By Alana Joli Abbott
Allison Pang hooked me as a reader when her Abby Sinclair urban fantasy series featured a pint-sized unicorn companion who hid in the protagonist's underwear drawer. Pang has gone on to write the webcomic Fox and Willow with artist Irma "Aimo" Ahmed, which came to print through Outland Entertainment in Dec 2020. Now that Magpie's Song: IronHeart Chronicles Book One is out in a new Outland edition (released Feb 2022), we sat down to chat with Allison about how the story came to be and where the publishing journey took her.
In Magpie's Song, Raggy Maggy, a Moon Child and scavenger, gets more than she bargains for when she discovers a small clockwork dragon with a mind of its own. Because Maggy finds it near the body of a Meridion—the people who live in a floating, technologically advanced city above BrightStone—she's immediately accused of murder by the corrupt and power hungry Inquestors, who punish first and ask questions later. Left for dead, Maggy is rescued by rebels, who believe that BrightStone should be free from Meridion rule, and who believe that Meridion is behind a plague impacting BrightStone's population. Moon Children, the offspring of a Meridion and a person from BrightStone, have always been shunned by both, and Maggy's loyalties are to her clan rather than the city that has treated her so poorly. But now, she's embroiled in the rebellion, and to save herself, she may have to save the city, too.
Alana Joli Abbott: What was the seed that grew into Maggy's story?
Allison Pang: Oddly enough, I actually started what would become the story back in 2008. Just an idea of a clockwork dragon and a floating city. I didn’t really have a vision for it per se, just a couple of pages, but then I backburnered it when my urban fantasy series started getting some traction. But it always there in the back of my head, and around 2013 I started to actually write it all out. By then I had a slightly better idea of where I wanted to go with it, and a better concept of who the main characters would be.
The story itself is dedicated to my daughter, Lucy. When she was about five years old, she went through a period of time where she was quite upset that she was mixed race and would cry about wanting to be “white like mommy.” This was obviously rather heartbreaking to me, and when I revisited the manuscript it became clear to me that I needed do something with that, and Raggy Maggy was born.
AJA: Maggy's world is such a wonderful hybrid of different types of speculative fantasy worlds. How did your worldbuilding process work?
AP: I’m a panster so I tend to make it up as I go. It can lead to trouble sometimes (and heavy editing later), but that is just how it works for me. In this case, I took the pieces I knew had to be there—the dragon, the floating city, the characters—and determined what the end game would be. The rest unfolded as I moved forward with what seemed to fit the story best.
Worldbuilding wise, I really wanted there to be a juxtaposition between the city of BrightStone—which has a little bit of steampunk, a little bit of Victorian gothic, a little bit of dystopia—and the technologically advanced floating city of Meridion. We don’t get to see Meridion proper until Magpie’s Flight, but it’s much more modern.
AJA: The genre of Magpie's Song can be a little hard to pin down; it's not a high fantasy, it's a little dystopian but not futuristic, and it has clockpunk elements. You've mentioned before that the genre-mix is one of the reasons you originally self-published. Can you talk more about your initial process in bringing out the book?
AP: I certainly tried to sell it to a traditional publisher. It actually almost got sold to two of the Big Five. In one case, the editor loved it but was afraid their marketing department wouldn’t know what to do with it. The other…wanted me to remove the steampunk elements and turn it into something more magic based. I did rewrite a little of it to see how it would go, but to be honest, that felt all wrong anyway—the entire story really does rotate around the concept of Maggy's clockwork heart. Magic wasn’t what I was going for, and it felt dishonest to the story. I don’t think I would have been very happy about it in the long run.
After several years of dead-ends with traditional publishers, I decided to self-publish it instead, but I’m hoping by partnering with Outland I’ll be able to get better distribution than what I was able to manage on my own. (Admittedly I am NOT a good marketing person.)
AJA: What are the perks of self-publishing or working with a small indie publisher instead of a larger press?
AP: Obviously self-publishing has the advantage of not needing to wait on a publishing schedule. You have control over layout, cover…and everything else. But you also have all the marketing costs, the editing costs, the production costs. A larger press obviously handles that, including distribution and promotion, but if you’re a mid-list author, you also don’t get a huge amount of attention or feedback, and it’s very easy to simply feel like another cog in the machine as they throw books at the wall to see what sticks.
A smaller press has its advantages in that they can work more closely with the author, helping to defray the publication costs while also having much wider distribution than a self-published author—at least as far as tangible books go. (Yes, authors can certainly do just fine with epubs on Amazon and what not, but it can be much more difficult to have Barnes & Noble put it on a shelf.)
AJA: Now, for the most important question—which would you rather have at your house: a tiny clockwork dragon, or a pint-sized unicorn in your underwear drawer?
AP: A unicorn, of course! Phin might be an obnoxious bacon-eating, sparkle-smearing disaster, but he’s loads more fun.
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Want to know more about Allison Pang? Check out these links:
Allison Pang's Cross-Genre Adventure Magpie's Song Released
Fox and Willow Acquired by Outland Entertainment
Heart of the Dreaming: Allison Pang’s Home Page
You can also follow Allison on Twitter and Instagram
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