Airship Ambassador: Hi Colleen, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Colleen Anderson: Thank you!
AA: You have quite a bit of writing and editing experience, including having co-edited Tesseracts 17, and Playground of Lost Toys and having stories in nEvermore: Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre, and Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. Now you have a story in the Clockwork Canada anthology. Was Buffalo Girls written specifically for the anthology or was it an idea already lurking around?
CA: It was a fresh idea written specifically for the antho.
AA: Aside from submitting an idea to be in the anthology, why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel for this story?
CA: Steampunk has several popular tropes and there are many stories that blend the ephemeral aether with the brass and tacks mechanics. It’s also an elaborately utilitarian yet embellished atmosphere. Steampunk works well with revisioning history. While there is really only one element of steampunk in my story, it’s integral to the resolution and it was just fun, so why not?
AA: What can you share with us about the main characters, Constable Chex’ ináx yaa wunagút? (footnote from the story “A note on English pronunciation: The letter “x” is a raspy h sound in the back of the throat, and “x’ ” is that sound, but cut short, thus “chay-kee-nah anah ya wun-agoot.” (The line under the letter is part of being rendered in English.)”)
CA: She is a Tlingit woman far from her home in northern BC/Alaska but she feels she has a greater purpose in helping people with her special gifts. She’s also the only officer of the Northwest Mounted Police stationed in the Hastings townsite, the earlier name for Vancouver, BC. She has to balance finding a thief as well as a murderer, along with upholding the law and dealing with her ethical dilemma; does she uphold the letter of the law or not?
AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story? Ships, devices, etc?
CA: There are murders that tie together Chex’ ináx yaa wunagút’s abilities and tracking the train robber. Those murders are the catalyst for the steampunk engines in the story. I don’t want to give away too much.
AA: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Buffalo Gals?
CA: The Buffalo Gals of course, but I’m not sure I should reveal much about what that is. However, in my world the indigenous peoples never gave up their land but actually lease it to the white people for logging (the start of early Vancouver) so there are several tribes and Europeans living side by side. I moved up bringing through of the railway by about ten years and brought the NWMP all the way west when at that time they were no farther than Fort Calgary. They had just formed in the l880s so I have the NWMP still as a young policing organization and this is why Chex’ ináx yaa wunagút is on her own. Oh and yes, there’s a woman officer, unheard of in that era, but that’s another thing about steampunk, giving women their due as intelligent and self-sufficient people.
AA: Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
CA: They will find a man trying to honor his sister, the ephemera of steampunk, some glimpses of early indigenous life and the early setting for Vancouver’s predecessor when it was rough and wild and trees abounded.
AA: Authors often talk about how elements of their own lives, the reality and the dreams, make their way into their stories. How did this play into Buffalo Gals?
CA: It didn’t much in this story, except that Greater Vancouver and BC’s dark and recent history involves Willy Picton and the many women he murdered, plus the numerous murdered or missing women, which include many First Nations women. I wanted to reflect on that, but in an earlier time where a female investigator gives the murders her full attention and does not dismiss any because a woman was a bar maid or a prostitute or an Indian. Perhaps because I’m a woman and an egalitarian more than a feminist, I wanted to do that what-if there wasn’t racial animosity and gender inequality.
AA: What kind of back story is there for Buffalo Gals which didn’t make it into the final book?
CA: I had to figure out where Chex’ ináx yaa wunagút was from and what her clan symbols would be, why she would leave her home and join the NWMP. I also had to figure out what Peter Stanton was truly doing there in that world and why he was creating mechanisims. Then there is the murderer. For the story, it doesn’t really matter the murderer’s reasons. He’s preying on women and just like in real life, people don’t always have reasons and when they do, it doesn’t make sense to anyone but their own weird thought processes. I also had to think a bit about how the NWMP would look and how they would have expanded their territory of policing.
Not to mention, I had to also decide if I wanted to go with what the early Hastings townsite would look like or change it. I based my setting from early photos and descriptions.
AA: Personally, I’d like to read more about Constable Chex’ináx yaa wunagút, her experiences before and after this story. Will readers hear about her or the Buffalo Gals again?
CA: I actually haven’t thought about it, but then with my Evolve story “An Ember Amongst the Fallen,” I thought I was done with that particular world. Now, I’m writing a novel in that world but set at an earlier time, and yes, it’s taking a tone of research. I think I may definitely have to write about these two characters again. The Buffalo Gals were fun and I’d like to see what they end up doing. I guess that’s a big maybe.
We’ll pause here in our chat with Colleen. Join us next time when she talks about research and a writing schedule.
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