The Thrill of Discovery: Writing Alternate History with Ginn Hale
Issue 9: Alternate History | 1,553 words
Ginn Hale is an author with many talents, one of which includes crafting sharp, witty stories in captivating universes. We reached out to her because of our love of her craft. We were also curious as to what inspired her alternative history works. We learned about that and so much more!
Ginn Hale: Hello and thank you so much for reaching out and taking the time to chat with me.
Speculative City: To help our readers who may not have had the privilege of already devouring your work, can you tell us a little about what drew you to the art of storytelling?
Well, I started writing because I couldn’t find any books—particularly not genre books—that depicted LGBTQ+ people like myself and my friends in a positive way. On the rare occasion that I did come across queer characters, they were mostly shown as evil or doomed.
But I knew that I and my friends weren’t like that at all.
We were funny and brave and determined. Our love wasn’t hurtful or doomed—not even when we were fighting through the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. It was our love that kept us going and inspired so many of us to stand up for each other’s rights as well as our own.
The queer people I knew were—and still are—heroic and inspiring. (It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I based the majority of the protagonists in my fiction on people I know.)
You have great range; your works encompass multiple genres, such as high fantasy and alternate history. Is there a particular genre you enjoy writing the most?
I like to think that my love of the fantastic underpins all my fiction, even the science fiction, like Maze-Born Trouble and Feral Machines. As a genre, fantasy is so versatile in the range of tones and subjects that it can encompass. The fantastic elements themselves can be as subtle and downplayed as tiny tweaks to history, or they can be as dynamic and bold as skies filled with dragons or time traveling dinosaurs. Almost by definition, anything can happen in fantasy, and I adore the promise of all that possibility.
We’re currently most intrigued with alternate history. Are there any specific works that drew you to and inspired you to write your own stories in that genre?
Actually, it was my wife who inspired me to write The Long Past and Other Stories. She wanted to read stories about queer, diverse, kick-ass characters in an American steampunk setting… Dinosaurs got thrown in to the mix at some point. I don’t recall the exact conversation now, but I do remember telling her it was an impossible request, and then almost immediately coming up with the premise for the book. Then, in researching each of the stories, I came across dozens of fascinating historical figures, such as Bass Reeves, Nat Love, Mary Fields, Charlie Parkhurst and Jane Addams, who each inspired aspects of the stories.
I do think that there must have been something about that time—around 2015—that inspired a number of queer American authors to pen steampunk and alternate history works. The stories that make up my Long Past collection were seeing their first publications around the same time as Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, and Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth. All are fantastic alternative history books set in the 1800s and centered on queer characters and people of color. And just a little later Alex Acks published Murder on the Titania and Other Steam-Powered Adventures.
Tell us more about the process of creating an alternate history world. What is your research process like and what have you found to be most challenging?
I think that what I find the most difficult is also what I enjoy the most, and that’s the research. Because I’m dyslexic, reading can be a challenge; it’s slow and exhausting for me. But I love the thrill of discovery that comes from reading a few pages and learning things I never could have imagined. It’s like a kind of magic, the way just a few words can expand the entire world in an instant! I would love to be able to just tear through research book after book, but instead I tend to focus on specific events, people, or places that I know I need to learn about and then go from there.
The Long Past and Other Stories was unusual for me because, often, I was researching information and events with the intention of altering or even reversing what I’d discovered. Part of what I wanted to do was to steadily dismantle historic oppression so that by the end of the collection a reader could imagine an entirely different “modern” era opening up for the characters.
Alternate history stories give opportunity to examine our current world and make large social and political statements. What is your goal when writing an alternate history story?
My goal for all of my writing is to build positive, empowering, and thrilling narratives for readers who are so often erased or oppressed by traditional genre fiction. In tackling alternative history, I was specifically pushing back against the misrepresentation of history itself as populated and shaped entirely by white, straight, cisgendered, Christian men. In reality human history is and always will be rich and diverse. There’s no reason that the stories inspired by that history should be anything less.
Also, I probably had a little bit of an “agenda” about putting feathers on dinosaurs.
You also craft wonderful worlds full of queer love that never come off as voyeuristic, even in the more erotic moments of a book—we’re speaking of Basawar, which is the fantasy world in the Rifter Triology, and the 19th century American West of your alternate history novella The Long Past. Basically, you unabashedly write queer stories. How did you come to find your voice?
I suppose that I found my voice as an author just by writing authentically about myself and my friends. Maybe that sounds weird, considering that so much of my writing involves magic and fantasy elements, but those things aren’t the heart of my stories. At the very core, I hope that my fiction is about people finding strength and love in themselves and their identities.
The Long Past and a collection of short stories all share the same setting—a swashbuckling variant of the American past. The unique world you crafted in that collection is an exciting and dangerous one, ripe for more stories. As an author, you have control over the world in which your story is set. What about the old West drew you to reimagine it, especially in the context of queer experiences?
A large part of the inspiration came from my wife, who grew up in the American west. Stories of her life rarely reflected popular depictions of a homogenous western culture. Rather they were—are—diverse, funny, and iconoclastic tall tales.
Gay bars that travel between rest stops on semitrucks, abandoned barns taken over by spectral chickens, and off in the distance the figure of a weathered caballero walking his faithful goose up a dusty road to a rainbow festooned kiddie pool.
Her West is queer and interesting. And I really wanted to capture a bit of her warmth, grit, and wonderful weirdness in each of the stories that I wrote.
As readers, we get attached to certain worlds and want to consume more stories in them. We particularly liked the world found in The Long Past and Other Short Stories. Being the all-powerful author, when do you know that your work in a world is done?
I love the idea of being all-powerful! J
In reality, sales as much as anything else decide when an author’s work in a world is done.
But putting that aside, I don’t know that any author is ever completely done with one of their worlds. I suspect that most of us revisit them in our imaginations, and, from time to time, tinker with them just to see what might spring to life.
I truly enjoyed building the world of The Long Past and Other Stories, and I like to think about the ways the people there will advance through history. I’ve also played with ideas about future plots. What other adventures might Ashni and Guela take on in the West? Will someone come after Dalfon to avenge one of the wanted men he gunned down? How did Grover domesticate that triceratops? What about people who found themselves on the wrong side of the Cretaceous era?
It’s definitely been inspiring to chat about the collection with you just now… So, who knows? New stories might just be quietly brewing away.
Do you have any upcoming works for us to look forward to?
I have two stories featured in this year’s Pride StoryBundle, part of the benefits of which will be donated to the Rainbow Railroad, which is an organization that helps LGBT people around the world to escape state-sponsored violence.
And, I’m writing the final book in the Cadeleonian’s series of duologies: Master of Restless Shadows, Book Two. It’s spies, swordplay, and spells with a dash of romance thrown in for good measure.
Thank you so much for all the thoughtful questions!
Ginn Hale resides in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and wayward cats. She is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as an avid coffee drinker.