An Interview With Karin Lowachee on THE GASLIGHT DOGS
Have you always known that you wanted to be a writer?
Yes, I’ve been writing stories in some form or another since kindergarten and began to think about doing it as a career around Grade 5 or 6. In high school I became more conscious of it, and by university it was definitely a goal I was driven to attain. Looking back on it, writing is the only thing that I can remember doing my entire life, consistently and without need of outside encouragement. I’ve always loved writing and it’s the only thing I can sweat blood over without too much complaint. I have many different interests but writing is my passion. It’s the endeavor that encourages my education, exploration, and edification all in one.
Who or what inspires you in your writing?
The simplest answer to that is the world (or the universe). I’m fascinated by people, places, and ideas, and writing is my way of making sense of it all or examining things that particularly interest me. A lot of writers inspire me as well, from across many genres. Film, history, art, psychology…they have always been an inspiration too. I’m also inspired by a desire to get better. Every book I tackle is a conscious attempt to become a better writer, not just to tell a different story.
Your previously published novels were science fiction. How different was it writing a fantasy novel?
I’ve always written fantasy as well as science fiction, so that change wasn’t shocking at all for me. It is a different mindset, though, a different style. I can’t write fantasy in the same voice that I do science fiction, so I was conscious of how the book sounded and that was the main difference. The nuts and bolts of it – the research and character building and world building – that’s all necessary no matter what genre you write in. It’s the same species, different breed.
How did you develop the idea for THE GASLIGHT DOGS?
Since living in Nunavut I knew that I wanted to somehow translate my experience there into a novel or novels, because I found the culture and the experience so unique and fascinating. But I was working on the science fiction series and figured the time would come when I was ready, and my publisher was willing, to have me play in that world. I was given a blank slate to develop an idea and I remembered a book (‘Give Me My Father’s Body’ by Kenn Harper, with a forward by Kevin Spacey, oddly enough) when I was up North about an Inuit boy around the turn of the 20th century who’d been brought to New York. I also had a book I’d found in a second-hand shop in Montreal about the Victorian underworld. And I’ve always loved Westerns like ‘Lonesome Dove.’ I began to see that these 3 periods and cultures existed pretty much at the same time and that if I brought them together with some creative license and threw in a little magic, that this would be a fantastical world I would want to delve into culturally, socially, and psychologically. It was the perfect combination for me because I didn’t want to write a fantasy world that others had written to death (and likely better than I ever could).
You spent some time with Inuit tribes in the north as part of your academic research – how did that influence your ideas for the Aniw and the characters in the novel?
Working among the Inuit of Nunavut influenced me pretty directly. I knew that I wanted to highlight some aspects of what is a great and unique culture that many people are not all that familiar with, but throw my own spin into it as well. There are differences (the Inuit don’t have spiritual Dog ancestors, but I developed that idea in order to flesh out the plot of the novel with regard to the Pangani Nation tribes and the Church of the Seven Deities) and I’m conscious of the fact that I’m not Inuit so if I incorporate a specific culture like that into my writing I have to be equally conscious of what changes I make and why. Sjenn specifically was born out of some amalgamation of the Inuit women I’d read about and met when I was in the North, but she is definitely not fashioned after anyone specific. My imagination tends to flesh out all aspects of my writing and that’s part of the reason I love writing speculative fiction.
Do you have a favorite character? If so, why?
Out of all the characters I’ve ever written, I don’t know that I have a favorite, although Captain Azarcon (from the Warchild universe) and Jarrett Fawle are on the short list. Maybe I have a thing for captains… Cairo Azarcon, to me, represented a lot of what I was trying to say in that universe about hope and forgiveness and fragility and strength. I’m still discovering Jarrett but there’s something elemental in his denial and struggle to understand what he is; I find that compelling. I became enamored of Sjenn too, just because I’ve never written a character like her and I think there is plenty more for her to say. Qoyotariz is a character that felt right the second he was on the page, which is rare for me (Azarcon had the same feeling), and that might be because I love writing enigmatic, slightly insane people. He’s extremely fun for me.
Empire is a hot topic lately, but the imperial forces in Sjenn and Jarrett’s world seem to be much more fragmented than a lot of the encounters between Europe and the New World. Do you think that all encounters between new cultures end in violence, making Sjenn’s story inevitable?
The reasons the Sairland-descendent Ciracusans are there are different from what went on in our world (they weren’t really off to discover a New World with the intention of conquering or finding riches or any of that) so in a way I’ve whittled things down a little with regard to Jarrett’s people, anyway. I think that violence to some extent is probably inevitable when you have cultures with such a marked difference in technology level, as well as ideals and beliefs. Throw in politics and a few people with ambitions for power and any group of people would find it hard-pressed to live peacefully. If the people are like the Aniw (or the Inuit) and not inherently violent in their day to day with each other, then those powers can take advantage of them (like through a forced relocation or cultural infringement) which is in itself another form of violence. I wanted to write Sjenn’s story partly because it’s a tragedy that’s happened too many times in our own world and it can never be examined enough.
What have you found to be the most exciting part of the publishing process so far?
Every part of it is exciting to me. I love the entire process from the nitty-gritty development of the book, to the editorial conversation, to the artwork and the production and everything that follows after. I don’t find any of it tedious, probably because I’m still grateful that I get to experience it in the first place and I’ve consistently worked with truly fantastic individuals, even when editors or publishers change. I love telling stories that are important to me and being published allows me to reach a wide audience (many of whom contact me and constantly surprise me with their dedication and creativity). There is nothing that isn’t exciting about that!