In The Ship of Stolen Words, Sam found himself relying a little too much on the word, “sorry.” Goblins had stolen it to help fuel their airships, along with its synonyms. Sam will stop at nothing to get his favorite word back through a whimsical adventure featuring goblins and pirates (I mean, prospectors) and learning the importance of meaning what you say.
A week after release, author Fran Wilde stops by the blog to talk about the process of bringing this heartfelt story to life, including her experience writing stories across markets and genres.
Crafting The Ship
What came first? The characters, the stolen words, the adventure, or something else?
The stolen words came first—as a what if, and a who would do that and why, then Sam, seeing Nana and the pookahs, then Tolver poking his head over the books in the Little Free Library.
Were there other words you were considering to be taken by the goblins as part of the main retrieval?
“Sorry” was the first one, and other apologies came after—because they’re used in so many ways…mostly because I’ve had to work on unlearning saying “sorry” for things that are out of my control myself! (Like the weather, for example—definitely out of my control). This is a longer way of saying that sorry was a particularly loaded word, with a lot of language acquisition and community aspects to work with. The goblins also take other words, but not as often.
Between the first draft and the finished copy, were there any major changes? What had stayed the same?
Oh gosh, yes, tons. But the biggest change was adding Tolver’s point of view. That was at the suggestion of my editor at Abrams, Maggie Lehrman, who realized before I did that the book would be more balanced if we knew Tolver’s side. It was a lot of work to do (a whole extra half of a book!) without adding much in the way of word count, but she was absolutely right. When I saw how dynamic the story became, I couldn’t stop writing it.
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
When [redacted] gets to [redacted] the [redacted]. And also the [redacted] trap. And that first scene with the goblins and Sam and Ms. Malloy by the Little Free Library.
Were there other candidates for The Declension’s name?
I had a lot of fun with the ship names! I wanted them to be language or writing related, and The Declension and The Colophon fit perfectly. I might have a few more up my sleeve.
With The Ship of Stolen Words being your second published middle grade, what differences in process (if any) do you anticipate when you sit down to write middle grade versus adult?
The story comes first, always. If a particular story is heading more middle grade or young adult than adult, I let it go there, and same for adult. Forcing a story to fit a marketing/age category is never going to work for me. Also, I work hard to keep in mind that I’m writing for a particular audience, not at them.
What can we look forward to next?
A couple more short stories out this year for older readers—the novelette, “Unseelie Brothers Ltd.” came out in May at Uncanny Magazine, and “Seed Star” comes out in July at Asimov’s. I’ve just turned in the last of the Gemworld trilogy, The Book of Gems. Most exciting, an illustrated collection of poetry, Clock Star Rose Spine, comes out in late August from Lanternfish press. And I’m working on a few surprises for 2022 and 2023!
What are some books that you are looking forward to reading this year?
On the adult side, there are so many new novels and novellas coming out that I cannot wait to read — Carrie Vaugn’s Questland is on the top of my list, as well as Tochi Oynebuchi’s next book in the Beasts Made of Night series, and P. Djeli Clark’s A Master of Djinn.
Two-time Nebula Award-winner Fran Wilde has (so far) published seven books and over 50 short stories for adults, teens, and kids. Her stories have been finalists for six Nebula Awards, a World Fantasy Award, three Hugo Awards, three Locus Awards, and a Lodestar. They include her Nebula- and Compton Crook-winning debut novel Updraft, and her Nebula-winning, Best of NPR 2019, debut Middle Grade novel Riverland. Her short stories appear in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, Uncanny Magazine, and Jonathan Strahan’s 2020 Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy.
Fran directs the Genre Fiction MFA concentration at Western Colorado University and also writes nonfiction for publications including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Tor.com. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.