Fran Wilde learns to fly with debut novel ‘Updraft’

     Detail from the cover image of 'Updraft.

    Detail from the cover image of 'Updraft." (Tor Books)

    The cable television fantasy drama “Game of Thrones” features one of the most awe-inspiring opening sequences on television today. The map of Westeros comes alive as castles, towers, bridges and trees grind and unfold and spiral upward to take shape before your eyes. The incredible sequence comes to mind when I read Fran Wilde’s imaginative tale, “Updraft” (Tor Books).

    “Updraft” is the tale of Kirit, a young girl following in her mother’s footsteps learning to fly without first earning her wings in a city built entirely of a living bone. This world of wilding torrents bolstering lives of courage and betrayal wraps around muscle, tissue and sinew. Anatomy plays a big part in creating a tale of wonder and adventure in this thrilling debut which sees Wilde graduate confidently from short stories to full-length novels.

    Fran sat down with The Black Tribbles to share some interesting details behind the world-building in “Updraft” and reveal the real reason behind her fascination with cooking in fiction.

    Len: What’s the concept behind creating a city of living bone?

    Fran: The city lives in towers of living bone, above the clouds. The past is lost legend and “down” is associated with danger. The clouds are so thick that anyone who goes into them never really comes back.

    Len: So the people associate everything below as “oooh, don’t go there.”

    Fran: Yes. There are terrifying predators below; it’s dark, very scary. But the thing about the towers is that, inside, in order to support themselves, they have a central core that grows out[wards] so the space to live on the towers in lost and you have to move up in order to survive. It’s a self-generated problem that they have to keep going up for safety.

    Len: At its heart, the book is about Kirit making her way in the city. I’m forgetting the name of the city.

    Fran: The towers have names but the city is just called “the city.” Kirit lives in a tower named Densira, in the northwest quadrant, out on the edge. So she’s out “in the sticks.”

    Erik: So is that the suburbs?

    Fran: No. (laughs) As you get closer to the center, you get closer to a tower called the Spire. The Spire is different than the other towers. Instead of a central core, it has an outside wall so it’s kind of grown in reverse than the rest of the towers. The people that live in the Spire are called Singers, who make sure that everyone obeys the rules, they control who gets bridges; they set the laws. They are the final arbiters of who gets to fly in the city, which has to stay in their quadrants. Because they have this fortress of a tower, instead of a central core, there’s a giant space that has nothing but wind in it where they fly some very fierce battles.

    Len: and Kirit …?

    Fran: Kirit is waiting to take the wing-test so she can become a trader like her mother, flying from tower to tower [as a carrier/trader]. It’s fairly important, because if you become really good at it, you can gain a lot of Tower marks [money] and gain a great deal of respect. Her mother has been doing this for quite some time and, due to some misfortune which befell the family some time ago, has “raised the family” up the tower by her bootstraps.

    Len: So Mom is her role model.

    Fran: She’s her hero, and it’s tough. They don’t always get along; the relationship is certainly not perfect. There’s a lot of mutual respect but her Mom wants to also protect Kirit, who’s way too old for that. She’s not really interested in being coddled. And she’s not really so good at following orders, so she breaks a law and the hurt comes down on her tower, herself, and her best friend Nat.

    Len: What’s “Cooking the Books” all about? Where did this start?

    Fran: This started from a conversation with Steven Gould [the author of “Exo“] at a writer’s workshop about food and recipes. I joked about my in-laws giving me a very old book that contained a few joke recipes. They were diplomats, and this was one of those that got passed around the diplomatic community.

    It had things like “cobra stew,” and there was one for “How to cook an elephant.” The first line was “first, cut elephant into bite-size pieces.” It was a complicated recipe done in very poor taste, but when I said that, Steven said “that sounds like how to write a novel.” I thought that’s really interesting, because you do have to sort of cut it up into small pieces in order to get it done.

    Kennedy: Right.

    Fran: I don’t know if you can tell but [while] I’m loud, I’m pretty shy at the same time. I’m pretty nervous talking to people that I really like. I wanted to think of a way I could keep having conversations with people and ask them about craft and about the things they were writing without being too obvious. So I thought I’ll talk to them about food because everybody likes to talk about food — about what they’re eating, about the foods that they hate, funny food. Everybody uses food in different ways in their writing.

    One of my interviews was with Joe Haldeman [“The Forever War“] and I was prepared for days because I was so nervous to talk to him. We were going to talk about MRE’s [meals ready to eat] because he served in Vietnam, a lot of his writing has food in it and he’s a big cook. We got on Skype [for the interview] getting ready to talk, and he leans in and says “So, you wanna talk about how to make pizza in a foxhole using plastique?” I threw out all my notes and said “Go!”

    Kennedy: Pizza … in a foxhole … using plastique.

    Fran: Apparently if you do it right, it heats very slowly, and you can cook with it. But it’s also easy to get dramatically wrong.

    Jason: You think? (laughing)

    Len: Check out “Updraft” by Fran Wilde, from Tor Books and hitting bookstores now.

    Fran: Like a giant invisible flying carnivorous cephalopod, in fact.

    I can’t believe I just said that.

    Kennedy: That’s okay … nerd.

    The Black Tribbles: [chanting] One of us. One of us. ONE OF US!

    And with that, author Fran Wilde took the Tribble Oath of Allegiance and will be known now and forevermore inside Tribble Nation as Up Tribble as the trumpets sounds, the swallows sing and the bathing in sacred oils commences.

    Each month, Philadelphia’s prolific podcasters, the Black Tribbles visit Speak Easy with special reports on everything sci-fi, comic books, movies, video games, cartoons, and other stuff that every nerd needs to know.

    Subscribe to the Black Tribbles’ podcast, “Tribble Nation,” on iTunes and Pod-o-matic. “Tribble Nation” is a monthly podcast focusing on the geek in every color imaginable, from scientist to author, from comic book artist to comic book collector. Each episode features an interview with a special guest and a review of current topics within his or her field of geek interest.

    The Black Tribbles are: Jason Richardson, aka Spider-Tribble; Len Webb, aka BatTribble;Kennedy Allen, aka Storm Tribble; Erik Darden, aka Master Tribble; and Randy Green, aka Super Tribble.

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