Hummingbird Salamander Behind the Scenes
Warning: Spoilers regarding hidden easter eggs in the novel
It’s many years and many books since City of Saints & Madmen, which is just riddled through with literary allusions and hidden references to any number of other texts. Since then, I’ve sometimes hidden things in other books, but certainly not in the tangled profusion of that first effort. Most notably, some readers have picked up on little easter egg nods to my Ambergris universe in the third Southern Reach novel, Acceptance (“refraction of light in a prison”, et al).
For Hummingbird Salamander, the hidden references are mostly of a different sort. There’s a strong visual element in how each part ends with an image. Some of those images are out of order on purpose, for plot reasons. Others hid messages simply because the artist who designed them, Jeremy Zerfoss, has worked with me for a while and knows my other work.
For example, the image of the cover of Furtown has a half-burned page showing beyond the cover. Jeremy chose a page of text from Annihilation to peek out, which will only be obvious to the most devoted Southern Reach fan (and, now, to you…).
I will also admit that I’m still haunted by the blue fox in the Borne Universe books, especially Dead Astronauts. In a sense I’m haunted by not just my own creation but also Sjon’s The Blue Fox. It was Sjon who allowed me to repurpose the blue fox, very kindly. The taxidermy in Hummingbird Salamander felt like it contained an echo thematically of Dead Astronauts, so there is one scene with a taxidermied fox has a blue tint to its fur from chemicals.
Does this mean the new novel has any connection to the Southern Reach or to the Borne universe? Absolutely not. These are simply in there as nods to my readers, but also thematically important, I think, to my subconscious. I can’t explain why, except I know it’s true.
The visual aspect to the novel also began to create story on its own. The diagram of the environmental community of Unitopia came to me after Jer Thorpe kindly pointed me toward Soviet-era utopian commune blueprints. This then combined in my imagination with a knowledge of what today we’d call “sustainable communities” in the UK and Germany during the 1960s. Unitopia was conjured up out of these two impulses.
But as I considered the blueprint of Unitopia Jeremy Zerfoss had made for me, the structure itself began to suggest more story and a whole history of its own. Some of that continuing narrative can be found in the additional pages added to the indie bookstore day edition of Hummingbird Salamander and some of it will live on a site, friendsofsilvina.com, that will go live in late April. I’m still unsure whether that spark will lead to even more story, perhaps about the character of Hellmouth, who you’ll meet in the novel. Perhaps about another character.
The other “hidden” element you might not realize is that a real biologist, Dr. Meghan Smith Brown, created the whole lifecycle of the naiad hummingbird and road newt in the novel. Usually, I would create those elements, but I felt that I needed the constraint of engaging with someone else’s fake/real creation—specifically, someone with a biology background, so the details wouldn’t be coming from an amateur (namely, me).
It was interesting how having to create story around someone’s else’s hummingbird and salamander affected the novel. I think it made things much stronger, in the sense that the plot had to accommodate existing details, because I’d resolved I wouldn’t change any of those details just to make it easier to write a scene or advance Jane’s investigation of the central mystery.
So, I guess the real hidden story of Hummingbird Salamander is how having to respond to other creator’s work helped craft what I hope is a compelling and mesmerizing mystery-thriller that grapples with a myriad of ecological issues.
I know I’m very much looking forward to sharing the novel with you during this book tour—and more fascinating facts about its creation.
Thank you for reading.