Are you in the mood for a queer, female-led, sci-fi adventure? I know I am! City of Shattered Light is that adventure, and it just came out! I was delighted to chat with author Claire Winn about what inspired her novel and the process of bringing it to life.
Can you tell us what City of Shattered Light is about?
City of Shattered Light is a neon-drenched young adult sci-fi adventure that’s often compared to Six of Crows and Aurora Rising. It’s led by two fierce girls—a runaway heiress, Asa, who’s fled home to save her test-subject sister, and Riven, a gunslinging smuggler who needs a heck of a bounty to secure her place in one of the city’s matriarchal crime syndicates. The girls clash when one kidnaps the other, but they end up with bigger problems when a brilliant, tech-corrupting A.I. monster locks down the city and begins pursuing them. It has two bisexual leads and major themes of found family, body autonomy, and questions of technological dependencies.
I’m especially intrigued by the concept of Asa having to protect her sister’s digitized mind. How did you come up with that?
Thank you! My initial vision for the book was a girl on a rickety transit ship, hiding her identity and concealing a strange alien heart in her backpack. I worked backwards to determine who Asa was and what had happened to her. I determined that her backpack contained a piece she needed to save her sister, but what piece of her sister was missing? Who’d done this to her? All sorts of awful answers came to mind, and eventually I wrote the lead-up to that scene.
What inspired you to write City of Shattered Light?
Aside from the vision for Asa’s introduction, I had a few other pieces that came together for the initial concept. Riven was a female Doc Holliday-inspired space gunslinger, who feels she’s running out of time and is desperate to make her mark on the world. And something I frequently think about is the damage a superhacker could wreak as more devices go online, and I imagined a nasty, sentient A.I. that had taken over a high-tech city and could hack anything as it pursued the main characters.
The setting and aesthetics were inspired by lots of video games and anime, but the emotional basis for the character arcs was a bit personal. Asa’s arc is about fiercely resisting what the world expects of you and finding happiness on your own terms, while Riven’s is about finding something to fight for despite an uncertain future.
As a fellow nerd, I was excited to find out that you enjoy cosplay, LARPing, video games, nerd conventions and like. Have those hobbies influenced your writing?
Hey, awesome! These hobbies have definitely influenced my writing. Video gaming and LARPing, in particular.
I find video games so helpful for world-building, especially recent AAA titles with an exploration component. So many developers put in countless hours to add details that set the tone for the world and contribute to the overall immersion. The average player might never notice many of these details, and yet they add so much depth. Sinking into video game worlds and noting which details stand out—little things that tell big stories—is so helpful for thinking about how a story world would come to life and present itself on the page.
LARP is interesting because scenes at game can get intense, and even if you’re in character, these scenarios teach you a lot about yourself (and your friends) under pressure. When writing, sometimes it’s tempting to throw your characters a soft pitch or give them an easy way out, but having a variety of challenging experiences at LARP helps me consider high-pressure story scenarios from a more human angle.
Plus, you know, shenanigans. LARP is a constant deluge of side-splitting character interactions.
What was your path to publication?
My first book—a YA fantasy—got decent responses from agents but didn’t ultimately get picked up. I wrote CoSL without many expectations, but I wanted to try something a little different, and I liked the idea of writing a vibrant sci-fi world that felt grounded in our own. I eventually fell in love with the characters, and after a long revise-and-resubmit from the first agent I subbed to (and a few offers of representation), I had an agent. There were some hiccups on submission, but Flux offered in early 2020 and it’s been a great home for this book.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Start writing for yourself. Writing a book is a long, uncertain, and lonely path, and the only guaranteed fan you’ll ever have—the one spending the most time with the story—is you. There’s so much work involved that it’s worth going the distance for a story that resonates with you. Plus, writing something you’re in love with also means there’s a greater chance it’ll find readers who are, too. So start with an idea you’re passionate about and pour your heart into it, even if it feels daunting.
City of Shattered Light sounds like an epic adventure. I’m looking forward to reading it. Where can folks get it?
I can’t wait to hear what you think! It’s available at every major book retailer, though I’ve been making periodic trips to Schuler Books in Michigan to keep them stocked with signed copies (and they ship internationally)!
Where’s the best place to follow you?
I’m pretty active on Twitter and Instagram, though I also have a TikTok where I make ridiculous videos or dish out writing advice. @Atomic_Pixie on Twitter, @clairewinnauthor on Instagram and TikTok 😊
Thanks so much for having me on, Brandie!