1. Backli’s Ford is an intriguing tale of aliens interacting with Canadians in the early 20th century. Can you talk a little bit about how the A’lle and how you created them? I am particularly interested regarding your decisions about the A’lle’s appearance and emotional abilities?
Cath: Backli’s Ford is an intriguing tale of aliens interacting with Canadians in the early 20th century. Can you talk a little bit about how the A’lle and how you created them? I am particularly interested regarding your decisions about the A’lle’s appearance and emotional abilities?
Marcelle: The A’lle were part of a large flotilla fleeing the impending destruction of their home world. Their ship crash-landed in Lower Canada in 1711. While many of the colonists sheltered the injured A’lle, some reacted with fear and loathing. That set the tone for A’lle-human interactions.
Once I realized that they were “strangers in a strange land,” I had to work out how their home world would have shaped them, and what their social constructs would be. I had fun trying to figure out what the A’lle reaction to religion would be, for instance.
The A’lle are humanoid, but their home world was a cold, dark one, with a lower gravity than Earth’s, the result being that they have large eyes well adapted to darkness, but vulnerable to sudden light; they endure the cold very well, but suffer with the heat; and they are taller than the average human.
They have a wide range of similar emotions to humans, but are more rational. The world they came from was so harsh that they had to cooperate to survive—violence does not come naturally to them. For instance, as an investigator, Constance had to work hard to overcome her resistance to using violence.
Even after two hundred years, humans still baffle the A’lle. They understand concern, for instance, but not worry, since the emotion is completely useless.
Cath: While some writers might have used an alien race appearing in Canada as a start for a science fiction story, you are writing in the mystery genre. Why did you choose mystery for these novels?
Marcelle: I didn’t exactly choose mystery. That’s just how the story presented itself. I had this very interesting (well, I think so, anyway) alien race trying to survive and adapt to a world that is already occupied. Each A’lle has a special gift—some to a lesser degree, some to a greater degree—just as all humans are gifted in some way. These gifts are odd to humans, however, and in the early days, some A’lle were accused of being witches and killed. For that reason, A’lle never discuss their gift with humans.
Constance’s gift is knowing absolutely if a person is being truthful or not. It seemed like a gift that lent itself to police work.
Cath: Like many women, both in the past and in the present, Constance must struggle with the expectations regarding her job performance in a male dominated profession. Her situation is complicated by not only being a woman, but also by being an alien. For our readers less familiar with your series, can you discuss what Constance does and why she encounters resistance?
Marcelle: Constance’s problem isn’t that she’s a woman so much as that she’s an A’lle.
She is a brand-new investigator for the Baudry Region. Her boss is Chief Investigator Médéric Desautel, a fine man in all respects but he has a prejudice against the A’lle—especially one foisted on him by his boss, the magistrate of the Baudry Region. Desautel keeps Constance tethered to a desk, refusing to give her a case to investigate. That way he can keep an eye on her.
Constance—like all A’lle, really—is very patient. She bides her time, paying attention to her coworkers’ interactions and learning as she observes. Most of her colleagues have never worked with a female investigator before, though there are more and more female constables on the force. A female investigator who is also A’lle… that’s a bit more than many of them can handle.
In spite of his own prejudice, Desautel is a scrupulously fair and honorable man and when someone reports the suspicious death of an A’lle boy in Backli’s Ford, a few hours away, he sends the most logical investigator—Constance—to investigate.
Along with two senior investigators, just in case.
She’s thrilled, despite the babysitters. She knows she can be a good investigator, if given the chance. She’s smart, observant and capable. And now she can finally show Chief Investigator Desautel what she can do.
Ah, the naiveté of youth.
Cath: Prejudice is often a theme in a story where a group of aliens land on earth. What kinds of prejudices do the A’lle face? Beyond the obvious of being different, are there any particular reasons for the biases and prejudices against them that make the other characters uncomfortable?
Marcelle: There are several A’lle characteristics that many humans envy: their longevity (they can live up to fifty years longer than humans), their ability to heal quickly, even from serious injuries, and their immunity from many human diseases.
An extreme faction of humans don’t see the A’lle as God’s children and therefore, not worthy of being treated as humans. They want to study and experiment on the A’lle to learn how their bodies work.
Cath: Inventing an alien culture can be challenging. The A’lle have many different expectations and customs, from their family meetings and group oriented decision making, to their marriage customs. What do you feel are some of the more interesting aspects of A’lle culture.
Marcelle: I love how they depend on an innate sense of honor to keep their society functioning. Being honorable is very important to them, especially as some of their gifts can be very invasive. In such a culture, you would have to be able to trust that the person who can read your feelings isn’t going to invade your privacy.
On their home world, as soon as they were sexually mature, they could bed anyone they wanted until they found their permanent partner, after which their body chemistry bound them to each other only. With so few A’lle on Earth, however, they seldom find their permanent partner and end up finding a moderately compatible one, instead. In any case, in Lower Canada society, there was no sleeping around before marriage. Some choose not to partner and have children, a great taboo in A’lle culture on Earth.
Family is the most important social group for the A’lle. Their first allegiance is to their immediate family, even if they are married. That allegiance shifts to include husband/wife only if there are children from the union.
Cath: It is intimated in Backli’s Ford that there might be something going on between Prudence and Desautel. I know you can’t give away spoilers for the rest of the series, but are they A’lle and human relationships in the books? What kinds of issues would a couple like that have to negotiate?
Marcelle: While Prudence and Desautel like each other a lot, they have serious obstacles: she is much younger than he is, even in A’lle years, and there is no such thing as an A’lle-human union. Not to mention that the union of a human and an A’lle can never produce children. Their body chemistry is just too different. For an A’lle woman to forego adding to the A’lle population would be a form of treason.
So, yes, there are issues with potential human-A’lle pairings.
Cath: By setting the book in Canada in 1911, obviously, you had to do a little historical research. What are some interesting things you learned about Canada at that time you used in the novel?
Marcelle: I was surprised at the amount of industrialization in Canada in the early 20th Century. The presence of automobiles, especially in the larger centers, as well as factories of all kinds surprised me. Also, it surprised me that Canada was doing relatively well in the lead up to the First World War.
Not that exact dates matter. Since Backli’s Ford is an alternate history, I was fast and loose with historical facts, especially their timing. The truth is that the arrival of the A’lle in Lower Canada changed the course of what would have been. Even if their ship was mostly destroyed, along with their technology, they still brought their knowledge to Earth, changing the way things happened.
Cath: Are there any other A’lle mysteries, or can we look forward to more?
Marcelle: Epidemic is the second novel in the A’lle Chronicles mystery series. Here’s the write-up on it:
Two months after the events in Backli’s Ford, Constance A’lle, first A’lle investigator for Lower Canada, and Chief Investigator Desautel still haven’t identified the cabal responsible for the kidnapping and murder of so many A’lle.
While they pursue their investigation in Montreal, Constance is sidetracked by family and the threat of an epidemic—an epidemic for which the immune A’lle might be responsible, intensifying the already simmering human resentment against the A’lle.
With A’lle and human hostility spiking, Constance and Desautel must navigate the increasingly brittle peace to find the head of the cabal threatening the A’lle in Lower Canada and keep their own fragile trust from shattering.
Set in 1912, Epidemic follows Constance A’lle and Chief Investigator Desautel as they navigate the fraught relationship between humans and A’lle while trying to find those responsible for the deaths of so many A’lle. Epidemic is the second of a proposed five-book series set in the A’lle Chronicles—for this timeline, anyway. Book Three is under development.
I also have one short story set in the A’lle Chronicles world, “The Man in the Mask.”
Violet Stanhope defies her despised uncle to go on the long, arduous journey to the Klondike, but she spends the entire trip looking over her shoulder. Though she suspects her uncle of sending a tracker after her, she will stop at nothing to fulfill her sister’s final request, even if it means risking her life.
Once she reaches the Yukon, however, her troubles truly begin and she finds herself at the mercy of a mysterious masked man and his strange, mechanical dogs.
But will he help her with her mission—or will he kill her?
A short story steeped in classic pulp style with a hint of steampunk influence, “The Man in the Mask” is set a few years before the events of Backli’s Ford.
Cath: Are any of your other books set in a historical setting?
Marcelle: No other novels, but I do have a few short stories set in 18th and 19th Century rural Quebec:
“Midwinter Run”: In the deep cold of a midwinter night, Annalise races through a frozen wilderness to bring her injured father to help. But when she stumbles across a pixie on the frozen river, she will have to face a band of angry Fey who blame her for the pixie’s death. If she leaves, she risks the wrath of the Fey—but if she stays to explain, she risks her father’s life.
“Skywalkers”: Night after night, Gisèle roams the streets of Montreal near the half-built Great Victoria Bridge, searching for whatever is unraveling the warp and weft of her island city. What she finds shakes her belief in herself, and reveals an ugly truth about the Fey who live in uneasy proximity to the humans.
“The Wise Woman of Ste-Agathe”: At the turn of the last century, on a dark, bitterly cold night in rural Quebec, a stranger comes to midwife Clara Castonguay’s door. A woman is in labour and Clara is needed. The stranger is unlike any woman Clara has ever met and something about her brooks no disobedience, but when the stranger orders Clara’s daughter, Millie, to accompany them, Clara balks. This is not the path she wants for her daughter.
But Millie has her own ideas, and soon she and Clara are trudging dark, snow-clad country roads, heading for a woman whose baby is coming too soon. Before the night ends, Clara and Millie will face death and life, and make decisions that will change both their lives.
Marcelle Dubé grew up near Montreal. After trying out a number of different provinces—not to mention Belgium—she settled in the Yukon, where people still outnumber carnivores, but not by much. Besides her novels, her short fiction has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies. Learn more about her and her published work at her website. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also at Facebook and Twitter. Her books are available wherever ebooks are sold.