[Excerpted from a to-be-published interview with The Independent Kindle Reader blog]
The title hints at the Egyptian theme of the book.
And I’m not even 100% sure how to pronounce it. Egyptian written language wasn’t big on vowels, so the concept involved in the book is actually written out as rswt. Supply your own vowels. Spoken language isn’t preserved in the archaeological record, so this book could be called raswet, or riswat, or reswut. I liked the feel of reswyt, so that’s what I ran with.
Where did the concept behind the book come from?
Insomnia. (Laughs). No, seriously – after our twins were born, it completely blew apart my sleep schedule, obviously, and it took a long, long time to get back on it, and at that point, I found I’d developed this odd new quirk of waking up around 3AM every night. This went on for years and years, and it was really disruptive. It was too late in the night to take anything, but too early to try and get any meaningful work done, so there were a lot of lie-awake nights. So I started doing a ton of research into sleep disorders, and their effects on people, and it just so happened that one night, I learned this odd bit of trivia as I read – that, during REM sleep, the human body’s muscles are essentially paralyzed, with the exception of the basics – breathing and such. And, serendipitously enough, when you’re sleep-deprived, your brain starts coming up with all sorts of offbeat comments during your usual internal monologue; so at some point I wondered why this was the case, that REM locked up your muscular system, and a little voice said, “because your mind can only control one set of muscles at a time, and it’s off somewhere controlling another set.” And that was the genesis of the basic idea.
Where did it go from there?
At some point, the anthropologist mind took over, and I started to research how different cultures looked at sleep. Amazing stuff. And the Egyptian perspective just leapt off the page at me – that, at least in pre-Ptolemaic Egypt, in the Dynastic period, sleep was considered a place you went to work things out during your day, to discover your capabilities and limitations and learn oracular knowledge. Add in the Egyptian preference for totemization, and it just all started coming out onto the page.
Sabine’s a little different from the modern archetype of the female protagonist…
Well, the book is not meant as a literary riposte to the current memes out there in fantasy; it’s simply something different. There’s no shortage of maiden-in-distress content out there to be consumed, and it’s popular, and that’s fine, but that wasn’t what I wanted this book to be. I wanted Reswyt to have a sort of sullied-fairy tale quality to it, and among the many points I wanted to introduce was making her actions the main actions, and her decisions the important ones. Evynder and Brummbar and, later, Horus are important characters, but Sabine makes things happen in the book. The war against the wolves is stalled, for example, until Sabine meets the hawks on their aerie. And it’s Sabine that rescues Evynder in the book, not the other way around. And while she does some pretty amazing things once she gets her feet under her, her primary weapon is her intelligence – the research time she puts in, her willingness to dig and investigate.
…and so is the Black Queen.
She was great fun to write. I wanted her to have a real origin story, as opposed to just flinging a cardboard-cutout evil autarch into a fantasy realm and setting her up as an antagonist out of Central Casting. This is someone who’s really not comfortable in her – his – skin, and that’s the case from the moment we meet the precursor character in Egypt in 1874.
It’s intimated that her time in the dreaming realm has driven her at least partially insane.
Not that she – he– started off with a full deck. (Laughs). But yes – that’s part of the theme of interpretation in the book. The S’aakhu, like the Kher-senu, is, in essence, a mirror for the soul. It condenses you into a sort of lowest common denominator and releases you into a world to explore. But in actuality, you’re exploring yourself. In the case of the Queen, the precursor character was an ardent admirer of the violent insanity of the fictional Queen in Through the Looking-Glass. The Kher-Senu sees that in him and manifests him as a living form of that character.
Transformation and change are core aspects of the book.
Very much so – the wheels within wheels of transformation and change in our lives. Change in our lives transforms the people we are; and transformation, in turn, changes our perspective on the world we occupy. For Sabine, the prism of transformation has become water. She uses it repeatedly in the book to return to a simpler, more stable time in our lives. We all do that, I think, in one form or another – it’s the basis of nostalgia. Brummbar is transformed through his interactions with Sabine. Horus is redeemed, in his own eyes, anyway; Dylan’s is a redemption story, too. Moravin has been transformed, but does not fully comprehend his new surroundings.
Speaking of Moravin – I wanted to hear more about the process of creating him.
It’s a great deal of fun to create a world, especially one with very different rules, because your mind starts asking questions, one of which was what’s the most dangerous entity that could exist in this world? You can’t really argue that it’s a manifested animal, because confrontation and combat are part of the fabric of the realm Sabine visits. There’s nothing unnatural in a lion killing a gazelle, or in a wolf defeating a bear, or vice versa – that’s as true here as it is there. But put an entity into a dreaming world, where no one ever stays longer than a few hours at a time, and give that entity organizing capacity and agency, and you have a problem. The Queen is part of that, but until she manages to subjugate Moravin, she’s unable to do much beyond organize the wolves. Moravin gives her more –ultimately, a great deal more, as we see through the Queen’s interactions with Moloch.
You can stop there…
I’m trying my best not to spoiler anything.
And, outside of all that, the outer arc of the story is a girl struggling with the death of her father.
That shows up in the ‘terraforming’ that Sabine is doing in the dreaming realm. The things that appear there – the beach stones, the longtail ginger…ultimately, the Perseids…they’re all tied to her positive memories of her father. Ultimately, left alone, I’m sure – at some level – Sabine would subconsciously want the dreaming realm to become Oregon, complete with her father alive again. But she realizes how dangerous that would be.
The book does not end on a definite ‘up’ note. Without giving anything away, it’s apparent that things will be changing in the war within the dreaming realm.
That’s true. Reswyt is the first of a planned trilogy; I’m looking forward to releasing the second book in 2012, and the third in 2013, if my writing schedule goes as planned.
Any hints you can provide for interested readers at this point?
You had the best one I could probably give: that things are going to change, very quickly. Sabine is going to have to grow into a role as a leader in the dreaming realm, and she will have to do it without one of her key allies. And not the one you think. (Laughs).