#LoveOzYA Q&A with C.S Pacat for DARK RISE
C.S. Pacat is the USA-Today best-selling author of Dark Rise, the Captive Prince trilogy, and the GLAAD-nominated graphic novels Fence.
Born in Australia and educated at the University of Melbourne, C.S. Pacat has since lived in a number of cities, including Tokyo and Perugia, and currently resides and writes in Melbourne.
#LoveOzYA's Maja Rose chatted to C.S Pacat about their latest release, DARK RISE, which is out now!
Without spoilers, can you tell us what DARK RISE is about?
In DARK RISE the heroes and villains of a long-forgotten magical world begin to be reborn in London. A 16-year-old dock boy named Will finds himself at the heart of an ancient battle between Light and Dark. It’s a classic battle between good and evil. At least that’s how it starts. But this is a story where nothing is as it seems.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
DARK RISE is my agonised love letter to those English pastoral fantasies that child-me loved, particularly Lord of the Rings but also Narnia and The Dark Is Rising. I grew up escaping into them, yet as a queer kid, I never saw myself represented by the heroes — the straight(forward) heroes eating hot buttery toast — with the result that the villains fascinated me. What happens when you grow up told that you are destined to be the villain? Will the story of the past play out again or can you fight your fate and forge a new path? These are the questions DARK RISE wrestles with.
One of the things I love about your stories is how unapologetically queer they are. What has your experience been with writing stories that focus on queer romance, and do you think your explorations of queerness have changed at all through your writing journey?
I think what has changed is that my confidence has grown that readers and the publishing industry will back LGBT books. I always wrote unapologetically queer stories, but when I first started out, I was posting them on a blog for free, because queer stories of the kind that I was writing just did not exist on the commercially published shelf.
Yet in the world of online fiction, web serials, web comics and fan fiction there were these enormously popular LGBT juggernauts. It took some time for the world of commercial publishing to catch up. The success of my first series Captive Prince was like a proof of concept that these kinds of books could hit bestseller lists. I learned that there is no need for queer writers to “gatekeep ourselves”, but that instead we can write fearlessly.
You have some very cool hobbies, like fencing and horse riding. Do you find that you get into certain hobbies because of your writing, or do you write about those things because you’re interested in them?
I follow my interests in both writing and life, and love to immerse myself in experiences. I take the attitude of, why not do what you love, and try new things if you can? You never know where it may lead. Writing and hobbies often feed into each other: I was interested in swords and combat, so I took up fencing in high school, but gave it up for tae kwon do in university.
Later, I had the opportunity to write a comic, and so I wrote Fence, which is a queer comic about competitive fencing set at an all boys boarding school. To get the art right, I choreograph fights with an epee coach, and so I started fencing again. The comic brought me back to an early love. In other cases, interests that I explore in books may lead to research which may lead to new hobbies, since I love to throw myself into research experientially - to do the things that my characters are doing. Writing a character trekking across a mountain — why not try it to see what it is really like?
This is your first pure fantasy book. Is that something you’ve always been interested in doing? What is it about fantasy that DARK RISE is interested in exploring?
I love fantasy for its ability to tell extreme stories without the constraints of realism. It’s the genre I’m drawn to the most, for that reason. In DARK RISE, I wanted the chance to tell a truly epic tale - one of those classic battles between good and evil — but then to drastically destabilise it, so that the reader is white-knuckled, “Oh my god, what is going to happen?”
I mentioned earlier that I wanted to engage with the classic English fantasies of my childhood, and playing around with them. For example, I loved Lord of the Rings, but one of the things that feels old fashioned to me now is Tolkien’s biological determinism, where an elf will always be good and an orc will always be bad. I was very interested in — what if an orc could be heroic, what if an elf could betray you? DARK RISE attempts to set up one of those almost old fashioned classic worlds, and then pull out the rug.
Which fantasy writers do you admire and why?
My favourite fantasy read of the last 12 months was Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, which just won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It reminded me of the work of Jorge Luis Borges, who is perhaps my favourite fantasy writer. I thought the feeling that I had reading Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius could never be recaptured, but I found it again in Clarke’s new novel.
I love Borges because of the way his fantasy destabilises our reality.
There are a handful of writers who I read and reread as “teachers” in how to create epic or iconic world building. Those are JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin, and JK Rowling. All three have created worlds and ideas that have seemed to escape their books into our real world, their made up fantasies entering our common language. I aspire to one day write something on that scale.
A handful of books included queer characters that spoke to me directly when I was growing up, including Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey, and Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. I admire those writers for being LGBT fantasy groundbreakers in the 70s and 80s. Some recent LGBT books I have loved and learned from include In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, and Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Both very different books but I am drawn to the way they upset the norms of their genres.
Finally, for the pacing and dynamic storytelling in their work, I admire a lot of the Japanese fantasy writers like Kentaro Miura (Berserk), Tsugumi Ohba (Death Note) and Hajime Isayama (Attack on Titan). I love how extreme, brutal and original their storytelling is, and the fearlessness to write really dark stories.
Your other work has been romance-heavy and although we see signs that there will be more that to come in later instalments of DARK RISE series, in the first novel there’s a particular focus on friendship, and platonic connections. Was that a conscious decision, or one that emerged organically from the story?
It arose organically from the story, but I think I am interested in friendships and found families. They are so often the most important and most enduring relationships in life. At the heart of DARK RISE is the platonic friendship between Will and Violet. I liked the idea of making a deep friendship between a boy and a girl central to the story, because that kind of gender relationship is not something I see often, yet it’s something I love every time I do see it.