So turns out people really like this story of spirited transport systems & Armenian candy. Who knew?
When I started writing The Haunting of Tram Car 015, no way did I think that it would receive a Nebula nomination for best 2019 novella. Heck, I didn’t even know it would be published.
I’d started writing in this world in my 2016 novelette A Dead Djinn in Cairo, published on Tor.com in May 2016. It was my first “big” publication, at least one with the audience Tor.com would bring. I was elated but nervous. Would people like it? Would they say “meh.” Or even worse, wonder how this mediocre bit of writing ended up on Tor’s website? I was rewarded with just the opposite. To my utter surprise it did well. More than well. It got…praise! People liked it. They did artwork on it. They talked about it. They shared it with friends. Some big names I respected gave it props. I was floored!
Most of all though, people asked that exciting and dreaded question: “is there more?”
Err…. Naw. I’m going to be real with you. At the moment I finished Dead Djinn, there was nothing else on the horizon in that world. It wasn’t that I’d written it definitively as a stand-alone. It was just that I was so surprised it was even published, I hadn’t planned for it’s success. I hadn’t thought, what next?
Lucky for me, I love building worlds. Sometimes I love them more than the stories. In this case, I’d laid the groundwork for a more expansive world in Dead Djinn, even if I hadn’t really conceived new stories yet. So, just about one year later, on a Saturday evening in May 2017, I sat down and fleshed out the world. “Soup to nuts,” as a former co-worker of mine used to say. Took several pages and a few hours but when I stepped back, there it was. The Dead Djinn world was unfurled before me like a map. My world building took the form of a time line. So ninety-percent of it took place decades before the events in Dead Djinn. But, perhaps because I’m a historian, it was just what I needed to see things more clearly. More defined.
But a world ain’t a story. It’s just like a nice D&D setting. All the props are there, even the characters. To make a story out of it, you have to come up with a plot, tension, a goal, etc. That Summer 2017 was a busy one for me. I was in back to back conferences after my first year as a junior scholar. And I had to do research. Between May through June, I was in Tobago (proper), followed by Trinidad (for archival research) and then in Spain (Madrid, Malaga, & Granada). Did I mention during this time my wife and I were was also trying to close on a house? That July, I went to London for two weeks. Stayed in Kensington and booked up to to the National Archives in Kew every day for research–because if you’re studying anything in one of the former colonies, you gotta go to the heart of empire eventually.
At night though, when I wasn’t visiting family or hanging with London friends, I decided to dedicate it to getting something out of this world. Had brought my little black book with me, and jotted down the notes to a story. Sketched it out in one sitting over a cup of flat white. Then the following days, I started writing. By the time I left London, I had an entire novella written. It was called The Haunting of Tram Car 015. Unlike Dead Djinn, the main character wasn’t Fatma of the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. It featured two other agents–Hamed and Onsi. And while their case didn’t deal with the earth-ending events of Dead Djinn, it was no-less harrowing, if even also at times humorous.
I wanted this story to be fun. Just my way to play around and explore this more expansive world I’d built, before returning to my main character Fatma–though she does make a cameo appearance. A Nebula nomination though, was the furthest thing from my imagination. So I’m thankful, and humbled, and extra-thankful to those who bought my novella, enjoyed it, and shared it. Check out the nomination here, and the other great novellas it’s sharing a slate with. If you’re so inclined, read more about my inspiration, building, and story building, here.
Cairo, 1912: The case started as a simple one for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities — handling a possessed tram car.
Soon, however, Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner Agent Onsi Youssef are exposed to a new side of Cairo stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, and sentient automatons in a race against time to protect the city from an encroaching danger that crosses the line between the magical and the mundane.
Want to read the novella? You can order it at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and other bookselling places.
Want to read an excerpt of the story? You can do that, here.
Also, there’s a grand review on NPR by writer Amal El-Mohtar you can read here.
What some more very nice people have said about The Haunting of Tram Car 015:
“P. Djeli Clark once again blends his brilliant imagination with a thoughtful and complex historical analysis — not to mention plenty of heart — to weave a breathtaking tale of cities, spirits, friendship, and society. I love this story so much and couldn’t stop reading it, and I can’t wait to see what Clark does next!” — New York Times bestselling author Daniel Jose Older
“Utterly delightful, with a sly wit and a deep and satisfying take on alternate history.” —Kate Elliott, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-nominated author
“The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is a witty, political, magical visit to an alternate 1912 Cairo suffused with richly imagined sights, tastes, and a dash of bureaucracy. Forget the Ministry of Magic; you want to be there when the agents of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities get to work on a case.” —Nebula and Sturgeon Award-winning author Sarah Pinsker
“Fast-acting and fabulous, Clark’s sequel to “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” adds fierce suffragists and squirming smugglers to his alternate Egypt, a place richly infused with alchemical steampunkery. Newly introduced Inspector Hamed and his rookie partner are sharply-focused moving pictures of persistence, doing their utmost to face down a terrifying spectral incursion. With all-encompassing craft, Clark shares the story of an investigation in which his heroes’ efforts and Cairo’s cosmopolitan nature work in sync to save the day.” — James Tiptree Jr. Award Winner Nisi Shawl, author of Everfair
“Clark (The Black God’s Drums, 2018) continues to astound readers with his creativity and exploration of different supernatural entities. While his first book delved into African orishas in 1871 New Orleans, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 introduces djinn, Asian spirits, and automatons….This book will delight readers of all ages.” — Booklist
“Fast-paced, elegantly structured, and with an eye for the ridiculous, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is an absolute pleasure to read. In Djèlí Clark’s hands, prose, characterisation, and worldbuilding combine to create a deeply enjoyable magical alternate-history procedural. I eagerly look forward to seeing what he does next – and I have to confess, I’m hoping for a full-length novel.” —Locus magazine
Since the Dead Djinn in Cairo I loved that world you created. I bought it, and the next one with the haunted tram car. No pressure, but I will look forward to getting back to that world whenever you have time. The first book of yours that I read before looking for more was Black God’s Drums. You offer so much local flavor to your stories that they really pull you in.
Thanks Patrick! Hope you keep reading!
Oh you forgot the french reviews :
“Ce roman confirme mon coup de cœur pour cet auteur. Dans cette Égypte uchronique, le lecteur naviguera entre sourire, envoutement et frissons. Créativité, fond, cohérence, cette plume est à retenir.” 😉
( This novel confirms that I love the author. In this ucronial Egypt, readers will navigate between smiles, bewitchments, and chills (and thrill too). Creativity, substance, coherence and writing will entice you.)
Loved “The Black God’s Drums”, and just bought “Dead Djinn in Cairo” and “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” because the “Black God’s Drums” was just so awesome. Please keep up the awesome work – and I’d love to read a giant story in the black god-universe!
This was my EXACT experience. Black God Drums had me searching for other tales. Now I am in a class about world building and we are reading the Haunting and I have Dead Djinn on Audibles waiting for me to get through it. Enjoying your craft to the fullest! Thank you for writing!
I think I know that class…!
I love “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” and “Dead Djinn in Cairo” so much! Can’t wait to see more in that universe. (And “The Dead God’s Drums” is amazing too.) 🙂
I am already waiting for more in this universe!
I loved the characters, Hamed and Onsi, in “The Haunting of Tram Car 015”. I hope there will be more stories in this universe with them. =)
I am reading.. and smiling 🙂 .. That is all. Looking forward to reading this and your other works and exploring these worlds.. and fleshing out my own.
Smiling back. 🙂