My Favorite Book: Fran Wilde talks about HORIZON
Fran Wilde is here today to talk to us about her novel Horizon. Here’s the description:
In the Bone Universe trilogy finale, the living sky-city of bone towers is on the brink of destruction. Rebellion roils the skies. And almost-siblings, always friends Kirit Skyshouter and Nat Brokenwings seem to have lost everything, including each other. As the city crumbles, Kirit, Nat, Ceil, Moc, and others must learn how to trust each other in order to save their families, friends, and community from destruction.
What’s Fran’s favorite part?
… In which the author gives away a line from the final chapter of her trilogy. Muahaha.
When I sat down to write Updraft, a single sentence started me down a particular path.
I’d already written two short stories set within the world of the Bone Universe. Both would go on to become part of Updraft and Cloudbound. But this one sentence hit my heart and my ear fully wrought and I put it on an otherwise white page and let it sit there for a while.
On a morning like this, fear was a blue sky emptied of birds.
Craftwise, the sentence captured in one quick glance time of day and setting. Also mood. Something had happened. Was happening. There had been birds at some point recently, but these were gone. The sky was blue. It was morning. And the speaker, she knew what fear was.
The speaker was Kirit. Her community’s fear: a terrible predator. The first monster to appear in the Bone Universe, in fact: skymouths. And by the time this sentence happens, the birds have rightly cleared the air to make room for my monsters.
But all that was to come. For a few days, that sentence was all that existed of Updraft while I brainstormed sensory details and overheard Kirit bargaining with her mother about whether she could fly with her through the dangerous skies.
“On a morning like this…” was my way into the book. It was a thread I tied for myself as I walked the maze of that first novel draft, and all those that came after. The sentence moved down a bit in the chapter as Kirit and Ezarit prepared to face the day, but it stayed through all of the drafts, fully intact.
In Cloudbound, the line only echoed slightly — “expeditions like this,” “in a situation like this” “[Dix] would not get away like this,” as my characters descended into a place where there was no blue sky, no distinction between morning and evening except a slight shift in filtered light. That was the right decision, as the phrase is Kirit’s, and Cloudbound’s narrator, Nat, has other verbal tics.
But the thread was still there, the thematic line still pointing to fear of the unknown, and also to the known. The moment of fear and the startled birds of Updraft became birds used to attack and deceive the community in Cloudbound, the sky filled with something sudden.
In the Bone Universe, day turns to half-light and night, and fear becomes danger. In Horizon, where the three narrators span the height of the Bone Universe — from (yes) the ground, to the top of the bone towers, but that first line remains — fear and danger are tied together by the sky, and the lack of things, the birds and all that threatens this community. Danger becomes nightmares.
The birds are few and far between now. The sky is filled with strangers’ dark wings and the space left by missing friends.
In Horizon, three voices pick up the narrative — Kirit, Nat, and an old friend — Wik’s brother, Macal. That first line echoes further now. From Macal’s first words, “Each night our city dreamed of danger, crying out for help I could not give,” to Kirit’s last words…
…. wait, I’m not going to give you those yet because I need to finish this essay and that phrase always makes me choke up.
One thing I love about trilogies is that they allow for the expansion of a single thematic thread across multiple plot arcs and many different experiences. They allow the point of view characters to grow and change. Mary has kindly hosted me as I’ve written about several of those themes over the past three years – from craft issues like writing the middle of Updraft first to thematic threads like disability representation in the Bone Universe. (Thank you so much, Mary!)
Craft and theme go hand-in-hand. There are many lines and themes that weave themselves through Horizon – my unconscious singing to me, perhaps. There are many more that I developed on purpose. These include the theme of community, of using songs to influence change, not just control. The idea that no single community is truly alone. The idea of omission, of what is not said, out of fear, and how that transforms. And the understanding that a community needs all kinds of people in order to survive.
Moreover, third books in trilogies have to tie up a lot of threads, while remaining their own complete piece. As I wove Horizon’s three voices together, I found those threads made interesting patterns. I was never sure which character would get the final chapter either, not until the end of the second draft.
But when I wrote one particular line towards the end of Horizon, I knew the minute I set it down on the blank page of a new chapter that it was the right line, for the book, and for the trilogy.
And that’s why a few of Kirit’s last lines in Horizon are my favorite bit, and I’m going to do a possibly odd thing and share them with you here. Ready?
On a morning like this, joy is a sky filled with birds.
It is the sound of laughter, of wind ruffling a patchwork wing…
So now you know my favorite bit. I hope you find your favorite bit in Horizon, and in the Bone Universe. Hey, maybe drop me a line and tell me what it is!
On your wings,
Fran Wilde’s novels and short stories have been nominated for two Nebula awards and a Hugo, and include her Andre Norton- and Compton-Crook-winning debut novel, Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequels, Cloudbound (2016) and Horizon (2017), and the novelette “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” (Tor.com Publishing 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.