In a world of soaring bone towers and mysterious, grayrobed Singers, first time novelist Fran Wilde has crafted a limitless and fascinating world between the covers of her debut book, UPDRAFT. Kirit Densira, resident of a city built high above the clouds within the safety of bone towers, breaks city Law and is left with a terrible ultimatum: abandon her family to become a Singer, one of the mysterious members of the city’s governing body, or suffer the consequences.
With great reluctance, Kirit begins her Singer training in the Spire, a central tower in the city that is their domain. There, she learns some harrowing secrets about the Singers, as well as her own origins, that will forever change the world she loves so deeply.
Fran, who is a technical consultant when she’s not lost in a world of wingtests and skymouths, has penned short stories that have been seen in the likes of publications such as Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nature, and Tor.com. UPDRAFT, however, is her first long form work to be published, and is a must read with its starkly beautiful landscape and cast rife with memorable and endearing characters.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to speak with Fran via email about her novel, her process, and even learned a little about the future of the UPDRAFT universe.
EC: I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about UPDRAFT, which I’ve just finished and thoroughly enjoyed! My first question is the most obvious: did anything specific inspire the initial spark of this novel?
FW: Yes! The novel emerged out of a short story I wrote in this world, about a winged knife fight in a wind tunnel. This was the second short story I’d written in this setting, and the architecture of the world was emerging as I wrote them. I was pretty excited about the short story, having just finished another novel, and took it to my beta readers, saying, basically, “So glad I’m writing short stories again!” and they looked at me and said, “Actually? This is a novel.”
So I unpacked the elements of the story two characters fighting for the right to speak a
truth about the city and started asking questions: What kind of society would put its people in this kind of situation? Who are these characters and how did they get here? Why a wind tunnel? And so on. The original short story is woven approximately into the middle of the novel now!
EC: Was the original short story the battle between Rumul and Terrin? Or was it the Gyre battle between Kirit and… an opponent I won’t name so our readers won’t bespoiled?
FW: Now that would be cheating, wouldn’t it? Just kidding… it was Kirit for sure. Things
have changed since the first short story, and other short stories have given other characters bigger voices, but the first voice I heard was Kirit’s, singing in the Gyre.
EC: Follow up to my first question about the initial spark of inspiration, coming from a curious aspiring novelist: I was fascinated by the bone towers that Kirit and the other denizens of her living city resided in high above the clouds. What inspired that particular aspect of your world building?
FW: The bone towers have been part of this world since the very first short story I wrote about the city, back in 2011. There are two published short stories set in this world: “A Moment of Gravity, Circumscribed,” came out in the Impossible Futures anthology in 2013 and was reprinted in XIII in 2015; and “Bent the Wing, Dark the Cloud,” which was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies this September. The towers play a big role in each story, as well as in the novels.
The inspirations for them come from both architecture and the natural world megacities,
skyscrapers, various spired buildings like cathedrals, and the organic growth patterns of certain types of bone. I wanted something that was defiantly organic, and stretched the boundaries of where we think people can live and I wanted something that would grow and change over time. Something that would keep going up, its central core expanding, without regard to the people who make their home there.
EC: Like these bone towers, Kirit herself seems to fall into that class of “defiantly organic” as you define it: relentlessly evolving.
FW: Oh gosh, that’s lovely.
EC: Much as the Singers control the rise of the bone towers, they also try to control Kirit through the machinations of tradition and by using her loved ones against her. Furthermore, the children of her world are taught loyalty to their towers, but Kirit’s love of her tower and its people is a raw and real thing. Was this seeming connection between Kirit and the most fundamental element of her city deliberate? Or did it come about organically in the novel’s beginnings?
FW: Kirit’s connection to tower and family is part of what defines her and I think place and personality often intertwine either in supportive ways or as a frictive source to strike against. I know that other characters, on other towers, are not so connected, and that’s part of their stories too. And you’re right, Kirit’s inner compass is much more a natural one than inscribed by lessons. Organic, again, if you will. She’s got layers, like the towers do and while it’s easy sometimes to see a person’s surface, I like that you’ve seen beyond that very much.
EC: Aww, thank you! I have to admit, I related more than a little to Kirit and her family’s rise in Densira, as well as her desire to rise to serve as her mother’s apprentice. Do you relate to Kirit on a personal level? If not, which character from the novel do you feel that you relate most to, if at all?
FW: I think there’s a lot to relate to there some of it unstated. Kirit’s closeness with her friends and her sense of wanting to do the right thing is something I relate to very well. The way she can fight her way through to what she wants while probably she’s more athletic than me if I have a goal, I’ll do a similar thing: push through until it’s done. With other characters, Nat’s curiosity and love for secrets, I get that! And Ezarit her drive and her desire to create a good place for her family, totally. I understand Sellis too, on a different level she wants so badly for things to go like the plan she’s got in her head. And Moc and Ciel yeah, I know those two. Tobiat was a character who opened up and kind of blossomed while it took me a while to understand him, I think he’s one of my favorites now, along with Kirit and Nat and Ezarit.
EC: I have to admit, I developed a soft spot for Tobiat right away… and I don’t want to spoil our readers, but the lengths he went to so Kirit could make it to her wingtest… I think that’s when I fell in love with him completely, bless his addled brain!
This is purely my inner UPDRAFT fangirl talking, but I have to ask: will the adventures of Kirit and company continue? Do you see a sequel or even a series in the future? Or was the conclusion of the novel a completion point for Kirit’s story?
FW: While UPDRAFT is a complete story on its own, the world continues; Kirit (and others) with it. My editor has CLOUDBOUND now, for Fall 2016 publication. I’m working on a third book, which is a bit different. And several other stories set in the world are in various stages of completion, not all of them focussed on the same characters. It’s a big world, and I love that aspect of it. I wrote about that a bit at Far Beyond Reality.
EC: It’s a big world, indeed, and with the depth that so many of these characters have, the potential for stories to tell is limitless! As an aspiring novelist myself, I often find that as the characters come to me and grow more vibrant, it’s a struggle to stay focused on just my protagonist’s story. Did that factor into your choice to tell the story of UPDRAFT from Kirit’s first person perspective? Was it helpful in keeping you focused on her arc and her journey?
FW: There is a lot of pull from characters to tell their story too, isn’t there! I enjoy writing in third person (and in second POV too) but this story has always been in close first person. A part of that is Kirit’s voice is what I heard first, and it resonated with me so I wanted to explore that, and the world through her eyes. Other stories in the world are in third person, so it’s possible/cough… likely you’ll see more and different points of view in the future.
EC: I’d like to wrap up with one last question, again speaking as a writer myself. Having created such a nuanced and colorful world with this book, do you have any advice you could pass on to other aspiring authors? Perhaps something you learned over the course of creating the world of Kirit’s city that you weren’t aware of going in?
FW: Layers. Write in layers, think in layers. You’re not going to write a great novel in one go, but if you think in layers, and look at different themes, ideas, motivations, and actions in different revisions, the book will deepen. And the layering work will hopefully draw readers back for the second and third read too, so they can find things they might have missed the first time.
UPDRAFT is in bookstores now. Fran Wilde can be found on Twitter as @fran_wilde, and if you enjoy the book, search the hashtag #skymouthprotectionsociety to promote the welfare of these fascinating creatures!
UPDRAFT by Fran Wilde
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Tor Books (September 1, 2015)