If you’re looking for rad world-building, a meticulous blend of science fiction and fantasy, and compelling characters, look no further than Plague Birds. To save her village, Crista becomes a plague bird, a powerful justiciar whose blood-bound to an AI. While there are conspiracies galore, the real danger hits much closer to home than initially anticipated.
A week before release, I’m excited to have author Jason Sanford visit the blog to talk about the origins of this intense story, his publishing journey, and what we can look forward to next.
Crafting Plague Birds
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I’ve long been a fan of science fantasies that merge the science fiction and epic dark fantasy genres. I also believe our world is increasingly living within that famous quote “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So that’s where the world of Plague Birds first originated, as my attempt to create an epic tale while also exploring where emerging technologies such as genetic manipulation and artificial intelligence might take humanity.
But once I started writing, everything quickly grew far beyond what I’d initially conceived.
However, Plague Birds is first and foremost a very personal story, of finding your place and your family no matter how strange or disturbing the world around you might be. This is Crista’s story and she insisted on certain paths that I couldn’t have planned beforehand. I’m a firm believer in authors respecting and listening to the characters they create. Crista is a character without whom this story couldn’t exist.
How did you go about crafting the world of plague birds and town-wide AI?
I started with the villages overseen by individual artificial intelligences. Because the book’s AIs are both very ethereal and powerful, I used primary colors tied to each AI to provide a strong visual cue for readers. For example, the calm AI in charge of Crista’s home village is named Blue and this AI literally glows blue. The various plague birds are similarly noted by both wearing red clothes and having striking red hair and red glowing lines on their faces, which warns the entire world to fear them.
From there I created the other aspects of this future world. I don’t want to give too many details for fear of spoiling the story, but I had so much fun creating this world.
Did you have a favorite scene or moment to write?
The scenes between Crista and her father. They love each other so deeply. And her father wants so badly to protect her even as he knows he can no longer do so. My father suffers from a medical condition that is destroying who he is piece by piece. Every time I talk to him it’s like a little more of him is gone. So the scenes between Crista and her father really resonated with me. At this point I can’t even go back and reread those scenes because they overwhelm me with emotions.
What were revisions like for this book?
Hell, pure hell. Plague Birds started out as a short story that was published in the British magazine Interzone. Readers really liked the story, which won the magazine’s annual readers’ poll for best story of the year.
I later used an altered version of that story as the first few chapters of the novel and plotted and wrote the rest of the book. However, after completing that initial draft I realized I’d messed up some major aspects of the story and a complete rewrite and reworking of the novel was needed. I really wished I’d realized these issues before writing that first draft. But I was committed to the story so I did the rewrite, which took longer to write than the initial draft.
I love how the novel eventually turned out, even though I took a far longer road with my writing than originally planned. But sometimes that’s how it goes.
Is Plague Birds your first novel?
Yes and no. Plague Birds is my first published novel but not the first novel I’ve written. I have two trunked novels, one finished and the other about 75% completed. Neither of these novels worked out but there were great learning experiences for me.
What are you working on now?
I’m completing the final story in my Blood Grains universe. The first story, “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories,” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and was a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Novelette. I’ve since published two more stories in BCS set in this universe, each told from the point of view of a different character. My intention is for this final story to wrap up the overall story arc.
Can you tell me a bit about your experience working with Apex Books?
I’ve loved working with Apex. Plague Birds is an unusual novel and I felt a smaller press like Apex might give it a better shot at reaching readers. Plus, I love that Jason Sizemore and the Apex staff were willing to take a chance on my novel. They involved me in all aspects of the book process including being able to share my ideas and feedback with Marcela Bolívar, who created the novel’s stunning cover art.
Do you have any recommendations or books coming out soon that you’re excited about?
I’m currently reading On the Origins of Species and Other Stories by Kim Bo-Young and highly recommend people check out her short fiction, which is just now being translated into English. I also have A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark on my to-be-read pile and am looking forward to reading it. I also highly recommend Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard and Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon, both of which came out earlier this year.
Jason Sanford is a three-time finalist for the Nebula Award who has published dozens of stories in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Interzone, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Fireside Magazine along with appearances in multiple year’s best compilations along with The New Voices of Science Fiction. He is also a finalist for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for his Genre Grapevine column. Jason currently works in the media industry in the Midwestern United States. His previous experience includes work as an archaeologist and as a Peace Corps Volunteer. His website is www.jasonsanford.com.