Airship Ambassador: Hi Terri, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Terri Favro: Glad to be here, thanks!
AA: You have a wealth of writing experience behind you, including the novella The Proxy Bride and being co-creator of the Bella graphic novels, copywriting, and being shortlisted three times for the CBC Literary Awards. Now, one of your stories is included in Clockwork Canada. What is it about?
TF: Let Slip the Sluicegates of War, Hydro-Girl speculates about how history might have unfolded if the British Crown had never given up on regaining control of the revolutionary American states. I’ve based the main characters of the story on two icons of the Canadian side of the War of 1812, Laura Secord and Isaac Brock, but changed both of them in very significant ways. I’ve also moved them forward in time to 1899 as the war to recapture America draws to a close. The story is written in the form of an oral memoir, transcribed during an interview between an elderly, but feisty, Lady Laura (my alt version of Laura Secord) and the Governor General of Canada. The interview with Lady Laura is set in 1949, on the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the war.
AA: That’s a great set up for the story and use of real life history as a base. Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel for this story?
TF: The steampunk aesthetic is perfect for an alternative history story that takes place during a time of technological change –– in this case, the introduction of hydroelectric power, which was part of what is sometimes called the second industrial revolution of the late 19th century. The opportunity to speculate about how hydroelectric power could have been used as a weapon of war was irresistible to me. In every period of technological upheaval, human lives are ground into grist to make shiny miracles happen. That is true in our own time, and it was true in the late Victorian age of electrification, particularly because electricity was still an unstable, poorly understood force. Being an electrician or electrical engineer at that time was a risky business.
I was also attracted me to steampunk by the “what-if?” possibilities of the genre. What if the ultimate success of the American revolution was not a given? What if the British Empire was willing to fight to the last soldier to regain control of its New England colony? What if electrical weapons were used to fight that war? What if, over the stretch of a long conflict, technology took on the trappings of religion?
AA: What was the inspiration for writing this tale ?
TF: I grew up in Grantham township, a rural part of Niagara region that has since become the north end of St. Catharines, about 20 kilometers from Niagara Falls and even closer to Niagara On The Lake. United Empire Loyalists were revered in my hometown. UELs were settlers from the New England states, who remained loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution and came to Canada in its aftermath.
Another inspiration was my father, an electrician who learned his trade from an antiquated series of books published early in the 20th century called the Hawkins Electrical Guide. It makes an appearance in the story as a type of techno-Bible. The real Hawkins Electrical Guide had strangely religious overtones, considering it was a manual for electricians and electrical engineers. The introduction even quotes from Scripture.
AA: It’s very interesting to me to hear about all this historical information forming the backdrop for your story. What can you share with us about the main character, Lady Laura Filomena De Marco?
TF: Lady Laura is the daughter of a cook who came from Italy and was pressed into service as a soldier in the war against the American States. When Laura’s father dies in a battle in the Niagara Gorge (fought with electrical weapons, of course), Lady Laura’s mother is pushed into a life of prostitution, a fate officially handed to Laura on her 16th birthday. As a state-sanctioned “camp follower”, Laura is part of the machine of war. Her suffering is irrelevant to the powers that be. But she is also clever, and that cleverness (and some luck) turns her into a powerful force in her own right. She goes from being an exploited sex worker to the Redemptress of the Realm, with a title and a land given to her by Queen Victoria.
AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story? Ships, devices, etc?
TF: Laura’s world includes electrified cannons (a concept imagined by electricity pioneer Nikola Tesla, whose statue now stands at the Niagara Falls New York State Park); an electrified mechanical battle horse, Alfred (named for Sir Isaac Brock’s real horse); and an early version of an electric vibrator called Old Toby. It’s interesting to note that vibrators were one of the earliest uses of electricity for, ahem, “home use”. Also, the Hawkins Guide, which I’ve previously mentioned, plays a big role in the story as a sort of Bible. Lady Laura and her mom even refer to it as the Good Book.
AA: Now THAT is an interesting use of history, lol! What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Lady Laura?
TF: Lady Laura lives in a shantytown called Voltagetown on the edge of Niagara Falls. Voltagetown is a place reserved for outsiders, who provide most of the backbreaking labour at the hydro station that is producing weaponry to defeat the “godless Staters”. Voltagetown also once served as a testing ground for the electrification of houses, something that was perilous before the concept of grounding a current was understood.
Since the Voltagetown residents are considered expendable, they are the ones doing the most dirty and dangerous work in the war effort. Many workers go deaf due from the constant din involved with digging the sluiceways at the power station. As a result, finger spelling (a form of sign language for the deaf and hearing impaired) becomes a form of communication used by everyone in the town, including Laura. Her skill with finger spelling brings her to the attention of a powerful general, Sir Isaac, who sees an opportunity to use it as a form of communication in battle.
We’ll stop here in our chat with Terri. Join us next time when she talks about the character, story and background for her story.
Keep up to date with Terri Favro’s latest news on her website.
You can support Terri and our community by getting your copy of Clockwork Canada here.