In conversation with... Tristan Palmgren

Hi Tristan! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of Quietus. Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you, and thank you for having me! QUIETUS is a mashup of historical fiction and space opera, set in Europe during the Black Death. Dr. Habidah Shen, an anthropologist from another universe, has come to ours to find guidance for how her people should react to a plague ravaging her own worlds. When she finds Niccoluccio, a young Carthusian monk and the only survivor of his monastery, she is unable to maintain her neutrality and saves his life. Habidah discovers that neither her home's plague nor her assignment on Niccolucio's world are as she's been led to believe.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it develop before your eyes as the characters grew on the page and did something that you were not expecting?

A: It was a little of both. I outline my novels but, as time goes on and I get more comfortable with the project, I stop referring to the outline. I’ve started to accept that’s how I work. In my newest project, I outlined the beginning in excruciating detail and the ending only as a sketch. Doing things this way also frees me to write about those elements of it that I discover along the way.

For example - and mild spoiler for QUIETUS - in my original outline, Habidah and her team were much friendlier with each other than they ended up being. It was only after working with them for a while that I realize how prickly they could be with each other, and that Habidah was willing to sacrifice much more than they were.

What kind of research did you have to carry out for this novel? Which aspect of it did you enjoy the most?

A: Lots of reading! I had decided I wanted to read more about the Black Death before I realized I was going to write about it. The book had its genesis in Barbara Tuchman’s A DISTANT MIRROR: THE CALAMITOUS 14TH CENTURY. Tuchman is a novelist’s historian, and pays close attention to setting, to character, and - when she can verify it - to feeling. Her book is not about the Black Death, and only spends a chapter or two with it, but she so well captured the feeling of apocalypse that I could not get my mind off it.

After deciding I wanted to write about the Black Death, the rest of the story developed after a number of trips to book stores and libraries. I’m fortunate to have a spouse in academia. Living near university libraries has been wonderful.

If this novel could be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Habidah and Niccoluccio?

A: I wish I were more film-literate than I am. Who can look, in every possible situation, like they’re just holding themselves together? Who’s good at looking like they’re always fighting a stress headache and sleep deprivation? My suggestion box is open.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: Medieval monasteries are a different world than mine. While I went to pains try to get Niccoluccio’s life, perspective, and world “right,” there are elements of Carthusian devotion that I will never understand. Reading about and researching medieval monasticism was a wonderful opportunity, though, and I feel I understand a great deal more about medieval European life in general.  

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: My first outline for QUIETUS followed the plague for years rather than months, and tracked through 1349 and 1350 as the plague reached England and Scandinavia. Going to those places would have just been an excuse to use some of my research about the area, though, and eventually I realized that the book’s scope was large enough as it was. Now QUIETUS focuses on Italy, with a few forays to the nearer parts of France and Germany.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: The follow-up to QUIETUS, called TERMINUS, will be coming out November, 2018! It’s set thirty years after the first book, during another traumatic period of Italian history: the wars of the condottieri, the freelance soldiers and raiders who ravaged the Italian countryside for decades. A plague orphan has taken control of a company of condottieri, and is spearheading a spiritual movement that aims to reshape the world in reach of her sword. Someone is trying to kill the planarship Ways and Means’s crewwoman Osia, and ex-spy Meloku. They’re cut off from all help, and must go to ground among the condottieri to discover what’s happening.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: Social media is a pest, and I’ll flatly admit it’s gotten in the way of my writing. The temptation to check something that’s always moving, always insisting you’re being left behind, is insidious and disruptive. There are plenty of good things about Twitter, but they only seem to make the rest more addictive. I’m trying to pull myself gently back, but it’s an ongoing project.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Write for yourself before you write for others. That’s not because you’ll necessarily produce better work that way, but because it’s the only way to fortify yourself against the flood of rejection and indifference that most writers face throughout their careers. Expectations and professional jealousy can wreck you. I see the completed story on my hard drive as my first, most important goal, and everything afterward as a nice-to-have.

Thank you for your time!


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