Marissa chats with Corry L. Lee about her debut fantasy novel WEAVE THE LIGHTNING, as well as building a system of magic and what we can learn from having to rewrite an entire manuscript.
Marissa chats with Corry L. Lee about her debut fantasy novel WEAVE THE LIGHTNING, as well as building a system of magic and what we can learn from having to rewrite an entire manuscript.
Marissa Meyer: 0:06
there. Hello, friends, and welcome to the Happy Writer. A podcast. It aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Mayer. Thanks so much for joining me. I hope you guys are all staying healthy and safe in this ongoing season of Corona virus. Today's guest is a Seattle based author who also happens to be a really, really dear friend of mine. Ah, in the time before Cove in 19 we used to be able to get together and write together and have writing dates, and our kids had play dates, and it was also fun. And of course, we're not doing that right now. Um, so I'm missing her and in a lot of my writer friends a lot right now, which makes me doubly happy that I can have her on today's show to talk about her new novel. The book is called We've the Lightning. It is her debut novel. It came out on April 7th, and it is a fantasy that's been described as a Russian accented night circus here to tell us all about it. Please welcome Cory Lee so wonderful to be here. Yes. I'm so glad that we could talk virtually talk. Not quite as good as in person, but I know it's not what we can right now, but it's nice to hear your voice. I've missed you. Me too. Yeah. How are things? How is your in Seattle? I mean, you are. I'm into coma, so I'm a little outside of the hot spot. But you aren't right in the heart of the city. How are things going? Pretty good.
Corry L. Lee: 1:47
I made the mistake of walking around Green Lake, which is a local urban lake with a walking path around it. And it was surprisingly busy and very hard to keep social distancing. So now I am making sure to stick Teoh neighborhood streets and, uh, wave to neighbors
Marissa Meyer: 2:04
from afar. I'm surprised that it was busy. I feel like a this point. Everything, like, is a ghost town whenever I've gone out. Yeah, it's not as
Corry L. Lee: 2:13
much of a ghost pound in the city. It's I would expect. I guess maybe it's the population density, but, um, yeah, hopefully, hopefully it's becoming more of a ghost town because I
Marissa Meyer: 2:23
was a little nervous, nervous making? Yeah, sure. Sure I can. I also wonder like so here we are, Maybe, like, almost three weeks into this. Um, at the time of recording this And so maybe, like, the novelty of quarantine has started to wear off for some people. And you see that some people might be like, What's the risk of gold? Um, obviously not the listeners of this podcast. We all know better social distance. Keep your distance. Um, OK, your book is coming out on April 7th or probably is already out because I think this podcast, uh, isn't gonna go up for a little while. Still, um, tell us. We've the lightning. Tell us about it.
Corry L. Lee: 3:10
Yes. So it is takes place in a Russian inspired fascist state, and magic from storms is returning decades early, and in theory, all majors are controlled by the state. Um, the book follows a young woman named Sulka who is a resistance fighter and has some treasonous secrets that she's hiding from the state, and Garrett, who was trained as a major by the state, and he's just starting to learn to think for himself. So the book is sort of about figuring out who to trust and what trust costs. Um, and it takes place mostly in the traveling circus. I
Marissa Meyer: 3:50
love anything to do with circuses. Me too. Because that's what were some of your inspirations for that setting. Well, so the Russian
Corry L. Lee: 3:59
side of things came from I met this man talking to somebody in a line at Starbucks. The horror, um, and and I was in l A and so I was like, This is weird. Already being here. Ah, and and And he was recently moved to L. A. From, um
Marissa Meyer: 4:18
it was Belarus, but it was a former
Corry L. Lee: 4:19
Soviet bloc country. And I was like, Whoa, what do you think? This has got to be really different. And he said, I love it here. The secret police can't burst into your house in the middle of the night and drag away your family on. I was like, Whoa, very different from the like. Glitz of sort of Hollywood have, Which is what I was on, um, and so that that kind of was one of the seeds and the other seed What was actually I was looking through Ah, just through books in a library and came across this amazing picture of a young woman kind of in like, 19 twenties like flapper outfit with this giant python wrapped around her. And the caption said, The big snakes win Well, fed are docile and not dangerous. And
Marissa Meyer: 5:08
Corry L. Lee: 5:08
loved that I was like, OK, these these things, how can they go together and have amazing magic? And yes, so we have the lightning was kind of born from that
Marissa Meyer: 5:21
I'm trying to wrap my head around. You're fine, but of course I e, um, out of the circus. I mean, especially in the old days when people would, you know, put their heads in the mouths of tigers. Ah, and things, which is that still happening in the world? There is that, like, digs. I know circuses, obviously, and the animal welfare of circuses have. There's been so much controversy and talking about the human humane, inhumane treatments. Eso I don't I don't know where we are kind of with circuses in modern day. Yeah, I don't I mean, I think
Corry L. Lee: 6:01
here in the US the the animals, animals in the circus is not really a thing so much anymore. I
Marissa Meyer: 6:07
Corry L. Lee: 6:08
about the rest of the world, though. I mean, there's definitely, like you still here about, like, we're sketchy animal zoos here and there. They get shut down and stuff. So, um, I don't know. I think there's that appeal of seeing the exotic beasts, and sometimes people are willing to overlook the moral issues there. Yeah. No. And
Marissa Meyer: 6:33
I think that's you're absolutely right and have been throughout history and, of course, continue to be today. But I like to think that it's one of those cheap things that is changing this time. Yeah, I think it's definitely gotten better. Yeah. Yeah. At least there's more awareness, which wasn't always the first step to things getting better. Yeah. What was your research like for this book? Um, I have I read a bunch of circus books. Obviously, Uh, guess they're like Circus Soleil or anything. Yeah, Yeah. I mean, I that that
Corry L. Lee: 7:06
wasn't so much like specifically because of this book So much is that I enjoy doing that anyway, but I
Marissa Meyer: 7:12
did to a
Corry L. Lee: 7:13
lot of reading and watching documentaries and and fictionalized films and stuff about, um, both sort of communist era Russia and also, um, well, World war for the kind of technology level, which this is set in And, um, World War Two for that kind of fascist feel and especially reading about of, um, Nazi occupied France and like the resistance fighters there and just sort of
Marissa Meyer: 7:45
trying to get it
Corry L. Lee: 7:45
get into that feeling of, ah, the sort of overwhelming, oppressive force of the state. While also people are being strong and are standing up against that and and how that kind of manifests
Marissa Meyer: 8:03
it doesn't make you pause and feel extra grateful for living in the sort of country that we
Corry L. Lee: 8:10
live in and the freedoms that we have? Absolutely. Oh, my goodness, So much So I had a lot of bad dreams during that time.
Marissa Meyer: 8:17
I can see, though I mean, it does. It gets into your head when you're I mean anything, you know, it really can kind of take over your subconscious. A times. Yeah. Were there parts of writing the book? I mean, you mentioned having bad dreams. Uh, what would you dio to kind of separate yourself from maybe some of those darker elements? It's a good question. Um, I feel like
Corry L. Lee: 8:46
the nightmares mostly came when I was watching a lot of documentaries and and shows eso when when the nightmares got bad, I was
Marissa Meyer: 8:57
like, Okay, we'll take a break
Corry L. Lee: 8:58
from that. Well, like, slip through the circus. Look like we'll focus on the actual drafting, Um, and less on the kind of background research feel of things because the book itself is not dark. Um, I mean, it's set in a fascist state, so there's definitely dark elements, but, um, my work tends to be fairly hopeful. And even when there is like, ah, horrible, oppressive government, like, there's people who are finding a way to see towards the light and act towards the light. And, um so the actual act of drafting was usually helpful for giving me out of that like, Oh, this is terrible headspace,
Marissa Meyer: 9:41
right? It's my favorite kind of book, You know, they just the the revolutionaries.
Corry L. Lee: 9:48
Exactly. I love I love revolutionaries, the resistance fighters, underdogs.
Marissa Meyer: 9:52
You're gonna win in drugs. Defeat the evil empire. Exactly. So you are a scientist. Ah, like literally an intense like you have. Ah, Ph. D was an experiment. I wrote it down. Experimental particle physics from Harvard. Yes, Back. Yeah. Yeah, That's a like you're a really actual scientist thing. And yet you've written a fantasy book with with magic of your based heavily in magic. How did your background and science kind of influenced the world and the magic that you created? I think it one of the
Corry L. Lee: 10:34
big ways that it comes out, is kind of in the I hesitate to save rule based nature of the magic, but like its rule based in the way that science is rule based, like there are physical laws and things work or they don't work. Gravity always pulls you towards the earth kind of thing. And so that sort of natural system, um, plays into the magic system a lot. Um, the magic is fairly complex, but also kind of organic gun, understandable in the way that science is organic and understandable.
Marissa Meyer: 11:09
Would you say that in your world, like, are there quote unquote scientific explanations for the magical it and, like characters understand the mountain is there's There's like theories
Corry L. Lee: 11:26
for like, this is how this works and like, this is the way when you want s so that the magic people create imbue mints that they like put magic into an object and that object then can do some specific things like this is a knife that can cut through armor like it's butter or this is Ah, um, one of my favorite implements is, Ah, like a little carved stone turtle that you can put on somebody's abdomen and then that makes them no longer
Marissa Meyer: 11:56
able to get pregnant on. It's just a procedure that you go. You go to the doctor and
Corry L. Lee: 12:02
she does this and then you condone, have sex and not have to worry about accidentally getting
Marissa Meyer: 12:07
pregnant or whatever. Um, and not cramps like it sounds like it could be a real thing, or at least like the sort of thing that maybe in ancient cultures, they would have believed Rate right, and it lays her. So it's Oh, well, I was like, I need a thing like some of the stuff like that. You and view like if you're if you're imbuing
Corry L. Lee: 12:30
like magic, that will heal cuts or something like that. It's probably in the form of a bandage or something like that, but I don't know, like it's very internal trying to affect the uterus. Um,
Marissa Meyer: 12:40
I don't know what this is like about eternal e See, you went from a to B. Obviously. Did you have fun creating the magic? Like, Do you enjoy that element of world building? I
Corry L. Lee: 12:57
dio I do. I definitely geek out about it. I lank figuring out how it fits together and in particular, how it brakes and how it could break people, which makes me sound like a horrible person. But
Marissa Meyer: 13:13
but in an interesting narrative way, you know, I've decided that there's Aziz writers like we all have a little bit of horrible person. E just kind of comes that comes with everything with creating characters and getting some amount of pleasure of doing mean
Corry L. Lee: 13:31
awful things to them. It's just the territory. Yes, yes, it is. If you can't do that, then it's hard to write interesting plots.
Marissa Meyer: 13:40
That's true. That's very true. Um, no, I asked, because I of my books there's only one that's like true fantasy, which was heartless, which was based in, you know, Wonderland, Alice in Wonderland. And I enjoyed writing the magic in that book because, as per the rules that Lewis Carroll gave us, there were no rules, right, like the more bizarre and illogical, an improbable that I could make it the better on DSO. I have yet to really experience creating, like a true system of magic that has rules and balances on. I'm just fascinated by the methods that writers use to do that. Yeah. I mean, this was sort of a
Corry L. Lee: 14:29
reaction, Teoh. Um, I was only a few years out of my PhD, and I wanted to do something that was not too much like hard science, But it's hard to take the scientist or the science out of the scientist, I guess. Um, so there was still some sort of I wanted there to be rules and wanted it to feel constrained. And like, there are things that it can't do and things that can do when that sort of known, but also to make it feel magical and to not, you know, be super prescriptive. I wanted, like like I wanted it to not feel like technology where, you know, anyone could turn on their iPhone, but like it comes from within to some extent. But they're also still balance on that. So
Marissa Meyer: 15:13
yeah, and I think that's good as a reader to mean. You like to kind of feel anchored to something you like to know that the writer has restrictions are the characters have restrictions in a way, you know, to to kind of give some checks and balances toe Teoh what's possible in the world and
Corry L. Lee: 15:32
that the plot won't just be solved by the sex thing at the end of a magic system. Yeah,
Marissa Meyer: 15:38
exactly. Exactly. What was your favorite thing about writing this book? If you can think of one thing I think is a hard question. Um, I
Corry L. Lee: 15:54
love having strong characters who really believe in something, and that belief puts them at odds, and then they have to find a way to work together to reached the solution. Um, and I kind of I guess I kind of built this book to force that, but, um, with Silken Garrett starting very much on opposite sides of what is right, their belief of what is right. Um, but then kind of throwing them together and having them work together that, like, evolving that relationship. Uh, this was really delightful in this book.
Marissa Meyer: 16:37
So, going into the story on, do
Corry L. Lee: 16:41
you have these two characters who kind of have these two different belief systems? Did
Marissa Meyer: 16:45
you personally agree with one or the other. Or were you ever a point when you were also kind of tourney over who was more in the right, Um, or how they were gonna be able to come together in their beliefs. I think
Corry L. Lee: 17:03
I've always had to be able to kind of get into the belief system of both of them. But Selcan is totally in the right. I mean, she's the resistance fighter like Garrett. Dude, he's He's the son of the dictator of for Scania, basically, and so has been very much raised. You know, with this, like fascist like might makes right kind of belief system. Um and so it was never really a question for whose camp I
Marissa Meyer: 17:32
was, Right? So in that case, how did you go about getting into his head? And because I feel like as a writer, like, if you're trying to write, um, character who has very different beliefs from yourself, you almost have to trick yourself into thinking it in a way like, what were some of the ways or some of things that you did to feel like you could write him authentically. Um, that was actually where a
Corry L. Lee: 17:58
lot of my World War Two research went like looking at kind of the Nazi youth programs was a big part of it. Where, like, they're these, you know, German youths who were just kids, right, But, like, got very indoctrinated into the party line, basically and kind of looking at their stories. Um, I love the book. All the light we cannot see by Anthony Door, and it follows, um ah, teenage or preteen boy, um, kind of in the pre World war Two onset kind of time and, like, kind of getting into that headspace of, just like if this is the the world that you're seeing, the lines that you're being fed all the time, how that shapes you and kind of holding in my heart like Okay, Garrett is fundamentally a good person who doesn't want to see innocents suffer, But he's kind of been raised in this space, like, how does that work his outlook. How does that work? How he sees himself and what he considers are his own weaknesses. Um, things like compassion, which we would not consider a weakness. And so, like, sort of thinking of it that way and sort of looking at the threads that Selcuk and then pull on to be like, Hey, what you're you're, like, just gonna shrug this off kind of thing, Um, and just really putting him in a place where all these things that went unquestioned because he was a child trying to survive. Like I said, he's suddenly in a space where he didn't question them like that. Made it, I think, possible to be in his head and like him as a person, even though, you know, he came from a place definitely of believing things that I I strongly disagree with. Yeah, I
Marissa Meyer: 20:01
feel like as a reader, you can almost develop a lot of compassion for characters. Um, who you know, who might be doing and believing things that you disagree with. But if you can understand that they're almost a victim themselves for having been taught these ways, I feel like you can You can kind of come to relate on a really deep level. Totally. Uh, this is the first book in a trilogy. Yes, through ah, House House book to coming along. Well, if you had asked me three weeks ago, I would've been like, Brilliant. It's basically done. It's so amazing. Um, at the moment, I, um basically rewriting it from the ground. I
Corry L. Lee: 20:50
had some fabulous feedback from my brilliant writing group, which, unfortunately I agreed with a lot, and Umm has meant making some pretty substantial changes to it. So
Marissa Meyer: 21:04
it's some. It's gonna be really good,
Corry L. Lee: 21:06
I think books, too. But at the moment it is Ah, very
Marissa Meyer: 21:11
much a work in progress. Yeah, So let's talk about that moment when you have put so much work and time into something and oh man, it needs to be completely started over or revised and you're nowhere near done. And I mean, I have experienced that, you know, with so many books, any writer who hasn't experienced yet it's coming like definitely it is does happen. Um, so I kind of take me through how what you were feeling when you first got this feedback and And what did you go to kind of then? Get yourself into a a place where OK, now you're ready to
Corry L. Lee: 21:59
tackle this. Yeah, it's definitely a process. Um I mean, I think my feelings at the onset of this feud backer
Marissa Meyer: 22:08
pretty easily imaginable. I was thinking in a lot of four letter words. No, e o. It was less that I've worked
Corry L. Lee: 22:20
with this critique group for a while and really drops TEM Um And so it was more like, Oh, my gosh, how could I have missed these glaring horrible problems that are so obvious in retrospect? And, uh, because I I learned actually something really important, I think for my future writing skills and hopefully ability to not do quite the same mistake in the future, which is I love cross tension between characters. What I sort of mentioned earlier of, You know, these two characters believe opposite things and they're forced to work together, sort out their differences and that that's kind of the thing that I go to when I'm developing story. It turns out that is not the same as for attention. Um, the thing that pulls the reader through the book and like, keeps them turning pages and stuff. And so I had focused a lot on the cross tension in book two, and, um, it was totally delightful to me at least, but there wasn't quite enough for attention in there, and the thing that I had thought was giving it the four attention. Um, another insight that I learned, which is when characters have goals, their goals to stop something from happening. Um, in this case, stopping the state from building magic that it can use to go to war. Um, that the characters succeeding in their goal feels like, um, like they're slowing down the book because they're they're they're working towards a thing. So you're like, Yes, my character has a goal there being active. They're taking steps, but they're succeeding by making things not happen. And so that kind of has this, like, native impact on the reading experience. So those two things combined, um, and I, like, learned about my critique group was like, Hey, these things
Marissa Meyer: 24:33
Corry L. Lee: 24:33
book And it was upsetting to be like, Oh, crap, how do you forget forward tension? Um, and so I beat myself up a lot about that for a while before kind of kind of passing through that stage of grieving. The death of this is a raft of this book and being able to be like, Okay, how do I fix this and move on and come up with a plan for injecting that the four attention that kind of picked up really halfway through the book, bringing that all the way back to the start of the book and and making it be a page turner right from the beginning.
Marissa Meyer: 25:12
Yeah, I think it's you receiving critic is always difficult, but a appreciate that you're able to look it not just the things that you learned for this particular book, but things that you feel like are now gonna help you in writing the next book and the book after that. Because I do like to think and hope that, you know, with every book we write, we do get a little bit better on our craft develops
Corry L. Lee: 25:42
a little bit more. That's certainly the goal.
Marissa Meyer: 25:45
That's the goal way. Keep our fingers crossed. I think it's
Corry L. Lee: 25:52
true. And I think when you approach it from that perspective of like not just how do I fix this book, but, like, what are the durable lessons here? Yeah, really? That really helps improve your craft overall. Yeah,
Marissa Meyer: 26:04
it makes it less of a Oh, I just wasted the last year of my life writing this written so yes more. I just spent the last year of my life learning this thing that's gonna make me a better writer.
Corry L. Lee: 26:17
Totally, Totally. And I think that positive reframing makes it a lot easier to go on and then and do the thing that you need to dio have trashing the year of work.
Marissa Meyer: 26:27
Goodbye. Yes, Rest in peace. Um well, I'm glad that that you're you're moving on and ready. Teoh, knock out this next totally killer draft. Yes, I'm sure it will be. I hope so. Okay. One question that came up which I We've been friends for a number of years now, and I did not know this, but you are into Nordic skiing. I am Nordics. It's cross country skiing, also known as cross country skiing. Yeah, What is that? It's a good question. So it must have originated in Norway. Suspect that the Nordic countries air big on Nordic skiing on cross country skiing, lots of snow. And I don't know, sure, no, there's there's a logic there. I get it. I'm with you. I have never been cross country skiing. It's fun. It on lease like it a lot of work
Corry L. Lee: 27:34
or it can be a lot of work, depending on how many hills there are on your path, but our area here in Seattle is great for it. The snow is very conducive for cross country skiing.
Marissa Meyer: 27:45
It's good to know cause I'm like downhill skiing. Not for me. They
Corry L. Lee: 27:51
I agree. I downhill skied a bit as a kid and ah, I know myself and I like to go fast and new things that, as an adult who's giving a little older, would probably break my knees and ankles. And I like all my body parts connected and not broken.
Marissa Meyer: 28:13
So no, When my husband and I were first dating, he he was really into skiing. And so he took me skiing on one date, and I spent most of it sitting on my bum in this in the snow, and it was like, No, I'm good at it is a sad day. E. I'll see you in the lodge when you're ready. Ah, but cross country skiing or Nordic skiing, I think, sounds kind of delightful. Beautiful out there. It really is because it's sort of
Corry L. Lee: 28:43
like hiking, but faster and I don't know glider.
Marissa Meyer: 28:52
We get paid for a vocabulary. Dio professionals were professionals. Okay, so now we're gonna wrap up this episode for this interview with the very aptly named Lightning Round Wave the Lightning. See what I did there. Okay, um, you're gonna be getting that joke in, like, every interview that you give your on. Uh, Okay. Corey, what book makes you happy? Hello. Oh, that's a hard question around. Background.
Corry L. Lee: 29:36
My gosh. Ah, uh, I don't know why my mind is going blank. Um, I recently read the perfect assassin by K Door. It was delightful.
Marissa Meyer: 29:50
Okay, I'll say that. We'll take it. Ah. What do you do to celebrate an
Corry L. Lee: 29:57
accomplishment? I drink a lot of coffee. Mm. ID, love, coffee. So much accomplishments. Air excuses for coffee
Marissa Meyer: 30:10
with cake and coffee with not cake and coffee with coffee. How do you fill the creative?
Corry L. Lee: 30:18
Well, I read, um, sometimes I need to read something really good. And sometimes I need to read something that has a lot of weakness. Is that I can see and be like,
Marissa Meyer: 30:32
I can do that better.
Corry L. Lee: 30:33
Um, and both of those I think have a place for me.
Marissa Meyer: 30:39
What are you reading now or what's next on your TV? Are
Corry L. Lee: 30:45
I just got NK Jamison's new book, Something like We Are the City, The City, the city we became That's next on my shelf.
Marissa Meyer: 30:57
And lastly, where can people find
Corry L. Lee: 31:00
you? Um, you can find me at cory lee dot com or on Twitter at Cory. Ellie.
Marissa Meyer: 31:09
Right? And that is all my questions. Thanks so much for joining me, Corey. Yeah, it was super
Corry L. Lee: 31:14
fun. Thank you for having me.
Marissa Meyer: 31:16
My pleasure. Readers definitely check out Cory's debut novel. We've the Lightning, Uh, which, as of posting this, will probably already be out in the world. It came out on April 7th. Ah. And of course, we always encourage readers to support their local indie bookstore if you can. Please don't forget to subscribe to this podcast and let me know that you're listening. You can also follow me on Instagram at Marisa Meyer author or email me through my website marissa Mayer dot com and let me know what author you would like me to interview on a future episode until next time. Please stay healthy out there. Stay cozy in your bunkers and, as always, try your best to make someone else's day a little bit