N.L. Bates is joining us today to talk about her short story in the anthology Lofty Mountains. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Look to the skies!
Brave adventurers face new relationships and adversity in all sizes, from steampunk dirigibles to harpies, giant bees to garden gnomes, and winged dinosaurs to sky pirates.
Isolated mountain peaks, clifftop cities, and battles in the sky abound in this sapphic anthology focused on overcoming challenges awaiting in the clouds.
If you like diverse stories with lesbian and sapphic-centric heroines enjoying the thrill of adventure high in the air, buy Lofty Mountains today!
With stories by: Seanan McGuire, Rosiee Thor, Rebecca Kim Wells, Maya Gittelman, Carmen Loup, Sara Codair, William C. Tracy, N.L. Bates, L.R. Gould, Robin C.M. Duncan, and J.S. Fields
What’s N.L.’s favorite bit?
This is totally cheating, but I actually have two favorite bits.
One of my favorite bits is watching how stories evolve. I’m thinking of the 11 wildly different stories this anthology has collected in response to the same premise–we have sky pirates, we have traveling magic schools, we have volcanoes and harpies and giant bees–but I’m also thinking of the way individual stories grow from start to finish, and how my own story ended up in a very different place than where it started.
But saying my favorite bit is “the whole anthology” is definitely cheating, so let’s talk about my story specifically, “Into the Churn.”
The genesis of this story lies with Age-of-Sail-era shipwrecks. Some of those shipwrecks became famous for the amount of wealth they carried, inspiring recovery efforts that took years or even decades. Though the specific ships/shipwrecks that inspired my initial interest never made it onto the page*, imagining that kind of recovery effort was the seed that became “Into the Churn.”
Of course, for an anthology called Lofty Mountains, I couldn’t set the story on the high seas. Instead, I needed something that would bring my characters to dizzying heights. I waffled about whether that thing was sky islands or flying dinosaurs. When I put the question to my critique group, they very sensibly responded: Why not both?
So I had my hook: an old shipwreck that promised mountains of wealth. I had my dizzying heights: a series of floating islands that made recovering said shipwreck a potentially deadly endeavor. And I had my flying dinosaurs, which rapidly became my favorite bit.
I didn’t want to just reinvent the paleontological wheel, so I let my imagination run a little wild when dreaming up these dinosaurs. They have bodies like pteradons, but also long necks and tails, and feathers for a pop of color. They have an organ that metabolizes ambient gasses to help them fly, which actually makes them especially suited for the environment they’re about to fly into. And they have enough smarts to be trainable, which means they’re intelligent enough to have minds of their own.
And I love them. I loved adding little flairs of personality that probably no one but me will notice, like the way their necks puff up when they’re annoyed at something. I loved letting them gesture or vocalize when I needed to take just enough attention off a moment of suspicion or romantic tension (or create just enough emphasis!). I loved the way they gave my protagonist a platform to show off her skills. And I loved being able to introduce them for the first time:
“Bend your knees,” Kirin suggested as the creature hurtled toward them. The force of the heliosaur’s landing sent Natasa stumbling back, and Kirin reached out a hand to steady her. “Meet my friend Noble.”
Noble was easily three times Kirin’s height, even perched on all fours, curious black eyes gazing down at them from the end of a long, swanlike neck. If swans had necks as big around as a person. And that person was a lumberjack.
Variegated wings stretched out from his foreshortened front limbs, almost like a bat’s except for the feathers at the edges and tips. His hide was slate gray and leathery, with blue highlights in his feathers and the fleshy wattle under his chin.
“Go ahead,” Kirin said to Natasa, who stretched out a tentative hand. Noble extended his neck, snuffling at the Wrecker with a beak as long as Kirin was tall.
I had an absolute blast writing these creatures for “Into the Churn.” And if you decide to give Lofty Mountains a try, I hope you’ll love them too.
* In particular, I was thinking about two ships which, though they sailed a few decades apart, shared a name: Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. One of those ships was raided by pirates, the other was wrecked at sea during a storm and inspired decades of recovery efforts. But here’s a fun fact about the first Concepción, the one that made those pirates rich: she was also nicknamed the Cacafuego. I’ll leave the translation of that name to you.
Lofty Mountains book link
N.L. Bates is a Canadian author of science fiction, fantasy, and slipstream stories, and is the moderator of the long-running critique group Reading Excuses. When not writing stories, she enjoys biking, Latin dancing, and tabletop RPGs. She also writes and performs music as her alter ego, Natalie Lynn, and filks occasionally, usually by accident.