Michèle Laframboise is a feminist, science-fiction author, illustrator and independent publisher—Laframboise launched her own publishing house, Echofictions, in 2016. She studied science and
engineering before making literature her career. With to her credit more than 20 books and 45 short stories for all audiences, Laframboise writes in French and English, mainly from her home in Mississauga, Canada. We caught up with her at a science-fiction presentation at the Toronto Public Library, a day before we were all asked to confine ourselves to our homes due to the COVID-19 outbreak, our own science-fiction turned reality.
LSQ: Describe your science-fiction.
Michèle: When I began to write science-fiction, it was by sense of wonder. To invent new worlds, with different societies, with different cultures. Like in The Quest of Chaas, a society of space-faring super-gardeners. It’s a very rich culture, with a lot of sex-reversal habits like when the guys wear their hair long and teenage boys are vying to be the one sporting the best hair. I’m always inventing different societies or looking at ecological problems, like “Ice Monarch”, a climate science-fiction story about a cyborg butterfly flying over the Arctic.
My science-fiction sprouts from my love for nature, the environment, ecology. I imagine new solutions to old problems. I use what I’ve learned as an engineer and geographer to help people through my writing. Science-fiction doesn’t have all the answers, but it asks many questions.
LSQ: What attracts you to science-fiction, as a reader and as a writer?
Michèle: When I was young, there was a lesbian, feminist library near my place. They had a lot of science-fiction and that’s where I began to read science-fiction by women. It helped me through very difficult times, after the shooting in my engineering school, the École Polytechnique.
It was very dispiriting at the time and science-fiction helped me evade the harsh reality I was living; the attack [murder of 14 female students of the engineering school] was called an “isolated incident”, not acknowledged at the time as misogynistic feminicide. That media denial, the backlash, was very hard on my morale. It impacted the way I write, because, even now, I’m quite conscious of showing the good in my characters, female and male, heroes and adversaries. No one is really bad. Each has their story and backstory and conditioning; I don’t have the prejudice against my characters.
As a reader, I like the adventure. I like going elsewhere. And I like, of course, the women, but when I was young, it was all guys, guys, guys, guys; I was often disappointed with the women in the stories. But it got better after a time.
I discovered, in the 1990s, very good writers like Sheri Tepper and her novel Grass. In my life, there is a before and an after Grass. I still remember the sense of wonder that novel brought me: what a fascinating place and characters, and horses! Grass showed me how you could build a
universe to transport a reader.
LSQ: What has changed in the science-fiction publishing world over the years?
Michèle: Science-fiction has been making us dream for two centuries, with scientific speculations, offering many answers. It’s a genre that has given rise to a number of scientific vocations and adaptations for the big and small screen. Like a fan, science-fiction has opened up and diversified.
There have been changes especially with the arrival of the cultures of African writers, like Nnedi Okorafor. I read Binti, which is like a space opera with one very special African woman and I was impressed by the cultural references weaved into the story.
LSQ: In your presentation [at the Toronto Public Library], you said you made a promise to your dying father. Can you tell us that story?
Michèle: On his deathbed, I’d brought him a copy of Asimov’s Science Fiction, because he was a reader of science-fiction. I told him two things: “I promise you that I will publish a story in Asimov.” We were both fans of Isaac Asimov, my first love in science-fiction. And the second thing I promised him was that one day, I would hold the little rocket [the Hugo Award] for my
I’ve one story accepted in Asimov (for 2021!), but holding the little rocket might be more challenging. But some day, it will happen.
LSQ: Until then, what is your most dear accomplishment in science-fiction literature?
Michèle: It’s difficult, because I have several, but the super-gardener society [The Quest of Chaas series], officially a YA series, also holds interest for adult readers, because of the patient world-building under the plot. I think I am most proud of the one that got to be a finalist for the
Governor General Literary Award [Les Vents de Tammerlan in 2009], because it is rare for a science-fiction book to get on a gen-lit award short list.
LSQ: Let’s talk about your imprint, Echofictions. How did it come to be?
Michèle: I had gone on a [writers’] retreat in the States and met science-fiction writer friends there. A lot of them had signed contracts, abusive contracts, with clauses that prevented the writers to do anything, like if you’re writing a trilogy, but the first book doesn’t sell as well, the publisher doesn’t let you publish the second. There were so many problems, that most of those writers, who are very good, decided to publish themselves.
My inspiration came from Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, who created their own imprint, WMG. For some of their older novels, they couldn’t get their rights back, so they decided: OK, we’ll write more novels! And they have a lot to offer. Both of them have more than one hundred novels out.
What I’m saying is that, as a writer, I have maybe 35-40 books out from various publishing houses, but most aren’t available anymore. When I found out that my first publisher decided to discard the science-fiction collection because it was not profitable anymore, I found myself with all those books, with my intellectual rights on them. So, I decided to start my own [publishing] house.
Echofictions publishes my backlist or short formats that traditional publishers could not print without getting bankrupted. Another advantage is that I can publish in English and in French. And as an illustrator, I can publish my own cover art. Currently, I’m doing the graphic conception from A to Z.
LSQ: What is your advice to writers thinking about starting their own publishing imprint?
Michèle: I’m still discovering this part of the business. My advice is to expect that everything in publishing changes year after year.
My brand of science-fiction is unique, personal, and a challenge to promote—especially when the platforms push you to pay just to get your books visible. But I am grateful for my fans and followers, and I keep learning. Keep trying.
Above all, in those trying times: Be well and writing.
Michèle Laframboise’s books are available through her website, on Kobo, and on Amazon, at a reduced price, in April and beyond, for the duration of the COVID-19 time of confinement.