New Author Spotlight: Vivian Caethe
What drew you to writing stories that were moving across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I have always enjoyed reading stories of all sorts, ever since I was a kid. I remember reading my way through the entire speculative fiction section of the library, then heading out to the other sections, looking for more. But only in the past year or so have I tried writing in other genres or styles other than traditional science fiction or fantasy. Pushing those boundaries has helped me not only improve my writing, but also become a better reader, returning me to those days in my youth when I’d read anything as long as it was good.
In “A Probationary Period,” objects have such importance — jewelry and luggage and weapons. Can you talk a little about how you use objects in your fiction to tell the story you want to tell?
Objects in any sort define material culture and can tell the reader a lot of things about the plot and characters. They serve, to some degree, as shorthand for the way the characters live and the way they move through their environment. I also feel that, in the culture that is depicted here, the use of objects would also be a deliberate function in a society that doesn’t necessarily need them.
There is so much hidden power in your narrator, and yet she’s in many ways at the mercy of her mistress. What role does this exchange of power play in the story?
One of the things that struck me about this character as I was thinking about her and writing the story was the way in which servants are equally vital and vulnerable in societies that use them. The penultimate example of this is Jeeves in P.G. Wodehouse’s stories, of course, and I was in part trying to capture some of that sense through Lara.
But in addition to that, I also wanted to explore what roles servants would fulfill in a society where the ruling classes are occupied with the process of ruling and the intrigues that define their power plays. Servants such as Lara would have to not only serve the basic functions, but also serve as the gatekeeper to their master or mistress, dealing with the low-level intrigues to allow the great game to continue flawlessly.
I like to think that Lara’s mistress understands this intimately and that is why she was so pleased with Lara’s recovery from her gaffe. I think that she would be more than aware of Lara’s success in averting the plot against her mistress and that she would be pleased with how Lara handled it. By being such an integral part of her mistress’ life, I feel that Lara transcends the typical expectations of servantry and in a way finds a power and a place of her own.
Class and power are such staples of sci-fi and speculative fiction. Why do you think that is? In what ways are you exploring class and power in “A Probationary Period?”
Class and power are explored so often in sci-fi and speculative fiction, I feel, because we so often use the stories we tell to examine ourselves. I don’t feel that it is a coincidence that speculative fiction of all sorts began its rise during the Industrial Revolution, a time of great changes in class structures, power arrangements, and the ways in which people viewed themselves in the context of their place in society. As we have evolved new ways of viewing class and power, so has speculative fiction reached further to encompass these views in the constant question of “what if?”
In “A Probationary Period,” class and power are not as straightforward as they seem on the surface. As with many power structures where there is a stratified system, the mutual reliance of members of different classes on each other is often present, but unacknowledged. I wanted to look at a class system where this reciprocity was not only present, but also vital to the smooth operation of society.
In what ways do you, as an author or as a person, fit the concept of “cloak and dagger”?
As a person, I fit the concept of “cloak and dagger” since I have worked in law enforcement as a dispatcher for the past ten years. This has given me all sorts of opportunities to see how sneaky people can be, or how they sometimes try and fail. It has also given me a plenitude of story ideas and examples of the way humans behave in stressful situations. It also has given me opportunity to examine how our society sets itself up for cloak and dagger, how laws contribute to crime and vice versa and how people move and operate within these constraints.
As an author, I feel that I have been learning how to write in such a fashion as to embody the sense of cloak and dagger. One of my inspirations is Isaac Asimov and his concepts of planet and galaxy-wide cloak and dagger. His concept of psychohistory and the defense of society through sociological and psychological factors embody to me the best example of society-wide cloak and dagger in science fiction.
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
My favorite writing place is my office at home with a cup of tea. There is nothing better or more inspiring than to be sitting amongst books and drinking a cup of freshly brewed Assam or English Breakfast. I have bookshelves that surround my desk on three walls and an immense comfy chair for thinking in. When I get stuck on a particular part in a story, or if I am feeling uninspired, I can look at the books I have surrounded myself with and be inspired by the wonder of the printed word. And if I really get stuck, I’ll take my cup of tea to my thinking chair and pet my cat like a comic book villain.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
The question would be: “What in your childhood has inspired you to write speculative fiction?”
This might be a common question, but no one has asked it yet. Probably because no one I have spoken yet to is a Freudian psychotherapist.
What’s the answer to the question in number 7?
I grew up in the Land of Enchantment and found that the nickname for New Mexico is more descriptive for my childhood than maybe other people would have experienced there. My father was a BLM employee for some time before he and my mother got married and never lost his love for the natural and archaeological wonders of the state and we often were able to go on hikes and explorations into the backcountry.
He had friends in the Pueblos as well and we would often go to visit on feast days and watch the Rain Dances. My world was filled with mythology and the promise that there was more to the world than what the mortal eye could see. When we went to the ruins in places like Bandelier, I remembered looking at the petroglyphs and wondering what stories the people who drew them told each other.
Out there in the desert, the beauty is so vast and unbroken that your imagination can’t help but be inspired. The night skies there are full of stars, and I spent many nights outdoors looking up into the sky and wondering what was out there.
Part of the influence on this is the fact that my grandfather worked for NASA during the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury programs. I would hear his stories and know, simply know, that human exploration of the stars was possible. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut, and even had my spot picked out on the ISS before it was launched. Needless to say, that didn’t end up panning out, but I was left with a sense of wonder and possibility.
Growing up with those influences, it was basically mandatory that I write speculative fiction.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I really want to thank all of the people who contributed to the Kickstarter. Without them, this wonderful magazine wouldn’t be possible!
You can read Vivian’s newest story, “A Probationary Period,” in the current issue of Crossed Genres.