C. L. Clark is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Unbroken. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In an epic fantasy unlike any other, two women clash in a world full of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire.
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.
What’s C. L. Clarks’s favorite bit?
One of my favorite things to do while writing The Unbroken was to focus on how characters embodied their physicality. In my past life, I was a personal trainer and a rugby player, and even now I’m a runner with a chronic hip injury and a lifter who had to have shoulder surgery–so let’s just say I’m really attuned to the ways bodies can perform beyond our expectations and how they feel when they…ahem. Don’t.
And so in The Unbroken, I really enjoyed getting into how the characters moved in their bodies and how they felt about them and the grief said bodies were giving them at any given time. And because how we feel in our physical space is also impacted by what–and who–is around us, I really loved writing anytime the characters crossed the boundaries to become parts of each other’s physical sensations. This includes, yes, kissing–which is a good bit, I’ll admit!–but it’s not my favorite of this bit. No, my favorites are two–or maybe three, if your definition is as lenient as mine–dancing scenes.
The first, Touraine, our soldier, finds herself dancing with someone she’s repulsed by, surrounded by people who look down on her. Have you ever found yourself stuck holding hands–or even brushing arms–with someone you can’t stand? Or someone who makes you feel unsafe? There’s a visceral full-body cringe that you have to at the same time hide if you’re supposed to be “playing nice.” And so our physically confident soldier is suddenly awkward and bumbling, out of her element in more than one way.
By contrast, the second dance is in a group, by invitation and choice, not coercion. Touraine catches the steps easily, but it is Princess Luca whose body we feel as she learns and stumbles and is held up through her joy and fatigue and, yes, pain–but something I wanted to capture is the euphoria that sometimes comes with bodies in community. I’ve always loved dancing as an art, but I also think there’s nothing quite like hitting a dancefloor with a bunch of strangers you have some cultural connection with (and culture can be as broad as you want it to be here), and leaving it sweaty and spent and pleasantly aching.
And on the topic of aching…the last dance I’ll mention is an extreme boundary breaching of the fist-swinging, high-kicking kind. When Touraine gets into a fistfight with one of the rebel leaders, their punches are backed with the weight of their generations’ traumas, and so when those punches landed, I wanted the blows to be present on their skin, in the body, just like so much trauma is. Secondary in this scene, though, is that I also just wanted to write a woman who enjoyed the physical violence her body was capable of. It’s a kind of strength that’s usually limited to glorious depictions of male warriors, and I wanted to change that expectation. So here we see Touraine as someone who knows her craft–hurting someone–and has an expert’s familiarity with her tool–her body. (This scene has a bit more nuance still, but you’ll get no spoilers, here!)
At the end of it all, writing about the body is my favorite bit in part because it’s the receptor through which I perceive and act out my emotions. Most importantly, though, how we carry our bodies through space and around other people is such a huge part of a stratified society and I enjoyed using that to build richer dynamics in The Unbroken.
C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA. 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 short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle and Uncanny.