The Paizo Editorial Pit can be a busy place sometimes. And by sometimes, I mean all the time. So much so that it's easy to get so focused on polishing and printing books that you look up one day and realize you don't get to geek out publicly about them anymore! Such was the case for me, when I realized I hadn't written any sort of behind-the-scenes blog in months. So I petitioned Paizo's illustrious Blog Queens and asked them to give me a digital soap box every two months, from which I can try to pull back the curtain a little on the Pathfinder Tales novels. After all, there are a million authors out there, and a literally infinite number of ideas. So what makes me choose a particular book to invest in and see all the way through the Paizo process, from concept to final printing?
Fortunately for me, this first one is easy. You want to know why I decided to publish Beyond the Pool of Stars? Take a look at the illustration accompanying this blog.
That's Mirian Raas. She's a deepwater salvager out of Sargava, and as soon as Howard sketched her out for me, I knew we had a winner.
See, Mirian is a classic swashbuckling, two-fisted pulp hero, an explorer and Pathfinder who's part Indiana Jones and part Han Solo. She's also a woman of color—half native Mwangi, half colonial Chelaxian. That combination appealed to me deeply. Not just because we need more representation of rad women and heroes of color in the genre (though we absolutely do—one of the reasons I'm happy to see people connecting with characters like Seelah, or Alahazra, or Jiri from Firesoul). But because Sargava isn't just some adventure site full of monsters and ruins (even if some Avistani may see it that way). It's a society that's defined by racial tension, and Mirian and her brother occupy a unique place within it, neither truly a ruling colonial nor one of the native Mwangi people. That sort of conflict—both internal and external—makes for interesting characters, and provides a unique perspective from which to view that society. One of the best things fantasy can do is hold a mirror up to social issues in our own world, in a way that draws us in and lets us see ourselves more clearly. (And it's not just about skin color, either—that central idea of clashing societies and building bridges across cultural divides only multiplies when Mirian and her crew team up with a tribe of lizardfolk.)
But while I love it when fantasy addresses important social issues or interesting philosophical concepts, that's not enough to make a book for me on its own. (I can read blogs for that!) Pathfinder is a game about adventure, and so too do the novels need action to draw us in. Fortunately, that's something Howard Andrew Jones knows well, being a scholar of adventure fiction both old and new. After outlining Mirian to me, he promptly hooked me on the book's plot with the idea of an underwater lizardfolk city hidden in a cenote—one of those beautiful sinkholes filled with water. The idea of doing a deepwater dive in the middle of the jungle was so novel that I signed off on it immediately, and Mirian and her crew were forced to step off the rolling deck of the Daughter of the Mists and into the sweltering, unpredictable jungle.
As an interesting bit of trivia: this isn't a new story for Howard. When he originally sent me a writing sample, many years ago now, it also featured a deep water salvager—one who shared an eerie number of similarities with Mirian Raas. At the time, doing anything underwater seemed too unusual—how often do you actually run campaigns underwater?—and I was eager to have him write a more iconic "adventuring party" novel, which resulted in Elyana the elven ranger and her band of heroes. Yet that image of the bold salvagers stuck with both of us, and it's been really fun to see the characters come back around again. Some ideas just don't take no for an answer!
You can check out the first chapter for free here!
James L. Sutter