Interview with Author Nisi Shawl, Part 3

Welcome back for part three in our chat with Nisi Shawl, author of Everfair.

Read Part One here.

Read Part Two here.


Airship Ambassador: How long did it take to write, and rewrite, Everfair? What were the deadlines and publishing schedule like for you?

Nisi Shawl: I turned in a manuscript after about five years, then waited another year before I got suggested edits.  I had to turn those around in a couple months.  There was only one more round after that.  I tell people six years—it’s a nice, round number, and close enough to the truth for most purposes.

After turning in my first draft, I was consumed with anxiety till Nancy Kress advised me to simply carry on with my career as if the manuscript didn’t exist.  That meant I had commitments and projects in hand when Tor wanted me to focus exclusively on Everfair; sometimes my schedule was verrry tight because of that.  But it did cut down on my frettage.


AA: Seems like feast or famine What was your publishing experience like?

NS: Lumpy!  Everfair began life as the acquisition of one Tor editor, Jim Frenkel, and ended up in the care of another, Liz Gorinsky.  And when I got the contract I sent it to Joe Monti, who became my agent.  But after negotiation and signing I had to say goodbye to Joe, because he took a position as editor of a new SF line, Saga Press.  I wound up with his boss, Barry Goldblatt, as my agent.  It’s all great now, but getting here was by no means a smooth ride.


AA: That’s a lot of changes along the way. If someone likes “X”, then they’ll like Everfair. What is “X”?

NS: I don’t know.  So far the novel’s been compared to A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book.


AA: If Everfair were made into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?

NS: No idea!  I would hope that Chinese people would be cast as Chinese characters, etc.  But I don’t have any more specific visualizations.


AA: Sounds like readers could chime in here and make some suggestions! If Everfair had a soundtrack, what would it be like?

NS: Well, maybe the soundtrack I wrote it to?  I had a few Putumayo disks I used, chiefly Music from the Chocolate Lands and Acoustic Africa.  I set up a Pandora station, too.  Papa Noel, Kekele, and other Congolese musicians were in heavy rotation.  I also played a capella French choral music by , and Toure.


AA: What are some memorable fan reactions to Everfair which you’ve heard about?

NS: So far no one has gotten a tattoo of the cover art or anything startling like that.  It’s early days, though.


AA: What kind of attention has Everfair generated?

NS: This book has generated way more attention than I anticipated.  Honestly!  National reviews, academics writing chapters on it—30 people in the audience at my second reading, and 60 at the first!


AA: It has been very exciting to see review after review, and all of the touring you’ve done. How are new readers finding you?

NS: I’m not sure—social media?  Reviews?  Word of mouth?  Everfair is included in a box of books put together by Fresh Fiction, so hopefully that will get me a few more strangers.


AA: Over time, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?

NS: My lessons on having an editor were learned via short stories and journalism, and my experiences around Everfair only served to validate them.  My friend Eileen Gunn helped me understand when and how and why to push back against bad advice, and Mary Ann Gwinn, Books Page editor at the Seattle Times made me see how very important it is to have an astute editor’s eye on your work. 


AA: Have you been on book tours and to conventions? What has that been like, and the fan reaction?

NS: This is my first book tour! I am so excited–I thought publisher-sponsored tours were so 20th century, but here I go! I’ve attended conventions for years, and I plan to keep on doing that. My first was a Midwest con in the 1980s where C.J. Cherryh was GOH, and she’s so fabulous and sweet and kind and smart that she set my bar for future experiences very high.

Fan reaction.” Hunh. I guess that’s what’s going on, isn’t it? So far there’s been applause, and participation in the singalongs I more or less force on my audiences. I’m so gratified that anyone attends these events–I know there are a lot of other things going on, competing for people’s energy and time.


AA: That sounds like quite a testament to you and your work. What do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?

NS: I have a cat. I exercise–in the pool, or some other convenient body of water. I take walks. I’ve combined the cat and the walking thing. But not the cat and the pool.


AA: LOL, I can just imagine a steampunk deep sea diving outfit for your cat. Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?

NS: That is so much fun! I belong to a long-running critique group called S.T.E.W., and I’m friends with lots of other writers outside that group. My mother adopted Eileen Gunn, and we hang out and do sisterly things like talk about research and representing nonstandard speech patterns and getting paid on time. Because of Clarion West I’ve actually become fairly well acquainted with a number of other writers. They’re like 90% of my tribe.


AA: That’s wonderful to not only have a writing support group, but also new friends and expanding family. Some people might say that writers need to be readers, too. What do you think about that and what would you say your ratio of reading to writing is/was?

NS: I think it’s very true. I read as much as I can. The ratio is maybe 50/50, but it fluctuates depending on deadlines, illness, and so on.


We’ll end the third part in our chat with Nisi here. Join us next time when Nisi talks about the connection between reading and writing, and other projects.

Keep up to date with Nisi’s latest news on her website and Twitter.

You can support Nisi and our community by getting your copy of Everfair here.

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Author Nisi Shawl, Part 2

Welcome back for part two in our chat with Nisi Shawl, author of Everfair.

Read Part One here.


Airship Ambassador: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Everfair?

Nisi Shawl: Towards the book’s end, people wear folding hats of oiled paper to keep off the intermittent rains in Everfair’s capital, Kisangani, and they cross the water-filled roadways on hand-cranked swings.  And so on.  I made sure to include lots of details about what people wore, because I’d love to see some Everfair cosplay!


AA: That would be fun to see, and flattering, too, to see people so engaged with the characters. What kind of back story is there for Everfair which didn’t make it into the final book?

NS: At 30 years span, there’s not much that didn’t make it.  The childhoods of Lisette, Daisy, Thomas, and many other characters happened before the book began.  One major death takes place offstage, and I’ve caught some flack about that.  There’s a 10 year gap between the close of Part One and the opening of Part Two in which King Mwenda attends college.


AA: When people read Everfair, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?

NS: We need each other.


AA: How did elements of your own life and experiences play into Everfair?

NS: Probably in lots of ways.  I was only conscious of a few: my experience working as an au pair helped with the passages in which Lisette works as the nurse for Daisy’s children; my time in amateur theater helped with the passages around the play Wendi-La and the revue in Puerto Rico; my participation in the West African-based religious tradition of Ifa helped with describing many of the ceremonies and magical encounters my characters undergo, such as Thomas’s meet-up with Loango.


AA: I always find it interesting to see how the various bits of history and personal experience can be woven together to create something new and engaging. What was one memorable story while writing this story?

NS: Mostly writing this book was just joyous discovery after joyous discovery.  I’m sorry, but I have no stories about this story.


AA: Discovering new things is such a reward in itself. Are there any plans for a sequel or spinoff?

NS: I’ve written—and apparently sold—one short story, “The Colors of Money,” which I conceived of as a sort of pilot for a novel which would be a sequel to Everfair.  I’m expecting to write a second short story along similar lines in the next month.  We’ll see. There actually is a spinoff already: “Vulcanization,” a short horror story from Leopold II’s viewpoint, appeared on Nightmare Magazine’s website earlier this year.


AA: What kind of research and balance went into creating the Everfair world?

NS: Oodles of research, though I wish I’d been able to do more.  Sometimes the materials simply didn’t exist.  Sometimes I didn’t have the money or time to access them.

I like your use of the word “balance” in this question.  I was quite conscious of balancing representation of various demographics in the novel, and I kept track of who got “screen time” and how long it had been since we’d heard from a woman, a European, and so on.  My tools for doing this were pretty low-tech: pen and paper.


AA: There’s a lot to be said for the reliability of low-tech. What elements did you specifically include so readers could feel the Everfair history?

NS: Every detail of daily life is meant to give readers the feeling of Everfair’s history, from the food to the showers to the beer to the livestock to the loading procedures.  Everything.


We’ll end the second part in our chat with Nisi here. Join us next time when Nisi talks about the process of writing and creating Everfair.

Keep up to date with Nisi’s latest news on her website and Twitter.

You can support Nisi and our community by getting your copy of Everfair here.

Published in: on December 6, 2016 at 7:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Author Nisi Shawl

This week we are talking with Nisi Shawl, author of Everfair.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Nisi, it is so great to chat with you!

Nisi Shawl: Thank you for inviting me.


AA: Readers may know you from your previous work, including Filter House, Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, and Promised, a story in the Steampunk World anthology. Now, your latest book is being published. What is Everfair about?

NS: Everfair is about an imaginary, central African Utopia founded in the late 1800s by an alliance of British socialists and African American missionaries.


AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?

NS: I’ve always been fascinated by mechanics: steel, brass, lubrication, the physical manifestations of engineering’s clever strengths.  And for most of my adult life I’ve relaxed by reading writers of the Victorian era such as Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell.  What puzzled me initially was why when I came into contact with steampunk I wasn’t immediately drawn to it, given these proclivities.  Realizing that the cause of my revulsion was the imperialist tendency of much of the genre, I set about to revise that unfortunate tendency with Everfair.


AA: How does Everfair express your vision of steampunk, and what does it add to the existing works in the genre?

NS: The inclusivity of Everfair’s cast of characters reflects my vision of steampunk as a global movement.  The positive relationship between technology and nature is key to that vision, also, and I do my best to show it in action.  I’m not sure what it adds to existing works.  Accuracy, maybe.  And pleasure, too, I hope.


AA: All of those sound like good things. What was the inspiration and motivation for creating Everfair?

NS: At the 2009 World Fantasy convention, I was on a steampunk panel with Ann VanderMeer, Deborah Biancotti, Liz Gorinsky, and Michael Swanwick.  Because I’d just figured out what was missing from the genre—for me, anyway—I vowed in front of the audience of maybe 200 people that I would write a steampunk novel set in the Congo during Leopold II’s reign.


AA: Public declarations like that are always a good motivator. What are the key themes in Everfair?

NS: Themes are things readers figure out, not writers.  So far I’ve heard they include the power of love, the necessity of collaboration and community to creation, hope, and forgiveness.


AA: OK, then, readers, what themes do you feel are in the story? What can you share with us about the personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities of the main characters, Lisette, Thomas, and a host of others?

NS: Lisette’s a bit like me in that she’s rather fond of machinery for machinery’s sake.  And she’s very practical—even about subjects over which she’s also sentimental.  Thomas is brave.  He’s personally vain of his appearance, but is willing to sacrifice even that vanity in the cause of justice.  Daisy is protective of those she loves, though she’s not always right about how to protect them.  Queen Josina is extremely observant of her surroundings, a valuable attribute in a career spy.  She’s extremely loyal as well, which complicates things for her.  Tink guards his heart carefully, but once won, it’s won.  And wow, is he smart!


AA: How do they change throughout the story?

NS: The story is more about Everfair than about the characters.  Thomas experiences a profound change, but I can’t say what it is without spoiling the story.


AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?

NS:  The main object-y thing is the lamp portrayed on the cover, which is basically Everfair’s national symbol.  Sort of brass national flag.  Steam bicycles appear several times.  Shonguns, the knife-throwing guns, are important.  There’s a whole fleet of aircanoes, and many different models of prosthetic hands.  And more.  I posted a few photos of some of the inspirations for objects found in Everfair on my website:


We’ll end the first part in our chat with Nisi here. Join us next time when Nisi talks about the details of the Everfair world and story.

Keep up to date with Nisi’s latest news on her website and Twitter.

You can support Nisi and our community by getting your copy of Everfair here.

Published in: on December 5, 2016 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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