Airship Ambassador: Hi Michal, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Michal Wojcik: Thanks for inviting me here.
AA: Readers may know you from some of your other short stories, such as Dreaming of Jerusalem, Iron Roses, and Ink Skin, which has appeared in On Spec, The Book Smugglers, Pornokitsch, and Daily Science Fiction. Now Strange Things Done is in Clockwork Canada. What is this new story about?
MW: At a basic level, it’s a secret history set during the Klondike gold rush. The hero is a member of a secret organization that recovers unusual artifacts, and she’s dispatched to Dawson City after a prospector discovers something unnatural in the permafrost.
AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
MW: I was a big reader of Jules Verne and other old adventure stories of that sort when I was ten—I find myself going back to them for inspiration. There’s also something fundamentally appealing to me about how people envisioned and interacted with technology in the era, best seen by how authors like Verne and H.G. Wells tried to extrapolate the potentials and dangers of machines. It’s odd to play around in earlier visions of the future (or the imagined boundaries of technology at the time), but it’s also freeing to play in those collective imaginary spaces from past eras and measuring them against how things turned out in reality.
AA: Knowing how those things turned out also opens some opportunities to still play “What If” with history, and make some suitable tweaks to it for a story. What was the motivation for creating Strange Things Done?
MW: This was the first time I wrote a story specifically for an anthology call and didn’t try finding something suitable I’d already written; I’d tried my hand at steampunk (or other -punks) in the past but hadn’t had a go at the genre for a few years when I got around to writing Strange Things Done. I guess the idea of specifically Canadian steampunk fascinated me. After the call went out, I thought backing to growing up in the Yukon and being introduced to Robert Service’s poems about the gold rush in school, and wanted to do something with them.
AA: What can you share with us about the main characters, Tessa Fitzpatrick, Lady Amery, and Annabelle Leigh?
MW: Tessa is a practical person, young but pretty world-weary thanks to some sour experiences during her childhood in Alberta; she can imitate a high-class lady but she still thinks and speaks like a street urchin. Anabelle is the mentor figure, a tough woman who teaches her charges how to fight and make their way in the world; she sees their potential and knows exactly how to motivate them. And over both of them is Sabina Amery, who keeps her motivations largely to herself.
AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?
MW: Lady Amery’s organization is primarily all about retrieving objects with unusual properties, and those objects also let her develop equipment significantly more advanced than anything else available at the time. Tessa carries special guns, knives, detection devices, and a kind of grenade called a “ferocient canister”, all geared towards facing the kind of opposition she’d expect when carrying out that retrieval.
AA: Any one of those items might be enough to engage steampunk readers. It was fun while reading to see what item might come up next. What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Strange Things Done?
MW: It’s our world on the surface, more or less, but on the edges of most people’s experiences there are super-technologies and apparent magic vied over by clandestine organizations. It’s all hush-hush, sure, but the strange happenings threaten to break out at any moment and wreak havoc.
AA: Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
MW: There’s hard-talk in saloons and treks through a boreal forest that hides something ancient and monstrous.
AA: How did elements of your own life and experiences play into Strange Things Done?
MW: I grew up in the Yukon, and the gold rush is almost an ever-present feature in how others define the territory, though it’s often the gold rush as constructed by Jack London and Robert Service. My first summer job was as a walking tour guide in Whitehorse and we had to wear nineteenth century costumes to play up the image, but when I was off-tour I would read through the library there and actually learned a lot about the early history of exploration in the Canadian northwest; I brought a lot of that into the narrative. The other big key was the Yukon landscape, which takes on a personality of its own if you spend a lot of time in the wilderness.
AA: It seems like there is a lot of history there, even without the gold rush, and that the area is pretty amazing today. What kind of back story is there for Strange Things Done which didn’t make it into the final book?
MW: There are plenty of references to real people that I ended up cutting out—meeting characters that anyone without an interest in the Klondike likely wouldn’t recognize.
AA: Might there be more stories for Tessa, Lady Amery, or Annabelle? Maybe a place for those other real life people?
MW: I don’t have anything else planned for them, though I wouldn’t rule it out.
We’ll break here in chatting with Michal. join us net time when he talks about his writing process.
You can support Michal and our community by getting your copy of Clockwork Canada here.