My Favorite Bit: Alexandra Rowland talks about A CHOIR OF LIES
Alexandra Rowland is joining us today to talk about their novel A Choir of Lies. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A young storyteller must embrace his own skills—and the power of stories—to save a nation from economic ruin, in the standalone sequel to A Conspiracy of Truths.
Three years ago, Ylfing watched his master-Chant tear a nation apart with nothing but the words on his tongue. Now Ylfing is all alone in a new realm, brokenhearted and grieving—but a Chant in his own right, employed as a translator to a wealthy merchant of luxury goods, Sterre de Waeyer. But Ylfing has been struggling to come to terms with what his master did, with the audiences he’s been alienated from, and with the stories he can no longer trust himself to tell.
That is, until Ylfing’s employer finds out what he is, what he does, and what he knows. At Sterre’s command, Ylfing begins telling stories once more, fanning the city into a mania for a few shipments of an exotic flower. The prices skyrocket, but when disaster looms, Ylfing must face what he has done and decide who he wants to be: a man who walks away and lets the city shatter, as his master did? Or will he embrace the power of story to save ten thousand lives?
With a memorable cast of characters, starring a fan-favorite from A Conspiracy of Truths, and a timely message, Choir of Lies reminds us that the words we wield can bring destruction—or salvation.
What is Alexandra’s favorite bit?
The world kind of sucks right now. So many of us—millions of us—feel left behind by our society, our communities, even our families. We see governments prioritizing the vanity of the few and the wealthy over the basic welfare of the many and the poor. We see corporations exploiting their workers and their customers for the sake of profit.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I wrote my favorite bit of A CHOIR OF LIES, and because of spoilers I’m going to have to describe it vaguely:
There is a character. They have the opportunity to choose between supporting their community (at great personal cost) or turning away and protecting themselves and what they have already gained. It is not an easy choice. They are very, very afraid.
I was afraid too, writing that scene. I knew what choice I wanted the character to make—of course I wanted them to choose in favor of their community. But I had dreadful fantasies of people reading that scene and telling me it wasn’t realistic. After all, why would anyone choose sacrifice?
“But,” I said, stomping my feet like a child in a tantrum, “I WANT them to make the right and moral choice, even though it’s hard. I want to live in a world where more people do that. But they won’t unless someone shows them that it’s possible, and what else are stories FOR but to show us extraordinary possibility?”
We are told, in ways sometimes fear-mongering and sometimes well-meaning, to put on our own oxygen masks before helping the person next to us. In many contexts, this is a prudent and sensible way to sort out our priorities. We can take care of other people better if we have taken care of ourselves first—making sure our basic needs are met, making sure that we have the emotional and physical energy to do the work, and so on.
But sometimes we encounter a terrifying version of the Trolley Problem. You know the basic one, of course: Pick whether the trolley runs over one person tied up on Track A, or five people tied up on Track B. The logical choice is, of course, to sacrifice one life to save five. But what if you’re the one person on Track A? What do you choose then? Save your own life or save five strangers?
Fortunately, real life doesn’t work like an ethics homework problem most of the time. Being kind and helping the person next to you doesn’t usually have an impossibly-high price tag on it. The thing about kindness is that it pays for itself—if you do enough of it, eventually it starts coming back to you. As it turns out, you can save the five people on Track B, and then there’s a chance that they’ll turn around and save you too. It doesn’t have to come at a high cost to one person. Quite the opposite—sometimes it can enrich everyone.
A CHOIR OF LIES has a theme running through it of the “one little thing”—the thing you do for someone that is utterly inconsequential to you but which, to them, means the world. It is the hand offered to help them up when they’ve tripped, or a moment of love and commiseration on a day when they were sad and lonely, or the loud belly-laugh at a joke they thought no one would notice. Opportunities to make big, costly sacrifices for the greater good might come along once in a lifetime, and I guarantee you that if you ever face one, it is going to seem like an impossible choice. You might turn away. You might have to put on your own oxygen mask first. But in between all those rare, earth-shattering opportunities for choice are the hundreds and thousands of moments of the one-little-thing.
So maybe my favorite bit of this book—this character’s moment of uncertainty, teetering on the cusp of possibility—is unrealistic. Maybe no one in real life is good or strong enough to face the Trolley Problem when they’re the one on the tracks.
But… if it’s unrealistic, I’m okay with it. Kindness doesn’t always come easily or naturally to me. It’s something that I have to work at, an active choice that I have to make when the prospect of being catty or dismissive or mean is sitting right in front of me like a big slice of chocolate cake. But with every story I hear of someone doing a great act of kindness, and every time I see someone holding firm to their honor and goodness because it matters more to them than their stupid pride, it gets a little easier for me to do the same. Witnessing the extraordinary, even in fiction, brings the ordinary into much easier reach. That’s what I tried to do with my favorite bit of CHOIR OF LIES. That scene was as much to save my own soul as it was for any other purpose. I needed it. Maybe you need it too.
Alexandra Rowland grew up on a sailboat in the Bahamas and then in a house in Florida. Sick to death of the tropics, they attended Truman State University in northern Missouri, where they studied world literature, mythology, and folklore. They now live in western Massachusetts where they work as an (occasional) bespoke seamstress and writer under the stern supervision of their feline quality control manager. They can be found on Twitter as @_alexrowland.
They are represented by Britt Siess of Martin Literary Management.