I've had the chance to interview with some wonderful people, not only about QUIETUS and its release this month, but also about my life and my writing. Links and highlights!
"TQ: In Quietus who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Tristan: I thought Niccoluccio would be my biggest challenge, as there were so many details about monastic life that I felt I had to get right. The anthropologists, though they come from a different universe, were deliberately given a "modern" perspective, and so I thought their voices would come a little more easily. But Niccoluccio and I turned out to be after broadly the same things in life.
The most challenging character to write for was one of the anthropologists on Habidah's team, Meloku. Meloku is the most alien of Quietus's viewpoint characters. She's been living with an AI companion inside her head for years, embedded in her thoughts, and that's shaped her in all the worst ways you can imagine. She's not cruel, but she is cold in a way that I found difficult to write while maintaining reasons to care about her.
The key to unlocking her turned out to be her anger. She's a very angry person, though she does not acknowledge that. She has fair reason to be angry."
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing Quietus? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Tristan: I’ve always been entranced by alternate history, but less recently by What-If scenarios, and more by alternate history’s power to make history seem alive. Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt lit a fire under me. It’s easy to look ahead and see an array of possibilities. But when we look back, history starts to seem like just a linear sequence of events. It feels constrained. We can’t pretend that we don’t know the outcomes. Alternate history, speculative history, robs us of that certainty, and helps us understand the choices people made without the benefit of hindsight.
Quietus is not alternate history, or secret history, but it fits on the same shelf. I wanted readers to approach the Black Death without the certainty that hindsight brings. The certainties that Habidah and her anthropologists bring do not help them in the slightest.
Elaine: Niccolucio, the monk, is a very interesting and appropriate character because of the way he fitted into the developing storyline. I got the sense that Niccolucio may have been the driving force behind the creation of the novel.
Tristan: He popped up first. He actually has a real-life counterpart of brother Gherardo who was also a Carthusian monk. He was the sole survivor of his monastery. He was alone in the monastery for several months during a hard winter with only his dogs for company. Obviously, his life then took a different course to Niccolucio’s, but he immediately stood out to me the moment I read his story and I knew I wanted to include that story in my writing.
It’s not just knowing the events of history that spoil things for me, either. It’s our worldview: everything we know and think we know about things like the age of the Earth, astronomy, geology, religion, and more. I can pretend not to know these things, but that’s all it is: a pretense. It’s always there, and it’s always going to be a barrier to understanding a historical novel’s characters and their crises.
I wrote Quietus to foreground that problem. Dr Habidah Shen and her team of extradimensional anthropologists have come, for desperate reasons of their own, to Europe in the 1340s to witness the Black Death. Habidah knows her biases are a problem. She tries to, but can’t, surmount them.
Thank you to everyone who lent me their space to write and speak!