TWO WORLDS…TWO ALTERNATING NARRATIVES…A REALIST RELATIONSHIP DRAMA…AN EPIC FANTASY…
In the “real world,” we open with Jack Ampong just leaving a prostitute when he receives a phone call that his wife Sarah has been assaulted. With this incident as a jumping off point, we watch as Jack and Sarah deal with past guilt and regrets as well as their own ongoing struggles with relationships, infertility and parenthood.
In the “fantasy world”-ostensibly written by Jack-a bureaucratic Empire rules with an iron fist…an ancient sect of sorcerers have extraordinary powers but are cursed with the inability to have children… and a race of beings called the Mandrakar live lives one quarter the length of normal people, but have memories that are passed on to future generations through the last of an ancient breed of tree. Along the way, we meet a crotchety governor who just wants to do right by his granddaughter, a hardboiled, lesbian, dwarf detective who just wants another drink, and a villainous sorcerer whose motives form one of the central mysteries of the story.
Throughout the book, the two narratives echo off one another-often in surprising ways-ultimately commenting on the very nature of storytelling itself.
Praise for The Childless Ones:
“Impressively creates two vivid worlds, each with its own history and compelling characters, while also offering a meditation on the relationship between creativity, fertility, and shared memory. A stunning fantasy debut.” — Kirkus Reviews
Cam Rhys Lay received his Bachelors Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his MFA from the University of Kansas. For five years, he worked as an Associate Publisher at The Easton Press in Connecticut. Currently, he lives in Brooklyn, New York where he runs marketing for Skillshare, an online learning community for creators. The Childless Ones is his first book. To learn more about Cam and his writing, please visit him at camrhyslay.com.
What inspired this dual narrative perspective story?
I originally wrote the first chapter of this book as a short story in which one of the characters (who later turned into Jack) was writing a fantasy novel. As a separate project, I was also starting to write some fantasy. At some point, the thought just crossed my mind (probably at least partially inspired by the dual narratives of Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin): “what if this fantasy I’m writing was actually written by the character in the other story?” Given that I’ve always sort of been a sucker for books with interesting and/or experimental structures, I just dove in from there, and the rest of the book sort of sprang organically from that initial premise.
Which narrative did you like writing more: the “real” world or fantasy world?
Every chapter of the book is really quite different, so I think it’s less that I liked writing fantasy vs. the real world or vice versa, and more that certain chapters from each side of the book came very easy whereas others were really hard to write. For instance, one of the fantasy chapters in the middle of the book introduces this fantasy-noir detective named Serafina Nicoletto. At the time I was writing that chapter I was reading a lot of detective fiction–Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald and the like. And so I just had such a clear vision of what I wanted my detective character’s voice to sound like, such that writing from her perspective was really easy and fun. All that said, probably what I had the most fun with throughout the writing process was connecting all the various parts of the book in a way that, I think at least, can be really fun and gratifying to a careful reader who’s paying attention.
Was your fantasy world inspired by any other works?
Absolutely! For starters, probably every person writing in the epic fantasy genre for the last sixty years (including me) has been influenced in some ways by Tolkien. While I purposefully tried to not have my world come off as overly Tolkien-esque, the very fact that I have a fantasy world at all owes a debt to Tolkien. Beyond that though, I think I just borrowed lots of little elements from other writers. For instance, Joe Abercrombie does a really great job of incorporating humor in his fantasy world, so I tried to steal that a little bit. At the time I was writing this book, I was reading Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, so some of the imagery from that book made its way into my world. I was inspired by some of the works of Ursula LeGuin and Guy Gavriel Kay in that they’ve succeeded in writing fantasies where every character isn’t a white person modeled after Medieval Europeans. There were also several non-fantasy, books that were influential in shaping particular aspects of my fantasy world, namely Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Bottom line, my fantasy world—and my book more generally—owes a lot to the books I’ve read.
Describe your book using only 3 words.
Realist, fantasy, puzzle.