Your books have been picked as a reluctant reader selections. What do you find is the best way to make “reluctant readers” reach for books?
Falconry lies at the core of Black Wings Beating, what about the sport drew you in? And have you personally ever worked with birds in that way?
Falconry is an ancient practice that just about every culture on earth has invented at some point, where a person trains a killer bird to fly from the fist, kill for them, and return. It is the art of managing another being’s longing, keeping them just hungry enough to come back to you, though they can tear you to shreds or leave you at any time. To me, it was an apt metaphor for my first love. A falconer can put years of care and thousands of dollars into the training of a falcon and have that falcon one day simply sky out, gone for reasons that they might never know or understand.
When I developed my first really intense crush on another guy–one of the lacrosses players at my high school–I found myself coming up with all sorts of excuses to be around him. I tried to be present without being noticed, lest he fly off like a nervous bird…or attack. He could easily disappear into the popular kids group. He could easily tear me limb from limb. The closer I got to him, the more dangerous it felt, but also the more thrilling. For a brief time, I felt like we’d really bonded, and I might’ve even gotten the nerve to tell him howI felt, but one day, he just pulled away, cut himself off from me, and was gone. No matter how much I longed to be around him, his desire was not my desire, and however well I thought I knew his mind, I had no idea what went on behind his eyes. So for me, the idea of a falconer is the same as a lover, longing for a deadly being from a different sky, who might perch with you a while, but can never belong to you.
I wanted to explore that, but, in doing research, discovered so much cool stuff about birds of prey and about the cultures of falconry, that it seemed wild to me no one had made falconry central to a fantasy world. I didn’t want to just write killer birds as a metaphor for longing. I wanted to write a kick-ass world filled with actual kick-ass killer birds, sacred, deadly, awe-inspiring predators.
I was lucky enough to find a Master Falconer a few hours from my house in Pennsylvania, who let me come out to meet his cast of hawks, falcons, and owls, learn about his art and craft, and spend a little while casting a Harris Hawk from my fist and calling it back again a few times. It’s an intense experience carrying a bird on the fist, letting go, and calling it down again from the sky. We didn’t get out hunting, but we did try to trap a wild passage hawk for which he had a license, but lost the bird in the trees, as happens sometimes. Falconry is forever perched on the edge of disappointment.