For today’s post, The Sea of the Dead author Barry Wolverton stops by to share the 5 things he learned while writing this series. Be sure to keep reading after Barry’s post for more about how you can win the first two books in The Chronicles of the Black Tulip.
5 Things I Learned Writing the Chronicles of the Black Tulip
by Barry Wolverton
1. Tulips were once as valuable as Apple stock.
Why is my series called The Chronicles of the Black Tulip? Why is my alternate history version of the Dutch East India Company called the Dutch Bicycle and Tulip Company? Because once upon a time, the tulip was the most coveted flower in the Western world. So much so that it led to something called “tulip mania,” considered the first speculative investment bubble, long before dot-com disasters and McMansions.
If you read The Vanishing Island (and if you haven’t, you must!), you will have gathered that I found it interesting that even back in the Age of Seafaring, men had professionalized exploration. This wasn’t just dashing sea captains and pirates freelancing for loot. It was a business. Companies paid for the ships and the sailors, backed by investors, and the return on your investment was the value of spices, gold, silk, or whatever people were willing to pay big bucks for. And yes, at one time, tulips were the hot commodity. A single bulb of a desirable species could be worth the entire annual income of a wealthy merchant.
If that seems like a lot, it was. And it didn’t last. Tulip mania ruined many. If you’re intrigued, look for Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash. Fascinating stuff.
2. Eastern folklore and mythology is far more lyrical than Western folklore.
One of the nice things about creating a saga that spans the globe is that I got to indulge my love of world storytelling traditions. Despite how different cultures may be, they share the same fundamental patterning stories that deal with creation, natural phenomena, floods, world trees, rebirth, the end of times. But storytelling isn’t just about the content; it’s about the telling, too. And I was absolutely taken with how lyrical Asian mythology and folklore is. I could go on and on and on about this, but I’ll just give one example and then let you explore on your own.
Common to West and East are instruments or artifacts possessed by gods or god-like men and women. In the West, it’s all so very martial: the Hammer of Thor; the Sword Excalibur; the Lighting Bolt of Zeus; the cowboy’s sidearm.
If you haven’t read The Dragon’s Gate (and if you haven’t, you must!), you know that I introduce the Eight Immortals, ancient deities from actual Chinese mythology who were each represented by an powerful artifact. I took some liberties, but in most versions, the instruments are: a lotus; a gourd; a basket of flowers; a flute; a bamboo drum; a fan; and okay, a sword (at some point, even a deity is gonna have to whack someone).
3. I would have died immediately on a polar voyage.
Bren’s voyage to the North Pole in the final book was inspired by a couple of things. One was the historical quest for the Northeast Passage, which like the quest for the Northwest Passage led to a lot of misery for a lot of sailors. And the other was the historical quest to discover and map the North Pole.
One doomed voyage in particular was that of the USS Jeannette in the late 19th century. It was funded by the owner of The New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the man who had sent Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. He wanted to confirm a theory that the North Pole was actually a paradise because of the confluence of warm ocean currents that fed into an open sea.
The theory was wrong, to say the least. The Jeannette became trapped in ice and drifted helplessly for two years. The entire crew of 33 men somehow survived, despite the fact that Arctic winters are completely dark with temperatures reaching 40 below. When they finally had to abandon ship and sail for land in small boats, 11 died, and another 9 died once they did reach land, because that land was Siberia.
I read about the Jeannette in Hampton Sides’ book, In the Kingdom of Ice, which I highly recommend for anyone interest in real adventure and perseverance in the face of unimaginable obstacles. The book gave me a strong sense for the environment Bren and his companions would have to brave on their own misguided voyage to the top of the world.
4. There’s more to mandalas than meets the eye.
Which is saying a lot, because mandalas are some of the most intricate designs in the universe of visual art.
The most prosaic definition of a mandala is a “geometric figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism.” But they can also be highly symbolic, representing one’s search for completeness and self-unity. That’s why, in The Sea of the Dead (which you must read!), I chose a mandala as Bren’s final puzzle, after the paiza of book one and the oracle bone map of book two. That mandala is illustrated in the book’s first pages, and I encourage readers to take a good look and see how many clues they can find to the whole series.
5. The Best Review Come through Google Translate
I was fortunate that HarperCollins chose this series to be published as part of their new Brazil imprint. The Vanishing Island, which was published as A Ilha Perdida (roughly, “The Lost Island”), came out last year, and out of morbid curiosity I did a web search to see if anyone had reviewed it. I found a couple of bloggers who had, but of course I don’t speak Portuguese. So I allowed Google Chrome to translate the text to English, which produced some unintentionally hilarious and awesome results.
“Let’s stop stalling and talk about this book that presented a super hot reading. Yes! A very tasty book to read with adventures, misadventures and much suspense. With each chapter I stayed, sirrrrr because that, noooo, lie . . . . It’s me I talk to the book, I’m crazy even. But I can guarantee that all the answers are answered in this first volume and leaves us with a little bit of curiosity for the next volume that I hope will not be long in coming.”
“The plot is set in the year 1599, and this fact alone is already a major innovation in both the YA field and the fantastic. I was so used to reading dystopian, futuristic books that to have this change to past centuries was a change of invigorating air.”
I had no idea my books were so thrilling until I saw them through the eyes of a robot translator!
Today’s code word: BREN
Does the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?
It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.
It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.
Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.
An engrossing fantasy, a high-seas adventure, an alternate history epic—this is the richly imagined and gorgeously realized second book in acclaimed author Barry Wolverton’s Chronicles of the Black Tulip, perfect for fans of The Glass Sentence and the Books of Beginning series.
A magical white jade stone and a map inscribed in bone that may be the key to an even greater mystery—this is the treasure Bren and Mouse have found buried on the Vanishing Island.
Mouse is determined to follow the map to a place called the Dragon’s Gate, convinced it will explain who she really is and the powers she possesses. Bren has had enough adventure for one lifetime and would like nothing more than to return to his father in Map. But nothing goes according to plan when the survivors of the Albatross are rescued by Lady Jean Barrett, a charismatic archaeologist with a sense of destiny.
Barrett is on a quest for the Eight Immortals, ancient artifacts she believes are buried in the tomb of China’s first emperor—the location of which has been hidden for nearly two thousand years. The only way for Bren, Mouse, and Barrett to all get what they want is to work together on a dangerous journey into the heart of China, a kingdom long closed to outsiders, where the greatest secrets about Mouse and Bren are waiting to be unveiled.
An engrossing fantasy, a high-seas adventure, an alternate history epic—this is the richly imagined and gorgeously realized third book in acclaimed author Barry Wolverton’s Chronicles of the Black Tulip, perfect for fans of The Glass Sentence and the Books of Beginning series.
After the harrowing and life-changing events at the Dragon’s Gate, Bren wants nothing more than to make his way back to England. Finding the answers to the great mysteries he’d been chasing only found him questioning why he’d ever pursued them in the first place, and now he’s lost his best friend, forever. There’s nothing left for him but to return home and hope his father hasn’t given up on him.
But just because Bren is done with adventure does not mean adventure is done with him. On his way to escape from China, Bren is gifted a rare artifact, with a connection to a place no one has set foot upon. Soon he’s fallen in with a mysterious Indian noblewoman bent on discovering an ancient power and leading her country against colonial rule.
The only way home, it seems, is through helping her—and as Bren wonders what she’s willing to sacrifice in order to return home a hero, he must ask himself the same questions.