Do you like fantasy? Are you looking for some mystery and horror? Look no further than The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore. This delightful murder book is set in a city protected by pylons from treacherous sand dunes, featuring several levels of political intrigue and a wonderfully inclusive cast of characters. In this interview, Kai shares her favorite pieces of world-building and her journey towards giving us the gift of Amastan and Ghadid.
Creating the World of Ghadid
What came first: the world or the characters?
For this book, the world. But that’s only because I’d already written Book 2—so I had 99% of the world-building done already. Technically, I also already had Amastan as a character, but he wasn’t fully fleshed out beyond a few pages of plot and a name.
For the trilogy in general, it was the characters—I had two of them at odds with each other, and their story is what coalesced in Book 2. The very genesis was a single scene on a rooftop, well before Ghadid, let alone Amastan, existed.
Where did the inspiration for the world come from? I am thoroughly spooked by the jaan.
100% living in the Sonoran desert. When we moved to Arizona, I was skeptical at first, but pretty quickly fell head-over-heels in love with the desert. Coming from relatively wet climates, I was amazed by how much could survive and even thrive in such a seemingly harsh environment. So when I found myself in need of a completely new story to write, picking a desert to build it in was only logical.
Of course if you’ve been to the Sonoran desert, you know it’s nothing like the desert around Ghadid. That blame lies in my accidental research into dunes. Once I learned that dunes not only migrate, but often devour entire cities, I started thinking about ways to avoid such a sandy fate. That quickly led to stilts which led to pylons which led to Ghadid.
The jaan are a mixture of research into the common beliefs of desert cultures and that oppressive silence when you’re alone in the middle of nowhere and you can see for miles and miles and nothing’s moving, not even the wind, and it’s so hot your brain’s starting to fry.
I really like how you presented Amastan’s asexuality without using modern terminology. I’d love to hear more about that process, especially given that it’s a secondary world fantasy.
Like Amastan, I’m a historian at heart. I studied Classics in undergrad and one of my favorite classes involved breaking apart the ancients’ understanding of sexuality. To avoid a five page essay, let’s just say the modern understanding of sexuality is, well, modern. It’s also very cultural, and I couldn’t come up with a plausible, cultural reason why Ghadid would have terms like ace or lesbian or bi. I also, honestly, didn’t want to. It would mean seeing them as different or other, when I wanted to build a world that wasn’t homophobic. And in a city that is physically limited in size and has a tradition of healers, the pressure to have kids just isn’t that strong.
What is your favorite piece of world-building?
The glasswork. Glass becomes more important in later books, but I really liked making that a major economic part of Ghadid, and then exploring the ways that the importance of glass then plays out in their language and culture. It’s extremely unlucky to break glass, for instance, which is why “shards” is so often used as a curse.
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
It’s difficult not to give spoilers for this one, but I love that last rooftop scene at the end, with Amastan and his cousins. I must have rewrote the ending from scratch completely three or four times and it wasn’t until I realized Amastan had to confront a certain person that the rest of the ending finally came together as it is now. It was one of those “gasp, of course that’s what he would do” moments and it still gives me chills to re-read.
The Road to Publishing
Is The Perfect Assassin your first novel?
No—I queried two books unsuccessfully and wrote several more that never reached the querying stage and signed with my agent for a different book—The Impossible Contract aka What Is Now Book Two.
It’s been an interesting, if at times meandering, path.
Is there anything you know now that you wish you could tell past!Kai?
I wish I could tell her it would all work out, but I’m afraid that would sap her drive. Instead, I’d probably just tell her she’s on the right path, and to keep writing what she loves, and stop worrying about not pursuing a masters degree.
What other projects are on the horizon after The Perfect Assassin?
Well, there’s the aforementioned The Impossible Contract coming out soon (so soon!) after TPA. I’m polishing up final edits on book 3, aka The Unconquered City, which is due out in summer 2020. After that, I’ve got two projects in mind that go in two entirely different directions. We’ll just have to see!
With The Impossible Contract coming out in November, what are some books you’d recommend we read to keep the book hangover at bay?
If you want fun:
The Guns Above and By Fire Above, both by Robyn Bennis. They are hilarious and witty and snarky and at the same time, full of heart, and I love them both dearly. Bennis somehow manages to make airship fights—which can often involve a lot of slow turning and long-distance chases—riveting and tense. These are both great, quick reads—or listens! The audiobooks are very well-narrated.
If you want creepy:
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling comes out in April (!!), and it is a creepy af sci-fi caving horror with some queer characters. Everybody’s a little messed up in the best way, and Starling legit keeps you guessing what’s real. I made the mistake of reading this late at night in the dark. Don’t be me.
If you want sweet world-building:
Updraft and the rest of the Bone Universe trilogy by Fran Wilde. If you thought pylons were cool, you’ll love this city built within spines that puncture the clouds, where everyone has to learn how to fly or risk plummeting to an unknown demise, where history is sung—and easily manipulated—and where invisible predators roam your skies with lots of sharp, pointy teeth.
K.A. Doore grew up in Florida, but has since lived in lush Washington, arid Arizona, and cherry-infused Michigan. While recovering from climate whiplash, she’s raised chickens, learned entirely too much about property assessment, photographed cacti, and now develops online trainings, none of which has anything to do with—perhaps has everything to do with—her BA in Classics. Follow her on Twitter. The Perfect Assassin comes out March 19th and can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, my local indie Unabridged Books, and wherever books are sold.