Harry and Marlowe are long time reader companions. Tell us about the inspiration behind “Harry & Marlowe and the Secret Island of Ahomana,” the latest in their adventures.
I had a bit of an assignment with this one, to write a “lost world” story—and since that type of story was a staple of Victorian genre writing, it seemed natural to send Harry and Marlowe on that adventure. This is the trope where European explorers discover a secret civilization hidden away in parts of the world deemed remote and unlikely. Of course I wanted to do what I could to subvert the trope, which is problematic in so many ways. Harry and Marlowe have been traveling the world searching for evidence that the Aetherian aliens landed elsewhere and left behind artifacts. They crash on a South Pacific island where they find what amounts to a hybridized Pacific Islander and Aetherian culture. As a good Victorian royal, Harry’s first instinct is to conquer—this amazing technology is hers by right. She has to question that impulse.
Writing an ongoing series of stories with reoccurring characters set in the same world is a wonderful treat for readers but can be something of a challenge. How do you manage to juggle issues such as character growth and plot development versus the need to create a tale to satisfy readers old and new?
I’ve done this a couple of times now, with my Kitty novels in particular, and I find it really helpful to have some kind of arc in mind, to know where these stories are ultimately headed. Each story is its own adventure and has its own objectives. But I also have an end point in mind, an ultimate goal or destination where I would like to send these characters. This gives me a framework where I can plant seeds for future stories and tie loose ends together. It doesn’t always go the way I expect, but there’s some direction at least. This story is actually a big step on that arc.
As with each of the Harry and Marlowe stories, you blend matters of colonialism and feminism with the existence and dignity of indigenous peoples. What is the most difficult part of crafting a story that takes what many would consider to be dissimilar elements while maintaining the pulp/steampunk tone?
This is really the first Harry and Marlowe story that’s tackled colonialism head-on, and I hope I did the topic some justice. Really, I could only write Victorian-inspired adventure stories for so long without addressing colonialism. Many commentators have noted that steampunk offers a chance to deconstruct and subvert many of the received tropes of Victorian adventure stories—we can create alternate timelines, alternate histories, examine and subvert institutions like colonialism that more traditional stories take for granted. The attraction and appeal of so many Victorian adventure stories is the adventure, the tales of derring-do against a backdrop of elegant manners and formality. It’s possible to take those tropes and feature great characters who aren’t traditionally seen in heroic roles, and to set them in places we don’t normally see in those stories—and to treat those places with respect. In a way, one antagonist of these stories becomes the traditional tropes we’re trying to recover and turn into something new and fresh.
Had you been in Harry and Marlowe’s place, would you have been able to keep your promise to Moea?
To be perfectly honest, if I had been in Harry’s place I might not have left the island at all. I think Marlowe has it right, here.
On your website, you mention that your imagination really took flight when your mother gave you Red Planet and your father let you watch 2001. When did you start writing, exploring worlds of your own?
Oh, I think my imagination took flight way before that! (I remember dreams I had when I was very very young, and they were doozies.) All the science fiction I grew up with just gave it a direction to go. I started writing pretty young—the first thing I did identifiable as a story, I wrote when I was eight. It was basically a retelling of The Black Stallion with a girl horse instead of a boy horse. Sign of things to come, I think.
You are so very prolific, what do you do to help recharge your writing batteries?
Oh, but I have so many things I haven’t written yet . . . I try to spend a lot of time outside. I birdwatch, ride horses. Reading of course. Binge-watch British mystery series. I also do a lot of crafting—knitting, sewing, and so forth. I find using my hands is important to balance out all the time I spend using my brain on stories and writing. Also, the instant gratification of creating something in a few hours or days rather than the weeks and months it takes to write a story or novel is incredibly satisfying and helps keep me sane.
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