This interview is no longer online, but I had it in a file so thought I'd post it here for those interested in my process behind WARCHILD.
Jo Rogers: The plight of children in wartime is often overlooked or ignored. What inspired the story in WARCHILD?
Karin Lowachee: The story developed in a non-linear fashion (although it was pretty much written linearly). By this I mean that I had a character, Jos, who wasn’t even supposed to be the main character in the universe I had sketchily set up years ago. But once I started asking questions about his past, all of these other issues flowed from that: his trauma, his training, his loyalties. The universe started to flesh out as well, as I pried at his character. As the character developed so did the more broader issues, and it was only as I started to really know him that I started thinking about the plight of children in wartime...and wanted to depict one view of it--Jos’s view of it. Everything kind of fed off one another though. Nothing really developed in isolation of other details. But early on in the writing of the book I decided that I wasn’t going to show things from the more typical points-of-view of people in power. I wanted the story to be told through the eyes of someone who was essentially powerless -- a child. Throughout writing the first draft I did some reading and watched some interviews and documentaries relating to the Bosnian War and incidents in Sierra Leone and other parts of Africa.
JR: The alien culture is quite fascinating. How many cultures did you draw from in creating it?
KL: I don’t know that I’ve got a number, but I think it’s pretty clear that most of the alien culture was inspired by Asian culture (from Japanese to Indian). I didn’t do this for any specific reason except that I love Asian culture and find it fascinating (ancestrally, I’m part Chinese and Indian). Past a certain point, though, your own imagination takes over. Who the aliens were went together well with what I wanted Jos to learn, in order to contribute to his growth and ultimately what he becomes by the end of the novel. I wanted that conflict between the two worlds.
JR: Is there any part of it that reflects your personal beliefs?
KL: In some aspects, yes. Not that I did any of this wholly consciously, with the intention of: “Let me pontificate on my own belief system.” It’s always about the story first. If I were on Aaian-na, though, and in Nan’hade, I would probably get along with their idea of “place,” (or na) in the sense that you need all 4 principal forms of nae (physical, emotional, societal and spiritual) to work together. I’m not sure I would get along as easily with the more ruthless parts of Nan’hade culture, but I think I understand it.
JR: Jos’ ability to step outside himself during a traumatic experience is both interesting and sad. I have read that abuse victims use this as a means of preserving sanity. Is this the case with Jos?
KL: I think so. He doesn’t think about it as sad or specifically as a coping mechanism, but that’s essentially what it is. It also allows him to distance himself from people so he doesn’t get involved. He’s gun-shy about getting involved with people because he finds it difficult to trust, and also because he expects threat or abandonment -- to a certain degree. He would never articulate this to himself though. Readers see it plainly enough but he doesn’t see it that clearly in himself. But who does? Most of our issues are unconscious.
JR: Where did you get the character of Jos? Do you know a child like him as he was at eight?
KL: No, I don’t know anyone that directly inspired me. None of my characters are directly related to anyone in my life or in the world that I know of, personality-wise. I might get inspired by people, but not usually people I personally know. It’s more from observation. And then it’s not anything that is direct. That’s for personality (looks are another matter. I have a very specific image of Jos that is very specifically inspired by someone real). Jos kind of grew into himself. As I mentioned earlier, he wasn’t really the protagonist in the first incarnation of this story, which bore little resemblance to the story I ultimately chose to tell. Once I decided to focus on him, though, and pry into his past and his psyche, more and more things were revealed and he kind of just -- grew up. The first paragraph of the novel was essentially Jos recounting to me what happened, and everything sprang from there. That was written entirely on inspiration and very little forethought.
JR: Have you ever met anyone as manipulative as Falcone?
KL: No, not in that rather specific way. Falcone is an interesting character to me because I despise him on every level, yet I understand the method in his madness. He has specific reasons for doing what he does, which Jos has no sympathy for or much understanding and doesn’t care, so it’s not delved into deeply in the narrative, but the author does know and hopefully it will be explored in later books.
JR: Who inspired the character of Nicholas-dan?
KL: Nobody specifically, except maybe an anime character here and there. But that’s like the very base line. Niko came into his own much the same way that Jos did. And he ended up surprising me too in some ways, as characters tend to do. As people tend to do. When you’re first introduced to somebody the relationship is superficial. As you get to know them a deeper understanding might evolve. That’s how my relationships with my characters tend to be.
JR: He seemed to love Jos, but he was using him at the same time. Why did he rescue Jos?
KL: He tells me that his initial impulse was because he saw this kid get shot and left for dead. There wasn’t a grander scheme at that precise point. Niko was at a place in his life where he was questioning the war and its impact not only on his society but what he saw in EarthHub. Underneath his demeanor, also, is a great amount of compassion. That contrast of his nickname, “the Warboy,” and his compassion toward Jos is at the heart of the character, I think. He has that conflict, which completely melds with Nan’hade beliefs. He accepts it and doesn’t essentially see anything wrong with it. So, yes, he loves Jos, but as he started to make plans with a hope to end the war, he used him as well. Everything he said to Jos before sending him on Macedon is exactly what he thought: Jos was in a unique position to work for him, to scope out a possibility for peace.
JR: The war between the humans and striviirc-na began with a misunderstanding between vastly different cultures. How many wars do you think actually began this way?
KL: I’m not familiar with every war we’ve ever had, but I think some wars are perpetuated because of an inability or unwillingness to understand the other culture, or even if there is an understanding, there usually isn’t enough compassion to do something about it. People get rather stubborn instead. With the striviirc-na and the humans, it wasn’t only that unwillingness -- it was a fair amount of greed. The captain of the Plymouth simply didn’t accept that the striviirc-na weren’t willing to share. And since he viewed humans as technologically superior, he chose to take what he wasn’t offered. Of course he didn’t anticipate that half of his crew would side against him and work with the aliens.
JR: The war is fueled by greed and impatience. Do you feel greed and lust for power fuel most wars?
KL: Simply put: yes. Not to mention a good degree of peacocking.
JR: Many elements of this war are present in the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis. Did their situation influence the creation of the war here?
KL: At first, no. Actually I was more inspired initially by the early European colonization and First Nations conflict. But as the book progressed I think I picked up on other conflicts -- Middle Eastern as well as the Irish/English conflict.
JR: Ash seems obnoxious from the beginning. What makes him so different from the rest of his family?
KL: Jos never bothered to learn about Ash because he didn’t like him right off the bat (a child’s instinct), but hopefully some deeper issues were alluded to through Niko and observation. Ash loves his family but essentially he doesn’t agree with them. What touched him off, though, was his father’s death. He was close to his father, closer, I think, than even Niko. It became far more personal at that point and his hatred for EarthHub was exacerbated by his father’s death. Then he was taken as a prisoner of war on Chaos Station. Jos doesn’t give details because he doesn’t ask, but Ash would not have been treated easily as a POW. EarthHub has a deeper hatred of sympathizers than of aliens, because sympathizers are traitors to their own kind. All of that contributed to Ash’s decision to work against Niko, which wouldn’t have been an easy decision. But he’s fueled by a lot of hurt. In a way he’s just as fractured as Jos is because of the war. The difference is he’s dangerous, capable, and in a position to do something about it. He turns to the pirates for help. He doesn’t have that line drawn within himself, like Niko does.
JR: Why do you think Falcone has so little regard for life?
KL: He’s extremely jaded and war weary. He served as an EarthHub captain for years, on par with Captain Azarcon’s adoptive father, Admiral Ashrafi (Falcone and Ashrafi are peers). He was a deep-space captain so he bore the brunt of the war, back when it was much more virulent than it is by the time Niko takes the reins. As a deep-space captain he was pretty much left to his own devices and contributed to the reputation those captains have of being rogues. The war mixed with his own power-hungry ego warped him, to say the least. Plus he feels betrayed by his own government. They sent him out there to fight for them and he did it a little too well and was penalized for it. The incident at Ghenseti, where Falcone took off after Markalan S’tlian, resulted in the deaths of many Hub citizens on the station because he left them unprotected, as well as the deaths of many of his crew on the Kali. For that he was court-martialed. He’s never forgiven the Hub for that.
JR: What drives the striviirc-na sympathizers? Is it real concern for the aliens or just greed for what they can gain in the process?
KL: It really is a concern, which developed into a deep respect. Basically, as Enas said, they refused to side with a power (EarthHub) that so brazenly disregarded another culture -- especially an alien culture, which sympathizers think ought to be learned from, not dictated to. Of course this is the majority opinion. I’m sure there are sympathizers within the culture that might not be so righteous. Just as there are some striviirc-na that don’t care for humans on their planet.
JR: What, in your opinion, drives one race to want to destroy another?
KL: Ignorance, and a willingness to nurture that ignorance. Or revel in it, even at violent cost. I’m sure ego lands somewhere in there too, a total unwillingness to admit you’re incredibly wrong and stupid to perpetuate hatred. I can’t say I understand it, really. That amount of hatred is hard to understand. What brings people to that point? I don’t think it’s one thing or another. It must be a compilation of influences that click somehow with your own tendencies. And then, in wars, it becomes personal. It’s “my brother” or “my father” or “my sister” that you killed. So I’ll hurt you back because I’m hurt.
JR: Do you ever see a time when education and understanding will eradicate race hatred?
KL: I think education is a start, but it’s not all about what you learn in your head. I think the heart plays an essential role. People won’t allow themselves to be educated unless there is some sort of spiritual or inner change, and a certain amount of humility. You can’t be taught if you’re not humble, and by humble I don’t mean a willingness to be bulldozed by someone else’s opinion or agenda, or to passively accept things through inaction. I don’t think that’s what humility means, essentially. I mean that you have to have enough strength of character to realize your own way of viewing things can be wrong and not entirely encompassing of the truth. People have to stop being selfish and thinking in limited terms of themselves and their own little pockets of existence. That takes humility. Will we ever get there? I think so ... eventually. Kicking and screaming, perhaps, or at the end of a very big event -- but eventually. I like to believe in the potential of people to change. That probably comes through in some of my characters, particularly Captain Azarcon.
JR: Creating an entire alien world and culture with no inconsistencies is not easy, yet you have successfully accomplished it. How did you decide what would work and what wouldn’t?
KL: I don’t think it was that cut and dried for me. Notes built on notes in a rather lateral fashion. A lot of it was worked out through the actual writing of it. Then once the details were down I just had to make sure I didn’t contradict myself. Then I think a lot of it embedded into my consciousness and the novel in an unconscious manner. Much the same way it probably embedded in Jos. I started to see, once the first draft was finished, how Nan’hade beliefs were threaded throughout the narrative even when he was in the midst of Hub culture (on Macedon) -- right to the end when he chose to kill Falcone as an assassin, not as a jet. Once the foundation is there I kind of let my non-censoring side take over. The narrative tends to grow organically.
JR: Did you ever have to back up and change a physical or cultural element in you alien world because an important event in the story conflicted with it?
KL: My first thought is: no. But actually the answer is yes, but it’s not really obvious. I changed how Niko interacted with Jos because there needed to be a real reason Jos wouldn’t turn on Niko once he was away from his influence. Jos had to love his teacher, and in my initial draft Niko was much harsher in the way he interacted with and trained Jos. That would be more of the striviirc-na way. But Niko had to tone it down because Jos wouldn’t respond favorably to that kind of interaction. It wasn’t brutal, but it was harsher than what eventually was shown.
JR: How long did it take you to work out the details of this alien world?
KL: I guess about the same time it took me to write the book, which is about a year, though more accurately I wrote most of the book over the period of a few months. The alien parts all kind of came in one chunk so I did most of my development when I was writing that chunk.