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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

SPFBO Finalist Interview: C.M. Caplan, The Author of The Fall Is All There is

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: C.M. Caplan is the author of the SPFBO7 semifinalist The Sword in the Street, SPFBO9 FINALIST The Fall Is All There Is. He's a quadruplet (yes, really), autistic, and has a degree in creative writing. He was awarded his university's highest honor in the arts for his work.

Find Connor online: Facebook

The Fall is All There Is links: Amazon, Goodreads


Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Connor Caplan, I’m a quadruplet, I’m disabled, I’ve got basically all the alphabet acronyms in the DSM-whatever-the-fuck number they’re on. I really enjoy working out, swords, history, and disassembling stories to figure out why they work, examining the linguistic flourishes that can enhance things like characterization and all the component elements that make stories tick and build empathy across a narrative arc.

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?

Sort of? If it’s possible to be a house-husband without being married or having kids, that'd describe most of my day-to-day. Although I manage to scrumble together a modest income from an eclectic variety of sources month to month. Mostly relating to paid beta reads, book sales, or writing essays for various people.

Who are some of your favorite writers, and why is their work important to you?

I think my earliest influences were reading Tolkien and George RR Martin as a teenager, and I think my biggest lesson from those early influences was the value of indulgence. I think there’s something of incredible value in the ability to bring everything you love into a work put it all on the table. It’s a really vulnerable, personal thing to do, and I think when you can incorporate a lot of things you’re passionate about well, people tend to respond well to it.

Though It wasn’t until I read The Broken Earth Trilogy by NK Jemisin and Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb that I truly started rethinking the possibilities of what fantasy as a genre could even be. Jemisin is just one of the most talented people I’ve ever read, full stop. Like I’ve never read a writer who can pull off every element of a story at an eleven. The worldbuilding is at an eleven, originality at an eleven, dialogue, character, prose, it’s all the best a work could ever be. And it’s interrogating a deeply painful history that reflects struggles people face in the real world without pulling any punches, or going for the cheap and easy 1:1 level worldbuilding. And then I read Robin Hobb, and it had such an emphasis on characters and messiness and relationships, and I’d never seen someone take a character centric approach to that insane degree, who delved deeper into a point of view than I even knew it was possible to go. And I think all of those got smashed together as I learned to bring a more unique perspective to my own work.

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

I can’t find a way to say this without sounding wildly arrogant, but I think the main draw of my style is the ability to form unexpected connections. I process information and draw comparisons, even on a daily basis, in ways that are strange and confusing to the people around me. That’s not a brag, to be clear. It genuinely brings a lot of chaos into your life when a lot of conversations end in, “how the hell did we get here?” But I think that becomes a strength when it comes to writing. A lot of prose construction is, to me, a matter of empathetic math, where I need to slot in words with the right social, cultural, or emotional connotations to solve for an emotional truth. But because I make connections in unexpected ways, it can lead to comparisons and choices that are a bit unconventional, for some. And that’s also where a lot of the weirdness in this book comes from–slotting together a bunch of weird ideas together from unexpected places. It’s me going “I want lightsabers, but I can’t use a laser-sword. I’ve already got cyborg horses. Maybe there’s another way I can fuse biology and machines. Okay, so the thyroid is responsible for regulating body heat, so I’ll just give these swords a battery made of human thyroid and a wirework that pumps hormones into the blade, and–” and then suddenly I’ve got an angle no one’s seen before, and a lot of the people who are only reading the end result are like “how did you ever even think of that in the first place?” And I dunno why I made these connections, it just made sense at the time.

What made you decide to self-publish The Fall Is All There Is as opposed to traditional publishing?

So when I wrote what would become my debut, The Sword in the Street, I actually tried to query it. I got a couple of personalized rejections from a few big name agents (I think the most high profile one was Richard Curtis? (Dan Simmons’ literary agent, not the guy who wrote Love Actually), which all said something to the effect of “This is really very good, but it’s just a bit outside the kinds of things we normally try to publish.” And after a while when enough people started saying the same thing I decided to go indie with it. And then I went to write this one, and by the end it was so far out of the box, especially in comparison to my first book, that I figured I should just go indie with this one too, and hopefully be able to demonstrate that there’s a market for whatever the fuck this thing is I’m doing.

What’s your favorite and least favorite parts of self-publishing?

I adore the immediacy of it. The certainty that if you plug away at something and polish it enough, you will end up with a book. There’s no querying, no being on sub, no tragic story writing something and not finding anybody who will take it.

But then there’s the flip side, you don’t have anyone who will tell you what to do, but you’d better be sure you’re making the right decision, because if it’s all on you then you also have to be the one to sell it. Unless you’re making enough money to pay for a publicist or experiment with ads, you’ve got to do all the hustling yourself. Which–even that I have a lot of fun with, honestly. I love making tiktoks and podcasting and promoting myself. I’m sure it’s obvious by now how much I love to talk. But it can take some time to get eyes on you, and often consistency is more valuable than blitzes. And since I’m someone more inclined to sprints of effort, that kind of marathon-style pacing can be daunting at times.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

I’ve had my eye on it since before I’d even started publishing. I think I first learned about it during SPFBO 3, in 2017, when I googled Mark Lawrence after I first read Prince of Thorns. I was 21 and still in college. I hadn’t even finished a manuscript yet or even gotten a degree, but I remember thinking if I ever went indie I wanted to join the contest. And then I joined and made semifinals in SPFBO 7, and I wanted to see if I could match that or do better once I’d put my second book out this year.

What would you do if you won the SPFBO?

Oh god I don’t even know. That hasn’t even entered my brain as a possibility. I’m fully expecting to get dinged too many times for being too sci-fi, or too fast paced, or something. I’d probably want to do something similar to what I did when I first got the nomination and try use that spotlight to highlight a few books I liked that didn’t make it that far.

How would you describe the plot of The Fall Is All There Is if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

After his father dies, the youngest in a set of quadruplets royals is summoned home to the chaotic life at court he’d fled from years ago, in order to sort out the line of succession. But all his siblings want him to pick their side, and one wrong move could kick start a civil war.

What was your initial inspiration for the book? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

The initial spark came from The Lion in Winter, which is where the title is derived from. It’s a play by James Goldman and also one of my favorite things to ever exist, and if I ever write anything half as good I could die happy. I started it in May 18th, 2021, and initially Petre was a bastard sibling, and I wanted to write about a civil war that took a lot of inspiration from The Anarchy in England. But a lot of that felt too similar to Robin Hobb, and when I realized I was the only person I knew with first hand experience on being a quadruplet, I figured it’d be cool to incorporate that the broad strokes of that experience and make it into something cool.

That said, it was also nothing like the final product. It had ghostfog and cyborg horses, but it was also set in a post apocalyptic future-earth, and everything else was fairly medieval, and there wasn’t really any of the weird landscape and worldbuilding. That actually only came a few months from publication. Avram, and the injections at the beginning of the book only came during the second draft, which was a 208K-word romantasy novel, only about 60K of which survived the first beta-read. Edgar didn’t even make an appearance! Mercedes was a man and he had a daughter!

But after the first beta read in February of 2022, I realized the focus needed to be more firmly on the siblings, so I cut out the romance arc and almost totally rewrote it into more or less the version it exists in now, which I finished in May of 2022. And then over the summer the weird stuff like the skeleton castles, the chameleon coat, and the thyroid swords slowly started bleeding into the final draft, because I wanted lightsabers and that required figuring out how to build on the cyborg horse tech that fused meat and machinery.

If you had to describe it in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Chaotic, Sleek, and Bizarre.

Is it part of the series or a standalone? If series, how many books have you planned for it?

It’s part of a series. Unless things get wildly out of hand, it should be a trilogy, and (unless things change drastically) the ending to book two might be the meanest thing I’ve ever done as an author.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to The Fall Is All There is’s protagonists/antagonists?

The main character is Petre Mercy, the youngest (by two minutes) in a set of autistic quadruplets who ran away from home at eighteen. He’s a hot mess of emotions and contradictions and spends most of the book strung out and falling apart.

The third oldest of the four is Desmon Mercy, who probably is the closest to Having His Shit Together™. He was trained from an early age to be the family ambassador, building alliances and business deals. He’s spent the last few years carefully cultivating a superiority complex.

Edgar Mercy is the second oldest of the quadruplets. He speaks in very clipped, controlled sentences, and it’s never clear if he actually maintains that stoicism or if he’s putting on a front. He’s more than a little confrontational, but charismatic enough to have built up a bit of a cult following.

Anoïse Mercy (pronounced Ann-oh-weez), is the eldest of the four, and the current Queen after their father died of lymphoma. She’s not as decisive as she wants to be and is committed to doing justice to her father’s memory and fulfilling her birthright, despite, if not because of, all it’s cost her already.

Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?

It’s less of a system at the moment and more of a texture, if that makes sense. There’s no real ruleset laid down for how it works, but we know at the start of the book that magic ended the world thousands of years ago in what was called The First Annihilation, which terraformed the world and turned it into a weird fusion of flora and fauna. And then the survivors built a world of scientific marvels atop the wreckage, building wetware technology and developing scientifically until they advanced far enough to blow themselves back to the stone age in The Second Annihilation. And it’s been a few centuries since then and the survivors of that have eked a kingdom out from the wreckage of these two events, and have spent those years trying to reverse engineer how all the fusions of magic and technology left over from those previous societies actually work.

Have you written The Fall Is All There Is with a particular audience in mind?

Not at first? Not on purpose, anyway. I just had a bunch of ideas that had been in my mind since around 2018 and I put them all in a document and tried to synthesize them. Over time it turned into something hopefully for fans of fantasy and sci-fi who want to see something new and off the beaten path.

What was your proofreading/editing process?

I had one aforementioned beta read done by Angela Boord, who completely ripped the book to shreds, and it was really clear that the initial draft was me terrified to let anything really happen out of fears of being too pulpy. So I had to completely rewrite it, and then I sent it to Ryan Howse for another beta read. He wanted to see more stuff like the cyborg horses, and repeatedly stressed that he wanted to see more Avram, which both resulted in a lot of the weirdest things people highlight about this book. If anyone deserves credit for how weird this book is, it’s home, so please direct all your thanks to his way.

After that, I sent it to Noah Sky who is phenomenal and has a fantastic turnaround time, for a line edit. Then Quenby Olson did a proofread, thank god, because I’d used the word “murmured” about 112 too many times, so she definitely saved me from being inundated with “Nynaeve tugged her braid” style memes, for which I owe her a life debt.

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of The Fall Is All There Is and the artist?

The cover art was done by Mike McClung, who is fantastic and I love him. He’d done a few covers I really really liked for his own books, and I can’t recall if he offered to do me a cover, or if I asked, but I wanted to highlight the cyborg horses while also centering Petre on the cover, so we walked through it back and forth for a while, and he seriously did the most phenomenal job on it.

Which question about the book do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Oh man I don’t actually think I have anything. I’m just grateful for the attention it’s received thus far.

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2023/2024?

I am hoping to get book two out in 2024. I’ve no idea how optimistic that is. I’m not as far into it as I’d like to be, due to a horribly embarrassing error I promise I’ll admit to after the book is out in which I spent like nine months trying to paper over a plot hole before I took a closer look at it and realized that was the plot the whole time.

Hopefully I can get it out next year. Though I’ve heard stories from previous finalists about this time moment of hypervisibility can be a bit stifling when it comes to writing future books. I think V.E Schwab has a metaphor for a similar, obviously more scaled-up phenomenon about writing in a glass box. So a lot of it will come down to how close I get to the final vision in my current pass.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

Honestly I’m just grateful for anyone taking the time out of their day to read my mad scribbling, so I just have to salute anyone who’s made it to the end of this page. If you’re reading this, you’re amazing!



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