Airship Ambassador: Hi Rhea, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Rhea Rose: Thanks, glad to be here.
AA: You have so much work in print now! You’re fiction has been published in Evolve, Tesseracts, On Spec, Talebones, Northwest Passages, Masked Mosaic, and Exile Editions’ Dead North. You’ve been nominated and selected for honorable mentions for Aurora, the Nebula Award, and the Year’s Best Horror and Fantasy anthologies. Now, your story Bones of Bronze, Limbs Like Iron is in Clockwork Canada. What is the story about?
RR: The story is a tragic love story. It’s Romeo and Juliet but with adult lead characters. Susanna and Grant are literally and figuratively star-crossed lovers, born in a time when circumstances won’t allow them to be together, so they steal a moment, and that moment is the story. But if you were to read a write up in your TV guide it would go something like this: Scientist and engineer are in love but must send immigrants backwards in time to save the future.
AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
RR: Well, first, I love steampunk. I love the fun of it and look of steampunk and the creative cleverness of upcycling the old and turning it into the new, and I love the era(s) in which steampunk plays. I’m also a big fan of Hayo Miyazaki and especially, Howl’s Moving Castle. I didn’t really choose steampunk, it chose me. I’ve never written a steampunk story before and I’ve made it a personal challenge to try and get a story into print in each genre.
I’ve discovered that as a writer I have an ability, most times, to “hear” or “feel” the aesthetic of a particular style and reproduce it in a story. That “talent” probably comes from my practice of writing poetry where the sound of words and the unified sound of a piece is so important.
AA: It’s interesting the many ways that people come to steampunk. Some people find it in their travels, some are called to it. What was the motivation for creating Bones?
RR: I’d originally written the story for a literary workshop I was taking at UBC at the time. I was enrolled in their MFA creative writing program. My instructor was Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean. I remember submitting the story and saying something like, “Are you all okay with fantasy (it wasn’t yet steampunk)? There’s sort of a dragon type creature in this one.” I was really nervous and they were all absolutely fine with it. They even gave me heck for not doing a better job on some of the “science fiction/fantasy parts of the story”
Much later, when I saw Dominik’s call for the anthology and very carefully read his guidelines and read several of the sample stories he listed (which really helped), I reexamined my story and began to see how it could fit the steampunk requirement and the Canadiana requirement.
Three major things came together for me: large steam engine trains are big part of pulling Canada together as a country and they are a natural for a transformer toy (remember those?) and what would it transform into—well a steampunk dragon of course; next it occurred to me that the bible mentions everything, it probably mentions dragons and I did a search and found my quote, that’s where the title came from, and finally, what was going on in Canada at the time of the Victorian era—answer: mass immigration. What if everyone had to immigrate backwards instead of forward, so to speak. When the elements come together like that you’ve got to write the story.
AA: Wow, that’s actually pretty impressive for those three items to come together like that in your writing and thought process. What can you share with us about the main characters, Susanna and Grant?
RR: The character Susanna is named for Susanna Moodie, English-Canadian writer who wrote Roughing it in the Bush, about being an emigrant and settling in Canada. I thought that the allusions there were perfect for the story. In my story, Susanna is the more earthy character of the two, a stable, family oriented, traditionalist, but she is also from the future where women (hopefully) are as integral to survival for their brains as they are for their brawn. I made her a teacher because I am a teacher and knew I could draw on myself for her experiences in a school.
The Grant character was named of course for the 3 wishes motif; (Grant 3 wishes) but in my mind the name also alludes to granite and all of those implications. I made him my magical, mysterious character, hopefully as intriguing to the reader as he was to Susanna. I was piqued by the idea of turning an “affair” on its head. What if two people who seem to begin an affair are actually reconnecting from a previous relationship, and the seemingly legitimate relationship (the marriage) is the intrusive relationship. I thought that idea of a reconnecting relationship, and the characters’ duties to the future, made Susanna and Grant, and what they were up to, a much more sympathetic situation then if they were just two people strongly attracted to each other.
AA: That’s a really interesting way of looking at relationships and then turning the parameters around about how it’s actually working. Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?
RR: The black glass dragons and steam engine trains. If you go on YouTube and look at some of the working reproductions of steam engine trains, the comparison of a steam powered train to a fire breathing, smoke spewing dragon stares you right in the face. The glass dragons are symbolic of Susanna’s 3 wishes. She doesn’t remember her 3 wishes, but Grant doesn’t want her to forget completely, and so he keeps them near as he completes the 3rd and final wish for her. The small, black glass dragons are the dots that can be connected from their future back to the past (their present) and then forward into the future once again.
AA: Now, that’s some heart-warming displays of affection and love. What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Bones?
RR: Hmm, I think that’s a question for readers, but for me, as the writer, the most astonishing thing, (perhaps this is because I’m not religious and don’t study the bible), is the fact that dragons are mentioned in the bible. And that is where my title came from, a quote from the bible. What could be more powerful? To me it was really nice the way that title came together.
I figured a title like that would at least get you pulled from the pile of stories and get a read. Once I get a strong title I always feel good about the story. Within the story itself, I tried to set up 3 mysteries, because I love to read stories that give me a sense of “something to come.” The first mystery is the barn. It’s seemingly sudden appearance and its’ oddness. That was a big promise I set up at the beginning of the story and I knew I’d have to deliver in a big way with that barn and Grant’s connection to it. The second mystery is Grant, also a little odd and out of time. And the final mystery was that of what was really going on inside the barn.
AA: That’s a lot to pack into a short story, and certainly a way to entice and engage the reader very quickly. Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
RR: Well, some of the things I had to research (and am already forgetting) like how prisms work so that the black glass dragon seemed like a real object, and I wanted to work in the idea of resources like radium and tritium and the latter’s connection to water because there is water under the barn. The story is science fiction steampunk set in Saskatchewan with it’s all its uranium mines which made it seem more plausible that something that is being designed for the future by future people, and why they might come to this place to complete their task. I just really wanted that connection to these natural elements to be a subtle but important part of why they chose the fictitious town of Port Ingles in Northern Saskatchewan to settle and resettle. The most interesting thing, I think, I can’t speak of because it would definitely give things away.
Time to pause in our chat with Rhea. Join us again when she talks about experiences, back story, and writing this story.
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