Part one can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: When people read Crew 255, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
Claire Humphrey: The idea of making your own family; it’s something I write about a lot. Actively choosing other people who make your life better with their presence. Working to make their lives better at the same time. Cultivating people who don’t just tolerate you, but appreciate you as you are.
AA: That’s a special connection with people to create a family like that. Some people might be happier if they took that attitude to heart. What kind of research and balance went into creating the Crew 255 world?
CH: I didn’t do tons of research specifically for this story, because I’d been through a bunch of material on Little Portugal for another piece recently. I did read up on the Toronto fire and the Halifax Explosion, but I didn’t use much of that in a very literal way.
AA: What elements did you specifically include so readers could feel the Crew 255 history?
CH: I admit I went straight to some obvious steampunk signifiers to open the story, like airships, because I think those things carry a lot of weight in the reader’s imagination–it’s a kind of shorthand that lets the reader take some things for granted. World-building is always a challenge in a short story because you don’t want to let it slow the pace or get in the way of the character’s journey. I like it when there are cultural moments you can hook into that allow you to establish a lot without being explicit.
AA: Things like that definitely help set the mood and even expectations. How long did it take to write, and rewrite, Crew 255? What were the deadlines and publishing schedule like for you?
CH: I wrote the first draft in a couple of hard-burn days, during my annual writing retreat (a truly special week in which I usually get tons of word count done). I polished it over a couple of sessions with my writing group afterward. I had plenty of notice of the deadline for this story, but as a writer with a demanding day career, I don’t write every day or even every week; and at the same time that this story was due, I was also working on edits for my novel, so time was pressed. This kind of pressure works well for me and I was happy to put some focused, effective time into a solid first draft.
AA: What have your publishing experiences been like?
CH: Pretty great! I sold a few stories to literary magazines while I was in university, but I really got off the ground much later, after attending the Viable Paradise writing workshop, where I got a lot of great context about the business, good markets, and how to build a career. I sold my first pro-level SF story a few months after that workshop and have been selling steadily ever since. I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of really talented editors who have helped make my work better.
AA: Wow, what a great experience! For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
CH: It’s amazing to have a great team. You know they’re the right team because they see what you’re trying to do with your work, and they want the same thing from it, and they help you take it to the best possible place. I haven’t had any bad experiences at all really–I’ve been rejected, of course, but always professionally and politely. And everyone who’s accepted me and chosen to work with me has been wonderful, especially my agent Connor Goldsmith and my editor at Thomas Dunne, Quressa Robinson.
AA: Have you been on book tours and to conventions? What has that been like, and the fan reaction?
CH: I’ll be doing a book tour in June to promote Spells of Blood and Kin. I’m excited! I’ve attended some conventions over the past few years, but it seems like I choose ones where I mostly meet other writers rather than fans, although of course there’s a lot of crossover. So although I’ve experienced the thrill of signing some things once in a while, this will be pretty new territory for me.
AA: What do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?
CH: Ugh. I don’t. I have a demanding job with long hours and a lot of travel, and I drag my laptop around with me to all the airports (I’m answering this interview on a plane in fact). There are weeks where I get almost nothing done. I try to make up for it by using vacation time to write–I recently spent a week in South Carolina in a cabin in a state park, doing nothing but write and go running and eat and write again.
Ouch, that time crunch, where every moment is filled, sounds so familiar.
We’ll pause here in our chat with Claire.
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