25 Years of Spectra: THE GRAND ELLIPSE (2000) by Paula Volsky

 

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Author Paula Volsky, Spectra Senior Editor Anne Groell, and former Spectra editor Janna Silverstein discuss working on The Grand Ellipse


grandellipse.jpg“The first nine fantasy novels that I wrote were all set in the same world. It was a place without a name or official title; but it did not lack content. There were continents, countries, diverse cultures and customs. There was history, art, literature, technology, religion, philosophy, politics, and always plenty of magic. In short, I threw in everything I could think of to bring the world to full and colorful life. The books were self-contained. Each was set in its own country, with its own cast of characters, and there were no crossovers of persons or of plotlines. Eventually, however, I wanted to draw those disparate elements into a unified whole. Thus was born the idea for my tenth novel, The Grand Ellipse. A group of characters would race across the world, passing through all the countries I had written about in earlier books, their course describing the ellipse of the title. Travel at breakneck pace, by means of Victorian era conveyances, is sure to be taxing, but in this case particularly so, for the fictional world and most of its nations are at war, and the indisputably bad guys seem to have the upper hand. The racers compete for glory and a valuable prize, but for at least one of them, there’s more to it than that. The beautiful, driven, and desperate Luzelle Devaire has entered the Grand Ellipse race as an agent of the Vonahrish government. Should she emerge victorious, she gains a chance to secure the use of a magical weapon powerful enough to repel invasion and preserve her seemingly doomed nation. Given such incentive, combined with personal motives, Luzelle will do anything it takes to win–anything in the world. Or will she?

I gave Luzelle and her competition enough adventures, difficulties, and disasters, to carry them through a long and (I hope) lively novel. At the end of it, my fantasy world had been well and truly defined, thus freeing me to move on to other worlds.”


–Paula Volsky, June 2010

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“Authors are always nervous when they get orphaned, and when new editors are assigned to projects that other editors bought and loved. Below, editor Janna Silverstein tells you about how she fell for Paula. So when Janna left for Wizards of the Coast and I took over her job at Bantam, Paula was understandably nervous about having someone else take over her books. We had talked several times on the phone and gotten along quite well, and I had promised to read her backlist as soon as I could, but–in this particular case–I didn’t get to it quite as fast as I had hoped. So there was nervousness all around–Paula hoping I got what she did, and me really hoping I loved the books.

We needn’t have worried. Illusion blew me away. And I also adored The Wolf of Winter. Paula has a gorgeous, mannered style that is highly romantic in all the best ways, a sly sense of humor, a fabulous sense of history-that-isn’t–and a really wicked imagination when it comes to novel forms of torture. (There was, I believe, a giant jar in The White Tribunal that impressed me immensely.)

But I think my favorite of her books really is The Grand Ellipse. It is The Great Race in a fantasy universe; Around the World in Eighty Days with magic. It is one woman’s bold quest to win a race around her world by whatever means of transportation she can manage. Her fellow competitors are ruthless, the landscapes are exotic (and yet subtly familiar), and its pseudo-Victorian milieu is steampunk before steampunk was really popular. (Plus, we managed to get the perfect cover for the book; I still think the art utterly fits the book.)

It is, in my opinion, one of the great undiscovered masterpieces of fantasy literature.

So, do yourself a favor and read this one, if you haven’t already. And perhaps it will get you in the mood for what I already know is coming in late 2011–a whole new, wonderful trilogy from Paula which I have been working on in secret for several years, but which I didn’t want to schedule until volume 3 was in. But volume 3 is now in, and I am immensely excited about reintroducing her to the world after an eleven year gap.”


–Anne Groell, Senior Editor, Spectra

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“One of the things authors dread is losing an editor. After all, the editor who acquires your novel is your cheerleader, your advocate, your main contact at your publisher. If your editor departs the company, your book is orphaned–that’s the word authors use and, yes, even editors. It’s a bleak prospect and leaves authors feeling abandoned. When a colleague departs a company, other editors will be assigned their authors and books. In 1991, when her editor left Bantam Spectra, Paula Volsky and her novel The Illusionists were assigned to me.

I was unfamiliar with Paula’s work at the time. She’d published several fantasy novels with another publisher, but I didn’t even know her name. I admit that I was focused on the authors I’d acquired; working on this book would be a job, not a matter of conviction. Her agent, Don Maass, understood that an editor who finds herself with an orphaned project rarely has the passion for a book that its acquiring editor had. Don and I had already worked on other projects together. He knew my tastes and I trusted his judgment. He immediately set out to make sure that his author had just as passionate an advocate in her new editor that she’d had in the one who’d departed. Don’s strategy was a simple one: sell the book all over again.

Paula’s novel was set in an alternate Europe where the nobility were gifted with magic. It told the story of Eliste, a young noblewoman caught in the midst of an analog of the French Revolution. My interest in history always ran toward the ancient, but when Don talked about this story over lunch at a Manhattan restaurant, he really sold it. I was interested. And then he did one more thing.

He sent me the manuscript along with a box of Godiva chocolates! Eat bonbons, he said, while you read the book. I felt like a lady of the novel’s Exalted classes.

Happily, the novel was everything Don said about it, and Paula’s gifts as a writer were more than evident. Because of the presence of another novel in the market called “The Illusionists,” we worked with Paula to change the title and settled on Illusion. Jamie Warren-Youll, our art director, commissioned no less than award-winning artist Michael Whelan to create the iconic cover art. (Looking at the cover now, all these years later, it occurs to me that Whelan made Eliste look a little like a young Stevie Nicks.) And thus was Paula’s first novel for Spectra born. Paula was great to work with, marketing and sales totally supported the book, and fans loved it.

I’m delighted that Paula is one of the authors whose works have distinguished themselves on Spectra’s 25th anniversary. I look back on my experience working with her as one of my best with the imprint.

And just for the record, when Don sent me Paula’s next novel, The Wolves of Winter, set in an analog of Russia, he included . . . a bottle of cold and tasty vodka.”


–Janna Silverstein, former Spectra Editor

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