Captive birds in space. Need we say more? Well yes, actually. And Issue 033 author Kat Weaver helps us. Read on for our interview with Kat as she tells us the secrets behind her story “On Your Honor” from our current Issue 033.
LSQ: There’s almost a Renaissance-like feel to the characters with their large, extravagant dresses, proprietary manners, gossip, and background of aristocratic behavior. Tell us how you weaved this in with an otherwise futuristic story line.
Kat: Worldbuilding isn’t actually my strong suit—not fantasy or sci-fi worldbuilding, at least, as I mostly tend to write historical fiction. For awhile now I’ve been working on a series of illustrations featuring ladies with parrots in space. Since it was supposed to be fun, I could just toss in whatever I loved drawing—architecture, fashion, birds, attractive nebulae. I was concentrating more on a cohesive aesthetic than whether a world like this would actually make sense, and I’m still okay with that. (Shout-out to my beta readers, though, for helping me figure out worldbuilding logistics!)
This particular story, about this particular portion of society in this particular time, owes more than a little something to late 18th-century Britain, especially Duchess Georgiana and the whole situation with her husband and Bess Foster. Thinking of that period’s industry and government and resource management, it’s on a space-and-magic scale, rather than a single planet.
LSQ: What made you choose birds for the role of the oracles? Your descriptions of their colors, behaviors, and personalities give the reader the impression you either have experience and/or interest in them. Is this so?
Kat: The birds themselves actually came before their role! It was important for me to work out a way that these parrots in space—in captivity—could lead interesting, fulfilling lives. The oracular games the interpreters set up are meant to be intellectually stimulating, and there’s plenty of opportunity for socializing. If a parrot outlives its interpreter, it will be cared for, and given the chance to bond with someone new.
I grew up with my brother’s cockatiel, but it wasn’t until we’d graduated college that my girlfriend and I got a bird of our own. (We didn’t stop at one, but Mister, our diamond dove, is much less high maintenance.) Papaya is our peach-faced lovebird, a very small and yellow tyrant who rules our lives. Many people are surprised at how much personality even little parrots have, and how intelligent they are. Paya knows how to ask for water—it’ll tap its beak on the inside of a cup with an accusing look—and it scolds good friends of ours who it hasn’t seen in awhile. Parrots are social animals! Large parrots in particular are a full time job.
LSQ: The names of the birds: “On-Your-Honor” and “I-Beg-Your-Pardon” — where did these come from?
Kat: In my experience, there are certain kinds of phrases, said in a certain tone of voice, that best attract parrots’ attention. They’re fairly short, with an identifiable rhythm—for instance, “Who’s a good bird?” It’d be to the interpreters’ advantage to be able to teach their oracles names they can repeat—and names that rich supplicants would find charming. (This mainly applies to birds who do imitate human speech and/or sound, but the tradition would still encompass lovebirds like Honor.) I was also thinking of thoroughbred racehorses, who have their official stable names, and then the names that their owners/trainers actually call them. I’m dead certain the interpreters have all sorts of weird in-joke nicknames for their oracles.
LSQ: The concept of manipulating the “messages” of oracles through bribes (i.e. paying for what you want to hear) as well as the concept of marriage as a ploy for political gain prove in your story to be as true in the future as they ever were in the past. Can you comment on this?
Kat: I’m not sure I’d call this a futuristic world—I don’t think it’s an outgrowth of any Earth as we know it. There’s terraforming and spaceships, and there’s magic, and there’s a commercial aristocracy and gossip journals. People who have power, from wherever that power derives, are going to devise ways to keep it. People are going to do each other favors based on personal alliances rather than an ultimate good, and people are going to look out for their own. I don’t want to be too cynical, but I am interested in characters who actively try to balance their self-interest with a broader concern for what’s right.
LSQ: Paseia’s love for the birds balanced with the desire to see a real world in a universe where everything is being used up says quite a bit about her character in subtle undertones. Can you tell us more about Paseia?
Kat: Paseia is proud of being an interpreter, and proud of doing her job well. She enjoys a certain amount of status and privilege—she’s friends with the Abbess, she wears nice clothes, she’s occasionally invited offship to parties and plays. She’s very conscious of her place, which means she’s also conscious of her isolation. She rationalizes her interest in the outside world as a means to an end, a way to serve her supplicants, but she has a genuine desire to be part of something. As you said, she’s discovering that she values what’s real. Ecosystems, animals, genuine intentions. Maybe true things are all the more valuable to her because of their scarcity.
Kat: Honestly, nothing about writing comes very easily to me—except maybe the parts about birds and clothes. This story was one whole exercise in exiting my comfort zone, and creating a “new” setting (cobbling together influences) that requires explanation in order for the story to work. Which is not to say that historical fiction doesn’t need explanation—it’s just different.
LSQ: Are you working on other projects? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Kat: There’s a novel or two to be written in this world, and I just have to unearth them—I’m still at the brainstorming stage. Maybe more short stories ought to come first, and definitely more illustrations. I’m also revising a historical novel about gay revolutionaries in 1830s France and Italy, which I hope to send out on another round of queries soon.