Surprise! It’s Ash and Quill’s release day, so fans of the Great Library series can finally know what happens next in this exciting series. I had the opportunity to read Ash and Quill, and reviewed it just last week – you can read it here. But today, just in time for the launch, the amazing Rachel Caine dropped by to answer all of our questions!
R: I bet you get this question a lot, but where did the inspiration for The Great Library series come from?
RC: Various pieces of this story have been kicking around in my head for near on 15 years; I’ve renamed characters, changed historical periods, added magic, removed it, shifted genres … and it wasn’t until I saw a news story on TV about a man carrying a stack of books out of a city being bombed that I realized what I was really looking for was him … a man dedicated to saving knowledge. At first, I thought he was fleeing the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, but then I realized that he was from the Great Library, saving books instead of people. And then it all came together.
R: The series won’t be a trilogy, but five books – so exciting! That ending was so exciting, and threw the entire series on its head. Any clues you can give us about what to expect from the next two novels?
RC: It really was a head-spinner, wasn’t it? Sorry about that, but then again, I think it definitely takes the whole story in a brand new direction. If the first volume was Boarding School, and the second was This is War, then the third is Escape Death, and the fourth is Spy Game, with the fifth and final being Save It All. That’s as broad as I can make it, but I think that’s pretty accurate!
R: The world is quite different in this series than our world that we know. As an author, you’ve probably imagined quite a few details to the worldbuilding that never made it into the books. Are there any you’d be willing to share with us?
RC: Absolutely! Yes, I did quite a bit of back-end worldbuilding that only exists for my own entertainment, to be honest, and to help build out the world in my imagination. I did end up using some of it two short stories I’ve posted on Wattpad, “Stormcrow” (about Scholar Wolfe’s earlier years) and “Tigers in the Cage” (about his Obscurist mother and father). I had built in a history of the Library of Pergamum (in Turkey), which was a key rival to the power of the Great Library at Alexandria; they were rivals in almost everything, including acquisition of key scholars and their works. I got to slip in a bit of it in Ash and Quill as a story that gets told to illustrate the lengths Scholars will go to, to save knowledge. I’m still building the world, adding inventors and suppressed discoveries, satellite libraries, all manner of stories that help keep things interesting.
R: How do you see exploration in this alternate universe? Has Australia been discovered, for example? If you could explore one country in your world, which one would it be?
RC: That’s an amazing question, and I think exploration would be more aggressive, not less; the preservation of knowledge means that word of discoveries gets quickly disseminated, innovations in regard to shipbuilding and sailing and navigation all become easily discovered. Trade becomes more important. But, of course, the Great Library is also at the same time suppressing information, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find that some key places might never be revealed at all.
I’d love to visit Alexandria. I’ve always loved the history of Egypt, and to see it preserved and modernized at the height of its innovation and power? That’s a can’t-miss trip.
R: The duality of the library is really important in the third book. Our little crew are lovers of books and learning, but the institution they work for has become corrupt. If you lived in this world, would you work for the library, or side with the burners? Or something entirely different?
RC: I like to think I’d be a Librarian. I wouldn’t know anything about the knowledge that’s being held back, but I would care deeply about the preservation of knowledge. I’m certainly not cut out for High Garda work, and certainly if I got information about the Black Archives and the vast discoveries the Library was holding back, I might certainly defect along with Jess’s group! But I can’t see myself on the sidelines.
R: Morgan is starting to become a little scary in this last book. Or, at least, leading towards something dark. Just how powerful can Obscurists really become?
RC: I think that’s the question: how dangerous is she going to be? Because Obscurists have been circumscribed by layers and layers of rules and rituals, and Morgan’s rogue gift was already very strong. Now that she’s gone places that Obscurists are expressly forbidden not to touch, what’s she going to become? And how does that change the Iron Tower, and the Obscurists inside it?
I know I’m answer questions with questions, but it’s such an interesting journey, and certainly dangerous, that I believe the answers will be murky for a while. Morgan’s heart is good. But I’m not sure it can hold out against the power she’s wielding now.
R: What place do fiction authors have in your world?
RC: They have a fantastic life. The Great Library pays their salaries and provides them with living quarters in Alexandria, should they wish to move there. There’s quite an author community there. But, of course, the Library also controls fiction, just as they control non-fiction. So there’s certainly a tradeoff, if you as a fiction author venture too close to forbidden territory.
R: What is your favorite part of writing? And what’s you’re least favorite part?
RC: I love the process, even though it can be physically tough on the body (it’s very desk-bound!) and it’s also kind of hell on your social life. But I wouldn’t trade for the opportunity to create these worlds and live in them for a while, all by myself. That’s just sheer fun. (And agony, when it isn’t working. But mostly fun.)
Getting to hang out with readers and other authors is also fantastic fun. Tours can be exhausting but they’re so rewarding.
I guess the only least favorite part of writing for me is the time I don’t get to do normal social things. My friends all know I try to keep up, but often I go weeks without seeing anyone but my husband and the people living in my head.
Okay, sometimes being able to time money coming in and out is aggravating, because there are no such things are regular (or even predictable) paychecks in the writing business. But still. Such freedom!
R: Any tips for readers out there who might want to become writers and authors?
RC: Mostly, I tell people to just write. There’s no better way to start than to just … start. Write something. Then write something else. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s publishable, because it almost certainly isn’t when you first start out. Entertain yourself. Passion shines through.
When you’ve reached a level where you feel you’re ready to get feedback, start with friends, then graduate to strangers. Then move on to a writer’s conference or groups to get semi-pro or professional feedback, and learn more about the business you’re entering … because it is a business, not just an art. You’ll need to understand the industry, and how you fit into it, to really make your way and make good decisions.
But never stop writing.
R: If you could meet any of your characters (from the Great Library series) face to face for coffee, who would they be?
RC: Without a doubt, Scholar Wolfe. He’d probably bring Captain Santi, which is also fine. They’d have amazing stories to tell, though Wolfe would probably insult me half the time. They seem like good people to get to know.
Thanks so much for letting me talk about The Great Library! I’m off to read … and probably write.
Thank you, Rachel Caine! Her latest book, Ash and Quill, hits shelves today, July 11th! And if you want to start at the very beginning, pick up Ink and Bone anywhere books are sold.