Some Thoughts with ... C B Lansdell

20 Sept 2023

The Author/s

C B Lansdell

C B Lansdell

Mountains, sea and urban sprawl: these are as much a part of imaginary worlds as the place where CB Lansdell lives, at the tip of Africa. Her dogs ensure she is exercised daily. Encounters with birdlife and fynbos on weekends are essential to her creativity. For best results, she should be left to soak in a rock pool at least once a month. Most days, she can be found in her home office, wearing her headphones to drown out the howling southeasterly wind.

The Interview

1.- What made you choose self-publishing?
I work as a freelance illustrator so I thought I’d try the indie route as I had some experience with entrepreneurial life, and I also had very specific ideas about book design. I knew very little about the querying process, other than the fact that it is soul-destroying. Far Removed is difficult to describe in terms of genre. I didn’t craft anything resembling a safe investment to the traditional publishers of today.

2.- How did the idea for the Apidecca Duology appear?
For years, I’ve been playing with the idea of a story set on a habitable moon, featuring two characters from different parts of an alien society. I wanted to follow an outcast – someone like the Phantom (of the Opera) or Quasimodo – but female. Prismer is not quite as morally grey as those characters, but her context mirrors theirs. Oklas was a combination of Jay Gatsby and a young Charles Xavier.
This was originally going to be a standalone, but the worldbuilding demanded I didn’t rush things or leave out important details. Hopefully the ending of part 1 feels satisfying in spite of the lingering questions. The city’s name, Apidecca, comes from the bee and wasp family name, Apoidea. The Assembly Chambers felt like a hive where people are streamed into different roles like insects (workers, drones, queens).

3.- Why did you choose science-fiction as your go-to genre?
Because it suited my chosen setting – an alien moon. I also wanted to include cyberpunk or solarpunk-inspired technology. The communication tech available to the public is purposefully stunted. But Knyadrea is more advanced than 21st-century Earth in other ways, particularly in terms of cybernetics. Knyads’ bodies are less likely to reject modifications than human bodies. This is also where some horror elements come in.

4.- Your worldbuilding is extensive and detailed, something created with extreme care. Would you say that you enjoyed planning and preparing the world?
Thank you! Yes, I love getting lost in the details, but I didn’t want to lose readers in them. Hopefully the appendix helps. Things like units of time on a moon might stand out to readers. The day / night cycle spans a month (revolution), not 24 hours (a segment). I have written a lot on the cultures and histories of different knyad clans; I have enough material that I could explore corners of the world beyond those featured in this duology. I haven’t researched languages as extensively, but I drew the phonology of place and character names from a limited pool of countries. Many words come from the regions extending from the Eastern Mediterranean up to the Baltic. “Oklas” comes from “oklaski” (“applause” in Polish). “Prismer” comes from “prism”; the Greek etymology of that word means “to saw”. That speaks to her role in threshing plants in her home clan. Then there are ordinary words that I changed to make the world feel a bit different: e.g. “capture” instead of “photograph”.

5.- Apart from being an author, you are also a graphic designer and artist. How would you say this has influenced your own work? Could you tell us more about the cover?
I wanted to release Far Removed as a graphic novel, but soon realised it would take far too long to share the story! I balance my own projects with client work (mostly educational illustrations). I would still love to illustrate this duology, but I am glad it is out there in written form. The cover features Prismer in her signature colours – pale green and deep red. I wanted the hollow eyes of her mask to draw attention. The next cover will follow a similar pattern, only featuring Oklas and his colour scheme. The typography I designed from scratch. It has Art Deco influences to match the aesthetics of the buildings and fashions. The symbol in there might give you a visual clue about some mysterious creatures in the book. The back cover features Apex Hall. It was the one place common to both MCs.

6.- From all the self-publishing process, which parts have you found the most challenging?
I see why most authors struggle with marketing. You must keep up with the demands of algorithms that govern whether your book will be seen, and make ads that can quickly convince readers that your story is a good match for them. I am trying to embrace it for what it is. It can be fun if you see it as a creative challenge, but there are also days where I’d rather just write. So much comes down to chance that it feels like gambling. The later stages of editing are also tough, when you second-guess every word and punctuation mark. Beta readers, editors and proofreaders make this part easier.

7.- How did the idea for the maskads and the resyn appear? 
Resyn is a naturally-occurring substance that is very sought-after. Most want it as an energy source, it’s like the most efficient rechargeable battery you could hope for. It has the consistency of tree sap and can crystallise – hence the name. I was inspired by alchemy, where seemingly ordinary substances have properties that seem to defy science. Some of resyn’s more mystical properties can only be unlocked by those with a talent for it. I want to go into its origins and other applications in the next book. Like “spice” in Dune, “resyn” seemed a familiar, innocuous name.
I have always liked the mystery of masked characters in stories. You kind of know that you’re going to see the person underneath eventually. But what if the mask looks more like a face than the real face behind it? Maskads are blank slates, their true faces are something like Rorschach (Watchmen) or Inque’s simplified form (Batman Beyond). It was fun figuring out their biology, as they would still need to feed and breathe even though they lack any discernible facial features. They exist outside the class system as cautionary tales. People know something is wrong with them, but they don’t know what it is. The authorities don’t provide the public with clarity on the issue; they actually encourage speculation as it dehumanises maskads further. In a lot of stories, you find these empty creatures like the Nazgûl that have lost their individuality. They are usually the villains. I wanted to follow a character who looked like a monster, but was still holding onto her “humanity” (knyadity?) by her fingertips.

8.- I can’t avoid seeing some parallelism between Apideccan’s society and real-world problems such as racism and corruption. Could you tell us more about the idea of how you portrayed it in your novel?
Whenever I glimpse the news, which isn’t often, I see “us” and “them” narratives. These are compelling because they simplify a complex world. I grew up in South Africa, and was part of the first generation to start school after Apartheid. My parents aren’t from here so they couldn’t answer a lot of my questions on the subject. No book I write could reflect the tensions of this country because I am shielded from many of them. But I understood Oklas’s position; you can mean well and still be out of touch with the people you want to help. He doesn’t realise how much his privileged status provides him with a sense of confidence and belonging in society. A few readers have confessed they identify with Prismer, who is caught between worlds. She feels disconnected from other maskads because she leads a better life than them. But, being what she is, she also doesn’t fit in at the Chambers, where she is shunned by her “normal” colleagues. Opportunities have always taunted her. Everything she wants is right in front of her, but beyond her reach.

9.- What can we expect from C B Lansdell in the future?
I hope to spend next year working on part 2 of the duology. The first draft is rough but complete, and I have a couple of titles in mind. If you have any Audible credits to spare, the audiobook of Far Removed just came out. I couldn’t be happier with my highly versatile and professional narrators: Christopher Tester reads Oklas’s POV chapters, and Amy Jensen reads Prismer’s. A novelette on Oklas’s mentor, Emis, is available to my newsletter subscribers. It’s in a self-edited state, but the proofread and formatted version will be for sale early next year. I want to illustrate the chapter headings. I also have a novelette related to Prismer’s home clan planned.