Please welcome Heather Clitheroe to The Qwillery. “Coaltown” will be published in GENIUS LOCI: Tales of the Spirit of Place from Ragnarok Publications.
This is the fifteenth in a series of interviews with many of the authors and the artists involved in GENIUS LOCI. I hope you enjoy meeting them here at The Qwillery as much as I am!
I am a backer of GENIUS LOCI which is edited by Jaym Gates. You may check out the Kickstarter here. GENIUS LOCI has been funded and there is less $2000 to go to the Deluxe format of the printed edition!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the most challenging thing about writing for you? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Heather: A big challenge is carving out the time to write. I work full-time -- most writers, I know do -- and I try to come in to the office a couple of hours early and settle in with my chromebook to get to it. Some days are a lot harder than others. I'm kind of a hybrid when it comes to writing. Plotser, maybe.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors??
Heather: Hmm, literary influences. Jose Saramago, for sure, though I think it would take a lifetime to become as lyrical as he was. Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, and James S. A. Corey for science fiction. Tanya Huff and David Eddings for fantasy. My influences change up depending on what I'm reading. I've got 'Pontypool Changes Everything' by Tony Burgess on the go, and also Anthony Trollope's 'Barchester Towers.' I'm a bit of an eclectic reader!
TQ: Which question about your writing do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Heather: Hmm, maybe the first story I wrote. It was called 'A Riding Lesson' - the elementary school typed up stories and made a little booklet out of them!
TQ: Describe “Coaltown”, which will be published in Genius Loci, in 140 characters or less.
Heather: Coaltown is about ordinary people, obligation, and impossible choices. The mood is dark, I think, and bittersweet.
TQ: Tell us something about “Coaltown” that will not give away the story.
Heather: A lot of fantasy is about heroic characters being elevated and taken out of their environments -- almost about how you can go beyond your circumstances. I wanted to tell a story about the more ordinary, the common -- like me -- but still bring a strong fantastic element to the story.
TQ: What was your inspiration for “Coaltown”? Have you ever encountered a Genius loci?
Heather: I'd been watching a quasi-documentary series on coal mining and the images of the mine really stuck with me. It's haunting and scary to look at, and it ended up giving me the basis for the story.
Have I encountered a genius loci? I think so. Romantic descriptions of the sublime really resonate with me -- the sense of landscape being so awe-inspiring that they can create a moment of terror and frozen fascination in the observer. The sense of landscape as character is something I believe strongly in, and I've witnessed it myself in the Rockies.
TQ: Give us one of your favorite non-spoilery lines from “Coaltown”.
Heather: I love this little passage:
By the time he was thirteen, he was 'prenticed to his uncle, learning how to swing his pick and set a charge just so, bringing the coal down but not the roof. His skin was pitted with black dust, pale from so much time spent in the down under. He'd come to court her with his skin raw from washing, scrubbed so hard it was pink when he'd come to stand at the bottom of the porch step to ask her aunt if he might take her to the hall for a dance.
It touched her. It touched her powerfully.
One thing led to another. She found she was late.
TQ: In which genre or genres does “Coaltown” fit? In your opinion, are genre classifications still useful?
Heather: Coaltown is not quite an urban fantasy -- it's not specifically contemporary, but it's not sword and sorcery, either. I'd characterize it as second world fantasy, I think.
I do feel that genre classifications can be useful. Not so much to narrowly define a work, but to give a nod to the conventions that inform writing, and to consider the literary tradition that came before it. I'm mindful of T. S. Eliot's 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' and that sense that every new work of art (and literature) reshuffles the continuum of the art that came before it, and what comes after it:
"No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new."
I love this, because it reminds me that when I produce and publish, I'm part of a larger community. It's nice to be reminded that I don't work in isolation.
I also don't think that genre classifications mean you can only write in that particular vein, either. There are always new intersections, new angles and beats to consider.
TQ: What's next?
Heather: I have a piece out this week at Beneath Ceaseless Skies - 'Wild Things Gotta Go Free.' I've been working on a sci-fi novel, so my short fiction has dropped off a bit as I do...so it's back to the office in the early, dark mornings with my coffee and my words.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Heather: Thank you!
About Heather Clitheroe
Heather Clitheroe lives and writes in Calgary, Alberta. She is an alumni of the Banff Centre for the Arts. Her work has appeared in Lightspeed's Women Destroy Science Fiction and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.