The Rolling Five Question E. Sedia Interview

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Ekaterina Sedia has a new book coming out, The Alchemy of Stone. In an effort to spread the word about it, she embarked on a crazy, globe-spanning circuit of blogs and websites, stopping long enough to answer five questions before darting off to the next one. It is sort of like speed dating, or being assaulted by a hummingbird, or a literary scavenger hunt. For a brief moment, she is here, and here are the five questions she answered for me.

(Previous Q & A’s can be found at Matt Staggs’ Enter the Octopus, Paul Jessup’s House of Wind-up Toys, and Jonathan Woods’ Blood-Tinged Eyeball of Doom.)

1) When talking about the soundtrack for The Alchemy of Stone, you mention a predilection for songs about “horrible love or decay.” Is decay and/or disrepair an integral part of the steampunk/clockpunk atmosphere? (Or, if you’d like to dodge being pigeon-holed in that “genre,” consider the question against your invented world.)

Well, decay is inevitable consequence of artifice, technology, and mechanical development — only living things are self-maintaining, and the problem with many of the technology-oriented movements is the failure to anticipate the inevitable breakdown. It’s not even the seeds of its own destruction, it is nothing but destruction.

2) Is the alchemy (either your invented one or the historical model) a means of repair? And if so, how does the Emerald Tablet’s homeopathic maxim: “As Above, So Below” inform your novel? (Or not, as the case may be.)

Ah, dear Hermes Trismegistus. As it happens, the maxim is not explicit in The The Alchemy of Stone, although there’s a certain theme of things being reflected in each other — for example, the death of gargoyles is mirrorred in the destruction of the city which is mirrorred in the destruction of automatons etc etc. However, the book I am currently working on explicitly talks about microcosm and macrocosms and eggs and aludels . . . and I probably stopped making sense to anyone who is not interested in Alchemy, so I’ll take the next question now.

3) How do these metaphors/historical references contrast with your own creative process? You mentioned earlier that some books require more prior plotting. Is this a detailed process (scene by scene), or is it one that grows from an aggregation of distinct elements?

I’m certainly a lot less systematic than the alchemists of old. I don’t do scene by scene plotting, but I tend to think in terms of pivotal scenes — places where different threads need to come together, where important revelations occur, stuff like that. Once I know where those are, I can write toward them. With some other books, I have a general shape in my mind, maybe a page worth of plot, but not much else.

4) What sparks a creative idea? A visual cue, an auditory one? How much of a spark do you need? Does it require time underneath the conscious layer to fully gestate?

It depends. Visual or verbal more likely than auditory. Sometimes, purely intellectual. I usually need some time to let the idea gestate, but some come more readily than others. The House of Discarded Dreams, for example, took forever to acquire its current shape.

5) What’s your favorite bit from The Alchemy of Stone that got cut?

A funeral scene. I’ll say no more.

(Next stop: Mary Robinette Kowal)

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