Interview: Carrie Patel

carrie_patel_400x500Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and worked in transfer pricing at Ernst & Young for two years. She now works as a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, where the only season is Always Perfect. Her first novel for Angry Robot, The Buried Life, was published earlier this year, with the sequel, Cities and Thrones, following close on its heels. Patel kindly agreed to answer some questions from Paul Simpson…

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What challenged you about the writing process for the second book compared with writing the first?

The writing process for The Buried Life was pretty straightforward: come up with an outline, write a first draft, and then revise, revise, revise. At that point, I was still learning how to tell a story well.

When it came time to write Cities and Thrones, I’d learned the basics, so I found myself considering – and sometimes overthinking – larger structure and story arc concerns throughout the process. I’m pretty deliberate as a writer – I like to know where I’m going, and if I don’t, I have a tendency to work my outline and plot questions like Play-Doh until I come up with something that gives me better direction.

CitiesThrones-144dpiThis made for a somewhat nonlinear writing process for Cities and Thrones. I’d get halfway through a draft, hit a plot snag, and realize that the solution involved rewriting a scene to introduce a certain character near the beginning. Once that was done, I’d find myself tugging on a new plot thread that tied into the ending quite nicely but required a new development near the middle of the book. In other words, I found myself rewriting and revising certain parts of the book while I was still drafting others.

Since I like structure and organization, this was a difficult process, but it allowed me to focus on the story and character aspects that needed the most work, and it forced me to address the repercussions of each new development. I felt at times like I was assembling Frankenstein’s monster from so many chunks of various drafts, but in the end, I was keeping the strongest story elements and building from them.

The world expands considerably in the sequel: how much of the detail of that did you have in your mind when you wrote The Buried Life?

The idea of other cities with distinct governments and cultures and the existence of farming communes with their own struggles was always in the back of my mind, though I didn’t know if I’d have the chance to tell a story about them. I wrote The Buried Life without knowing whether there would be the demand or opportunity for a sequel, and I intentionally put together a story that felt self-contained enough for a standalone.

By the time I got to the final pages, however, I saw where they tapered into a bigger story and felt that any follow-up would have to address consequences and changes in the wider world.

That’s a good ending for a new author – something that wraps up one story but opens the door for another. I’d started outlining and drafting Cities and Thrones by the time I sold The Buried Life, and I was thrilled to see so much interest in a sequel.

TheBuriedLife-144dpiIs there any element of The Buried Life that reviewers have commented on that has surprised you?

Without giving away too much, there were some minor characters in The Buried Life that readers enjoyed more than I’d expected. With my practical “author glasses” on, I saw them as colorful but functional plot devices. They were fun and useful for a specific scene, but other than hinting at their backstory, I didn’t have bigger plans for them.

That calculating perspective is both a blessing and a curse of being the writer behind a particular story – you see all the scaffolding and wires holding everything together, so it can be tempting to see each character and subplot only in terms of how it affects your story.

But readers don’t have that foresight. When I saw some of the reactions to these characters – what people found compelling or frightening about their brief appearance in The Buried Life – I realized that there was a lot more to their stories than I was telling, and readers had filled in the gaps themselves. It was a very rewarding realization.

Has that affected how you plotted and/or looked at Cities and Thrones and the third book?

Actually, I gave one of those characters a larger role in Cities and Thrones. It turned out that this character was perfectly placed to expand beyond his (or her) role in The Buried Life, and handing some of the action over to a familiar character was more effective and entertaining than casting someone new in that role.

Part of the fun of sequel writing is getting to build on what you’ve already written about a particular world and its characters. Writing this character into the action in Cities and Thrones also gave me the chance to demonstrate the shrewdness and cunning that had made this person so noteworthy in the first novel. This person’s reappearance should come as a pleasant surprise to readers, and I think it will raise the stakes nicely for the main characters, too.

What’s next for you, apart from the third book?

I’m currently writing for The White March, the expansion to Obsidian’s recent RPG, Pillars of Eternity. This includes a new setting and some new characters that I’m particularly excited about, the Devil of Caroc chief among them. In addition, I’ve got some new short stories in circulation and am looking at plans for a near-future science fiction novel.

Cities and Thrones is published today (July 2nd) in the UK and on July 7th in the US

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