Camille Alexa is the author of the latest RPP serial Particular Friends, but that’s not even scratching the surface. Well, I’ll let the interview do the explaining…
Q. The blurb on the back of PUSH OF THE SKY from Portland Monthly starts out with: “Camille Alexa tumbles between fantasy, romance, and science fiction with remarkable grace and style…” He was talking about the different stories, but I thought that was appropriate for PARTICULAR FRIENDS, too–if we add historical to the list. Can you give us some insight into your inspiration(s)?
A. Hah! Inspiration is a slippery, fickle thing; it can come from anywhere, take the form of anything — a word, an image, a concept or phrase — and keep shifting as you write, leading you to places you hadn’t anticipated. Writing is really a series of tiny revelations and inspirations, each scene or page or sentence inspiring one to write (and, it is to be hoped, read) the next.
When I wrote ”Particular Friends,” I’d been reading these totally gonzo mid-century gothic historical action heroine adventure novels. They were full of intrigue, murder, fantastic historical detail and travel to exotic places, all flavored by the heroine’s emergent sexuality. But everything was washed with this eyeroll-inducing parade of familiar gender-specific tropes I couldn’t imagine a male protagonist would ever be subjected to . . . and so poor Jonathan deWinter was born to struggle through all the frailties and limitations of his weaker sex.
Q. Oh poor Jonathan–but then, that’s what makes him so charming. Your characters are vivid in general, and leave lasting impressions. Lots of names come to mind, though I think Matty Johnson (“The Clone-Wrangler’s Bride,” “Droidtown Blues“) might be one of the first. I also remember the first story of yours I stumbled over back in ’09, “A Man of Science” (pdf of SW&W issue here)–Edmund was quite a different sort, but definitely left his mark! Do you take similar inspiration for these characters from the books you read or the people you meet? (Jonathan and Augustine in particular, of course.)
A. My mother, a professional artist, amateur botanist, and science enthusiast, heard a piece on public radio or some such when I was a kid, a story about the unconscious she related to me. It goes something like this: an analyst is explaining to his client that every element of a dream is really a projection of the unconscious mind. So if you dream about a man riding a horse along a path, remember you’re not only the man (here the client frowns) but also the horse (the client begins to nod in understanding) with its bit and bridle and rein (client nodding more vigorously as he pictures it) and even the path along which the horse and rider travel. The client stops nodding abruptly, looks up, startled and affronted. “What?” he says, “I’m the path? With all those people and horses walking all over me and shitting on me?”
With good writing, all pertinent parts of a world come alive. As a writer you inject yourself into, project yourself as, every element of that world as you shape it. Important characters (who needn’t be human: read “Shades of White and Road,” or Jane Smiley’s excellent novel, Horse Heaven) become more vivid, more ‘themselves’ by the end of a story than background people and things. But ultimately they’re all you, the reader: what you make of them as you read and how they come alive for you. At it’s simplest, I’m my first reader. Can’t beat becoming engrossed in a story and caring about the characters like writing the thing!
This is all sounding rather existential. Basically, fiction is just pulled out of the writer’s a–erm, mind.
Q. Ha! Yes, pulled out of the writer’s mind, I’m sure. That’s a brilliant lesson for a child, I think any reader or writer would agree. So tell us what you have coming up, and where we can look for you and your–er, horses, riders, and paths next.
A.Well, I’ve felt so liberated with fiction, writing in any direction that struck my fancy, about anything that caught my attention. I love it so much . . . [Camille, pausing to hug fiction tight] . . .
So you get PUSH OF THE SKY, with stories embracing all those elements you mentioned: fantasy, romance, science fiction, historical–even prehistorical. I’m horrible with strict classifications, have always struggled at the bit of genre categories; my fiction has been described as literary, horror, high fantasy, dark fantasy, magical realism, YA, mundane SF, slipstream . . . and I love it all,though no single term is fully accurate, fully descriptive. The beauty of writing short fiction lies in its fluidity.
But writing novels, which is my focus at the moment, is a very different arc of experience. I can write a short story in not much longer than it takes to read one; a novel is a considerably longer time commitment, mind commitment, emotional commitment. I find it incredibly difficult leap back and forth, long fiction to short, though I know writers who do it as a matter of course.
I do have a sparkly new piece coming out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which I’ll announce and link to at http://camillealexa.com when I get details. My favorite recent story appearances include the anthologies The Blackness Within (new from Apex Books), Shadows of the Emerald City (dark Wizard of Oz fanfic! My only fan fiction to date!), Breaking Waves (Gulf Coast charity e-antho with amazing contributors like Ursula K. Le Guin and Vonda N. McIntyre), and the infamous Machine of Death (Creative Commons licensed, though you can really chap Glenn Beck’s hide by purchasing the gorgeous illustrated book on Amazon).
. . . And, of course, PUSH OF THE SKY. Powell’s Books has signed copies, or you can get it online or from your local library–Seattle and Portland libraries have multiple copies. Or get it from a friend. Or a bookswap. Or from the side of the road if you find it languishing; I’ve rescued some of my favorite books that way.
And there’s nothing quite so fulfilling as rescuing a book, as we all know. Thanks for that, Camille, it has been a huge helping of awesome having you here. And readers, you can also enter the Serial Fiction Contest right here at RPP to win a copy of PUSH OF THE SKY!