Interview: Carrie Patel, Author of ‘The Buried Life’ and ‘Cities and Thrones’

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3271b810aCarrie Patel is the type of writer you’d want by your side when unraveling the complexities of a political uprising or solving a murder mystery. She is laid back, laughs easily and would be a great person to grab a beer with while speaking about the aforementioned mysteries of the universe. FangirlNation.com caught up with Carrie at the end of her day and she graciously answered a few questions for us regarding her two novels, The Buried Life: Recoletta Book 1 and Cities and Thrones: Recoletta Book 2, as well as her work on Project Eternity with Obsidian Entertainment.

FGN: For those who have not read The Buried Life or Cities and Thrones, how would you describe them?

Carrie Patel: The Buried Life is a murder mystery set in an underground city where the study of History has been forbidden. Angry Robot, the publisher, described it as a Science Fantasy and I’m very glad they did because I didn’t know what to call it.  Cities and Thrones is the sequel. It’s more of a political thriller, but it takes place in the same environment and follows the same set of events and characters.

FGN: Did you have fun writing one book more than the other, or were they two very different types of books?

Carrie Patel: You know, they were really different. I think The Buried Life had more of that ‘oh this is my first time’ sense of fun. A first novel is kind of nice, as in you can take you time with it. You’re learning a lot and so there are moments where it’s very frustrating and you’re looking and it and thinking “oh gosh when am I gonna get further with this,” but you do eventually and it’s rewarding to see how far it’s come. Cities and Thrones was my first book under contract and with a deadline. On the one hand it was “this is a good problem to have” but it was really stressful in a lot of ways I didn’t expect. I didn’t have the luxury of kind of figuring out the story on the pace that I wanted. There were definitely times in the middle of the process where I thought like “I think this series of events is right, I think this character arc is right, but something isn’t working and I don’t know what it is” and realizing “well, I’ve got to figure this out soon.”  It was stressful, but in the end I did. What I ended up with, I was even happier with because I feel it reflected my development as a writer, and because it is the second book in a series I was able to go a bit deeper with some of the characters and the complexities of their interactions.

FGN: What was it like world building the city of Recoletta?

Carrie Patel: It was fun. It was one of those things that started with a feeling. The story of how I started writing The Buried Life is I was doing a Study Abroad program in Argentina when I was in college. One of the things that made the biggest impression on me was the Cemetery Recoletta in the city of Buenos Aires. It was just an atmosphere thing; these narrowed cobbled streets and these grand mausoleums. It just felt like a lot of things. I had the feelings, but just not the logical connections between them. So, then it was a lot of sitting and playing with the idea to tease out a logic of what kind of characters; what kind of problems would this world have; What kind of complexes would the characters have? I think that process of finding the synergies between a setting and a story and a characters and the themes where they all jive together is a lot of fun.

Recoleta-tower-TM

Cemeterio de Recoletta, Bueno Aires

FGN: I was reading on your blog, when you were in college you were at Texas A&M studying International Affairs with an emphasis on National Security.  Why the change to writing?

Cities and Thrones by Carrie Patel CoverCarrie Patel: You know I don’t know. I feel like it might be a trait of our generation that we’re all going to do a bunch of different things and what we end up doing is not necessarily what we studied. I think there was a part of me that was always between this kind of, writing was always my creative jam and International Affairs was kind of my practical jam. I went back and forth between “well what do I want to do, what can I do, where am I going to find work.” I think for a while I thought I’d try to enter something like the Foreign Service, or you know like do something that allowed me to travel and got me into International Affairs. In the end, I wanted a little big more control over where I was and what I was doing, so you know that’s how I ended up in transfer pricing. I decided I kind of want to pick where I live and not be told where I’m going to live every two years. It sounds exciting, but I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to do right now. Writing as a hobby developed into “lets give this a go” and here’s where I am now.

FGN: Do you feel like International Affairs has inspired any particular parts of your books and stories?

Carrie Patel: I think yes. The International Affairs comes up more in Cities and Thrones. The Buried Life is very much about Recoletta, and Cities and Thrones is The Buried Life Coverabout what happens in Recoletta after the first book and how that affects relationships in particular with other city states. They see this big change happening and thing “oh, this could be bad for us” and “oh, what are we doing about it.” In that sense of saying when something happens what are the consequences? Everything that happens in a book, or any story really, should have a ripple effect; a character makes a big decision, a large event happens. It’s tempting to say these are the immediate effects I want to talk about, but I think you find a lot of interesting things when you look at second and third order events; what continues moving, and what are the dynamics that it creates in the story. I think that’s something you definitely think about with International Affairs. When you see how economic policy in one country affects the economy in another, or how the decisions made by one government affect the decisions made by another. Thinking with that kind of depth and attention to detail creates a more interesting story and definitely helps you find conflict, which is a good thing.

FGN: You recently were reading at Borderlands Books and also Barnes and Noble in San Jose. What has it been like to travel as a writer and what have your fan reactions been like?

Carrie Patel: It’s a lot of fun. I think where I am in my career it’s more sort of when I’m traveling I’m looking for opportunities to go to book stores, and signings, and do readings. The burden is definitely on me to look for these opportunities, but it’s a good thing. I did a reading at Writers with Drinks. It’s an event up in San Francisco hosted by Charlie Jane Anders and it happens once a month. She was kind enough to invite me to read last weekend. I thought “I’m in San Francisco so lets go sign at Borderlands and then go to Barnes and Noble in San Jose. Do all the things.” It’s fun. It can be exhausting, though. I think for anyone who is in a similar position it’s important to find where your limits are and kind of set some reasonable goals, because I know people who travel most weekends a year which seem most unfathomable to me right now. You have to balance this stuff with your personal life and in the case of many people, myself included, you have to balance it with a day job too.  I think just managing it so you’re productive and preventing a burn out, and really just looking for opportunities to magnify what you’re already doing much more really goes a long way.

FGN: Speaking of day jobs, I saw recently on your Twitter page that you recently celebrated two years working with Obsidian Entertainment. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do on a daily basis with Obsidian?

Carrie Patel: I’m a Narrative Designer. That means that myself, other Narrative Designers and our Narrative Lead are responsible for coming up with story, characters and developing the setting on the conceptual level. On the implementation level we do writing for dialogue, journal entries, examinables- you know in a game when you’re walking around in a world and you see something and go oh what’s that, that text. We do anything that has to do with story, writing and characters.

FGN: And you worked on Project Eternity? What was it like seeing that Kickstarter come through successfully and what was it like creating that world?

Pillars of Eternity Scene

From Pillars of Eternity’s website

Carrie Patel: When I joined the project they were already in production, so it was at least a year after the Kickstarter initially happened. The paper designs were mostly there, the tweaking and review were still going on, but mostly we were working on getting the content together. You know, getting it to look really good, getting it in the game, trying to create a good player experience. It was definitely interesting because it was my first industry project, working on a Kickstarter game for your own IP when you don’t have a Publisher, and I don’t think we had one at the time,  is completely different from working directly under a Publisher. I was learning a lot on the job and had all the world and lore documents to read on day one. It was a lot of “here’s the tools, and read these and GO.” It was fun, but it’s definitely one of those things where week one you think “I’m starting to get the hang of this” and week 2 you’re feeling exponentially better than week 1. It’s a lot of fast ramping up. It was obvious that everyone had a lot of passion for the project and what it meant as a return to this classic style of RPG gaming, and as a project that was very personal for Obsidian.
FGN: When you’re writing for either Obsidian or your own personal work, do you have any particular rituals that you follow before writing?

Carrie Patel: Sort of. I’m not super formalized about them, but I tend to form habits and just keep doing a lot of the same things. I guess that is a ritual. I have my desk at my apartment here, so I try to get up a couple hours early during the week. You know, get up, get cleaned up, dressed, eat breakfast and then have 1 or 2 hours to just write.  I’ll make myself an espresso in the morning or the night before. I’ll put it in the fridge because I’m one of those weird people who likes it cold; pour some milk in it and have myself a little latte. Sit in the morning, get a little writing done, sip my beverage, go to work, come back from work. Sometimes I bring my computer with me because I’ve realized that sometimes I get more done if I just find a place to camp out instead of coming home and fixing dinner, doing laundry and doing all the things that end up taking time.

It’s a couple hours in the morning, and then sometimes a couple hours in the evening, which is flexible depending on what happens to get done. If there’s nothing urgent at work I’ll take my lunch break and get a little bit done there too. The biggest ritual for me is making time and finding a place that is comfortable and quiet where I have a little big of privacy. For me, that usually means at home but as you know, Southern California is lovely and I’m happy to live and work in a place where I can find a nice little coffee shop and just work there.

FGN: On your profile of your blog you also mention you’re a fan of beer. What kind of beer? All beer?

Carrie Patel: I feel like I hit beer moods. I like a lot of stouts and porters, so I feel like that’s usually a good standby for me. I guess for me the most everyday drinkable is an Amber. I love Fat Tire. Fat Tire is, I guess, my go to. My husband is a huge IPA fan, so everyonce in a while I’ll get an IPA urge. Oh my goodness, in the last couple of years I discovered that I really like sours. Have you had sours? So good. Nice, tart, fruity kind of sour is delicious.

FGN: Are you working on anything currently that you can tell us about?

Carrie Patel: I am. We have announced that we’re coming out with the White March Part 2, which is the second part of our expansion for Pillars of Eternity, so I can confirm therefore that I’m working on that. We’ve actually been doing a few short stories set in the Pillars Universe. The very first one I wrote is set on Sagani, which is one of the companions I wrote. We have other stories that have come out by Paul Kirsch and Eric Fenstermaker, our narrative lead and just the other day I turned in a story for Aloth, which will hopefully be out in the next few days.

FGN: Where can our readers follow your exploits and signings?

Carrie Patel: On Twitter I’m @Carrie_Patel. I’m probably most active on that ,but not as active as some writers. Whenever I do events, I try to post those on my blog which is  ElectronicInkBlog.com. If anyone wants to see where I’m going to be and what I’m going to be doing, those are the places to go.

The Buried Life: Recoletta Book 1 and Cities and Thrones: Recoletta Book 2 are now available from Angry Robot Publishing. Carrie Patel’s short stories can be found on the Project Eternity website here.

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