Airship Ambassador: Hi Charlotte, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Charlotte Ashley: Thank you! I am ridiculously excited about this anthology and happy to enthuse about it.
AA: First, congratulations on being included in Up and Coming, the anthology of stories by authors who are eligible for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Can you share a little about your two stories in it, La Héron and Sigrid Under the Mountain?
CA: Well, these are two fairly different stories. La Héron is the story of a 17th century duelist and her second, a reluctant nun, working their way through the rounds of a tournament that has been crashed by members of the Wild Hunt. Sigrid, on the other hand, is a kind of human-level send-up of the Generic Fantasy Setting. Sigrid is the wife of a great hero, the one who is left at home on the farm, but she is still plagued with the kind of unlikely adventures you find in fantasy settings.
Both stories, though, share a wry, self-aware sense of humour that I can’t seem to shake off even when I mean to be serious. Both Sigrid and La Héron are a little older, a little world wise, and quite grounded, despite the wacky things that happen to and around them. I hope Up and Coming was able to showcase that element of my writing: in here, you’ll find smart, competent people coping with extraordinary circumstances.
AA: Those both sounds like interesting stories to find. Your work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Kaleidotrope. You tell an interesting story about submitting La Clochemar over on your website, so now, what is the story about?
CA: La Clochemar is about a “runner” named Suzette in a 16th century Canada where Europeans and indigenous nations made contact, but the Europeans didn’t take over or, really, colonize. Suzette’s North America is also rife with enormous, kaiju-scale creatures that must be driven away when they approach a settlement – hence Suzette’s occupation. The story shows what might happen when the technology that allows the locals to track these huge creatures comes to the attention of powers in Europe with their own ideas about how it could be used.
AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
CA: I believe pretty strongly that we – people – have always been modern. Pick a place and time and you’ll find creators, artists, rebels, heretics, boundary-pushers. You’ll find punks. So I think uniting that feel of individuality with any given historical setting can give contemporary readers a relatable lens through which to understand a people or a place.
AA: That’s a really good perspective and a great way to show why fiction can help us work through current situations. What was the motivation for creating La Clochemar?
CA: I wanted to paint an example of what an early-contact North American settlement might have looked like if the balance of power between Europeans and indigenous nations had been different. Could the atrocities of settlement have been avoided? How?
AA: What can you share with us about the main characters, Suzette and Dibaabishk, and the choices they are faced with?
CA: Suzette is a Frenchwoman who has spent most of her adult life in Baawitigong (where Lake Superior joins with Lake Huron,) and Dibaabishk is Anishinaabeg who was raised and educated in Europe. They bond over a philosophical agreement about how technology should be used to better the lives of people, but they are both naïve about how technology would be used in the wrong hands. Is the benefit of the technology worth that latter risk?
AA: There are good moments of revelation about those choices. Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
CA: Giiiiiant monsters! Big-picture politics! Utopias! I think La Clochemar has a good mix of thinky issues like colonialism, imperialism, technology and personal responsibility and life-and-death encounters with creatures that could crush anyone like bugs.
AA: How did elements of your own life this play into creating La Clochemar
CA: Well, I am from a place not unlike Baawitigong and this is a landscape I was born and raised into. But aside from that, I don’t think any Canadian can think about the history of the spot they stand on without thinking about confronting imperialism. Colonialism is ongoing here.
AA: The 1800s were a time of expansion, and those topics are not unknown in steampunk. Are there any plans for another story set in this world?
CA: If not this world exactly, than something like it. I have another story coming out next month – “More Heat Than Light” in the May/June 2016 F&SF – that also deals with a historical European settlement in a Canada rife with megafauna. These critters aren’t quite as big, though. I think in my imagination, the Canadian wilderness is full of big things that will eat you, so they will always turn up in my alt-histories.
AA: Hehehe, I think most people think that any wilderness is full of things ready to eat them! Hopefully, you will have the opportunity for more stories – I’m certainly looking forward to more. What kind of research, and balance, went into creating the La Clochemar world?
CA: I did as much research into early contact Anishinaabeg people as I could. In addition to period maps and narratives, I contacted a linguist friend for help and resources relating to Anishinaabemowin and she put me in touch with native speakers. But despite all that research & consultation, I still didn’t feel comfortable describing the experience of indigenous people, so I tried to hit a balance by telling the story through a Frenchwoman’s eyes. Suzette lives there and has for a long time, but she is still an outsider.
We’ll break here in our chat with Charlotte.
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