Airship Ambassador: Hi Nisi, it is so great to chat with you!
Nisi Shawl: Thank you for inviting me.
AA: Readers may know you from your previous work, including Filter House, Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, and Promised, a story in the Steampunk World anthology. Now, your latest book is being published. What is Everfair about?
NS: Everfair is about an imaginary, central African Utopia founded in the late 1800s by an alliance of British socialists and African American missionaries.
AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
NS: I’ve always been fascinated by mechanics: steel, brass, lubrication, the physical manifestations of engineering’s clever strengths. And for most of my adult life I’ve relaxed by reading writers of the Victorian era such as Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell. What puzzled me initially was why when I came into contact with steampunk I wasn’t immediately drawn to it, given these proclivities. Realizing that the cause of my revulsion was the imperialist tendency of much of the genre, I set about to revise that unfortunate tendency with Everfair.
AA: How does Everfair express your vision of steampunk, and what does it add to the existing works in the genre?
NS: The inclusivity of Everfair’s cast of characters reflects my vision of steampunk as a global movement. The positive relationship between technology and nature is key to that vision, also, and I do my best to show it in action. I’m not sure what it adds to existing works. Accuracy, maybe. And pleasure, too, I hope.
AA: All of those sound like good things. What was the inspiration and motivation for creating Everfair?
NS: At the 2009 World Fantasy convention, I was on a steampunk panel with Ann VanderMeer, Deborah Biancotti, Liz Gorinsky, and Michael Swanwick. Because I’d just figured out what was missing from the genre—for me, anyway—I vowed in front of the audience of maybe 200 people that I would write a steampunk novel set in the Congo during Leopold II’s reign.
AA: Public declarations like that are always a good motivator. What are the key themes in Everfair?
NS: Themes are things readers figure out, not writers. So far I’ve heard they include the power of love, the necessity of collaboration and community to creation, hope, and forgiveness.
AA: OK, then, readers, what themes do you feel are in the story? What can you share with us about the personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities of the main characters, Lisette, Thomas, and a host of others?
NS: Lisette’s a bit like me in that she’s rather fond of machinery for machinery’s sake. And she’s very practical—even about subjects over which she’s also sentimental. Thomas is brave. He’s personally vain of his appearance, but is willing to sacrifice even that vanity in the cause of justice. Daisy is protective of those she loves, though she’s not always right about how to protect them. Queen Josina is extremely observant of her surroundings, a valuable attribute in a career spy. She’s extremely loyal as well, which complicates things for her. Tink guards his heart carefully, but once won, it’s won. And wow, is he smart!
AA: How do they change throughout the story?
NS: The story is more about Everfair than about the characters. Thomas experiences a profound change, but I can’t say what it is without spoiling the story.
AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?
NS: The main object-y thing is the lamp portrayed on the cover, which is basically Everfair’s national symbol. Sort of brass national flag. Steam bicycles appear several times. Shonguns, the knife-throwing guns, are important. There’s a whole fleet of aircanoes, and many different models of prosthetic hands. And more. I posted a few photos of some of the inspirations for objects found in Everfair on my website: nisishawl.com.
We’ll end the first part in our chat with Nisi here. Join us next time when Nisi talks about the details of the Everfair world and story.
You can support Nisi and our community by getting your copy of Everfair here.