Interview with Claude Lalumiere

An Interview with Claude Lalumiere by Derek Newman-Stille

This past weekend, Speculating Canada had the opportunity to interview Canadian author Claude Lalumiere. I want to express my thanks to Mr. Lalumiere for taking the time to talk to our readers and share some of his insights about writing, about identity, and about the worlds he creates. I will let him tell you a bit about himself.

Spec Can: First, can you give us a quick description of yourself?

Claude Lalumiere: I was born in 1966 in Montreal, where I’ve spent most of my life. I was a bookseller from 1986 to 1998. I started writing after selling my business. I immediately began to place reviews, articles, and criticism. But now I write mostly short fiction. My first fiction sale was to Interzone in 2002: “Bestial Acts” – which I later turned into chapter 1 of my second book, The Door to Lost Pages. Also, I’ve edited a lot of anthologies. I’m an unabashed romantic utopian. Also, I’m much sillier than I tend to come off as in interviews and in nonfiction.

Spec Can: What are some of the biggest influences on your writing?

Claude Lalumiere: J.G. Ballard. Jack Kirby. R.A. Lafferty. David Lynch. Robert Silverberg. Philip José Farmer. Jonathan Carroll. The short fiction of Theodore Sturgeon. Unquenchable Fire, by Rachel Pollack. The Warrior Who Carried Life, by Geoff Ryman. Paul Di Filippo. Jim Thompson. Lucius Shepard. Iggy Pop. John Coltrane. Joni Mitchell. This Is the Ice Age, by Martha & the Muffins. David Sylvian. David Pringle’s run as editor on Interzone. The short fiction of Garry Kilworth.

Spec Can: Where does your inspiration come from?

Claude Lalumiere: Often the itch to tell a story comes from feeling that something in the world is not being narrated quite right, or in a way that jars and irritates my worldview or my imagination.

Spec Can: How do you bring your sense of humour into your work?

Claude Lalumiere: Fiction is a strange alchemy; how and why it works is mysterious. Ditto for humour. When you combine the two, then you have an even stranger alchemy at work. I have no clue how these things come together, but I do have fun writing funny stuff. Sometimes I wish the funny stuff came to me as easily or as often as the dark stuff.

Spec Can: Do you find that stories take you to areas that surprise or astonish you at times?

Claude Lalumiere: All the time. Sometimes, I read stuff that I’ve written, and I have no idea how that passage or that detail or that story, even, came to me. For me, writing is a process of discovery, the process of discovering the story. I can’t work from an outline; if I already know what’s going to happen, I lose the capacity and/or will to write it.

Spec Can: How much does your Canadian identity influence your writing?

Claude Lalmiere: I know that it does, but I’m not sure if I’m equipped to know how, aside from the fact that Montreal is often an important setting in my stories. On the subject of my being a Canadian writer, Paul Di Filippo, in his introduction to The Door to Lost Pages, wrote, “Claude Lalumière is not only a universal author but a regional writer. His native Canada, specifically the city of Montreal, is as much a player in these stories as the people, even when not specifically named. There’s some numinous element of these tales that acts as a counterbalance to the hegemony of US fantasy trilogies. We are hearing a voice literally from beyond the lands we (we American readers) know.”

Spec Can: What current projects are you working on?

Claude Lalumiere: I recently more-or-less wrapped up Bibliotheca Fantastica, an anthology I’m co-editing with Don Pizarro for Dagan Books. There’s still the proof stage to go through, though. That book should be out autumn 2012.

With co-editor Camille Alexa, I’m working on Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories for Tyche Books. This one should be out spring 2013.

I have a solo-edited anthology project slated for late summer 2013, but I can’t discuss the details yet.

Rupert Bottenberg and I will soon be wrapping up the online archive facet of Lost Myths (lostmyths.net), our collaborative multimedia cryptomythology project. The archive will stay online a static website once we reach 101 myths. But we’ve mapped out several books that should emerge from that project. The books will not simply collect the online material but adapt and expand on what we’ve been doing online. We’ll be accelerating work on the books once we wrap up the archive this autumn.

A few of my recent stories – in ChiZine, Tesseracts 14, and Fish – have featured a fictional (and fantastical) European city-state called Venera. I’m actively working on fashioning a book about Venera. It will be a mosaic – neither novel nor collection, but rather inhabiting the zone between those two forms – like The Door to Lost Pages. But it’s shaping up to be considerably longer. Twice as long, maybe even longer.

My first collection, Objects of Worship, was thematic. I have almost enough material for two more thematic collections: one being a logical follow-up to Objects of Worship, with a similar mix of gods, superheroes, and mythologies, but with a stronger emphasis on weird adventure; the other would have a stronger emphasis on the universal themes of sex and death, with the fantastic and the weird not quite so overt.

Aside from that, I’m always working on new stories. Often, I have no idea where they’ll take me.

Spec Can: Your work contains complex and exciting mythologies, where do you get your ideas from? Are there particular world traditions or myths that you draw on?

Claude Lalumiere: Although I have a lifelong fascination with myth, I would say that my approach to myth draws most heavily from Jack Kirby, especially his work on Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor, Tales of Asgard, The New Gods, and The Eternals. But, more than anything, from Kamandi #29 – possibly the greatest Superman story ever told and an insightful and evocative exploration of how myth works as a living social construct.

Spec Can: A lot of your stories involve the superheroic. Can you tell us a bit about what appeals to you about the superhero?

Claude Lalumiere: I think this equation should say it all: myth + pulp = superheroes.

Seriously, though, the basic idea of the superhero is, despite all the dark deconstruction of the last few decades, quite utopian, and I am unequivocally utopian. It boils down to this, the proverbial neverending battle: a superhero’s work is never done, but a superhero must strive do to the right thing at all times, regardless of personal risk or consequences. A superhero strives relentlessly for a better world. And the world would be a better place if we all strove for utopia. Utopia is not an end, it’s a process. We’re never there, but I like to think of it as an ever-evolving ideal in an ever-changing world.

Spec Can:  What was the first superhero figure that inspired you?

Claude Lalumiere: I don’t know that I can nail it down to one. As a pre-schooler, I couldn’t get enough of either Ultraman or Batman on TV. In the comics, I was particularly drawn to Captain Marvel (the authentic one, the one who yells “Shazam!”) – there’s something irresistible about a young boy who can become the world’s most powerful and wisest hero by uttering a magic word – and to Hawkeye from the Avengers, because of his obstinate refusal to obey orders without question and his ability to stand as an equal with the world’s mightiest heroes, even though all he could do was shoot arrows. And I just about worship Jack Kirby’s run on Fantastic Four.

Spec Can: From your description of the superheroes that inspired you, it sounds like it is often the more human superheroes that have really spoken to you. What is it about the human superhero that evokes your interest?

Claude Lalumiere: I don’t think that’s accurate. My interest in superheroes is vast. But I do like them to be heroic. The kind of “heroes” that emerged in the 1990s rarely feel like heroes to me. And I think that the concept has somewhat lost its way. When the narrative that drove our collective imaginations was the utopian ideal of the just society, superheroes in comics reflected that. When the paradigm shifted in the Reagan era, privileging profit over any other notion, superheroes became more utilitarian, more selfish. The pendulum has swung back a bit but powerful forces keep pulling back in a dystopian direction. Society has yet to overcome, much less recover from, this paradigm shift, and the concept of the superhero suffers along with it. The superheroes in films, for example, are almost never heroic. The best two superhero films ever are a major exception in that they do show true heroism, and they’re both by the same director: Brad Bird – The Iron Giant and The Incredibles.

Spec Can: Your work seems to question a lot of taken-for-granted assumptions in our society and pose alternatives. What kinds of things do you think Canadians should be questioning at the moment?

Claude Laumiere: Honestly, one question should loom large on the minds of all Canadians right now: how can we get rid of Stephen Harper’s hate-mongering, society-destroying, corrupt, dishonest Conservative government once and for all?

Aside from that Canadians should be asking the same questions as anyone. Is it ethically acceptable to torture other animals in the name of profit and convenience? How can we stem the tide of unregulated capitalism and save the planet? How long will we tolerate that social constructs such as ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, anthropocentrism, and other group-identity markers be used to fuel politics of exclusion? Etc….

Spec Can: Your work seems to invite readers to ask questions and invite readers to think for themselves. What role do you think Canadian Speculative Fiction can have in teaching people?

Claude Lalumiere: You’ve answered your question: my fiction tends to ask questions, not provide answers. Fiction can’t teach anything. Or, at least, mine doesn’t. What fiction is really good at is raising questions. The rest is up to readers.

Spec Can: Your work shows an interest in the monstrous. What monsters appeal most to you? What got you excited about looking at monsters?

Claude Lalumiere: Anything that smells of myth and pulp holds great appeal to me. Monsters are the flip side of superheroes. But also: the monstrous is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s interesting to play with perception in fiction.

Spec Can: Your work deals with a lot of diverse bodies. Can you tell us a bit about your interest in the body and in diversity?

Claude Lalumiere: I’m a sensualist. For me, the body is the only reality. Emotions are felt in the body. We react to the bodies of others: their shapes, their smells, their movements, their colours. Everything else is a construct. Sometimes useful, but most often detrimental.

Spec Can: What is your favourite world that you have created?

Claude Lalumiere: Right now, my mind is swimming in the world of Venera. So that’s my favourite at the moment.

Spec Can: Can you tell us a bit more about the world of Venera?

Claude Lalumiere: Well … I don’t want to say too much yet. But I can talk about what is known and revealed in the three stories that have appeared (well, two have appeared; the third should be out before autumn). I’ve written more than that, but the rest is not up for consumption yet.

Venera is an archipelagic city-state somewhere in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Italy. The language there is a dialect of Italian. Its principle export is a mind-altering drug/spice called vermilion. Access to Venera is not easy, and the state strictly controls its borders. The city-state is renowned for its sensual decadence. Many artists and iconoclasts find refuge there. Its architecture and geography seem to be somewhat fluid, and not all its inhabitants are entirely human.
Venera first came to me in 2006, during a trip to Venice, its principle source of inspiration, but aspects of Rome and Barcelona also played an important part in its creation.

The stories take place in various historical periods. Each story/chapter is quite different in tone and approach; we rarely experience Venera directly. Rather it is a place to which, rightly or wrongly, characters attach their dreams and yearnings. The first story in the Venera cycle to appear (at ChiZine.com) was called, “The City of Unrequited Dreams” — and that describes Venera well, I think.

Spec Can: What can Speculative Fiction do that “realist” fiction can’t?

Claude Lalumiere: I like those scare quotes! So many authors who work within realism do not realize that they are operating within the confines of a genre with very specific rules and tropes. I’m not a fan of realism’s hegemonic stature in literature and culture in general. There’s nothing inferior about romance (in the classical sense) or escapism. All fiction is literature, all fiction is art. That doesn’t mean that all of it is good, but there’s good stuff and bad stuff in all genres, including realism.

Fantastic fiction (as I like to call it) does have the quality of seeming to have no restrictions whatsoever. And that journey into the unknown can be thrilling, dangerous, intoxicating, wondrous – or, best of all, all of that at once.

I want to once again thank Claude Lalumiere for doing an interview on Speculating Canada. If you are interested in exploring some reviews of Mr. Lalumiere’s work, you can click on his name in the “tags” section on the left. To explore more about Claude Lalumiere, you can go to http://lostmyths.net/claude/  .

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