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A Walk Through the World of Graveyard Mind with Chadwick Ginther

The cover of Graveyard Mind, by Chadwick Ginther, shows a graveyard and tombstones silhouetted by a cloudy horizon.Chadwick Ginther is the Prix-Aurora-Award-nominated author of the Thunder Road Trilogy and has just released Graveyard Mind, his first book with noted Canadian spec-fic publisher ChiZine Publications. His short fiction has appeared recently in Tesseracts, Those Who Make Us and Grimdark Magazine. With Samantha Beiko he is the co-creator and writer of the comic series, Mythfits. He lives and writes in Winnipeg, Canada, spinning sagas set in the wild spaces of Canada’s western wilderness where surely monsters must exist.

Chadwick was kind enough to answer questions I had about Graveyard Mind earlier this summer while he was on the road promoting it. Talk about dedication and stamina! I hope you like this brief glimpse into a new and eerie fictional world.


 

For the uninitiated, what is Graveyard Mind about? Not just from a plot perspective, but what themes were you aiming to work into your story?

Graveyard Mind is an urban fantasy novel featuring Winter Murray, a necromancer of the Compact. Winter’s job is to keep Winnipeg’s dead in their tombs no matter what laws of gods and men she must break to do so. She’s been doing the work solo since her mentor’s death  when a past she thought buried comes back to haunt her when a death cult moves on her turf.

As for themes, redemption was definitely one I wanted to explore. Winter is hunting for a redemption she doesn’t believe she really deserves—being a necromancer isn’t a job that lends itself to above the board actions, and she’s done a lot of dirty deeds in her time. Another theme was family. I didn’t think about this one so much during the writing, but I realized it was important to me when I decided upon the dedication; the person this book is dedicated to isn’t here to read it. The found family theme tends to turn up a lot in my writing; Ted accretes a new family during his adventures—Winter struggles to maintain hers. I also enjoy writing about people who think they are monsters and people who definitely are.

Your book contains many elements found in urban fantasy books, but your choice of setting, Winnipeg, is pretty unusual. Aside from it being your hometown, what drew you towards setting Graveyard Mind here? What possibilities do you see in Winnipeg as a setting that other places lack?

I don’t see it as Winnipeg as a setting having something that other cities lack, really, other than exposure. But since my Toronto or New York will never be as evocative as one written by someone who lives there, why not capitalize on the hometown advantage and give readers not familiar with my home something they haven’t seen before?

Mostly, though, I love writing about Winnipeg and Manitoba. While it’s not a location that’s usually thought of when one thinks of fantasy, I see endless story potential here. While a small city, Winnipeg is a multicultural one, and with the surrounding farmland and nearby lakes and wild spaces, there are lots of places for monsters to hide.

Winnipeg’s reputed hauntings definitely played a role in choosing to set Graveyard Mind here. I have a travel guide to supernatural Winnipeg, and like to give out of town friends my own custom haunted tour of the city. But everyone who lives in Winnipeg can list a few of these supposedly haunted landmarks.

In your Thunder Road books, your protagonists have to deal with the mundane reality of their world being stripped away to reveal the supernatural, and they balance walking that line throughout. Graveyard Mind‘s protagonist, Winter Murray, has to deal with the same thing – trying, and failing, to present a facade to the normal world. Is this a common thread throughout your work? What about this idea is so attractive to you?

One of the things that drew me to urban fantasy as a genre was that intersection of the supernatural and the mundane. Writing Thunder Road was transformative in that regard, as until I drafted that book, most of my early writing was second world sword and sorcery. I still write some secondary world fiction, but the majority of my published work has taken place in a fantastically skewed version of our world.

Stories are how we deal with things we don’t understand, or want to understand better. Using a lens of the fantastic to examine issues from our world is something I find very rewarding. I also really enjoy wrecking up my favourite landmarks.

Your main character, Winter Murray, has unusual abilities because she’s actually a chimera – she absorbed her unborn twin sister in the womb.  What was the inspiration for this?

An episode of CSI and reading Stephen King’s The Dark Half were probably my introduction to the idea of a human chimera. Dungeons and Dragons is where I honed my love of undead as monsters and antagonists. It just felt natural that someone with a bit of dead tissue in them would be a necromantic natural. That idea was one of the first things that got me excited to start writing Graveyard Mind.

What is your favourite moment in the book, or what scene/element/quote is your favourite?

My favourite extended sequence is the first introduction of the Kingdom—the Land of the Dead—leading up to Winter’s duel with her old mentor. But any time Frank was on the page was a lot of fun, as was writing Winter’s friendship with Lyssa.

You’ve put a lot of work into imagining a wider world in Graveyard Mind, from the Compact, to various types of death-magic, to how various mythologies got things about the afterlife right or wrong. Will there be a sequel, or related short stories? It feels like there’s a lot left to explore.

I’d love for the world of Graveyard Mind to take off and become a more open ended series. Works like Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid and October Daye series, Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson books, Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld, and Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville novels are the reasons I love urban fantasy.

I am working on a sequel now, and am roughly half way through my discovery draft. The second book seems to be featuring more of the inner workings of the Compact, but that’s all I can say of it for sure right now. I’ve published two short stories set loosely in the world of Graveyard Mind. Both of those stories star a costumed adventurer in the mold of the Shadow and Batman, named Midnight Man who hunts necromancers because of what they did to his family. There are definitely more stories set in the world of Graveyard Mind on deck. Whether those stories will feature Midnight Man, Winter and Frank in haunted Winnipeg, or bits of Winter’s world outside of Manitoba that were only briefly mentioned in the novel, I can’t say yet.


And that’s that! You can buy Graveyard Mind online or in major bookstores.

The cover to "Those Who Make Us", an anthology co-edited by Kelsi Morris

Kelsi Morris on Myths, Monsters, and Fighting Marginalization

Kelsi Morris is a queer and neurodivergent editor who has channeled her passion for books into the Canadian publishing industry, specializing in speculative fiction and comics. She focuses on work that prioritizes and promotes the voices of marginalized communities. Her first co-edited anthology, Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, published by Exile Editions, was nominated for the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award.

Outside of books, she finds happiness in black coffee, red wine, and dragons.

Kelsi Morris and I chatted earlier about her work on this anthology, how it relates to CanLit, and how she’s working towards making the Canadian SF/F scene more inclusive. Let’s take a look!

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


The cover to "Those Who Make Us", an anthology co-edited by Kelsi MorrisMe: So, first question: What was the inspiration behind Those Who Make Us for you and your co-editor [Kaitlin Tremblay]?

Kelsi Morris: One of the earliest foundations of our friendship was our shared loved monsters! We both noticed that we tended to feel more connection to the monsters/kaiju/alien creatures than the human characters in most cases, and it was only through many (MANY) conversations (and bottles of wine) that we realized that this was not actually all that weird.

These characters are the literal embodiment of otherness, and the treatment they receive from the human world will often resonate far more strongly with folks with marginalized identities than the heroics of the protagonists.

Kaitlin and I were both coming at this from the perspective of queer people who struggle with various mental health issues, and we wanted to see more stories that had the same empathy for the outsiders that we did.

I totally see that. I noticed in particular that the opening story in the collection was really emblematic of that focus. The one where the main character, Melanie, chooses to undergo bodymods to turn into a chimera.

Would you say that sense of empathy was one of the most important things you were looking for in the stories you chose?

Absolutely! That story in particular was exciting, because it really touched on the way marginalized folks are treated by society, while keeping the story very much focused on Melanie’s own journey of self-discovery. It wasn’t about her trying to fit in, or save other people from their bigoted ways. This was something she was doing solely for herself.

We wanted this anthology to be a space for marginalized voices to celebrate and/or explore their identities, as well as criticize/highlight the abundance of ways in which they are mistreated or misrepresented by society.

One thing I also noticed is that the anthology is in dialogue with a lot of tropes/notable figures in CanLit and Canadian history. Like, when I think of Helen Marshall’s story, it feels like a story Margaret Atwood could have referred to in Survival. And Dominik Parisien’s story heavily refers to Peterborough and to Catharine Parr Traill.

I’ve spent my entire career working as an editor in Canadian genre fiction, and it is something I am deeply passionate about. A lot of times publishers and/or authors will shy away from publicizing being Canadian in order to appeal to a wider market, and I feel like that is doing everyone a disservice. I am equally passionate about how entirely fucked it is that so many people seem to buy into our national identity of being “a country at peace”, where we no longer accept racism, ableism, queerphobia, or are party to systemic and institutional violence.

Speculative fiction has always been at the forefront of social criticism, and so it was especially important to me that this project both celebrate excellence in Canadian genre fiction, at the same time it acknowledges and calls attention to the fact that many voices are silenced for the sake of this national myth.

Who else do you see challenging that myth in the Canadian SFF scene?

While neither exclusively focuses on Canadian authors, the Toronto-based literary spec fic magazines like Augur Magazine and Anathema Magazine both have mandates that focus on stories from intersectional marginalized communities, and have been doing an amazing job at celebrating the work of queer writers, writers of colour, and writers with disabilities.

These kind of markets only exist because we have to carve out the space for ourselves. The need for this is what proves that acceptance and visibility within the mainstream publishing industry really isn’t there yet.

[Note: You can read my interview with Anathema here.]

I’m going to be having Augur on the blog too!

Good! I’m so excited by the work that they do, and I can’t wait to watch them grow. 🙂

Has it been hard to carve out the space you’re describing?

As an editor, my experience is obviously quite a different one from the unique frustrations that writers have to deal with. I try to use my position to hold space for marginalized voices, and take on the brunt of any tensions that may arise between the writer and the publisher.

It can be challenging, especially for anthologies, to wholeheartedly believe in a project, and have to convince a publisher that a focus on intersectional voices doesn’t immediately make it any less interesting to “the rest of the market”.

Do you have any other anthologies or projects in progress?

Oh, I have several dream projects, and would dearly love to just work on all of them at once!

This is such an exciting time for Canadian SFF. There is so much excellent work being produced, and so many incredible emerging writers and markets. I love this field, and I’m so excited to continue contributing however I can.


And that’s that! You can check out Kelsi Morris online and buy Those Who Make Us on Amazon, Kobo, and in stores.

The book cover for Ada Hoffmann's debut anthology "Monsters in My Mind"

A Talk with Ada Hoffmann About “Monsters in My Mind”

The book cover for Ada Hoffmann's debut anthology "Monsters in My Mind"Welcome to the first Canadian SF/F author interview of 2018! We’re off to a great start by chatting with Ada Hoffmann.

Hoffmann released her debut collection, Monsters in My Mind, last year. I was at her book launch party, where she gave away prizes, unspooled some humour, and read selected pieces from her collection.

When she said that we was going to be doing additional work to promote her book, I jumped on the opportunity, and read her collection over the Christmas break. It’s a great read, with a combination of short stories, longer stories (in the novelette range), poetry, both original work and reprints.

Hoffmann is well  known online for both her fiction and for her “Autistic Book Party” series of reviews, where she reads fiction that features autistic characters and analyzes of how accurate/respectful their portrayals of autistic experience are.

This snippet from her site’s bio page provides more context about the value of these reviews, and the perspective from which she approaches these works:

Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 13, and is passionate about autistic self-advocacy. Her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to in-depth discussions of autism representation in speculative fiction. Several of her own stories and poems also feature autistic characters.

I was conscious of this aspect of her experience while reading Monsters in My Mind, but there were several other themes that kept popping up throughout the pieces in her collection. So here’s a look at them. I conducted the following interview with her via email.


Me: Many of the stories in your collection deal with motherhood or with mother/daughter relationships, especially those at the beginning of the collection. For example, there are mothers who don’t understand their daughters’ cognitive needs, daughters dealing with grief over the deaths of their mothers, and mothers trying to protect their children from malevolent forces. Can you talk about what particular resonance the mother/daughter relationship brings to your work?

Ada Hoffmann: Mother/daughter relationships can be so intense and complex, and we don’t see them explored in fiction as often as fathers and sons. People in Western culture often take mothers, and the astonishingly intense maternal protective instinct, and the grinding physical and emotional labor of motherhood, for granted. I’m not a parent myself, but motherhood is freakin’ hard stuff. Yet, from a child’s perspective, mothers are also complicated. We grow up dependent on them and can be hurt deeply by things that may not even register for them, or things that they view as necessary for us.

The result is that there can be tension between mothers and daughters, and affection and loyalty at the same time, and that contradiction is a fruitful creative place. It’s an especially complicated thing for disabled people, whose care is often disproportionately foisted on their mothers, and whose mothers are often ableist, misled by ableist doctors, or simply at a loss for what to do with them.

Me: Many of  the prizes at your book launch at Can-Con were related to creatures that show up in your stories and that people often fear or are disgusted by in real life: squid, centipedes, lampreys, etc. Can you elaborate on how these sorts of “monstrous” creatures capture your attention?

AH: You know, I was going to say “I think they are cool!”, but it varies. Like, I’m not actually that fond of centipedes? I wrote “Centipede Girl” because I was afraid of centipedes and had had a close encounter with one, and I needed to somehow write those feelings out. Squid, on the other hand, are just awesome. I think culturally we project our dark sides onto strange, non-human creatures, but different creatures get different parts of the dark side, and we relate to them accordingly. I think what binds them together is that they all have striking and memorable appearances, and they can hold webs of negative or intense association that would be too much for realistic humans.

Me: How did the title Monsters in My Mind come about?

AH: The title came about very late in the process; I sold the collection to NeuroQueer Books without a title. (For a while, thanks to Krista D. Ball, I was calling it “the Ad-ology”.) “Monsters In My Mind” was a title that just popped into my head one day. I like it because it alludes to some of the dark content of the collection as well as the neurodiverse content. I’m not the first person to have used the phrase or something like it. I suspect that I was experiencing a bit of cryptamnesia, because a few weeks later I remembered that the same phrase pops up in a song that I like, “Happy Hurts” by Icon For Hire.

Me: Your works contain an interesting blend of respect for technology for how it can be used to unite people (for example, in the poem “Evianna Talirr Builds a Portal on Commission”) and skepticism towards how it can be used to divide them (for example, in the story “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World”). What is your own personal relationship to technology like?

AH: It’s really interesting that you should use those two specific stories as positive and negative examples, because I think of them both as deeply ambivalent. I mean, sure, Ev is using technology to unite people, but she also spends the entire poem luring someone into a scary portal to another dimension that will literally tear apart their consistuent molecules and kill them. (Or at least, that’s my interpretation of the poem; perhaps there are others.)

In “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World” I was deliberately trying to avoid certain dystopian tropes. I came up with the story because I was annoyed by the polarized way people talk about social media; either “it will destroy human relationships and society” or “it’s great, everything about everyone should be public, there is no downside.” In my experience, technology never destroys the fabric of society (nuclear weapons may be a possible exception to this rule) and it never creates a utopia, either. It just makes things different, and people adapt to that difference in varying ways.

I really wanted to write a social media story in which people were adapting and surviving… kind of neutrally. They weren’t really questioning the fact that technology was being used to categorize them, even though that’s the part of the story that looks exotic and ominous to a reader. They weren’t trying to take down the evil technology empire. They were just regular people who were trying to get along within it, and who were questioning aspects of how it was used, and trying to subvert the parts that didn’t serve them.

I was raised by computer science professors. I was taught not to be an early adopter (wait a few years until they’ve got the bugs worked out and the price down) and not to be especially fazed by the way things change. I think there are dangers on the Internet; I think they’re not fundamentally very different from the dangers we encounter in other parts of our social lives. I think there is a lot to critique about the way that governments and large corporations use our information, but I don’t think that this is entirely a new thing, either.

It is worth thinking critically about how our thinking and living habits accommodate technology and are, in turn, changed by it, but I find that most critiques in this vein are oversimplified. Many are ableist (online things can be vastly more accessible to me than their real-life versions), ageist (“Millennials are killing face-to-face interaction!”) or just plain entitled (“how dare you talk to your friends on your phone instead of paying attention to me, a stranger”). I basically don’t like absolutism, in technology or otherwise.

Me: One of the stories I find most interesting is the one you wrote with Jacqueline Flay, “The Screech Owl Also Shall Rest There.” In it, a vampire named Ishka has to face the prospect of sustained human settlement in a world where there wasn’t any before. Near the end, she thinks that what the humans have done is awful, because homes and cities are markers of Inside and Outside. However, it’s also easy to understand the attraction that such a life would have to the humans themselves, especially those who abandon her.

It’s a really well-balanced story where you fear Ishka and see her point of view, yet also completely sympathize with the people who want stable, settled lives. Was achieving this balance hard?

AH: I don’t remember that aspect of the story being hard. It’s a thing that happens all the time in different contexts; a state of affairs can be genuinely good for many people while excluding others, and everyone in that scenario is going to do what they feel is best for them. “The Screech Owl Also Shall Rest There” deals very intensely with the idea of what to do and where you fit if you are inherently a monster, and a lot of that aspect of it came from Jacqueline, although it fits in the collection really well. I don’t know that there’s a good solution. I don’t know if there’s any state of affairs, on the scale of a human society, that doesn’t cause someone to acutely feel the pain of being excluded.

Me: I find the story’s focus on Inside/Outside, Self/Other interesting in light of your own efforts to analyze how neurodiverse people have also been traditionally Othered. Is that something you can elaborate on?

AH: I mean, this is something I think about on a lot of levels, who we exclude and who we don’t, and how we decide that, and if inclusion is always to some extent an illusion. People talk about oxytocin, for example, as a potential treatment for autism, because it makes people more social and trusting. But actually, oxytocin is more of an in-group neurotransmitter. It tells you who’s in and who’s out. With more oxytocin, you trust your in-group more, but you pull further away from people you see as outsiders. So oxytocin’s not necessarily a cure for exclusion. And, of course, it’s usually neurotypicals who are excluding autistic people, not autistic people excluding neurotypicals. Teaching autistic people to view neurotypicals as their in-group won’t solve that.

I think anyone on the autism spectrum can tell you about the pain of being excluded. Extreme forms of exclusion, like “shunning”, are incredibly traumatic; extended solitary confinement is literally considered torture. Even garden variety loneliness can cause trauma. On the other hand, exclusion isn’t always a bad thing. “Never exclude anyone” is one of the Geek Social Fallacies, and it leads to bullies and harassers being tolerated in the group at the expense of the people who feel most unsafe around them. (And autistic people are often bullied, harassed, and abused, too; we’re often not taught how to set healthy boundaries or protect ourselves from these situations.)

For our own safety, humans need the right to set boundaries and exclude people. Yet excluding people genuinely hurts them, and people who have been excluded their whole lives know that best. Talking about who “deserves it”, and what kinds of crimes against the group do and don’t justify exclusion, can be useful. But it doesn’t resolve everything, because people will always disagree, and even people who very heinously and obviously deserve it are still people with emotions. So we need to hurt other people to protect ourselves. It’s a paradox and I think about it too much.

Me: In your story “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”, the title character says the following line when she’s told that her project sounds impossible: “Do you think that I cannot build a thing in my own way?”

I like to think of this piece of dialogue as a mission statement, both for Monsters in My Mind as a whole and for the inherent value of neurodiverse experience. Is this a line that had any particular resonance for you when you wrote it?

AH: Not at all. It’s simply the most logical response to the whales’ naysaying at that point. But I love your take on it. I’m going to think of that when I read that line now. 😀


And that’s it! You can buy Monsters in My Mind online through Amazon, Kobo, Chapters, Barnes and Noble, or directly from the publisher.

Hugo Award Roundup: Novelette Nominees

The Hugo award deadline is right around the corner, so I’m running a series of posts about this year’s nominees in various categories. Today’s category is Best Novelette.


The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde

Lin is the youngest member of the royal family of the Jeweled Valley – a Jewel – and Sima is her servant, confidant, and jewel-setter – a Lapidary. The valley’s gems have been renowned across continents for centuries for their magical powers, but when Sima’s father, the king’s Lapidary, betrays the court to help a western invader, Lin’s world falls apart. Now, with very little time and knowledge, Lin and Sima must do what they can to make sure the valley is not overrun.

I heard a lot of praise for this story when it first came out, but reading it now, I don’t understand why. If the Lapidaries are the ones who can speak to the valley’s magical gems and control their powers, how come they aren’t the rulers, since they have so much control over the valley’s magic? Why is it important that Lin manages to fashion a veil out of platinum chains? What is the significance of the excerpts from a guide book that open up each section? The prose feels so spare that huge parts of the story’s world-building make no sense to me, and I wonder whether this is a continuation of a pre-existing series where a lot of this information has been explained previously.

The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan

Cover image for “The Art of Space Travel”. Illustration by Linda Yan.

Emily Clarah Starr lives a life set in liminal spaces. She’s the head of housekeeping at a hotel near Heathrow, and her house is just a half-hour’s walk away. Her mother, Moolie, lives in a liminal space of her own, too – after taking part in a cleanup effort for a failed manned space mission, the chemicals she was exposed to have affected her mind. Emily’s life is usually the same from day to day, but as the launch date for the first manned mission to Mars comes closer, her hotel becomes ground zero for a media frenzy, and she’s not quite prepared for all of the feelings such an event dredges up.

What’s interesting about “The Art of Space Travel” is how the SFnal elements of it all are very light and in the background – while we get some references to this story taking place about 60 years in the future, aside from the prospect of a manned  mission to Mars, it sounds like it’s set in the present day. No unusual technologies or scientific discoveries drive the plot. This is just a story about a young woman living day-to-day, talking to her mom, worrying about her job, and wondering about who her father might be. The voice here is human and gentle, and overall the story is very soft and understated.

Read “The Art of Space Travel” for free online.

The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon

Grandma Harken lives in the desert, and what makes her stay despite her age is her garden full of tomatoes. But lately those tomatoes are disappearing just as they’re ripe on the vine. Who’s stealing them? When Grandma Harken meets the thief and discovers that she’s trapped under a spell, the old lady seeks the help of the train gods and embarks on a journey through the desert to a place where time and space fold in strange ways. I’ll leave it to you to find out who the ultimate antagonist is, but it’s an unexpected delight.

I’ve loved Ursula Vernon’s past work, and while I’m only somewhat familiar with her story “Jackalope Wives”, which is set in the same universe as “The Tomato Thief”, you don’t need to read one to be able to appreciate the other. Grandma Harken is a cussed old lady, and I like how her voice, full of said cussedness, comes through clear as a bell. This story is just begging to be turned into a podcast. I hope that PodCastle records this one, pronto. This one is going to take the top spot on my Hugo award ballot.

Read “The Tomato Thief” for free online.

You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay by Alyssa Wong

Ellis is the son of the desert and a strange man who had the ability to raise the dead. As their son, he can raise the dead himself and shapeshift like the desert’s sand. He does chores at the local brothel, but when his mother calls out to him, he’s helpless to respond. A local mining company has heard of his strange power, and wants to use his abilities to investigate a recent mine collapse. However, they have ulterior motives. Also, what’s the deal with the strange new preacher in town? Strange things are afoot, and Ellis may be overmatched.

I liked this a lot more than “A Fist of Permutations in Wildflowers and Lightning”, Wong’s nominee in the Short Story category. The plot made more sense to me, and the characters felt more grounded. However, I felt the ending, where Ellis raises the dead miners to reunite them with their families, tried to evoke a level of heart-tugging emotion that it didn’t quite earn. Also, it didn’t make sense to me that the preacher turned out to be his uncle – I didn’t understand why someone who was identified as a preacher would actually be someone allied with a much different kind of pagan magic.

Read “You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay” for free online.

Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman

“Touring with the Alien” is set in a near future where alien edifices have landed on Earth’s surface. No one really knows what they want, but our protagonist, Avery, is tasked with the highly unusual job of taking an alien, plus one of the abducted humans aliens have trained to be ambassadors, on a road trip to St. Louis. Eventually, it’s revealed that the aliens themselves aren’t conscious. Humans, it turns out, are unique in this universe for possessing consciousness, and the aliens can’t get enough of this state of mind. Consciousness is so intoxicating, in fact, that it’s actually killing them like an addictive substance would.

I really wanted to like this story, but Avery treats the alien presence and their ultimate goals with such a matter-of-fact demeanour that the whole thing is robbed of any mystery or sense of wonder. Why does Avery feel so little betrayal at the idea that the aliens have actually come here to invade? Why isn’t she a bit more staggered by the coincidence of the alien ambassador wanting to visit St. Louis, which is the city where her daughter is buried? These revelations are treated with so much understatement that it robs the climax of any heft.

Read “Touring with the Alien” for free online.

Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex by Stix Hiscock

Dude, don’t try to beat Chuck Tingle at his own game. Just don’t. It won’t work.

Welcome to the Archipelago with Charlotte Ashley

Want to read swashbucking stories set on the high seas? Want Lovecraftian creatures to mess that swashbuckling up? Want, above all, to see multiple writers duke it out with feedback from devoted readers like you?

If your answer is “yes”, then what you want is Archipelago.

Archipelago is a historical fantasy serial with multiple new episodes appearing every month written by Charlotte Ashley, Kurt Hunt, and Andrew Leon Hudson. Imagine a blend of Moby Dick, Pirates of the Caribbean, Master & Commander and Game of Thrones — with Lovecraftian monsters lurking beneath the surface!

Archipelago isn’t just about storytelling, though. Readers will have the opportunity to influence events as the adventure develops, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes devastating. To take part, you can support the project through Kickstarter and Patreon.

And today I’ve got a special treat: an interview with Charlotte Ashley, one of Archipelago‘s creators and a noted spec-fic author in her own right, with stories published in F&SF, PodCastle, and more.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Me: The biggest thing that struck me about the Archipelago stories is how they’re set during the height of the colonial project between Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and how the discovery of this other world parallels the “discovery” of the New World. How is Archipelago hoping to navigate, and potentially subvert, that sort of setting?

Charlotte Ashley: It was definitely my intention to turn Europe’s colonial aspirations outward, into uninhabited territory. We start our story around 1600 which was very early in the colonial process. England, Portugal, Spain, and the Dutch had all started building settlements, but they hadn’t claimed ownership on the large scale they would 200 years later. People in Asia, the Americas, India, and Africa were still fairly autonomous. We wanted to nip that European invasion in the bud, so to speak, so that non-Western people had a chance to participate in the Archipelago as strong, unconquered nations.

I think “discovery” is synonymous with “conquest” in our history, and we’ll explore that, but I also wanted to be able to look at alternatives.

Me: Yes! I really wanted to write down “Age of Conquest” in my first question, but that phrase has so much baggage.

CA: Well, there IS so much baggage there. I don’t want to dodge or deny the historical realities of the colonial period, but I hope we can imagine the power relationships a little differently.

Me: I was really intrigued by the setting of your story in particular. I wasn’t aware of the Ajuran Sultanate as a political entity before this. Aside from the parallel world aspects of the Archipelago itself, is all the other history up to the start of the story played straight?

CA: Not entirely. We did play a little loose with plausible, rather than confirm-able, technologies and ideas — Umur’s prosthetic hands, for example. They are absolutely within the realm of what was achievable by the artisans of the Islamic Golden Age, but I don’t know of any confirmed prosthetics of this kind. [Umur is the main character of the Ajuran Sultanate storyline, which will go live on May 19th at Black Gate.]

Me: Are any of the main characters based on specific historical figures?

CA: In the storylines of Roanoke and the Summer Isles, definitely. My nation is less rooted in historical reality, for two reasons: one is that historical resources about the Ajuran Sultanate in English are few and far between. The other is that I wanted to avoid too badly mangling a history that isn’t mine, so I focus more on the new nation and culture of Al’Tahj, which follows a very different trajectory than real-life Mogadishu did.

Me: There are so many different ways I can see this playing out — like each storyline establishing its own nation state and essentially duking it out in a proxy war. And then there’s the whole Lovecraftian aspect to things. I imagine that whoever is an indigenous inhabitant of the Archipelago is going to have a very different mindset and physiology compared to humans.

CA: The natures of the Archipelago’s major inhabitants are still a mystery. 😉 But, yes. The first settlers of the Archipelago have mindsets which are, we hope, similar to “real” 17th century ones, so they imagine this colonization process will be very similar to the one on Earth — that humans, at the top of the food chain, can move in and strip-mine everything in the name of their kings or gods or whatever. But this isn’t Kansas. They will find that out soon enough!

The first Year’s plot is very much about how the Nations set themselves up in relation to one another, as they would back home. Plots, politics, battles, espionage, and so on. But the world is its own character that will become more pronounced in future Years.

Me: How far out have you planned things?

CA: Pretty far — but with the understanding that everything could change on a dime with reader input and our own inter-Nation conflicts! The big pieces are there, though, the inevitability. How our characters react and live within the bigger picture is much less clear.

Me: One thing I also notice about the setting is that the entry points to the Archipelago are so spread out – the Caribbean, the Atlantic Seaboard, and the Horn of Africa. Supposedly on the other side of the portal, these three points of contact are a lot closer together. How do you see that affecting international relations? Like, if you can hop to Al’Tahj from near Bermuda, that really changes the relevance of sea journeys like sailing past the tip of South Africa.

CA: The Archipelago portals are actually quite far apart, but people are drawn to people! As soon as there’s any kind of a civilization, that’s where we go. We can’t help it. But the Earth-side politics come into play as well. Control over a portal is a huge geopolitical issue.

Me: What pieces of the SF/fantasy canon do you think Archipelago is influenced by? Conversely, are there any that Archipelago is trying to respond to or subvert?

CA: I know Andrew looked to things like Master and Commander, but Kurt’s work has a much creepier feel.

For my part, I have to admit to beginning with a vague sense that I wanted a story that felt like The Pirates of Dark Water [a Hanna-Barbera cartoon] did when I was 11 years old. But I also very badly wanted to respond to the idea that “discovery” always seems to mean trampling all over whoever was there first. In SF/F, we haven’t lost that mindset yet. For my part, I wanted to write something with the over-the-top swashbuckling fun of John Carter of Mars, but with an awareness of the politics of claiming lands, discovering things that have always been there.

Me: I imagine that it’s going to be more complex, though, than a character suddenly having an epiphany that Colonialism Is Wrong And Bad.

CA: Yah, I’m not sure they will ever come to that, necessarily. If I’ve pulled it off (and I hope I have), nobody should be able to see the subtext.

Me: Back to a few questions about the process: Do you foresee other authors and cultures contributing to Archipelago in the future?

CA: Definitely! We intend to bring in guest writers, but it would also be nice to create a rich enough world to retire storylines, nations, or even writers and bring in new ones. The format allows for it — hopefully the readers will stick with us that long!

Me: How do you and the other two contributors coordinate your stories, and how is the reader input aspect going to affect that?

CA: Hm, big question. We write several months in advance and share our stories with each other, to make sure we’re on the same page and not contradicting anyone. We have a Wiki with characters, places, and permissions. We have rules about what we can and can’t use. But, ultimately, we’re committed to writing an agile story. You can’t get too attached to your plan — or even your characters — because something might happen to it that you didn’t count on. I think of it as an ongoing writing prompt. The readers, or the other writers, give me some criteria, and I have to write my episode to fit it. And for me, the more I am given to work in, the better!

I am, personally, so excited about Tuckerizations. I am gonna have so much fun with those.

Me: There’s both a Kickstarter campaign and a Patreon for Archipelago. Can readers support both, or is it better to do one over the other?

CA: They both offer totally separate things, but in a perfect world they support both.  The core of the story will be offered through Patreon. The Kickstarter is more of an opportunity to taste – you get a world guide, some flash stories set in the world, some art, that sort of thing. That’s also where you can get Tuckerizations — but in order to READ the story you’re written into, you’ll need a Patreon subscription.

Me: Are there any final words you’d like to share with readers?

CA: Erm, gosh. Probably not. I talk endlessly! Despite all my blah blah about colonialism, this is some of the most fun I’ve had writing. I want this to be a joy, a ride. And it will be.


And that’s that! Charlotte is awesome, Archipelago sounds awesome, and you can support this project through both Kickstarter and Patreon. The Kickstarter campaign ends on May 31, so you’ve still got some time!

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