Contributor Spotlight: Premee Mohamed

In Those Who Float on Currents of Earth, the 12 years the human race had to mitigate the worst of climate change are almost up. As they explore a ravaged Alberta landscape, a group of youths must make a choice; work to fix the world they’ve got, or leave it behind in the company of an otherworldly stranger.

Tell us a little bit about what inspired “Those Who Float on Currents of Earth”.

As often happens, this story was inspired by an image — I had saved a picture of a painting by Lee Madgwick, a UK artist, of a weirdly sinister house and car seemingly in the middle of nowhere. (All his stuff is weirdly sinister, I love it.) I couldn’t help but wonder who might be in there, and then I kind of worked backwards from that: what was their purpose being in there? Who might confront them there? What might be waiting for them if they weren’t from this place? Could a hard decision be made there? Was enough information available to do so? I wanted the kids in the story to be tempted by this house because it was so different from where they were coming from, both physically (droughts, disease, unemployment, climate disasters) and psychologically (despair for the future passed on from their parents and other authority figures).

What do you hope readers get from reading “Those Who Float on Currents of Earth”?

I hope readers get a sense of both hope and curiosity about the future–I mean in the sense that we’re constantly told by corporations, lobbyists, elites, and even governments that we’re both personally responsible for solving the world’s accumulating disasters, and that there’s nothing we can do. Well, both things can’t be true. Pushing back against climate, political, gender, and racial violence starts small and it starts with community. Even two friends are enough to start with, if they’ve both made the choice to fight together. You never know what will accumulate around a small beginning.

How has your time in the Prairies influenced your writing?

The more I think about it, the more I think the answer is ‘Way more than I’m conscious of.’ Especially as a woman, a person of colour, and the child of immigrants, I find I’m often coming at things that are taken for granted here with kind of an ‘outsider’s perspective.’ At home I grew up in one culture, and as soon as I left the house every day I was immersed in another one, with a whole different set of values, rules, backgrounds, and ethics I was expected to share. I think I was very lucky, looking back, to have those two perspectives available to me. Especially as I worked in agriculture and ranching, and oil and gas (both in the field as an environmental consultant, and in the fancy headquarters in Calgary), and now in public service–there are so many things specific to the prairies that end up in my writing and my world view, and I scrutinize those things very closely out of love and out of a desire not to misrepresent them. Things like our connections to wildlife and hunting, the land itself, our relationships with Indigenous communities, attitudes towards climate change and fossil fuels, the urban/rural divide, perceptions and stereotypes of prairie residents. There’s a lot to unpack and fiction is an interesting place to unpack it. 

What do you feel anthologies and short stories accomplish that novellas and novels don’t?

I’ve gotten so much more into anthologies (especially themed anthologies) over the past few years! A short story is such a difficult thing to do well; I don’t think people appreciate that. It is a whole different set of skills from a novella or novel. What a short story does really well is present a single main question or premise, and since it’s usually just one, it really highlights it–there’s a sense that all of the author’s skills and attention are focused on answering this question in a way that doesn’t let you look away from it, the way you can in a novel over hundreds of pages. And the sense of a short span in the characters’ lives, I love that. You almost feel privileged to be with them for such a brief period of time, while they are presented with these challenges and trying to overcome them, because you know it’ll be over soon and they truly don’t have much time to figure things out. And in anthologies, of course, I love to see the range of ideas and creativity from the different authors. It’s true that if you give 20 authors the same prompt, you will get 20 very different stories every time!

What other work would you like the readers to know about?

My next book out (September 28) is a post-post-apocalypse climate-fiction story called ‘The Annual Migration of Clouds’ from ECW Press, and that’s set in the prairies–in fact, at the University of Alberta campus here in Edmonton’s river valley! If readers like stories about ambiguous horror and intense friendships, I hope they’ll consider checking that one out. I’m also helping to judge the Dream Foundry contest for emerging writers (deadline is October 11!). Finally, I would like to nudge readers to read my debut novel, the multiply award-nominated ‘Beneath the Rising’ and its sequel ‘A Broken Darkness’ so they can get caught up before the third book in the trilogy comes out next year!

What are you working on now? What can readers look forward to next?

At the moment I’m working away on another anthology story for the ‘Life Beyond Us’ anthology–I’m very excited about that one, it’s an astrobiology focused hard science anthology and each story is being paired with an essay by a scientist working in the field (‘my’ scientist leads research in plant physiology and advanced life support at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center!), as well as ‘The Void Ascendant,’ the third book in the ‘Beneath the Rising’ trilogy which will be out in March 2022! 

Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. She is the author of novels ‘Beneath the Rising‘ (Crawford Award, Aurora Award, British Fantasy Award, and Locus Award finalist) and ‘A Broken Darkness,’ and novellas ‘These Lifeless Things,’ ‘And What Can We Offer You Tonight,’ and ‘The Annual Migration of Clouds.’ Her next novel, ‘The Void Ascendant,’ is the final book in the Beneath the Rising trilogy and is due out in March 2022. Her short fiction has appeared in many venues and she can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus and on her website at www.premeemohamed.com.

Alternate Plains: Stories of Prairie Speculative Fiction is available wherever books are sold like Amazon, Chapters Indigo, through our publisher Great Plains Publications, and local booksellers like ours, McNally Robinson Booksellers.

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