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.
Interview with Lindsay Smith - The Witch Who Came in From the Cold
Published: January 25,
2016 | 07:00
The Witch Who Came in from The Cold is launching on January 27th from Serial Box Publishing and is written by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Lindsay: I can’t think of a time I didn’t write! I think my first efforts were rubber stamp set-illustrated retellings of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I didn’t get serious about my writing until I entered the working world, however, and decided it was time to either make a go of it or forever consign writing to “hobby” status. Fortunately, it worked out!
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Lindsay: I’m a reformed (well, reforming) pantser who is now a plotter. I credit this serial project with helping convert me, actually. I love letting a story meander and grow itself organically, but it makes revising hell for me. I’d much rather get it right the first(ish) time, so outlining it is. Outlining also as the benefit of allowing me to draft much faster than I ever did before. It’s like it relieves my brain of the mental load of trying to remember where I’m going next, so I’m free to work quickly and more creatively on a sentence level.
TQ: You are part of a quintet of authors writing the serial novel The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, which you developed with Max Gladstone. What is it like working collaboratively on the serial?
Lindsay: It’s been a fantastic experience! There have been wonderful moments in the brainstorming process where we’ve all independently come to the same conclusion about a plot point without ever really communicating it, but also instances where one member of the team came up with something fantastic that none of the rest of us could have ever dreamed up.
TQ: Tell us about The Witch Who Came in From the Cold?
Lindsay: Witch has a little bit of everything—espionage, betrayal, magic, politics, romance, and some really fantastic villains who are near and dear to my heart. It’s set in 1970 in newly-Sovietized Czechoslovakia, and Prague has become something of a no-man’s land for the Cold War struggle between East and West. We have CIA and KGB operatives running agents in the city, serving various political schemes.
That’s the surface layer. But beneath the spy games and shifting loyalties is a whole other matrix of magic users, some of which belong to the staid, orderly Consortium of Ice, and others who are Acolytes of Flame, who want to watch the world burn and for a new order to rise from its ashes. So you could have members of the Ice who are on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain trying to work together to stop the Flame.
TQ: What sort of research have you done for the serial?
Lindsay: I read a lot about the Prague Spring, in which Czech students fought against Soviet occupation, and the subsequent quelling of those revolts. I gazed longingly at lots and lots of vintage photographs of Prague. I’ve already done extensive research on 1960s Russia for my previous books, Sekret and Skandal, but I reread a few favorites from the era, both fiction and non-fiction, to get back into the Russian voice.
TQ: Give us one or two favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Witch Who Came in From the Cold.
Lindsay: “Sometimes, fear was a necessity. Fear got people to comply.”
TQ: What's next?
Lindsay: Well, we have another season of Witch to get working on pretty soon! Outside of Serial Box, I have a short story in the forthcoming US history-based anthology A Tyranny of Petticoats: 15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers, and Other Bad-ass Girls, which goes on sale in March. My next novel from Macmillan Children’s, A Darkly Beating Heart, will be out in October, and it’s a YA angry bisexual Japanese timeslip revenge story.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Lindsay: Thanks so much for having me!
The Witch Who Came in from the Cold
From the creators of some of today’s most ingenuitive fiction comes this online serial in 13 weekly episodes. Lead Writer Lindsay Smith (Sekret and Skandal) brings her experience writing on foreign affairs in DC to bear at the head of the writers’ room comprised of Ian Tregillis (the Milkweed Triptych), Cassandra Rose Clarke (Our Lady of the Ice), Max Gladstone (Bookburners and the Craft Sequence), and Michael Swanwick (Stations of the Tide).
While the world watches the bitter rivalry between East and West fester along the Iron Curtain, the Consortium of Ice and the Acolytes of Flame continue waging their ancient war of magic. Kept to the shadows, this secret contest crosses the lines of politics and the borders of nations with impunity – the intrigues of spies may know clear sides but the battles of witches spill out over all. Tanya Morozova is a KGB officer and the latest in a long line of Ice witches and sorcerers; Gabe Pritchard is a CIA officer and reluctant Ice recruit. Enemies at one turn, suspicious allies at the next, their relationship is as explosive as the Cold War itself.
Episode 1: “A Long Cold Winter” When a young Czech student is stalked by an inhuman hunter, KGB agent and Ice operative Tanya Morozova must risk all to protect her, while CIA agent Gabe Pritchard learns that some horrors, once seen, can never be forgotten.
Note: Check out the Cyrillic along the left side of the cover. It's a clue and there will be more clues on the upcoming covers - all by Mark Weaver.
Episode 2: “A Voice on the Radio” Tanya and Nadia continue their pursuit of a young Host – drawing the attention of Flame and CIA agents. Gabe tries unsuccessfully to ignore the stirrings of magic around him.
Episode 3: “Double Blind” A high-stakes cat-and-mouse game unfolds across the frozen streets of Prague as Tanya and Nadia employ spycraft and witchcraft alike to elude Flame agents - but Gabe is also on their tail.
Lindsay Smith is the author of the YA historical thrillers Sekret and Skandal, YA fantasy Dreamstrider, and the lead writer for the forthcoming serialized story The Witch Who Came In from the Cold. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and dog, and writes on issues in international cybersecurity.