Interview: “Clouds of Phoenix” by Michèle Laframboise

Blanche, a young girl walking in a cobbled-up exoskeleton, spends hours watching the strange clouds dancing in the Phoenix sky. She soon realizes that their coordinated figures signals a threat. Alas, the adults are too busy to listen to her. Even her sister Lupianne worries more about the oxygen plant’s dropping quotas and her similarly failing social life…

Then, as the cloud dances grow more complex and the temperatures rise to never-seen-before levels, the sisters must join forces with a despised artist to save their budding settlement from total eradication.

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Blanche soon found herself on the highest point of the dead city: the temple. At least, that had been how the archeologists named this abstract-patterned floor, surrounding a high table carved into black polished stone, like the sacrificial altar of the ancient religions. In a single leap, the young pioneer reached the top of the massive block.

A quick look at her oxygen puffer light showed a dark green circle. She still had time left to trot outside the “bubble” of breathable air that surrounded the town. Phœnix might be ranked as an “open” world, but its oxygen mass counted only for one percent of the atmosphere, not enough to breathe. The planet’s rating, O-, reflected the scope of the terraforming effort required.

Phoenix had a lesser rate than the “P” planets, soft-climate paradises where any patch of land was in hot demand. However, living on Phœnix was more enjoyable than squeezing families under the pressurized domes of airless worlds or in the bubbles-like cities hovering on gaseous giants.

Calypso, a G4 rated star, solitary and inconspicuous, lingered over the plateau, her light veiled in a milky halo. This halo was due to a thick dust layer hovering in high atmosphere. Those particles, diffusing the green wavelength, generated the sky color.

Blanche crossed her long legs, a tricky task, considering the intricate framework of metal, pumps and pistons enclosing them. Straps rose to her shoulders and encircled her waist to keep her inside the apparatus.

She used her basin and torso to direct the crude robo-servers inserted in the mechanical joints of the frame. She had been clumsy when her father had fitted her with the contraption, but her moves had soon become as natural to her as brushing her hair.

Those mechanical “overalls” enabled Blanche to run, fast. Only an off-road vehicle at full speed could catch up with her… if she let it.

A playful wind lifted her long hair, trying in vain to steal them. Blanche took out a nutrient bar and nibbled at the sweet chocolate and wheat savor.

This was her own precious moment of solitude.

—from Clouds of Phoenix by Michèle Laframboise

The Interview

What inspired you to write Clouds of Phoenix?

Clouds of Phoenix began by an image, of a girl looking up at clouds in the sky. I didn’t even know she was disabled, nor on another planet. Those ideas came later. The disabled girl is a solitary dreamer, and loves the shapes of clouds, like I did in my childhood.

The first version in French (Les nuages de Phoenix) won a literary prize, which is rare for a full-SF novel.

Did you make up any of the science used in your book, and if so, what and why?

I’m a geographer by formation, so there’s a lot of climate science and meteorology in the story, most based on actual sciences. The color of the sky is explained by a certain size of particles hovering in altitude. The catastrophe that threatens the colony if nothing is done is also explained in details.

I made up the “mood T shirt” of a character, which was cool when I came up with it about twenty years ago. On the purely human side, I imagined a disabled Blanche running fast in her cobble-up exoskeleton. Who wouldn’t love to see wheelchair-confined friends walking and running again with a little help ?

What are some of your favorite YA books as a reader, and what makes them stand out for you?/ Why do you think so many people, of all ages, love reading YA?

I searched my shelves, and my Goodreads, to find very few YA titles. If I can put a title, there is a book for adults, Watership Down, by Richard Adams, that described the rabbits with a lot of realism. That story I read 4 times, as I did Lord of the Rings.

I read indiscriminately every “age”, even some middle-grade books by Carl Hiaasen that are way funny (Hoots comes to mind). Before that I read the series Fantomette (by french author Georges Chaulet, about a young caped heroine) until my teenager years. I read more recently a Japan samurai trilogy by Genevieve Blouin, an historical piece.

In general, I love the social commentary in the YA books (of course, there is some in any book, but the voice is special), the alien environment, the adventure that this constrained (and confined!) life can’t bring. Especially Science fiction and fantasy. I like the originality, the voice, the humor, the historical exploration, and going as far from our here and now as possible. Exception: when it’s a contemporary teenage high-school-drama-oh-my-god-its-prom-night-and-I-don’t-have-a-date, I can’t relate at all. I’m not the age of that public and my school days were a different kind of hell that the glossy & glittery covers would suggest. But for any other books, when the drama does not rest solely on the young age of the protag, and when there’s cool older characters around (like in my own YA stories), I’m in.

Happiness is diving into a good story and emerging after, feeling refreshed.

What are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

I am currently working on a steampunk trilogy with a different style of narration for each one of the trilogy. First novel is done and in revision. Cover art done.

It is fun to build and enrich a culture, coming up with inventions, names, idioms (a lot of those!). It is a risky project but I love building that universe and its inhabitants. The specific narrative quirks of a steampunk period were a novelty for me, even if I had read a fair number of them.

However, anything signed Laframboise cannot redo the thousands of stories set in Alternate-Victorian era, in London City (love ‘em, read a lot of ‘em, but won’t imitate). So mine is set very, very far in the future… with a tiny cup of tea and big blimps.

My biggest hurdle is… coming up with names, and with believable events leading to the world I present. My science background does help, but it makes me take more time researching! As for the names, mine are often lame when I begin a story. Sometimes I begin with a name and will change it mid-novel, because something better knocked me on the head.

I don’t have a fixed method yet, it seems like a few strong SOW scenes (not just images, actions, emotions), that I later link with other beads. It’s like doing a puzzle. At a point, I feel that the story is ready, ripe for the typo edits.

About Michèle

Michèle Laframboise feeds coffee grains to her garden plants, runs long distances and writes full-time. Fascinated by sciences and nature since she could walk, she draws from her scientific background to create worlds filled with humor, invention and wonder. Michèle has published 19 novels and about 45 short-stories in French and English, earning various distinctions in Canada and Europe.

Find Michèle

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads ~ BookBub

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