next book, Cloudbound to Miriam Weinberg, my editor at Tor,” she told me. But worry not, despite being a sequel to Updraft, Wilde is determined not to let the story get away from her. “I was determined that each book could stand on its own, but together they tell a bigger story. There are also at least two short stories set in the city, including one called, “A Moment of Gravity, Circumscribed,” in XIII, an anthology from Resurrection House.”
For more on Updraft, and Wilde’s unique take on fantasy worldbuilding, be sure to check out her feature article here on A Dribble of Ink, Gravity’s Own Monster!
Updraft will be available on September 1, 2015 from Tor Books, and is available now for pre-order.