Karin Lowachee is the Canadian science fiction author of four books, the Warchild Universe trilogy and Gaslight Dogs. This interview focuses on her moving and highly entertaining Warchild Universe trilogy: Warchild, Burndive, and Cagebird. Karin Lowachee, born in Guyana, raised in Canada, worked as a teacher in the Arctic, brings to her books a mix of cultures, morals, and life aspects. The Warchild Universe books present a depth of human understanding set in the backdrop of space and intergalactic war on three sides. Please enjoy the following interview. We here at Darkcargo have enjoyed these books so much that we are offering 1 lucky commentator a free Lowachee book. So comment freely, if not wisely. (Ed’s note: This contest ran in August, 2011)
What is your writing atmosphere like? Can you plop down anywhere and write or do you have an inspirational Lowachee-cave for writing? What do you listen to when writing?
I prefer being at my computer to write, in my office, as that denotes a time to work with not as much distraction. I couldn’t work in a café or anywhere public; I’d be too busy people watching and eating. Being at a computer is also preferable because writing cursive takes too long.
Lately I don’t listen to anything. If I do turn on music, it’s classical or soundtrack music (like, from films), music that doesn’t have words. Occasionally I will listen to songs with lyrics from specific artists but that varies wildly with the mood of the book.
The intensity and depth of your characters is truly what drew me in. No one in your books is left untouched by the ongoing war. From your website, I know you are a bit of a history buff. How much of that knowledge and research played into The Warchild Universe character development?
It’s impossible to write a war novel and not be somehow influenced by history, especially since I’ve never served. I was interested in war history since early high school, so I read a lot on Vietnam and WWII specifically. In university I read a lot on the first Gulf War, and it’s just been ongoing – especially personal accounts from soldiers. I find those the most fascinating and heart-wrenching, so I’m sure that influenced me directly in how I wrote the voices in the Warchild Universe. I also watched a lot of documentaries and fictional war films, for that sense of storytelling. A friend of mine serves in the military, as well, so he was able to help me in the later drafts, at least to let me know if something was realistic or not. I have the thumbs up approval from him for all three novels and that means a lot to me — since he’s certainly not the type to sugarcoat.
In your first book Warchild, I can tell you took some quality time to create bits and pieces of the alien striviirc-na language. Have you studied many languages yourself? Was this an easy task for you in building this universe?
I’ve only scholastically studied French (through high school, no further) and a very little of Ancient Greek and Latin, and that did give me a bit of an idea of language construction, but I’m not a linguist by far and I knew I wasn’t going to go Tolkien on the striviirc-na language. I just paid attention to consistencies and the internal sense of it, not just letter-by-letter or syntactically, but also how words/concepts might have formed culturally, because of the way they think. That was just as important as making the language “look good.” I didn’t consider it especially difficult, but it did take some OCD attention – which I naturally do with my writing anyway.
The Warchild Universe books, especially Cagebird, show a Japanese culture influence. How did that come about?
The Japanese influence in Cagebird – and I’m assuming you’re referring to the geisha culture – is partly because I’m interested in Japanese culture and partly because I was interested in taking this culturally specific detail (the geisha) and translating it or adapting it to a future in the context of Falcone’s world. There are differences between the ancient geisha culture and what ended up being Yuri’s world, and that “bastardization” of it, if you will, was interesting for me to explore.
In each of the three books, you focus on a different character and how the circumstances of the war have traumatized each of them while yet still moving the overall story forward. I applaud you for taking on the difficult subject of child slavery. What kind of research did you do to capture this issue so poignantly?
With regard to the child slavery, that wasn’t something I set out to do when I first began writing Warchild. It just naturally came about as a theme in a story about a child in war, but by the time I got to Cagebird, it was more conscious, in that I wanted to take this issue and carve it on the page. I did a lot of research into it and it frankly horrified me. I thought that this was something that could use a close examination in the genre, without pulling punches or taking the easy way out in the end, and to show how it affects kids for years. Falcone and his world became very directly based on my research, even though I didn’t intend for that when I first conceived him. But he quickly became a kind of representation of the predators that exist today who are involved in child slavery rings. The line between Jos and Captain Azarcon is very short and I wanted that to resonate. Just because the captain was a capable adult now didn’t mean he was unaffected by his past. Showing the spectrum of the ramifications was important to me.
One of the underlying themes to Cagebird is the idea of redemption; it may never happen, it won’t be easy, and it may not be complete. When you set out to write Yuri’s character, did you play with the idea of redemption early on, or is that something that came about as the story unfolded for you?
I did play with the idea of redemption early on. Before I’d written a word of Cagebird, Yuri’s story was inspired by my research into the boy soldiers of Africa. I saw a documentary that talked with the boys who were forced by the warlords to commit atrocities, and they were then recovering in trauma camps. It was heartbreaking. So one of the essential questions of Cagebird was…how much do you blame Yuri for the things he did, considering the context? How much do you forgive him? Can he be forgiven? Should he be forgiven? Can he be held responsible for the things he did? Outside of the geisha context — which in itself was structured in some part by how kids are recruited (if they’re not outright kidnapped) into slave/prostitution rings — Falcone’s treatment of Yuri was pretty directly informed by real warlords, especially in how he got Yuri to kill.
Throughout the trilogy, you evince a knowledge of weapons; especially guns. Do you visit a firing range often yourself?
I have never fired a gun in my life. I’ve held a rifle and a shotgun, but never fired them. It’s know what you write, not always write what you know. That being said, if anyone wanted to offer to take me to a gun range, I’d be game.
On your website, you have The Omake Project, which is like a place holder for short stories from the Warchild Universe. There is also a tab for “Deleted Scenes” which is currently, tantalizingly, empty. Any plans to expand these areas on your website anytime soon?
Yes, the plans are all there. I’ve written some short stories in the Warchild Universe and wanted them to be made available to readers for a nominal amount of dollars, but getting from A to B has been stalled. The Deleted Scenes depends on me digging up my old .doc files of Warchild that are somewhere on floppy disk. Yes, I said floppy disk. But those sections will be filled…as soon as I get a moment or 900. Absolutely.
Would you like to tell us about other on-going projects?
I don’t talk about ongoing projects, novel-wise, that haven’t been contracted, I’m sorry! But I have a short story in John Joseph Adams’ upcoming ARMORED anthology from Baen, which I had a lot of fun writing, and it spurred a novel idea that maybe some day I will explore.
And, of course, the Darkcargo question we ask everyone – What are you reading now?
Cormac McCarthy, a book on the Secret Service, a lot of graphic novels (like DAMAGED from Radical Comics) and a history book about the expansion of the American West. And a lot of other books…I’m making my way through them to cull my shelves.
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