Please welcome Carrie Patel back to the blog! I asked her to tell us a little bit more about the world of Recolleta, the underground city featured in The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones. Enjoy!
When I began writing The Buried Life, I started with the underground city of Recoletta, the setting for the novel. It felt like an unusual way to begin—characters and plot seemed like the most natural starting points.
Yet it was the image of wide, majestic caverns and gaslit tunnels that stuck in my head, and those images shaped Jane, Malone, Arnault, and the rest of the characters, as well as the mystery in which they’d find themselves embroiled.
Setting is the backdrop for the action, the mold for the characters, and the glue that binds the rest of the story elements together. As I discovered during the writing process, a deep and compelling setting can resolve many of the other plot- and character-related questions that often come up.
But even the most unconventional settings begin with a flash of inspiration, either in the real world or in another work of fiction. And the mélange of sources that influence a fictional world are often diverse and surprising. Here are some of the sources I mined while developing my subterranean metropolis, Recoletta:
Architecture school – I spent my freshman year of college studying architecture. I changed majors when I realized I was more of a language arts person than a visual arts person, but many of the concepts I was introduced to stuck with me.
One of these concepts was “negative space.”
Positive space is the physical, tactile, or otherwise “full” portion of a work of art. Think of it as the columns of a building, the figures in a painting, or the marble of a sculpture.
Negative space is all of the stuff around that.
It provides balance and pacing to a work of art. It’s the space where our eye rests as it travels across an image. In architecture, it’s the area we inhabit. For a place like Recoletta, which is formed through subtractive processes rather than additive ones, thinking in terms of negative space is critical.
The Phantom of the Opera – This remains one of my favorite musicals, and I first saw it around the time I was working on the original draft of The Buried Life. One of the aspects that fascinated me was the juxtaposition of the baroque opulence of the opera house and the ruined grandeur of the Phantom’s underground lair.
The opera house is a place where wealthy nobles, prestigious singers, and lowly chorus girls all rub shoulders. These aren’t people who would normally associate with one another, yet the setting unites them under one roof and forces them to act and interact together. The tension between these people and the contrast between their relative stations was something I carried into Recoletta, which has its own strict social hierarchy.
More importantly, the opera house sits on top of the Phantom’s strange and shadowy hideout, where silk drapes and brocade curtains lend an air of salvaged opulence to a dark and dangerous place.
Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel about Mars colonization is an ambitious and epic story about pioneers, politics, and (spoilers) revolution. One of the most fascinating aspects is watching how Mars transforms from a barren, inhospitable planet to a scientific outpost to an embattled federation of corporate hubs, research stations, and cities.
Mars becomes a political battleground as scientists, settlers, and executives fight to define the future of the planet. What’s at stake isn’t merely territory; it’s purpose and direction.
The Recoletta that appears in Cities and Thrones is not the same city that readers visit in The Buried Life. It’s been transformed by the powers at work around it, and it continues to evolve as players within and without vie for control.
About The Buried Life:
The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.
When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…
About Cities and Thrones:
In the fantastical, gaslit underground city of Recoletta, oligarchs from foreign states and revolutionaries from the farming communes vie for power in the wake of the city’s coup. The dark, forbidden knowledge of how the city came to be founded has been released into the world for all to read, and now someone must pay.
Inspector Liesl Malone is on her toes, trying to keep the peace, and Arnault’s spy ring is more active than ever. Has the city’s increased access to knowledge put the citizens in even more danger? Allegiances change, long-held beliefs are adjusted, and things are about to get messy!