Please welcome Cassandra Rose Clarke to The Qwillery.
A few years ago I reread Stephen King’s The Stand. There is a character in that book who’s supposed to be from a small town a couple hundred miles outside of Houston. As I grew up in that area, I know it well. So imagine my surprise when the character’s hometown was routinely described as a desert, and the character is astonished at the bright green grass growing in the midwest.
Reader, east Texas is in a forest.
As much as I enjoy Stephen King’s writing, that one erroneous detail pulled me out of the story every time I saw it. I didn’t understand how King could get it so wrong. Houston is three hours from the Louisiana border! Would anyone claim that Louisiana is a desert? And yet the myth of Texas-as-desert—which stems from the landscape in West Texas, a ten-hour drive from Houston—overwhelmed the reality.
I’ve kept this incident in the back of my mind as I’ve worked through seasons one and two of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold. You see, Cold Witch takes place in Prague, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, in 1970. I have never been to Prague, and I was born in 1983. Which means I had a potential Houston-is-a-desert situation on my hands.
Prague as a setting for our story makes a lot of sense. Historically, it was a sort of halfway point between the Soviet Union and the West, a place where spies and dignitaries from both sides of the Iron Curtain could mix, mingle, and generally get all up in each other’s business (sneakily, of course). Cold Witch is centered very much around the intersection of that division, with our Western hero and our Soviet heroine having to work as allies in the similarly-divided magical rift between Ice and Flame. So just as Prague was an important way station during the Cold War, we made it an equally important convergent point for our world of magic and sorcery.
Sadly, none of this solves the problem of me having never been to Prague. Personally, I would love to go to Prague. I adore traveling and I’ve always wanted to see Eastern Europe—but such as a trip is prohibitively expensive for me. I was unwilling to just make stuff up and hope for the best, and I certainly didn’t want to make any mistakes on the same level King’s insistence that Houston is in the desert. So what did I do?
First off, Cold Witch is a collaborative project, so while I’d never been to Prague, two of the other writers had. Besides that, our head writer, Lindsay Smith, studied Russia extensively in college—both the language, the history, and the culture. So I was able to pull from their knowledge as I worked through my episodes. Another thing that I found surprisingly useful was the simple fact of growing up where I did; the small towns dotting the central Texas landscape were settled in large part by Czech immigrants. Czech heritage festivals are a common occurrence around these parts, and kolaces of varying quality will show up in any locally-owned donut shop. Obviously, enjoying the fragments of Czech culture that have seeped into Texas culture are not remotely the same thing as actually visiting Prague, but they did serve as a thin connection to the world I was writing about.
But perhaps the most useful tool was a technological one: Google Street View. I honestly am not sure how writers managed without it (certainly, if Stephen King had been able to get his hands on Google Street View when he was writing The Stand, we wouldn’t have wound up with that Houston-has-no-trees situation). Google Maps in generally is pretty helpful, because it allows me to get a sense of the layout of the city and to pick out street names and important buildings. But Street View takes that a step further, since it means I can actually look at the city and navigate around it. Again, it’s not the same as visiting, but with just a few clicks of my mouse I’m able to get a visual feel of a place over five thousand miles away.
So that’s how I’ve managed to cobble together a sense of Prague for Cold Witch. I hope one day to travel there in person, walk across Charles Bridge, and find out if I did anything as embarrassing as turning a forest into a desert.
The Witch Who Came in From The Cold is the fantasy-espionage thriller from Serial Box. This serial is collaboratively written and available in text and audio via SerialBox.com, their iOS app, and all major eBook retailers. Lead by foreign-affairs expert Lindsay Smith (Sekret) and Urban Fantasy-pioneer Max Gladstone (Three Parts Dead), this season’s author team is rounded out by Cassandra Rose Clark (Our Lady of the Ice), Ian Tregillis (The Milkweed Triptych), and Nebula-nominated Fran Wilde (Updraft).
Welcome to Prague, 1970: the epicenter in a struggle of spies and sorcerers. The Witch Who Came In From The Cold follows agents on opposing sides of two struggles: the Cold War, and an ancient conflict between two occult secret societies: the Consortium of Ice and the Acolytes of Flame. A CIA and KGB agent will find their loyalties to country tested when they realize they must work together to prevent the destruction of the world at the hands of the Flame. Gabe Pritchard, grizzled CIA agent and proud American never believed in sorcery - until he walked into the wrong room in Cairo and ended up with a powerful magical Elemental living inside his head. Tanya Morozova, latest in a long line of Ice Witches, knew loyalty to the Consortium before she ever took up the KGB badge. Now they’re both stationed to Prague, a city built on powerful ley lines and thrumming with both political and magical tension. In Season One, a CIA extraction of a Soviet scientist ended in chaos when one of the American operatives betrayed the U.S. in order to deliver the magically-powerful scientist to the Flame. Tanya and Gabe worked together to foil the plot - but trust is hard to come by amongst spies and suspicion lingers throughout their agencies, both magical and national. In Season Two, Tanya and Gabe must deal with the fallout of their actions from Season One as each plays their own dangerous game to try to learn the secrets of the Flame without getting burned. Meanwhile a powerful sorcerer arrives in Prague to lead a ritual that could turn the tides of war...
This serial first premiered in 2016 and launches its second season on today, February 8! You can dive right into Season 1 Episode 1 for free right now - but anyone new to the snow and shadows will find more than enough context to enjoy the adventure from Season 2 on.
Intrigued? Hop over to SerialBox.com to learn more, start reading Season 1, or pre-order your pass to Season 2. From now through April, a new episode of this tale of spies and spells will drop every Wednesday.