This article appeared today at Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders.
By Matthew Delman, Chief Editor
Karin Lowachee's first novel, WARCHILD, won the 2001 Warner Aspect First Novel Contest , and both that novel and her third book, CAGEBIRD (2005) were also finalists for the Philip K. Dick Awar. In 2006, CAGEBIRD won both the Prix Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English and the Spectrum Award. Karin's works have also graced the Locus Bestseller List, and her second novel BURNDIVE rose to number 7.
(Photo by Kevin Honglin)
I first heard of Karin's works when I came across an interview she did with Ay-leen the Peacemaker at Beyond Victoriana. And then she came up in a discussion on Twitter several months ago, during which I mentioned her Fantasy-World Steampunk novel, "THE GASLIGHT DOGS," as an example of stellar non-European Steampunk. Karin actually thanked me after that mention of her works, and a Twitter friendship of sorts was born.
The Guyana-born Canadian resident was kind enough recently to agree to be interviewed, initially not for this series but she was one of the reasons I developed it in the first place. And now, sit back while Karin and I discuss the Inuit influence on THE GASLIGHT DOGS and the celebrities she'd love to have dinner with among other things.
Doctor Fantastique’s: Tell us a little about yourself.
Karin Lowachee: I’ve loved writing since kindergarten or earlier; storytelling, teaching, and the general creative arts have always been a strong force in my life. I love film, music, theatre, visual art, history, psychology...all of these things and more are inspirational to me. I’m also verbose, so you’re warned.
DF: How did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?
KL: I’ve always written stories, but it didn’t become a specific goal until about Grade 5 or 6, when I read S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” and realized she’d written that when she was 16 or something. As a kid, that became my ambition: write a book and get it published by 16. It took me a few more years than that but it’s been a dream of mine for a long time. It’s still my dream. The parameters of the dream have just changed, as they do.
DF: What would you say is the biggest difference between Guyana and Canada? Besides the weather, of course.
KL: Economically they are worlds apart. Interestingly enough, I met up with my mother’s cousin last weekend and we went to a Christmas get together, and she was asked something about if she’d ever go back and live in Guyana, did she miss it. Her answer is basically what my family has always said – she has great memories of it, and there are good things about it, and she might miss some things about it...but she left for very good reasons and those reasons still stand. The country is poor, there’s a lot of crime, when my family left the government was quite corrupt (more than usual governments), there was violent conflict...I’m not sure any of that has much changed. I’ve never been back and my entire immediate family left. I have one great-aunt that moved back there and lives there now but life is hard for her, and she’s not even as poor as most of the people. As much as we might have problems with Canada, and as much as my family members have fond memories of Guyana – and there is a lot to love about the culture – we are all grateful to be in Canada because of the opportunities it’s given us on every level. So that is probably the biggest difference.
Guyanese people also say “y’all”, like people from the American South. But instead of BBQ, we have curry. And pine tarts. And pepper pot (not the drug). Let’s just say Guyanese cuisine is one of the great and different things about the culture and my momma can cook up a mean lamb curry.
Y’all would recognize.
DF: You worked in the Artic for a time. Would you ever move back there?
KL: I couldn’t live there indefinitely but I often feel that my time there was too short. But...there are practicalities to living there that aren’t always conducive to what you want to do.
DF: What drew you to Steampunk?
KL: It wasn’t a conscious choice to write a “steampunk novel,” per se. I really appreciate how much the community’s shown interest in my book and that the book might provide a different perspective in the general conversation, but I went into it very much from a straight up storyteller’s point of view. I wanted to write about this specific character and move her through a specific world in this specific kind of era because historically, in the real world, these cultures and cities and nations were developing at the same time. I just wanted to make a link or a path through the eyes of a specific character – my Inuit-inspired spiritwalker, Sjennonirk. And to discuss spiritual as well as imperial and social matters partially through her point-of-view.
DF: You’ve said in The Gaslight Dogs that your time spent with the Inuit influenced the writing of the story. How much is the Native tribe in the story based on the Inuit?
KL: Their culture in some ways is very directly inspired by the Canadian Inuit – the nomadic aspects, the specificities as it pertains to lifestyle, etc. But there are marked, conscious differences as well, the biggest one being the ancestral Dog in their spiritualism. That is entirely my imagination at work. It is, after all, a fantasy novel. If I’d wanted to write a straight up historical novel, I would’ve done that. But you have more freedom to play and develop certain aspects of a character and a world when you get to extrapolate or invent, and working out the fantastical elements were important to me. They aren’t in there for whizbang; rather they’re elemental to the story and the characters.
DF: If there was one famous person -- alive or dead -- that you could have dinner or drinks with, who would you choose?
KL: I’m going to cheat a little because my answer depends on what kind of conversation I want to have and that depends on my mood. Different people would inspire me in different ways so it’s difficult to pick just one. So...my “historical” choice would be Alexander the Great. I’ve been fascinated by him for years and years, he was a military man, an explorer, a student of Aristotle, a complex person, and just being able to ask him about his experiences or listen to his point-of-view would be enlightening. His story is better than anything anyone can make up.
My “literary” choice would probably be Shakespeare, because I can’t deny that reading or watching his plays gets my writer-brain going and it seems he’d just be fun to hang out with, assuming I’d have anything at all to contribute to a conversation. I’d probably just sit and listen. Maybe he’s a predictable answer for a writer but I come by it honestly. I love many modern writers and poets, I love and appreciate many ancient writers and poets too, but Shakespeare’s always spoken to me on a basic “wow” level. I remember reading Hamlet for the first time and being provoked to contemplate on the soliloquies. Not just read and appreciate, but to sit there and truly ponder the words and meaning, and then try to pick it all apart to figure out how those words were put together so perfectly. They are beautiful words to read and to say, and in a way he’s inspired me to strive for that kind of accuracy in my own writing.
My third “modern” choice would be John Mayer. A friend of mine got me into his music about a year or two ago, I knew nothing much about him or his music before that. I choose him because I’ve had conversations with musicians before -- one of my best friends is a classical pianist -- and I find great inspiration, interesting perspective, and lively discussion with musicians. It’s like speaking with someone with a similar but still strange dialect of your own language. I’m interested in the creative process regardless of what “discipline” and I find that interaction to be really energetic and surprising in some ways too. I’ve gone away with ideas for my own work, or realizations about my own work, after seeing things through someone else’s eyes, someone who shares your process or passion in some way but from an entirely different angle. Musicians write songs, not books, but there are fascinating points of overlap in that. Mayer’s an interesting musician (his apparent love of Star Wars and Japanese culture doesn’t hurt either — anyone who can talk about Han Solo and ninjutsu in the same breath would be cool to share sushi with, you cannot deny); if you haven’t seen him perform live and just know him through his pop hits you might not get it, but he’s an amazing guitarist and from the little I’ve read or seen he approaches his craft and passion in an interesting way, a self-aware way. He’s also still in the process of developing, he’s fairly young still with a lot of career ahead of him, which is where I’m at too, so to talk with a living musician would be a whole different perspective from someone who’s already dead and can’t continue on (I enjoy that for a spec fic writer, the possibility of talking to dead people just isn’t so strange). Admittedly it doesn’t hurt that he happens to be cute, so let’s not even front. I am a red-blooded female and I am also not blind.
DF: What’s on your to-be-read list?
KL: Oh so many books. I’m really looking forward to Radical Comics’ Damaged. I’ve got a non-fiction book about the history of the Secret Service that I’m dying to read, that whole culture’s become a research obsession with me; I’ve already read two other books on it. And as for fiction,
I’m making my way through Cormac McCarthy’s work.
DF: What’s your favorite story that you’ve written?
KL: I really don’t have a favorite. I get obsessed by the one I’m currently working on, and I really enjoy every book I’ve written, for different reasons, even for their flaws. I’ve learned to accept the
flaws (even if I don’t want to repeat them). They’re time capsules for me and I love the worlds and characters I’ve created.
DF: What are you working on right now?
KL: Two very different ideas that I don’t talk about because it’s too early to talk about them. I’m also working on sequels here and there but the business is complicated. And there are a couple short stories in the queue, gathering momentum. One in particular I’m pretty stoked to throw out there, so in a few months...