The cover for my upcoming debut novel A Master of Djinn got revealed this week. Welcome back to the world of an alternate 1912 Cairo, of steampunk, magic, and djinn. Oh, and everyone’s favorite dapper suit wearing investigator–complete with a bowler.
Been a minute. Summer’s ended as busily as it started, and the fall is no easier. 2020 ain’t letting up on us just yet. Still, thought I’d make time to stop by and show off the cover to my debut full-length novel, A Master of Djinn, out in May 2021 by Tor.com Publishing. As it has, again, been a minute, this post is gonna be a bit ridiculously long–as I recount the road that brought me here. If you’d rather skip watching me wander down memory lane, you can scroll down to take a peek at the goods. Otherwise strap in, and bring popcorn.
If you’ve followed this blog, or my writing, you’ll know my first “big” story was a novelette published in May 2016 called, A Dead Djinn in Cairo. To my continuing surprise, delight, and gratitude, that story did well. So much so that it launched my current writing with Tor.com Publishing. The tale was set in an alternate 1912 Cairo, where djinn and magic had returned to to world. In the story, an agent with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, Fatma el-Sha’arawi, is put on the case of a djinn suicide. Only things aren’t precisely as they seem. Unraveling the mystery leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and a plot that could unravel time itself.
When I first wrote that story, I had no idea it would even be published. For one, it was way over budget. What was supposed to be a short had pushed into novelette territory. Most short story markets at the time didn’t take stories past 6 or 7k. The few that did, had a 10k cutoff. And your story had better be damned good to deserve that much print: online or otherwise. What I had was pushing into 12k. And there was just no way it could be cut down and remain coherent. So I was about to assign it to the abyss of my hard drive, where many of its kin even now lay in slumber. But decided on a whim to roll the dice and put out a call on the interwebs.
Still got the tweet:
Ah, March 2015. Simpler times. Before the dark days. I mean we we had problems then, for sure. But this is some next level f$#*sh*t we’ve landed in now. We were all just sweet summer children then weren’t we?
To be honest, don’t know that I was expecting a reply. But I got one. From Diana Pho, then an editor at Tor. I’d known DIana online as the proprietor of Beyond Victoriana, a blog on all things steampunk and diversity. But it took a minute to put together she was also at Tor. So first I was like, huh? Then, oooh. Then OH! Quickly sent it off for a look see–and then I promptly forgot about it. 2015 was a big year. I’d lost my Mom to breast cancer in Spring 2014, gotten married in August 2014, and by Spring 2015 was casting around for fellowships to finish up the last year of my PhD. Landed a few. By that summer I was busily researching and dissertating in residence at the Library Company of Philadelphia. And I was planning for a two semester fellowship that would have me relocating solo to Pennsylvania for a year. Honestly, my story was out of sight, out of mind.
Then in early August, as I was planning for Pennsylvania and prepping to enter onto the rigorous academic job market, Diana sends me an email. She liked the story! Whaaat! Tor wants to publish it on their site! Double–whhaaaaaaaaat? Did a back flip, said heck yes, and celebrated my first BIG sale!
A Dead Djinn in Cairo was published in May 2016–on the exact day I was going through my hooding ceremony for my PhD. And I was nervous. Not about the hooding. I’d wrestled a whole ass dissertation and survived my defense. Plus I’d been one of the fortunate to come off the job market that year with a tenure-track position. Everything I’d worked so hard for academically was coming together. I was damn near strutting up to the stage. But my story…?
Look, I’d been published previously. Mostly short stories in semi-pro online markets, and novelettes in some independent print anthologies. But this was Tor–TOR! The folks I grew up with on the spine of my fantasy book covers. I knew that the site’s published and featured stories got lots of foot traffic. For the first time, one of my stories was really going to be put out there. In front of a bigger audience than I’d ever had before. What if people hated it? What if the story flopped? What if, even worse, they read it, shrugged, and said–“meh.” As I sat through my ceremony, every now and again I was checking my phone to see reactions.
Turns out, people liked it. The story. The main character. The worldbuilding. They really liked it. So much so, some asked the inevitable–“is there more?”
Errr. Well the answer back then was, not sure. I hadn’t really intended to write more in this world past that first novelette. In part because I never expected it would be published. Figured it’d just be this nice little thing I wrote that I was proud of that I’d share with a few friends. I had nothing in mind for more. But, I wasn’t running on empty either. I like worldbuilding: creating fleshed out settings that promise there’s new surprises if you can get a better peek. So there was lots there to work with. Just needed the inspiration. As I always say though, nothing feeds the muse like readers and praise.
I didn’t return to that world right away. First off, remember that academic life? That summer 2016 was filled with all sorts of planning for relocation (goodbye DC, hello New England!) and getting acclimated as a junior scholar and professor at a new campus. That summer, I did do some writing–only in wholly different worlds, that I was also glad to see get their time to shine. But I had no headspace or actual moments to really sit with and return to my alternate Cairo. My relationship with Tor did blossom, however, when in late Fall 2016 Diana asked if I had anything else she might want to look at. I’d written another alternate world novella back in 2013 or so, this one set in New Orleans. Offered it to her to take a look, and through lots of skillful guidance by her hand and other readers like Justina Ireland…yadda, yadda, yadda, my next Tor novella The Black God’s Drums was published in 2018.
It was my first printed solo book. And though only a novella, once again, exceeded my expectations in its popularity. Got nominated for stuff. Won awards. Just so wild. At any rate, in the middle of enhancing and editing BGD, any thoughts to my alt-Cairo world were pushed to the side. I also had an academic manuscript to wrangle, and some scholarly book chapters to contribute. There was just no room to think on djinn or the like.
Okay, that’s not exactly true. Let’s back up.
In April 2016 I got an email from the editors of a small press anthology called Clockwork Cairo. The editor had read a novelette I wrote called Men in Black, published in the indie anthology Steamfunk (2013). They wanted to know if I would be interested in writing something steampunk and set in Cairo. This was a month before Dead Djinn was published. I replied that I coincidentally had a steampunk Cairo story set to come out, but sure, I’d take a stab at writing another. What emerged was a tale called, The Angel of Khan el-Kalili. It didn’t feature any of the characters from Dead Djinn. It was also a bit darker–all about workers and bosses and industrial social problems. But it was set in that world. And though I didn’t expand much on what I already had, it allowed me to really sit down and think about what the possibilities.
But I’d finished writing that story in Nov 2016 and turned to BGD soon after. I didn’t truly return to the Dead Djinn world until almost a year later, in the summer of 2017. I’d gotten through my first year as a junior scholar. I’d signed a contract for BGD. Things were looking good in both worlds, that had somehow taken off at the same time. That summer, I presented academic papers at conferences in the Caribbean and Spain, and had research trips planned for England. Oh, my wife and I were also looking into buying a house–in New England. Like a Stephen King movie. I don’t know when exactly I decided to do so, but one night before dinner, while in Granada, Spain (dinner is fairly late in Spain) I sat down with my laptop and started making a timeline of the Dead Djinn world. Soup to nuts. Ate, drank, had convo with scholars, returned to it in the morning and faster than you can down a caña, I had it done. It was like having a map that I kept in bits and pieces in my head, now laid out before me.
Over the next month, I went back to that map–to study it. And as I did, a story just sorta “popped in there” (there being my head). In mid to late July I was in London, to do work at the National Archives. If you study anywhere in the world the British Empire decided to set its imperial sun upon (unasked and uninvited), you have to traipse your way back to sift through the colonial records. Just the way it is. While I waded through nineteenth-century documents and newspapers by day, I decided the nights and half-of-Saturday, and most of Sunday were mine. Hung out with friends, visited with family, drank many a pint. When I wasn’t doing that, I sat purposefully eating dinner solo at Turkish restaurants, sipping flat whites at cafes, or locked in my flat, so I could work on my new story.
Over a two week period, I got it done. Called it, The Haunting of Tram Car 015. Unlike The Angel of Khan el-Kalili, this story was of a lighter fare. It was meant to be a bit silly, even absurd in some ways. It featured two new characters–Hamed and Onsi–but returned us to the Ministry of of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. This more enhanced and fleshed out Cairo is stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, sentient automatons and more. There are also cameos from Dead Djinn, including an appearance by Fatma. Suit, bowler and all. Oh, and of course, a haunted tram car and Armenian candy. Like I said, a bit absurd. But fun.
Once I’d gotten through that story, I knew an entire novel set in this world was in the making. I just had to dream it up. I started thinking on ideas as early as that summer 2017. Jotted down notes, here and there. In late 2017, I sat down and sketched out the whole novel in a broad outline. The characters. The plot. The climax. All of it. Even the name–A Master of Djinn. Just had to write it, which primarily got done (once again) during the summer months. This also coincided with the arrival of my twin daughters–weeks early. The second half of summer and much of the Fall was spent between NICUs and learning how to be a new Dad–all of which was rewarding, beautiful, at times harrowing, and serious WORK. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Love them little fighters!
That Fall, I was also in the process of getting an agent, the very talented Seth Fishman at Gernert. (You seem him trying to look all fly in that photo right? He’s also a writer!) Seth read the manuscript, gave me some great advice, and I pecked away at it until it was finally ready to shop to publishers. Of COURSE, I was going to Diana at Tor–right away. She had been the one to even take a chance on this venture. To this day I’m convinced, few other editors would have greenlighted Dead Djinn. That’s my word. Diversity MATTERS. I was going to go to Diana wherever she was! When you get an agent involved, things get a bit more complicated. But after some good honest back and forth, A Master of Djinn had a home at Tor. I’d also signed on to do two new novellas, one of which I pitched as a southern gothic horror fantasy I called Ring Shout. But that’s a whole other story.
Anyway, after lots more editing and work, A Master of Djinn now has a publishing date of May 2021. Yeah, the literary world is hella slow. It is what it is. This past week, the novel got a cover reveal by io9. AND, an exclusive excerpt was included–for good measure.
View the cover below, by artist Stephan Martiniere:
So that’s it. That’s the cover. Feast on its glory! Including a silhouette of everyone’s favorite dapper investigator. Be sure to check out the brief excerpt at io9–and as always, thank you for reading and all your continued support. Y’all made this happen. A Master of Djinn will be out May 11, 2021; you can pre-order a copy here.
Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.
So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world fifty years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.
Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…
What some very nice people are saying about A Master of Djinn:
“A clever, wickedly fun steampunk mystery with an excellent balance of humor and heart. I loved it.” —S. A. Chakraborty, internationally-bestselling author of The City of Brass
“A delightful whodunnit full of sly commentary and a wonderfully lived-in steampunk Cairo. The perfect read when I needed a break from this world to enjoy one wholly made from Clark’s enviable imagination.” —Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Rebecca Roanhorse, author of Trail of Lightning and Star Wars: Resistance Reborn
“A Master of Djinn has all the tricky twists I want in a police procedural and all the djinns, magic and wonder I want from fantasy.” —Mary Robinette Kowal, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of The Calculating Stars
“A Master of Djinn is everything you might expect from Clark: cinematic action, a radical reimagining of real history, and magic on every page. I loved it.” —Hugo Award winner Alix E. Harrow, author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January
“Alternate historic Cairo comes to vivid life in Clark’s first novel. His cosmopolitan city includes not only humans from all around the world, but supernatural creatures aplenty. When their interests and agendas collide, the result is the kind of book you don’t want to put down.” —World Fantasy and Hugo Award-nominated author Marie Brennan
“Fascinating! I love the intricate alt-history world of A Master of Djinn, with its hints at the changed destinies of nations and ordinary people alike after the cataclysmic return of magic to the world. Clark gives us an engaging mystery with a wonderful mix of the fantastic and the mundane, chain-smoking crocodile gods, stuffy marid librarians, and a brilliant heroine with a dashing bowler.”—Django Wexler, author of The Thousand Names