This post is a two-parter: read my review of The Buried Life soon (like maybe tomorrow).
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I’ve known Carrie for some time, having been lucky enough to meet her and read her work at a writer’s meetup here in Houston. It was clear to me from the beginning that Carrie takes her work as an author seriously, and that dedication to the craft shines through in her debut novel.
The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.
When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…
I had the chance to talk to Carrie briefly at this summer’s Apollocon in between panels and events, and she graciously agreed to take a few minutes from her busy schedule to answer a few questions for me and my readers. Many thanks to Carrie for stopping by, and please, go check out her book – and remember to review it!
1. First question, and always the hardest for most authors: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your book, The Buried Life.
I’m a narrative designer for Obsidian Entertainment as well as a novelist, which means I write dialogue and story for computer games by day and speculative fiction stories whenever I can. The Buried Life is my debut novel, and it follows a pair of detectives and a laundress hunting a murderer in an underground city.
2. You’ve taken an oft-told story – that of a murder investigation – and turned it on its ear by putting in a massive, gas-lit, underground city. How did this particular idea come to you?
I fell in love with the setting first and then figured out the kind of story I could tell about it. I loved the idea of a city mired in secrets and decadence and filled with people who were (mostly) willfully oblivious to their own unique history. Starting from there, a mystery seemed like the most natural story to tell.
3. What’s the most challenging part of being a writer, for you?
Weaving a tight, believable plot. So much has to come together for a plot to work—the individual events have to be interesting and have to form a logical and compelling sequence, characters must have enough agency to act and enough vulnerability to face danger, and all of the characters and factions have to be motivated to do the things that actually comprise the plot. So, there are plenty of places where the process can go wrong.
It really depends on the story. The more complex the plot is, the more I need to plan and outline, which I’ve definitely had to do for The Buried Life and its sequel, Cities and Thrones. I like to know the overall plot arc as well as the story arcs for individual characters, so I generally need a rough idea of most of the scenes in the book.
5. You’re a narrative designer for videogames as well. Can you explain some of the differences in writing for games versus writing a novel and what brought you to that creative outlet?
The collaborative aspect is one big difference, and another is that story doesn’t usually come first in games (though the extent to which this is true varies a lot, of course). In most games, the story supports and complements gameplay, fleshes out the world, and gives the player context for her actions. Working out a narrative that fits the constraints of a particular game is often one of the most fun parts of the process.
As for how I got into it, I’ve been a gamer about as long as I’ve been a reader. A lot of my formative gaming experiences were with the old Sierra adventure games, so I’ve always been interested in games as interactive fiction.
6. I was lucky enough to be part of a writing group with you previously. Do you feel writing groups are advantageous for writers? Why?
Definitely. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, and writing groups help foster a sense of community and collective motivation. Critique groups in particular are helpful, too, because they give writers fresh perspectives on their work. They’re also good (and relatively gentle) training grounds for toughening a writer up for critical and editorial feedback.
7. Angry Robot, your publisher, is one of the larger independents. What was the process like, working with an indie publisher?
Angry Robot has been fantastic. Their staff, from the editors to the interns, are incredibly passionate and friendly, and I’ve been lucky to work with them. One (pleasant) surprise has been the speed at which they move—I signed a contract with them in November and had The Buried Life scheduled for release less than ten months later, which is quite fast in the publishing industry.
8. Now that The Buried Life is on its way to stores, shelves, and e-readers of all kinds, what’s in the works for your readers?
Right now, I’m working on Cities and Thrones, which picks up after the end of The Buried Life and addresses the many consequences of events in the first book. Soon, I also plan to return to a draft of a near-future Mars colonization novel, which I shared with a few members of our common writing group!
About Carrie Patel
Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and worked in transfer pricing at Ernst & Young for two years.
She now works as a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, where the only season is Always Perfect.