Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Corry L. Lee?
When I find something I love, I throw all-in. All my life, I’ve loved speculative fiction (writing and reading), but I also have a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard (smashing electrons and anti-electrons in a massive particle accelerator!), and I’ve been a data scientist for Amazon (making the customer experience better, through science!). I love physical activity that quiets my mind and challenges my body — rock climbing, yoga, and nordic skiing. And I’m a mom.
Your debut novel, Weave the Lightning, is due to be published by Solaris in April. It looks really cool: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
It’s about learning to control your magic and your choices. Figuring out who to trust and what trust costs. It’s about hope and romance and fighting fascism. And it takes place in a travelling circus.
Here’s the blurb:
EMPIRE. REVOLUTION. MAGIC.
Gerrit is the son of Bourshkanya’s Supreme-General. Despite his powerful storm-affinity and the State’s best training, he can’t control his magic. To escape the brutal consequences, he runs.
Celka is a travelling circus performer, hiding both her link to the underground and her storm-affinity from the prying eyes of the secret police. But Gerrit’s arrival threatens to expose everything: her magic, her family, and the people they protect.
The storms have returned, and everything will change.
Weave the Lightning is book one of a trilogy. Because revolution takes more than a single book.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Building a novel or series is like making a star — I need to accrete matter from all around until it reaches a critical mass to ignite.
I typically have some core idea (here it was the magic system), then I go searching for bits and pieces that fit, that excite me, that make the whole more than the sum of its parts. For Weave the Lightning…
On a trip to LA, I started talking with the man ahead of me in a long line at Starbucks. He’d recently moved to the US, and I asked him what he thought. “It’s great,” he said. “Here, the secret police can’t break into your home in the middle of the night and arrest your family.”
Compared to Los Angeles’ glittery spectacle, that horror felt all the more visceral.
In a library, I found a beautiful book on the circus. One black and white photograph showed a young woman dressed like a flapper, the mottled coils of a python wrapping her waist and shoulders. The caption said, “The big snakes, when well fed, are docile and not dangerous.” I loved that caveat, loved the calm defiance in her stare.
I swirled those together with a magic system that would create social mobility and erase the hard lines often drawn between men and women. Contrasting Russian-flavored fascism against the circus’ spectacle, I explored how that world would shape a young person’s dreams — on both sides of State oppression — and what it would take to give them the will to fight.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I was steeped in speculative fiction before I breathed air. My parents named me after a character in a B science fiction movie about bird people. We were a Star Trek and Star Wars family. I pulled Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama off my dad’s stack of science fiction novels and read it in fifth grade.
I was hooked young.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It’s an industry that requires a lot of patience, a lot of willingness to pick yourself back up after you throw your heart out into the world only for people to dismiss it. But I love writing, I love building new worlds and bringing new characters to life, so… I guess it’s the place for me.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I revise a lot. I love revision.
It means my first draft can be messy and full of question marks and scenes where I skip the hard parts (for me, that’s description of people and places). Then I step back. I look at the whole and see the clever (or not so clever) connections I made — and the ones I almost made.
My first revision involves re-writing vast swaths of the book — like 80%. I’m hoping that fraction will diminish (because it takes a freaking long time), but I often find that even “small” changes have huge repercussions, throwing scenes enough off-kilter that they’re better if I draft them anew. And the book always ends up so much stronger after the (near) blank-page re-write that it’s hard to complain.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I wrote my first “novel” on loose-leaf notebook paper in fifth grade — it involved sentient moose in a symbiotic relationship with rock-barnacles growing on their fur. From then on, I took every spare moment dreaming up and writing stories.
In my twenties, I persuaded my Ph.D. advisor to grant me a 6-week hiatus from research to attend Odyssey, the Fantasy Writing Workshop, and that changed my life. Jeanne Cavelos (who runs the workshop) taught me the tools to hone my craft and up-level my writing. I consider Odyssey the tipping point for me in becoming a professional writer.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I’m so excited by the changes we’re seeing in the genre right now. With more work available from marginalized voices — women, people of color, queer authors, etc. — the genre is blossoming. I’ve been delighted by science fiction recently, with authors like Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee, Nnedi Okorafor, and Arkady Martine expanding the genre’s borders.
If I had to choose spiritual shelf-neighbors for Weave the Lightning, I’d nestle it in with Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, Brent Week’s Lightbringer series, and Rachel Caine’s The Great Library series. It’s character-driven with a rich, Russian-inspired world and plenty of action; magic interacts with 1910s-era technology; and the writing is lyrical while remaining accessible. Driven by magic that doesn’t discriminate on gender or sexual orientation, the society doesn’t either. Despite the fascist state, Weave the Lightning is essentially hopeful.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m revising Weave the Lightning’s sequel, The Storm’s Betrayal, and plotting the last book of the trilogy.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
K. A. Doore’s excellent novel The Perfect Assassin.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Arkady Martine’s debut science fiction novel A Memory Called Empire blew me away. I love it unreservedly, which doesn’t happen often. Also, it’s nominated for a Nebula!
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I grew up in a small, conservative town in the mountains of Colorado. The view was amazing, the rest… I escaped.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Wrapping up the Weave the Lightning series.
Book 2 opens up the world in exciting ways, and the fight for Bourshkanya’s freedom is heating up. This year I’ll write book 3 and, from what I’ve outlined so far, it’s going to be awesome! I can’t wait to share the finished series.