This week C.L. Clark (Cherae) was kind enough to stop by for a quick chat about her debut novel, The Unbroken. Cherae graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA and was a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in FIYAH, PodCastle, Uncanny and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Now she’s one of the co-editors at PodCastle, and the SFWA Blog editor.
First, the blurb…
Every Empire Demands Revoultion. Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought. Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne. Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.
And this cover! I adore it.
Without context, what’s one of your favorite sentences in the book?
“If you thought I’d be useful, I’d be free by now.”
If you could pick one room to spend a day in, from one place in your story, where is it and why?
There’s an ancient library carved from the inside of massive stones in Briga, in the Second City (or the Cursed City, depending on who you ask). Luca wants to go there, and in previous drafts of The Unbroken, she did. It’s like a Library of Alexandria, and I would like to go there and learn about the history of all of these gods, how they came to be and choose the gifts they would give their followers. I’d be a poor book nerd if I didn’t spend at least some time in the oldest known library.
Would you be happy living in your story?
Is it a cheat to say that I very much am living in this story? Except without the magic. The worst parts about this world are the colonial conquerors and that’s a legacy we very much still live with today. And I’m surviving, though I’m very angry most of the time. I’d feel the same way in the world of The Unbroken; it’s definitely me working through some of that anger with a sword. I would hope to survive, though–it would take some luck, but I am…martially inclined. I can hold my own in a fist fight but getting hit by a musket ball…yikes.
What was the hardest thing about taking your book from an idea to the finished product?
Making it right. I didn’t want to give up on it, but it was never working. I went through draft after draft for seven years before I found an agent with the version I knew I wanted. Learning to wrangle a project this big with so many different pieces and diverging lines…I’m still not sure I’ve managed to get that right enough to understand how to do it again. And again. And then, learning how to let go of all those other shadow-decisions I didn’t choose, without second guessing myself constantly. That was hard, too. Still is hard, in fact, now that people are reading it.
What special research/skills/information did you have that specifically influenced how you wrote this story?
This story was borne from my time as a French literature student, specifically Francophone African literature. That, coupled with post-colonial theory as an English literature student and I found myself drawn to the way colonized writers around the world (including Black American writers) are forced to use the language of the people who’ve stripped their own language from them. And there’s a lot of pain there in that erasure but there is beauty and vengeance in the sly ways colonized people adapt a language–French or English–to keep the heart/home culture alive, or to criticize or even fight the colonial language. In my studies and in my life, I’ve noticed also how colonized people flex and adapt under the constraints of a colonial culture, finding new ways of being and transforming the old culture to fit the new constraints rather than letting them get erased completely. There’s a lot more than that, but I could be here all day, so I’ll leave it there for now.
Which character could only have been written by you and why?
I suppose I would like to say many of them, but that’s probably not true. The most true to me, I think, is Jaghotai. The reason why is a bit of a spoiler, though.
Note: Cherae was kind enough to tell me the answer to this question, but it truly is a spoiler, so I opted to keep it secret until you’ve had a chance to read the book.
Learn more about Cherae on her website: https://clarkwrites.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter and Instagram. You can also check out the book’s official publisher page for more info and a great map of the land: http://www.orbitbooks.net/the-unbroken/
You can buy The Unbroken – which is out now from Orbit – everywhere books are sold. Like here, for example: Bookshop.org