Airship Ambassador: Hi Holly, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Holly Schofield: It’s great to be here, thanks!
AA: You’ve have your fiction work published in Lightspeed, Crossed Genres, and Tesseracts 17, as well as in the anthologies Second Contacts, Coulrophobia, and Scarecrow. Now your story, East Wind in Carrall Street, is in Clockwork Canada. What is it all about?
HS: Chinatown in Victoria, BC in the year 1896 was a microcosm of about 3,000 recent immigrants, mostly male, who spoke no English and kept to themselves. Wong Shin, a fourteen-year-old boy who loves to tinker with clockworks, has a friendship with the white daughter of a brothel owner–something that both their families would disapprove of, if they knew.
He’s beginning to explore beyond the limitations imposed by the authorities and the dominant culture of the time but poverty is holding him back. To make ends meet, his father performs lion dance ceremonies for new business openings and other events. The catch is that his father claims the lion is clockwork-driven allowing him to charge a higher fee when actually young Wong Shin is crouched inside pulling levers.
When the story starts, young Wong Shin has hit puberty and he can no longer cram himself into the machine. Will his father be shamed and lose their livelihood? Will Wong Shin manage to automate the massive lion in the few hours he has prior to a performance? Or will he find another way, a way that incorporates some of his growing understanding of the larger world around him? You’ll have to read it and see!
AA: There were a number of things at work in the story, I thought. Coming of age, friendships, honor, tradition, expectations… Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
HS: All fiction is a commentary on present day. There is no way to keep opinions out of a story and I, for one, wouldn’t want to. However, to point out flaws in our current society can sound like lecturing, like dreaded “message fiction”. Current-day Canada has its immigration problems, negative examples of prejudice and suppression, and some lack of cohesiveness within small geographic areas.
Using a different era as a setting allows an examination of this without finger-pointing at modern day examples. The restrictions and rigidity of the Victorian era are a perfect venue for that particular exploration. That makes me sound rather severe and political but the second reason I like steampunk is that it’s terrifically fun! A very cool combination of belief in technology and wild optimism.
AA: And that’s a great reason in itself! What was the motivation for creating East Wind?
HS: The editor’s submission call referenced Amal El-Mohtar’s article, Towards a Steampunk Without Steam, http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/10/towards-a-steampunk-without-steam. The article discusses the limitations of strict adherence to Victorian settings and characters and suggests that steampunk set in India or Africa can be so much more. I thought to myself: we have equally unique and equally unexplored cultures and settings right here in Canada, in places like Chinatown. How about I remove some of the exoticism and stereotyping and see where that takes me? And so I did.
AA: What can you share with us about the main character, Wong Shin?
HS: Wong Shin is a fourteen-year-old “maker”, always thinking, always tinkering, always improving the machinery around him. Like most of that culture at that time, he hovers on the edge of starvation. As the reader experiences the harshness of his circumstances, they may feel disheartened; however Wong Shin’s growing realization that his newly adopted country has endless possibilities reflects a core steampunk theme of optimism.
AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?
HS: The huge clockwork lion is the main invention in the story. There are several other creations that Wong Shin makes or interacts with. He’s a handy sort of fellow.
AA: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of East Wind?
HS: Steampunk stories generally take 19th century technology far beyond its physical limitations, sometimes going to the extent of appearing quite magical. I wanted to make the science a bit “harder” (while keeping the whimsy) and clearly indicate that there was an energy source powering the inventions, as well as a way to store and release that energy as needed.
AA: Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
HS: Clockworks are part of this world and you’ll see them doing everything from polishing shoes to making tofu.
AA: What kind of back story is there for East Wind which didn’t make it into the final book?
HS: The story is a blend of historical facts about both Victoria and Vancouver. I had a whole sequence worked out where Wong Shin’s father applies to work at Roger’s Sugar factory and is turned away (as all Chinese applicants actually were–sad but true). His family’s subsequent near-starvation leads him to create the clockwork lion deception out of sheer desperation, thus explaining his high degree of anger and guilt seen in the story.
AA: Are there any plans for a sequel or spinoff?
HS: I’d like to use the same setting and technologies again but have the white and Chinese cultures meet on equal footing. Remove the race issues, the class issues, and the sexism–a true meritocracy–and see what other problems a female Chinese “maker” could solve.
We’ll break here in talking with Holly. Join us next time with she talks about the process of writing East Wind, and her other interests.
Keep up to date with Holly’s latest news on her website.
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