Alyx Dellamonica: Five Things I Learned Writing Child Of A Hidden Sea

Child of A Hidden Sea is the story of a 24-year-old videographer from San Francisco who goes looking for her birth parents and discovers they come from another world. When Sophie Hansa interrupts an attack on her newfound aunt, she ends up on that world, and finds a place filled with not only intrigue but magic.

Stormwrack is almost entirely covered by ocean, and populated by people from tiny island nations, each with its own microclimate and form of government. There are democracies, military dictatorships, kingdoms, and even barely-reformed pirate cooperatives… and each country uses a form of magic based on the unique natural resources of its home island. Stormwrack is a treasure-trove of new species and scientific questions, in other words, things she could research forever… but everyone seems to want Sophie to leave, and as quickly and as quietly as possible.

1. Even when I set out to write a book that isn’t too talky, I still write a pretty talky book

My books are–I think anyone would agree–dialog-heavy. Some of this comes of being such a fan of mystery fiction. In mysteries, the detective usually needs to pry information out of suspects and witnesses by interviewing them. They then go to other people–experts, friends, reporters–and talk about what they’ve learned, juggling the facts until they figure out what it all means.

Seriously! Pull up a standard piece of mystery TV and do something else while it’s on. There’s probably a pile of ironing in your laundry closet. You’ll be surprised how little you have to actually look at the television, especially compared with something visually splendid, like Game of Thrones.

I had meant for Child of a Hidden Sea, with all its action and swashbuckling and sailing around, to be less talky than my previous two novels, Indigo Springs and Blue Magic. In those, the characters are trying to figure out how magic works with no information whatsoever.

In the end, it didn’t really work out that way. I suppose this vindicates my belief that whatever you already are, you should be that thing emphatically. Blabbermouth protagonists for the win!

2. Huge cities composed of hundreds of seagoing vessels are terribly hard to get around.

The capital city of Stormwrack is a massive collection of sailing ships, some magical, called the Fleet of Nations. Basically, 250 countries have each sent their best ship to serve a in an international peacekeeping navy.

Added to that are civilian camp followers: merchants, manufacturers, hangers on, fishers, you name it. If you imagine each vessel is a city block, and then think about the logistics of getting from your apartment to the courthouse, it is a bit of a nightmare.

On the one hand, it didn’t take much imagination to come up with the idea of a fleet of ferries that would sail routes between the big ships and a second fleet of flying taxis, magical hang gliders, essentially, to ply the skies. The real technical challenge as a writer is in keeping all the scrambling around from getting boring or repetitive.

3. Other things about Age of Sail technology

Travel times are very slow. Communications are very slow. Nothing can unfold at a pace even remotely resembling the one we all move at now. Time crunches are very different things in a book like this.

4. Some fantasy readers assume that the minute you go to a world with magic, all technology stops working.

This is a bit of feedback that caught me off-guard. My working assumption is that if you have fire and the wheel still works, some technology will too.

I can see, in retrospect, that a line might be drawn between purely mechanical objects and electronic things. (Though I can’t really say–how different would the laws of nature have to be to make the transistor or silicon chip fail without rendering the planet unfit for carbon-based life?) In theory in a portal fantasy where electronic technology stops, you could take a Model T car through and it would run. How about a gun? An old camera? That’s simply chemistry and optics.

I did in an earlier draft of the book consider having Sophie import a mechanical camera to Stormwrack instead of her digital SLR. My thinking was that the batteries wouldn’t run out and the chip wouldn’t need to be taken to her home in San Francisco for unloading. But developing chemicals and darkrooms are not easily come by, when you were improvising on a world whose capital city is a bunch of sailing ships full of people uninterested in photography.

5. I may be more of a pantser than I thought

I set out to write most of my novels with a pretty decent outline. It’s not pretty, but there’s something written out saying what I plan to do with the character and the story. In a series (and this is true of my short fiction series as well) my writerbrain seems to be okay with creating interesting story problems for myself on the assumption, the blithe, blithe assumption, that I will eventually figure out the answer. In fact, this has worked out okay for me so far, but it means I spend a lot of time pondering little unanswered questions, things I desperately need to figure out.

A little tiny example: cats, on Stormwrack, are cursed. Because they are such an effective predator and because so many island nations have species that would be extinguished if cats got loose in their microclimate, someone has laid an inscription on the entire race of cats. It confines them to their native habitats and to sailing ships. If they leave one or the other, they die. (There’s a way to move them from ship to ship.)

Because because of the way magic works in this universe, this means that the race of cats must have a name, and someone found it out. Do I know that name? Do I know who figured it out, and how?

Nope, not a clue.

Often the way I go about answering these little questions is by writing a short story. In theory, my future holds a story entitled “The True Name of Catkind,” or perhaps, “It’s Pronounced Meeooow, Dammit.” It will almost certainly be a very talky story.

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A. M. Dellamonica has recently moved to Toronto, Canada, after 22 years in Vancouver.  In addition to writing, she studies yoga and takes thousands of digital photographs. She is a graduate of Clarion West and teaches writing through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Dellamonica’s first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her most recent book, Child of a Hidden Sea, has just been released by Tor Books. She is the author of over thirty short stories in a variety of genres: they can be found on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed and in numerous print magazines and anthologies. Her website is at.

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Child of a Hidden Sea: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound