Karin Lowachee’s Burndive, the second book in her Hub universe has just arrived on bookshelves this month. Ideomancer editor Marsha Sisolak caught up with Lowachee to pose questions about her writing just before she takes off for the World Fantasy Convention.
Marsha Sisolak : How has your life changed since winning the Warner Aspect first novel contest?
Karin Lowachee : The biggest change is now I have a publisher who is interested in my work so a lot of the stress (not all, but a lot of it) has decreased — you know, the stress of “needing to get published because I want to do this for a living.” I don’t take it for granted, however. Anything can happen and before I know it, I can be back to square one. I try to keep grounded by supporting a healthy pessimism.
Lowachee fact: She chose writing over her art as a means of expressing herself because writing is still fun even when she’s forced to do it, and she knew that she could write under the gun and not totally frustrate herself.
MS : As a writer, what kinds of things do you do to flesh out your characters? How do you make them come alive for you?
KL : It’s an organic process for me. I don’t sit with a sheet of paper (or a computer file) and list characteristics of my people. It’s very much like meeting people in real life. You start to know a little bit, usually what they look like first, and then you get information in weird and wonderful ways. Lateral information. You can know right off some intense things that has gone on in their lives, first, or you can start with the trivial things. Sometimes I do backtrack, because as I get to know them better, some early “preconceived notions” turn out to be false. Like in real life.
On a more literal level, sometimes I see actors who evoke that character (in more than just looks), and it’s helpful to watch them. Things become more three dimensional when you have a live “model” to be inspired from. You see twitches and mannerisms a lot easier. I take from that too. But only if someone inspires me. I don’t necessarily go looking. Actors just jump out at me sometimes in a weird coincidental kind of way.
Lowachee fact: Her earliest memory is in Guyana at nine months, on a dirt road, when her mum handed her over to her great-aunt, and she was very unhappy about it.
MS : In your fiction, you’re not afraid to tackle some tough issues like estrangement and alienation. What other issues would you like to address in the future?
KL : A specific one that jumps to mind immediately is the shades of insanity vs. sanity. I don’t quite think I’m “done” with the issues that I’m currently writing about, though. I think there’s a lot more I’d like to say about the nature of family and love and loyalty. The nature of abuse and exploitation. The issues of self-esteem. Human issues; the way people interrelate and all of the many, many complications in that. The obsession with celebrity was really interesting to tackle and I’m not sure I’m finished with that yet. I was just talking to a friend of mine about the “youth vibe” in fiction; about how difficult it is to not just depict a true youth or pop culture, but to get the vibe right beyond just slang vocabulary. I’m interested in that on a social level. I think a lot of that is probably bleeding through in my SF.
Lowachee fact: She’d ideally love a tiger or a wolf for a pet, and more prosaically, a horse and the regular dog and cat. And a bird. She saw the cutest bat once. Okay, she’d like a zoo. Minus the bug exhibit.
MS : Do you have plans to continue writing books in this universe? Are there any other universes you want to explore?
KL : I will continue to write in this universe for a least one more novel. Then I will probably take a break and explore other stories. But I’ll come back to this universe at some point as the muse strikes me. I love the characters too much.
But I never want to go past my expiration date with the universe. I’m pretty adamant about not doing that. I won’t write a story in the Warchild universe if I think something good can’t be added to the world. I don’t plan on ever backpedaling with my fiction. It’s about becoming a better writer. I don’t think standing still with your writing will allow you to get better.
MS : And do you have another universe to explore?
KL : Yeah. Kernals of ideas, some that are a bit beyond kernal. But none that are so far as fleshed out in my mind as this one. This one, so far, is Home. But definitely…I want to go to other places. I have other places to go to, not necessarily in science fiction. I hope my readers follow! But, even if they don’t, I can’t write for them completely. If I get bored with my own work…well, I don’t want that to ever happen.
When asked, “Who’s hotter, Ioan or Jared?” : One cannot judge such things. I might be biased because I’ve met Jared. If you can arrange for me to meet Ioan, then I can make a more informed decision.
MS : Who are some of your favorite speculative fiction authors? What do you hope to emulate about them?
KL : It’s probably no surprise that I love CJ Cherryh. She was one of the first, if not the first, “adult” SF writer I got into in a serious way. So her influence is felt. Others are Maureen F. McHugh, Guy Gavriel Kay, Katharine Kerr. A lot of writers I admire aren’t published yet. <g> As for what I hope to emulate in them? It varies. I actually would rather learn by osmosis, so I don’t analyse things too closely. That, and sometimes I have to not read my favorite authors because I’m too afraid my osmosis will pick up their voice unconsciously, and that would just be irritating to me. But obviously things like point of view, characterization, world-building…these are things that I’m constantly learning. And learning quicker by trying to do it in my own work. Not just by reading. Reading helps a lot, obviously, but sometimes it can be intrusive. I actually read more nonfiction when I write. Nonfiction and fiction not in the SF genre.
Lowachee fact: Karin spent nine months in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, inside the Arctic Circle and tried the usual cliché touristy things: spent time in an iglu and ate raw caribou and beluga.
MS : What’s your favorite comment to receive from a fan?
KL : They all are quite pleasantly surprising, as mushy as that sounds. The ones that make me smile a lot are when they accuse me of causing much sleepless nights because they couldn’t put the book down, or when they’ve read it cover-to-cover quite a few times, and all within a week or something. I mean, because *I* rarely do that. To have someone say they do that with your own book shows a level of love for the story that is really amazing to me. I love the artwork that they’ve done. If your work inspires people to be creative in their own personal way — that’s truly a compliment. Readers who are really affected by the book on an emotional level, in very personal ways — that was something I couldn’t predict. The response from readers has been the most fun, the most gratifying and energizing part of being published. It’s the thing you can’t anticipate. Writing is so solitary, your stories are in your own head for so long, and then it’s just between you and some friends or you and your editor; and then it’s put out to the wider world and perfect strangers respond to it in unexpected ways…and it shifts your reality a bit. In a good way.
Lowachee fact: She’d like to visit Japan and go crazy on sushi and anime.
MS : While Burndive has been out in bookstores for less than a month, eager readers want to know how long they have to wait for the third novel in the Hub universe. Have you an estimate? Where are you in the writing right now?
KL : I’m about 130+ pages into the book (manuscript format). There is a bit of a ways to go, but I can be a fast writer if I want. I predict this book will be the longest, but you never know. With any luck I’d like to see it out in a year, but that’s up to the publisher. And when I finish it.
MS : All I can say is that she can’t finish it soon enough for this reader.