|Front Cover for ASIM Issue 61:|
Two women, one with dark skin and dark braids,
the other with black straight hair and olive skin,
hold cats while a shadow figure stands over
them. The water around them is full of dead cats.
It was over three years ago, but I think it was born from a Twitter/blog conversation about non-colonialist steampunk. I was playing around with the idea of an environmentally friendly circus with machine animals, and it fell into place when I started thinking about the circus travelling by airship. I was originally going to make the story centred around the clockwork animals, but Chifwe and Ba Luen's friendship came through so strongly it turned into a magic adventure. With cats. Lots and lots of cats.
Where in any of the universes is River City located?
River City is definitely in an Earth-like world, where African, Middle Eastern, and Asian economic, artistic, and religious aspects have a firmer hold in the 18th-19th centuries than the hold European colonialism and slavery had on the world. I think it is an Egyptian, Moroccan, Northern African, or Eastern Mediterranean rim port city, which melds together many of the cultures of the region. I used the geographical and historical nature of The Nile as my template, but the geography can be just as alt as the history of this world.
What is a "reclamation specialist", and why is Chifwe one?
I wanted to imagine a trade that doesn't get the respect it does in our world, but is incredibly important to the physical well being of a community. I also wanted to imagine this trade as being quite hard to do physically, but there are no qualms that women can do it too; the "House" (trade) structure of River City is quite matriarchal. I wanted to imagine a hard, physical trade that pays well, whether through monetary gain recognized by the wider world or the barter system River City partly operates on.
Taking all that, I then built into the world practical and religious concepts around medicine, cleanliness, disease management, waste disposal, and body disposal that were atypical in Europe from the middle ages through the 19th century, but have their basis hundreds to thousands of years in the past in African, Asian, Oceanic, and South American cultures. Really, I just wanted my people to talk about toilets and periods and poo in a very matter-of-fact way.
Chifwe fell into the job a little by accident. The Aito-wel reclamation House is her father's business, and she hadn't thought herself adept to the challenge and hadn't intended to follow in his footsteps. But that's another story!
This is the longest story you've had published. Did you plan to turn it into a twenty thousand word novella?
I started out by trying to keep it to short story mode, but the world just kept coming and coming, and before I knew it had I had a novella on my hands. I didn't plan it like that it all. I got myself excited with all the sights, sounds, and smells of the city, and the characters became too interesting to make into simple character sketches. It all clicked into place nicely, and almost by accident I built a big world with huge potential.
Do you have plans to write more in this universe?
The simple answer is: Yes. The potential of the world I mentioned has already manifested into a story that has found a home. "The Long Trip Home" ("Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists", Lethe Press) features Chifwe and Ba Luen as elderly women helping their friends Aroha Raharuhi, an airship engineer, and Cinnamon Darling, a contortionist and airship pilot, build the greatest airship of its time.
Chifwe's apprenticeship is that "other story" I alluded to, which I'm currently shopping around. This story includes Yedenda, a Shadow Highway spy, which offers up lots of interesting opportunities for other stories.
I'm also trying to write Cinnamon's origin story since she presented as such a delicious character in "Long Trip", but she's giving me lots of difficulties - she's delicious AND temperamental!