Visions of Québec (with Claire-Marie Brisson)

 

I am beyond pleased to announce that my interview with Claire-Marie Brisson on The North American Francophone Podcast is now live!

 

 

This was my first podcast interview, and I couldn’t have wished for a more gracious host than Claire-Marie. Her podcast is a thinking soul’s analysis of various aspects of Franco-American life, featuring recipes from 1840 and the likes of David Vermette and Robert Sylvain. I had a wonderful time discussing “Glâcehouse” and the future of the American Francophonie, and I hope you have a wonderful time listening to it.

 

If you enjoy The North American Francophone Podcast as much as I do, go snatch up one of the Francototes while they’re available!

 


Letters from Characters #1: How would you seduce me?

With permission from the first (!) comarade patron (y merci!), I am publicly posting their letter here to give all of you an idea of what you can expect from becoming my patron on PatreonMon comarade requested a letter from Doña Ana Lucía, and at the end of their one-paragraph prompt, asked a single question:

How would you seduce me?

Queridos [                      ]:

Firstly, thank you for writing. It is always a delight to hear from admirers.

Secondly, let me be clear: I do not seduce. I romance, and only with the consent and blessing of all involved. To do otherwise invites la vergüenza.

It is unbecoming of a lady and a scholar, but indulge me in answering your question with my own: How would you serve a dinner or dig a site? How would you hollow an asteroid into a terrarium, and make it a home? How would you seed a biodome to see it thrive? I think you see where I lead. Each meal, each site, each rock, each dome, are unique and subject to their own strict factors and airy whims. Lovers are just the same, him in his place, her in her spot, they in theirs.

Each seduction must be an adventure, or it is no romance at all.

In your prompt letter, you spoke of your love of knitting, animation, and heists. This is all I have to go on of you, queridos [                      ], but I have some training in the social sciences to aid me. I think the way of roses and chocolates is not for you, except perhaps as a fine gesture while the real romance is on. I think instead I would bring some of my mother’s old things, priceless vintage, and tell you stories of where each bit of cloth has been and you tell me stories of what each piece you are working on is becoming.
I am not very adept with proper cooking, as much as I discern it at table, but I am fair-handed as a camp cook. With your consent, I would make something new of the things around your kitchen. Consent, because the kitchen of a proud cook is a very intimate place.

And you would sit and sip your drink and tell me of the animations you love. My specialty in historical pop culture are the telenovelas of South America of the early 21st century, it will not take you long to find the canonical animation that makes you strike your face I have never seen it. After dinner, we could watch it together. And, with your consent every step of the way, perhaps more.

And as for heists, I could tell you some of the things I’ve seen and done and retrieved…but I think perhaps this is too public a forum for such tales.

Would you like to hear those tales somewhere more private, perhaps?

Besos,

Doña Doctora Ana Lucía Serrano y Veracruz


Doña Ana Lucía, in the Flesh!

new DALS

“Fieldwork isn’t something to be taken lightly. Relics of Earth, our Earth, our shared heritage and our shared vergüenza, are priceless to all humanity. To restore relics to the people who can best caretake that heritage is a noble calling, nevermind the risk to life and limb.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. If there is no dancing, playing, or lovemaking, then what is the point of adventure?”

— Doña Doctora Ana Lucía María Keiko Maximiliano Ghaziyah Hector Luz Serrano y Veracruz, in an interview with Archaeology Orbital

 

(credit to the magnificent PockToffee for her artwork. Merci encore!)


Introducing: Doña Ana Lucía Serrano y Veracruz

So, you may have heard me referring to “aristocratic Latina space archaeologist with a sword” or words to that effect. A lot of you (a lot of you, I think I got more likes on that comment than in my entire previous year on Twitter, wow, thank all of you!) seem to like the idea. Now that I’m wrapping up the submission for Silk & Steel, I’d like to introduce you to the woman I’ve been spending the last year and a half of my life with, and some of her Six Worlds.

Amigos, may I present Doña Doctora Ana Lucía María Keiko Maximiliano Ghaziyah Hector Luz Serrano y Veracruz.

Professor of Archaeology at the Great Madrassa of Indirabad-Angang on Prithvi, Mistress of the Blade of the Golden Moon, the woman who recovered the Lost Probe of Ganesha and the Jade Monkey. Calls herself “the Six Worlds’ most public Latina.” Always dubbed “confirmed bachelorette” in the network tabloid-feeds, right before they speculate on her next choice of partner(s).

In the Six Worlds of Earth, dear departed Earth is nigh-legend, and relics thereof priceless. Archaeology is again a business of firefights in dusty digsites for the Glory of the people or the dome or the museum who backed the diggers and sing their praises.

And Doña Ana Lucía is one of the best. With her swordcane and her handcannon, she retrieves relics from distant snowy peaks of the far side of Ganesha or from within the halls of Uffizi Station itself, because:

“It does not belong in a museum!”

In “Doña Ana Lucía Serrano y la caja de Venuswood,” Doña Ana Lucía hangs under a cloud, forced to hunt down a bit of estate auction flotsam by some sinister power who hold her darkest secrets in their hands! She tracks it to New Trivandrum, on Sati, where she winds up rescuing the dead man’s daughter, the silver-haired, sardonic Annika Talavalakar. But as they alight the Triozini Rajput grav-train back to the nearest spaceport, two sets of sinister forces alight with them, one to open the box and exploit its secrets, the other willing to do anything to close the box and silence Ani Talavalakar…forever.


Multilingualism (Mono Version)

Next week, Solarpunk Winters hits the newsstands, and with it, my story “Glâcehouse.” As I said before, “Glâcehouse” is the story of two Canadian girls (one French, one English) trying to bring winter back from under the glass and out into a Republique du Québec where it’s muggy and rainy in Montréal in December. It’s about ecology, and how the seasons form culture and identity.

But most of all, it’s about language.

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Mackenzie and Marie-Pier speak in a canadien patois that ebbs and flows between English and French on the turn of a syllable. Mackenzie’s shaky French creates a barrier between herself and the people around her in the heart of la Republique. Marie-Pier’s French shifts between “carefully international” and politic and the near-incomprehensible Sanguenayan drawl. When and who and how a character uses French says a lot about who they are, in this ‘verse.

And I had to write it entirely in English, because that’s what Solarpunk Winters is published in.

This isn’t the first time I’ve played with multilinguals, but I feel it’s my most successful. Looking back over my work, it’s rare that I wrote a monolingual anytime in the last decade, and only a handful of times I wrote a monolingual Anglophone. And I don’t gloss over it, I do everything I can to write multilingually…

…in English.

Here’s how I do it.

Handling individual words and phrases, anything less than a sentence, is advice you’ll find in any decent How To Write SF/F guide.

“Si on veut indiquer le sens…” He said. If you want to indicate the meaning…

“Then you can use italics.” She replied.

You can alternately use tried-and-true Poirot Speak, with certainly has a, ‘ow you say, je ne sais quoi. It only asks un poco words and phrases to salt through the dialogue or narration. But yes, do not be ashamed of it, I had Gooch speaking fluent Poirot back in No Time.

But what, I kept having to ask over and over this last decade, do you write a character’s thoughts, a whole conversation, even a whole foreign point-of-view …in English?

Let’s ask Mackenzie and Marie-Pier:

“There’s a story Marie-Pier said, brought from la Finis-terre to la Fin du Monde on the other coast of the Atlantic. It tells a little like this:

There was a time before Paris, when a splendid city carved itself into the Atlantic, past the rocks of Brittany. They called it the City of Ys, Ker-Ys in the Breton tongue, and the Celtish king Gradlon ruled it. He inspired you English your King Arthur, isn’t that so.”

“Pardon me, I’m not English, I am Albertan.”

“You cried at Queen-Mother Meghan’s funeral, you’re English.” Marie-Pier smiled. She switched back: “She was a beautiful, shining city, her land reclaimed from the white waters of the Channel, the sea kept out by great locks which only Gradlon could open, with the key around his neck. For a time, she was good, but soon her glory rotted to debauchery, and one night, someone took the key and opened the locks, flooding the city beneath the Atlantic waves. Some people, they tell it was Gradlon, which is unjust to me. Some tell of his daughter Dahut, the fallen woman, who Gradlon threw her from his horse into the hungry waters as he fled. Some tell it was the Devil himself, because he is everywhere in these stories.”

She switched to the English: “But always there is a king, a key, a city, and the sea.”

“The history of Atlantis.” Mackenzie replied. “The Deluge. A history in every culture.”

Goddamn on Atlantis!” Marie-Pier said, with unusual force. “They do not tell this story in English, or Polish or Chinese. They only tell it in French.”

“And Breton.”

“Yes, and Breton.” Marie-Pier smiled at being corrected, her usual savoir faire falling back into place.

There were certainly some places where I italicized, because la Finis-terre (“World’s End” in Bretagne) and la Fin du Monde (“World’s End” in Québec, also a very good beer) is a pun that doesn’t work without the original terms. But instead of mass-translating and doubling everything up, I rendered it into English…a very French English.

“She was a beautiful, shining city” rather than “It was.” “Some people, they tell” instead of “Some say.” “Which is unjust to me” instead of “which seems unjust.” All of those reflect the grammar of a French speaker without imitating it. It’s proper English (mostly) but, as my mother’s professors always told her, “only you would ever phrase it that way!”

Judicious use of French-Canadian turns of phrase help, too: Marie-Pier refers to the evening meal as “supper” with other Francophones but “dinner” to Mackenzie. Mackenzie “alights” Marie-Pier’s Prius. They “do snow-shoeing” and Marie-Pier makes a bilingual comment about having “a Devil of a time” sneaking around at night.

Mackenzie’s dialogue in crooked French, especially her long technical description on the way to the river, is replete with perfectly rendered technical terminology like “refraction index” and “albedo,” but she struggles with basic terms and says things like “very much worse in the here.” Because, as a speaker of four living and three classical languages, that is exactly how it works, especially when you’re trying to speak a second language close to your own which shares much of the technical language, like French and English do.

In the example above, I tagged when the code-switching happened, but later on dispensed with it. All my readers so far have been able to detect the switch when Mackenzie says “This sweater’s too darn thin! Thank you much for the coat of you.” In other stories, my Spanish speakers use the plainspeech (a trick I stole from Hemingway, who had similar problems to solve in A Farewell to Arms), Mandarin-speakers drop superfluous pronouns, Cantonese-speakers shake hands and ask ‘eaten today?’, and speakers of perfectly intelligible Indo-Nigerian English stare with bemused wonder at a Yankee’s incomprehensible, archaic dialect.

Before “Glâcehouse,” I think my favorite multilingual performance was a story I wrote where the POV character thinks (and narrates) in Mandarin, and when she speaks English to the Anglophone antagonist, it comes out stiff and formal but perfectly good, but when he speaks Mandarin…it’s You No Take Candle. The fact that he was a pompous (and subtly racist) ass definitely helped.

When I was seventeen, learning French, one of the greatest gifts my langue paternelle gave me was another set of glasses. In English, the world is colored red, mais en français, c’est bleu. Mandarin has an Imperial yellow lens, Cantonese is qing. And when I switched glasses, and switched back and forth, I learned I had been wearing lenses my whole life…and the world had so much more color in it than I ever knew.

These are some of the ways I’ve been able to convey multilingualism, and convey something of that color of life in many tongues, using only one language. Especially when it comes to non-European languages, you have to be aware of how you sound to others, but drawing down the grammar, the underlying logic, of the tongue your character speaks with and letting it infuse the English you’re writing in…that’s the only way I know to really live and breathe in that world without living there.


PS: There’s still three days left to sign up for my Patreon early! In addition to the other lovely lagniappe my patrons get, if you sign up before the 6th, you can also get a postcard from the likes of Gooch, Mackenzie, or Marie-Pier. Help support my fiction today!


R. Jean Mathieu – now on Patreon!

 

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You requested, and I delivered. R. Jean Mathieu is now on Patreon, at patreon.com/rjeanmathieu! You, too, can help me create more of the speculative fiction you love while feeling like a Medici. And there’s lovely lagniappe to be had in the bargain:

As an ami(e), you’ll get a look at all my Murdered Darlings and never miss another story going live. For matelot(e)s, there’ll be exclusive Lagniappe content here at Innerspace and polls on new projects. Comarades can have Letters from Characters addressed to them in particular or a chance to make it into a new story alongside them. Full Mathieuvien(ne)s will get the keys to my private wiki and the audio stories I record for my parents and grandpapa.

…of course that last is for patrons who donate $100/month, but I also value my privacy.

As an opening offer, I will send out the first Letters from a Mathieu Character, physically written on postcards, to any matelot(e), comarade, or Mathieuvien(ne) who pledges their support before January 6. So if you’ve always had a burning desire to hear from Gooch or get Marie-Pier Corriveau’s advice, now is your golden opportunity.

Become a Patron!


Les Lutins, or, How Superstitions Are Born

In our house, we have lutins.

Les lutins have been quite an education in watching belief being born. I read about them in one of those big tomes of Québécois folklore I keep winding up with: a Northern French survival of Germanic or Celtic belief in household gods that hung on (hangs on?) in the distant villages of Québec where, in the middle of Arctic night, you can totally believe in things like werewolves. While not invisible, they are generally too clever to be seen by human eyes. They can change their appearance and often consort with “noteworthy animals of the neighborhood,” whom they often disguise themselves as. Something akin to the English hobgoblin, at least in the original sense: a goblin (or elf) of the hob (hearth). I explained the concept to Melissa, and she got all excited, like when I told her about French Catholic werewolves for the first time.

Lutin_by_godo

Then, one fateful day, she came home and was astonished that the dishes were done. She asked if I’d done it, and I looked up from my book and idly said “oh, les lutins must have done it.” She was curious, so I explained that when they’re pleased,  les lutins will do minor chores like sweeping or a few dishes. When they’re displeased, I said, they get mischievous, like gremlins: they hide small things and pull down books and stop up heat and water. They’re trying to bring attention, I explained, to the things that displease them.

Well, asked my wonderfully credulous wife, what displeases them?

My mind raced. Well, I reasoned, they were not Québécois, but French-Canadian, a belief that did not survive la revolution tranquille but smacks of a dark, Catholic, illiterate, un-electrified past that endured until the 1960s. So, I said, they love the things of summer: music and laughter and cooking smells and light and good cheer and tidiness and warmth and dry, snug, hygge places. And they abhor l’hiver: Darkness. Cold. Wet. Clutter. Silence. Strife.

She nodded with solemn face, for she understood such creatures well.

Strange things began to happen. When the salon and cuisine and chambre were tidy and warm, when the house was filled with bubbling stew smells and néo-trad and Hebrew prayer and conversation, chores really were done when no one was looking. Missing items turned up. The whole household moved a little easier. And when the house was cold and silent, when clutter piled up in the corners and on the tables, when arguments broke out…well, then, wires were tangled and things hidden. My passport. My watch. Once, my wallet out of my pants.

Melissa asked how to propitiate them when they were upset like this. I told her, eh bên, ils sont francos, et pis…

We left out Belgian ale and good cheese, and I told these beings I had made up for amusement that we were sorry, we would work on being tidier, cheerier, friendlier, but until then, have these. Both were gone by morning.

When Melissa was away on some errand or other in the evenings, I began to turn on all the lights and play néo-trad over the sound system. While making soupe aux pois or Irish stew. Just in case.

The real turning point, for me, was when I saw Sophie in two places at once. Melissa’s min-pin, or, as I call her, “the bat-eared tremble rat,” was inside when I took out the garbage that night, and stayed there. Aside from the huge hound who lived up front, there were no other dogs in the neighborhood.

When I saw Sophie sneaking around in the weeds, I thought she’d escaped. But when I went inside, there she was on the couch, dozing.

“Noteworthy animals of the neighborhood, whose form they often take for a disguise.”

A few weeks later when I saw Sophie and Sophie together just outside the front door, I wasn’t nearly as surprised. And when Melissa dubbed the nearby field where we walked Sophie every night, “le champs des lutins,” I nodded, because it looked like exactly the kind of field where les lutins would gather, light their bonfires, pull out their fiddles and squeezeboxes, and chant their fairy chansons for their own saints’ days.

When we moved to our new house, we put out beer and cheese, and I invited les lutins to be welcome in our new home as they had felt more than welcome in our old one. Still, sometimes, we find the dishes taken care of and fresh socks laid out for us. And, sometimes, we mutter that such-and-such article has been spirited away because we have not played enough music lately.

I have watched every part of this process happen. I usually caused it to happen. I am perfectly aware that my lutins are as much my invention as historical folklore, and at any rate, fictional all the same. They are no more real than Tintin, loup-garou, or Jean Valjean. I also completely believe in les lutins, les p’tites bâtards embarbés who are too clever to be seen and whom Sophie knows on an intimate basis. They are a true bokono, a lie that makes us better people that is too useful to discard. Les lutins teach us to be modest, clean, and polite, they remind us to keep our space warm and dry and bright, they invite us to the cheerful hedonism of music and beer and conversation. They even encourage us to use more French, since we both naturally code-switch when the subject comes up. What pleases them is, by and large, what is good for us, Roscoe and Melissa Mathieu.

So.

Do you have lutins in your house?

And if not, whyever not?