An interview with Karen Lord

We caught up with Karen Lord to discuss influences, speculative fiction and the Caribbean.

Who were your favourite authors growing up?

I loved folktales from all over the world and authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who used myth and legend as their source material. I also read a lot of Diana Wynne Jones at the library, and one Andrew Salkey from school (Hurricane) started me reading the whole ‘disaster series’ (RiotEarthquakeDrought). I devoured a lot of science fiction by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke, but I think Bradbury is the one who influenced me the most.
When did you first start writing?
For fun, age 11 or so. With a little more focus, about age 17. But I didn’t think about taking it seriously until age 35.
What themes and common concerns did you notice as you were editing New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean?
Family, home and survival were the main themes. There was hardship, but also a lot of overcoming that hardship in small and big ways. Subthemes included the environment, corruption, and the care and protection of children and the elderly. I was happy to see social science balanced with technology to give a rounded view of our society and what it might become.
How does Caribbean speculative fiction differ, if at all, from UK and US speculative fiction? Are there any qualities that are unique to its context?
Non-linear expressions of time are common, and the boundaries between the real and the unreal are often blurred in ways that are mundane rather than magical. Minor characters tend to be vivid heroes of their own untold narratives and not mere background. Science fiction and fantasy and horror are usually mixed together, not kept in separate boxes, which can make subgenre definitions difficult. And true magical realism is a lot rarer than most people think.
There is a new crop of writers based in and writing from the Caribbean that is starting to gain notice beyond the region. How can publishers support these new writers and develop literature in the region?
Before they can support, they must listen and learn. Don’t overlook our excellence because you can’t recognise what it looks like. Gain exposure and training in the region’s existing literary tradition and do not expect carbon copies of Western works. Let go of stereotypes – there are many different stories being told by our writers, and not everything takes place in the village, on the beach or at carnival. Understand the flexibility of West Indian standard English and its various dialects and respect their validity in dialogue and narrative. Develop in-house expertise that connects to our literary communities, festivals and conferences. We have a rich source of story and many talented writers who would be an asset to any publishing house. We are not a charity project.

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