CORRY L. LEE SHARES ABOUT HER NEW NOVEL
Some of the best science fiction and fantasy novels come from scientists. That’s why we’re so excited about the upcoming novel, Weave the Lightning, by scientist/writer combo Corry L. Lee.
In Corry’s Ph.D. research at Harvard, she studied the formative moments after the Big Bang. Corry refined the measurement process that evaluates theories of how matter came to be in the universe. This in-depth knowledge on the beginning of our universe sets Corry up to create worlds of her own and do it well.
Corry shared, “In my heart, I’m a scientist. I ask why. Whether writing science fiction or fantasy, you’ll see that questioning in my worlds.”
Proving herself to be a dynamite writer, Corry won the coveted Writers of the Future award with her science fiction short story Shutdown (read it here!). She also puts her unique array of interests to work as a regular panelist for SFF conventions like Emerald City Comic Con and WorldCon where Corry shares with the book community about science, world building, and, of course, writing.
Her new book, Weave the Lighting, is a historical fantasy novel that draws on her talent for constructing new wolds and from her innate questioning of the universe.
WEAVE THE LIGHTNING SYNOPSIS
In a Russian-inspired fascist state, the storms that enable new magical imbuements are returning decades early. The State controls all mages, except…
Celka Prochazka — a young female resistance fighter and circus high-wire walker, who is hiding a treasonous secret.
Gerrit Kladivo — a young man trained as a mage by the State, who refuses to let the secret police dictate his every imbuement.
Both must learn to control their magic and untangle truth from propaganda to save their country from its brutal regime.
The novel comes out April 7, 2020 in the US and April 2, 2020 in the UK.
INTERVIEW WITH CORRY L. LEE
- Why did you set Weave the Lighting in a “Russian-inspired fascist state” and can you share anything else about this intriguing setting?
In a long line at Starbucks, I started talking with the man ahead of me. He’d recently moved to the U.S. from a former Soviet state, and I asked him what he thought. “It’s great,” he said. “Here, the secret police can’t break into your home in the middle of the night and arrest your family.”
That conversation formed one of the first seeds of Weave the Lightning, and got me thinking both along Russian lines as well as considering the effects of totalitarian regimes. In revision, I edged the regime more fascist, as I realized I wanted to explore what made people—who would consider themselves good people, who might even be kind and helpful in the right circumstances—enthusiastically back a regime that did awful things.
I love characters who believe strongly. Fascism let me have principled, “good” people on both sides of the State’s definition of “right.” Then I forced those people to need each other, to have to work together, and to examine what they’d unquestioningly believed all their lives.
- Why did you choose to make the circus one of the themes in your book?
The circus comes to town for a day, a joyful brightness in the grey lives of struggling laborers. But hard work underlies that glimmer, and the travel schedule is grueling. Yet, from the outside, the circus looks like play. Those people don’t work, not like farmers and factory workers. And in a society with highly restricted travel, how can you trust people who don’t stay anywhere for more than a few days?
Itinerant people have often been targeted and othered. When the secret police come knocking, how much easier is it to blame the person you don’t know than accuse a neighbor?
This dual nature played well with fascism’s “you’re with us or you’re against us” mentality, and I love things that are more than they seem at first glance, that invite you to dig deeper.
- What guidelines or rules did you keep in mind when building your magic system?
Magic is central to this book, and when developing it, I had in mind “crunchy,” well-understood magic systems like you see from Brandon Sanderson. But having just finished my Ph.D. in physics, scientific rigor felt too much like real work. Bridging those two desires meant creating well-defined rules with space inside them for the magic to be mysterious and unpredictable. I wanted magic to interact with its wielder in deep, irreversible ways, and carry serious psychic risk.
In Weave the Lightning I use the analogy that magic is like creating pottery. For a good pot, you need quality clay, a skilled potter, and a kiln to fire the pot to hold its shape. You also need somewhere to work. The “potter’s workshop” is sousednia, a neighboring reality of needs and ideas. People with a strong enough storm-affinity see sousednia as a rich second world on top of our regular reality (and can use it in interesting ways outside of creating magic). Built of needs and ideas, sousednia takes a different form for everyone, and controlling and shaping needs in that space forms the technical core of magic.
Desperate needs (like a need to fight an overwhelming foe, or not starve, or heal a dying loved one) form the clay out of which magic is built. Here comes some of the psychic risk: to create magic, you have to be desperate. Learning to be desperate at will takes training… and sort of breaking your mind.
Then you need to control and shape that desperation (like weaving the need to fight into steel, so a rusty paring knife will slice armor like butter)—the potter shaping their pot. Lightning comes at the end, the kiln to fire the pot, imbuing magic into the object so it can be used.
So there’s a structure—rules for how characters in Weave the Lightning create new magical objects—but the details of how are incredibly personal, and there are just so many ways it can go wrong…
- How do you write in your scientific background in a way that appeals to multiple audiences?
Science, at its core, is about understanding our world, our universe, ourselves. While the connection to science fiction can be obvious, I think it can be equally present—and valuable—in fantasy.
Humanity’s propensity to ask “why?” makes us great. (Unless you’re the parent of a 2-year-old, then all I have is a solidarity fist bump.) We strive to make sense of our world then use that understanding to make our lives easier. If magic is a part of that world, then science just expanded its definition.
Still, science and fantasy aren’t the most obvious friends, as some types of magic break (our world’s) physical laws like children stomping through sandcastles. Is that bad? Not necessarily. Other types of magic rigorously account for conservation of mass (or other physical laws). Is that good? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your audience and the story you’re telling.
If I’m reading urban fantasy and the romantic lead turns into a bat for some leathery-winged sexy-times, I don’t care where that extra mass went (that example got weird, but roll with me here). If the author interrupts the action to explain, they’ll likely lose me as a reader. If, on the other hand, they set up that matter is absolutely conserved and then someone gets magicked into a tiny bat in the heat of battle, I’m going to be on the edge of my seat wondering where the rest of her just went. If I don’t find out, or if it doesn’t matter, I’ll be disappointed.
In my heart, I’m a scientist. I ask why. Whether writing science fiction or fantasy, you’ll see that questioning in my worlds. If there’s magic, people will have studied it. They’ll have theories. The society will have tried to use it to solve practical problems like ending famine, communicating across distance, and freeing women of cramps and unwanted pregnancies.
There’s a bit of a scientist in all of us (just ask the two-year-old). Getting hints of how that practical-mindedness shaped a world—whether science fiction or fantasy—makes it feel more real, more plausible, and ultimately leads to great stories.
- It sounds like you purposefully and consistently built your scientific and writing careers side by side. Can you share more about what inspired you to take your writing practice so seriously and what each discipline offers to you as an individual?
I always liked math and science, so when people (loudly and repeatedly) told me that I could never make a career out of writing, I shrugged, kept writing, and studied physics. I smashed electrons and anti-electrons together to create conditions that haven’t existed in nature since the birth of the universe. That was pretty cool. I built a new human inside my own body. That was hard, but rewarding. I worked with smart people on challenging problems of statistics and human behavior to create better customer experiences at Amazon. That was interesting.
Yet it all took time away from writing.
While I love many things with great enthusiasm, the thing I love most is a good story. I love complex characters, surprising reveals, devastating betrayals, and fantastical worlds.
So throughout, I’ve carved out time to write. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The rest of my life provides insight and inspiration, gives me new perspectives and challenges. It’s hard to accept that I can’t do all the things. But when I have to choose, I choose to write.
- Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Weave the Lightning is book one of a trilogy. If you love it, you won’t have to wait long. Book 2, The Storm’s Betrayal, will be out in Spring 2021 from Solaris!