Airship Ambassador: Hi Claire, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Claire Humphrey: Hi! Thanks so much for having me!
AA: You’ve had stories appear in magazines, such as Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Strange Horizons and your first novel, Spells of Blood and Kin, is being released in June 2016. Right now, though, your story Crew 255 is part of Clockwork Canada. What is that story about?
CH: “Crew 255” is about finding your place in the world, making your family, building your home. It’s set in an alternate-history Toronto which has been leveled by an airship explosion; crews of Portuguese workers arrive to help rebuild the city. Emiliana, the main character, is the only woman and the only middle-aged person on her crew; she has to learn how to negotiate a place for herself, and in the process, help some of the others too.
AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
CH: I hadn’t previously engaged with steampunk at all, and I was excited by the idea of taking it to a Canadian setting and making it mine.
AA: What was the inspiration for creating Crew 255?
CH: I live in Toronto’s Little Portugal. I love this neighbourhood; its cultural backbone comes from a large number of people recruited to work in Canada in the last century, and the family members who came to join them as they grew more established. I liked the idea of including a bit of my own Toronto in this story, as well as some gestures toward other Canadian historical events; the airship disaster in the story was inspired both by the Toronto fire of 1904, which destroyed a swath of downtown, and by the Halifax Explosion.
AA: That’s a great way to draw in real history and culture as a foundation for a steampunk story. What can you share with us about the main character, Emiliana?
CH: Emiliana is hardy, independent, self-confident in a way that I associate with middle age. She has to make a new place for herself in this story. She’s done it before, but it’s different each time.
AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?
CH: Emiliana has mechanical arms. Like many real-life assistive devices, these prosthetic arms come with some benefits and some challenges; for instance, the graspers have a lot of grip strength, but not a lot of dexterity. They don’t get frostbite the way a flesh hand would, but they do get stiff at low temperatures. I was thinking about how people would interact with technology in this universe; how, in a world powered by steam and volatile fuels, there might be a lot of people losing limbs to workplace accidents, and what kind of technology they’d develop in response.
AA: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Crew 255??
CH: As much as possible, the physical details of Toronto in this story are based on the real Toronto. The house the crew lives in is my house. The tram they take is a streetcar line in real life. The port where the airship docks is Billy Bishop Airport.
AA: Those are some fun details to know, and could add a nice connection for the readers. Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
CH: Hierarchies; whistles; workdays; Sundays; meaningful apples.
AA: How did elements from your own life and experiences play into Crew 255?
CH: I worked as a tree planter for several seasons in my early twenties. It’s a tough grind of a job; I loved it a lot. The experience of being on a tight-knit crew stayed with me. So did the overuse injuries. People who do hard physical labour for any significant amount of time carry the physical consequences for life. I did only a fraction of what Emiliana does; she’s never had a desk job in her life, which means she feels her age a lot, and that’s one of the things that sets her apart from the guys on the crew.
AA: What kind of back story is there for Crew 255 which didn’t make it into the final version?
CH: Emiliana had a husband a while ago. He died; she didn’t miss him very much. I see her as someone who started out very prickly and defensive, and has grown warmer and more generous as she ages and becomes more confident.
AA: Are there any plans for more stories in this world?
CH: Not at the moment.
Perhaps someday, then.
We’ll pause here in our chat with Claire.
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