What’s that? An interview? In the Joy Factory Weekly newsletter? You bet your cute butt there’s an interview. I’ve been meaning to do this for a few months, and now I’m here with the first ever Joy Factory Interview! My first guest is author Premee Mohamed, who was kind enough not only to be the first but also to return her questions in record time! Thanks, Premee!
Hello, and welcome to the first ever Joy Factory Interview! Thanks for agreeing to be the first! To get us started, I’m forced to ask an evil question: If you could recommend one book not written by you (in any genre) that everyone should read, what would you recommend and why?
I’m sure everyone saw this coming, but definitely Herman Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick.’ Not a perfect book, but I’m adamant that a ‘perfect’ book has never been written and never will be. Funny, sly, lively, full of beautiful imagery and scenery and mythology, also some iffy cetology, all those grand pronouncements and instructional tangents, and I never get tired of the whole wyrd intense unhealthy spell that Ahab puts on the whole crew. It’s one of the few books I can put down for months and immerse myself in again the second I pick it back up.
If you’re answering these questions, there’s a pretty good chance you’re a giant SF/F/H dork like me! With that assumption in place, I’m curious: What about genre fiction appeals to you as a reader and/or writer? To put it another way, what keeps drawing you in to this world of various wonders?
I think it might be the desire to get to know a world that I know someone’s created on purpose, if that makes any sense? I saw a ridiculous tweet the other day disparaging SFFH writers for ‘wasting’ space doing ‘ridiculous worldbuilding,’ which this person insisted in a ‘normal’ novel would be ‘cut down to the bone.’ Uh, yeah? Because we all understand how the existing world works, so a contemporary novelist doesn’t need to do any worldbuilding? They haven’t created anything in their novel that doesn’t already exist? Anyway, I didn’t reply, because life’s too short, but I happen to like constructed worlds, and the work that goes into them, and the creative flourishes not allowed (or actively discouraged) in realist fiction. I like stories for stories, of course, but also for the work that goes into setting up the stage for the characters to play on. SFFH authors put so much work into creating these stages, from magic systems to space opera dynasties to entire planets or galaxies, all the way down to the tiny touches of (say) designing jewelry that indicates status, or the hand-grips on the ceiling of a space habitat. And that’s work I notice and appreciate, what’s put in, what’s left out, the sense of purpose, the research. (I even like infodumps! Hey editors, let people put in more infodumps for me to read!)
Your first novel, Beneath the Rising, had you jumping into an arena that has been pretty interesting to watch in recent years – that of cosmic horrors, elder gods, and plenty of genre-warping goodness. What interested you in approaching these elements in your unique way? And would you ever consider writing a space opera just to break that genre in half? :P
I think the main thing I liked about the cosmic horror arena is that it’s so broad it feels practically limitless. After decades of authors writing about horrors that are too horrible to be described, plus being extremely vague about how the horrors got here, where they came from, and what their motivations are, I feel like we ended up with a playground so vast that you could make any dang evil thing and none of the other horrors would even notice. (Let alone complain.) I love the idea of a villain so vast and powerful that in theory, humanity should have no defense against it and should knuckle under in a policy of appeasement at once; it’s got so many narrative possibilities when you start from a position of ‘Everyone said it can’t be done.’ I wanted to tell a very small story (two longtime friends reuniting and trying to repair their friendship, only to discover that it might be harder than it looks this time) inside a much bigger story (?? end of the world ??). I have absolutely considered writing a genre-smushing space opera, I have folders full of ideas, the ‘cosmic’ part of cosmic horror is certainly not going to be fazed one whit by humanity and/or alien races having faster-than-light travel and enormous laser weapons, and I would like someone to pay me to do it ASAP so that purists and snobs of several genres can yell at me about the finished book.
In A Broken Darkness, you return to the world of Beneath the Rising, the Anomaly, and eldritch horrors. What did you find most challenging about writing a sequel to such a creepy first novel?
Oh my God! Writing the sequel was a horror. It’s the first sequel I’ve ever written. I had no idea how much information to put in, how much to leave out, whether to assume people had even read the first book, or when they had done so, or how much they would remember, because I remembered practically nothing, and also it was due in the early months of Ye Pestilence and I was a wreck from anxiety and insomnia. On a craft level, I guess the most challenging thing was trying to recapture the voice from when I wrote the first one (between 2000 and 2002, while I was at university and about Nick’s age), plus deciding what to repeat/not repeat. On a personal level, definitely trying to focus long enough to get words down, and not be too hard on the manuscript, which I felt was the worst thing I’d ever written. It’s hard to write while you’re being bullied, no matter who’s doing the bullying.
As a writer, who do you consider some of your biggest inspirations, whether they’re writers, thinkers, filmmakers, or non-human critters?
Oh man, I really had to think about this? I’m one of those people who consumes all sorts of stuff but doesn’t absorb it until after the billionth or so time I encounter it. Generically, I read a lot of nonfiction and I’m very inspired by world history as well as the practice of studying history (not just archaeology but also the kind of ‘how do we know what we know?’ process that keeps changing and improving as technology and access improves), and science and scientists, especially the early days of natural history; I like how both disciplines have to connect things that don’t seem connected because we don’t have enough data, not because there wasn’t a connection. (I also enjoy when a connection is made that isn’t a real connection. From such threads are novels made.)
I like Studio Ghibli movies and the way they insist that we slow down during the ‘action’ and pay attention to details that either do become important later or don’t; I want to write novels with that feeling and I hate when I’m asked to ‘speed things up’ or ‘add more action.’ Plot as a required series of structured events based on conflict is overrated and I wish genre publishing would let us write more books that were slower, gentler, more full of joy and connection, more flexible and unexpected, less rigid.
My favourite authors keep changing over the years but usually include Umberto Eco, Nick Harkaway, Terry Pratchett, Ismail Kadare, and Gene Wolfe, all of whom do things with narrative that I would like to do but can’t. I like to read books where I sit back, puzzled, and say ‘Oh! I didn’t know you were allowed to do that in a novel.’ A current inspiration is Michael Moorcock as I’m doing an Elric re-read; I love that the books don’t just lean into the parts that make no sense, but rush into them and speed up. I want to write with that kind of unselfconscious glee, it’s immensely fun and readable.
For reasons that must have to do with grand eldritch conspiracies, you’ve also taken to releasing several novellas this year, including These Lifeless Things in February 2021 (Rebellion Publishing) and two upcoming novellas: The Annual Migration of Clouds in September 2021 (ECW Press; OMG the cover OMG) and And What Can We Offer You Tonight sometime this year (Neon Hemlock). In The Annual Migration of Clouds, you take your talents to exploring a post-climate change future involving wild fungi, food shortages, and other future terrors. Can you tell us a little bit about your interest in exploring the possible real and fantastically terrifying effects of climate change?
A lot of it came from my job, I think! I work in environmental policy for my provincial government and so the effects of future climate change are something we should be building into each policy we develop, but it’s being applied inconsistently across land, air, water, and so on. I’m in land, so my group looks at forecasts and models about climate change that we’re then told for political reasons to not include in our regulations… but it’s scary stuff. The main thing is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Climate is immensely complicated, we have a fraction of the data we need and no way to gather more, and climate scientists will tell you right off the bat that we need more information for better modeling. The main takeaway from our provincial data though is that it won’t be a slow, steady process of change; there will be tipping points, and once things start happening, they’ll keep happening much too fast for us to react to. So when I wrote the novella, the climate change outcomes that are mentioned in the book are vague but realistic, because everything is on the table at this point except the ‘no change’ scenario. Giant storms, flash floods and landslides, topsoil loss, extinction of numerous plant and wildlife species, groundwater retreat, extended droughts, tree death, new pathogens and pests, really nothing can be ruled out.
Thanks for answering these questions. Now for our ending and quite silly question! While on a flight across the pond, you awaken to discover that your plane has landed on a mysterious island. The crew and passengers are gone (but they left a note, so they’re OK). There are three things on the island with you: one object of your choice, one book of your choice, and one nemesis of your choice. What are your three things?
Oh at least I get things on the island! Well, being a nerd, I think the object should be my Kindle, which I will read books on until I lose power. Then I can switch to my book, which will be Alan Moore’s ‘Jerusalem,’ because I started reading it at the start of the pandemic and am still not done. Obviously capitalism is my nemesis, but as the avatar of capitalism I might choose Elon Musk, who gets on my nerves anyway, and throw him into the sea so that I could read in peace.
Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. She is the author of novels ‘Beneath the Rising’ (2020) and ‘A Broken Darkness’ (2021), and novellas ‘These Lifeless Things’ (2021), ‘And What Can We Offer You Tonight’ (2021), and ‘The Annual Migration of Clouds’ (2021). Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues and she can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus and on her website at www.premeemohamed.com.