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Q&A with Lilith Saintcrow, author of "The Damnation Affair"

The Damnation AffairLilith Saintcrow is the author of The Damnation Affair, a novel that mixes magic and guns, Old West and fantasy. What made you want to become a writer?

Lilith Saintcrow:There wasn’t really any moment of “wanting to become.” I’ve always written, ever since I was first dissatisfied with an ending in one of my Little Golden Books and determined to fix it myself. Not writing is not an option. It’s simply what I do. I’m just so happy that I can make a living from it, really. When did you start writing?

Lilith Saintcrow: Let’s see…I was seven? Around then. I started writing for publication in the early 2000s, though. 2004-5. It was something I could hopefully turn into some income while I was at home with two toddlers and an indifferent husband. I’ve never looked back, on either account. Where did the idea for the world of The Damnation Affair come from?

Lilith Saintcrow: Actually, it’s set in the Bannon & Clare universe, which burst into flower not too long ago when I was reading a book about the Victorian underworld and slang terms. There was also a particular movie scene involving Robert Downey Jr., I have to admit. (I have this thing, both for Victoriana and for Downey.)

While playing in the Bannon & Clare world—alt-historical Victorian era London—I wondered about America during that time, and as my writing partner was involved in a story about a mechanical corset and gold claims, all of a sudden I had this idea for a schoolmistress coming into a sort of Deadwood-esque town and things getting very complicated. I settled down to write her arrival and the consequent brawl that erupted in the streets of this very rough-edged town, and from there it was just seeing what the story did. It just fell out of my head. What was it like mixing magic and guns? Old West and fantasy?

Lilith Saintcrow: It was terrific. I like Westerns, and I love fantasy and magic. It was so much fun! I’d read Jane Tompkins’s West of Everything and a fair amount of L’Amour and Zane Grey, and so I just shoved every Western trope I could into the book and shook them together, and I had a marvelous time. I think this book has probably been the most zany fun to write, out of all of them. (Yet.)

The not-so-fun part was dealing with the prejudices, both overt and unspoken, that would be normal in that time period. You can’t write historical fiction, even alternate historical fiction, and not deal with very real bigotry, prejudice, and nastiness. Of course there are modern prejudices, but sadly and often a writer isn’t called to account for them the same way they might be called to account for a character with the bigotry of another historical period. There’s a certain point where one just has to throw any uneasiness about what might get you into trouble out the window, and decide to be faithful to the characters and the time—even if you deplore their viewpoints, you still have to write them as best you can. The readers deserve that honesty. Why zombies of all the supernatural creatures you could have picked or imagined?

Lilith Saintcrow: I’d just never seen a Western story with zombies before. (I’m sure they’re out there, I just haven’t seen them.) I was looking for a really odd juxtaposition, and anyone who knows me knows I’m fascinated by the zombie apocalypse. So it was really just a delightful mishmash of an accident. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Lilith Saintcrow: In Damnation? Probably Li Ang, the Chinois girl. She doesn’t say much, but she understands much more than she lets on, and she’s very determined to keep herself and her baby safe. She has an agency and a practicality I just love. Right next to her was Jack Gabriel, the sheriff. He’s just so maddeningly calm and competent.

I think I fell a little in love with him. But don’t tell my other characters.


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