#Ownvoices Author Interview: Rose LaCroix

Book cover by Adam Primaeros

Rose LaCroix is a trans MtF author who has published numerous short stories and two novels. Today she’s here to chat about her most recent novel, The Vimana Incident, a book that mixes science fiction and historical fiction in a fascinating way.

Please give Rose a warm welcome!

The Vimana Incident Blurb

The year is 1939. The nations of the world have given up on war, and now compete in a race to build the first permanent lunar colony. Edward “Red Ned” Arrowsmith, a British aerospace engineer, finds himself caught up in a cosmic level of intrigue when a secret lunar mission sends him on an unwilling journey six and a half centuries into a bizarre future. But what does this frightening future have to do with Godric of Hereford, a canon who died of ergot poisoning in 1153? Rose LaCroix is proud to present her most anticipated novel, where psychedelic science fiction, historical fiction, and alternate timelines come together in a suspenseful, mind-bending masterpiece.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, The Vimana Incident?
The Vimana Incident is basically about the discovery of the soul as not just a single entity, but a thread that exists apart from time. Without giving too much away about the story, the first protagonist, Edward “Red Ned” Arrowsmith, isn’t simply reincarnated; he exists simultaneously in multiple timelines, and so do a number of the characters he knows. Stories, people, and places are interwoven, and cosmic horrors and benevolent teachers reach deep into timelines. To describe it, I’d say it’s kind of like if Philip K. Dick had written “Cloud Atlas” but with anthropomorphic animal characters.

But it’s also about being out of place. Ned Arrowsmith is a gay aerospace engineer in England in the 30s and 40s, Godric of Hereford is a 12th Century monk who becomes gnostic in an era when gnosticism was a death sentence, and Apollo Morrill is a sensitive introvert in the US shortly after a second civil war between Neo-Nazis and working-class socialists (so far, my prediction of this happening in the 2020s is eerily on track). In every case, these characters suffer greatly just because of who they are. They aren’t built for their time and place and they all have scrapes that they barely survive.

There’s also a psychedelic element. I experimented with psychedelics a few times, and I combined those experiences with mystical experiences I’ve had throughout the years and what I knew about the pharmacology of psychedelic drugs and the biochemistry of brain death to produce a story that really reaches for an ambitious place. I don’t know if I really took it to the level I really wanted to but I feel like I gave it my very best try.

2. What part of this story came to you first?
Well, truth be told I can’t take full credit for the initial idea. It actually started with a dream my husband had in 2011 or 2012 about a crew of anthropomorphic animals in a spaceship (a fox, a wolf, a deer, and a rabbit). There wasn’t much more to it than that until I finally took the idea and ran with it in 2014. I can’t remember what came first, but at the time I was heavy into Philip K. Dick and I had just recently developed an interest in gnosticism through his work. I wanted to write something as maniacally awesome as “Ubik” or “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,” so I simply sat down at my keyboard and wrote the first draft in four or five months of frenetic writing. The ideas just poured out of me as if I were in a trance sometimes, so it’s all kind of a blur as to what came to me first.

3. The Vimana Incident begins in 1153. How much research did you do before you started writing?
The story actually begins in 1939, but the 1153 sequence was really interesting. I had already taken some classes in medieval history so I was passingly familiar with the period, and I knew some firsthand sources I could refer to. So it was a mix of using what I already knew, fact checking with the available sources, and looking up things I didn’t know ad hoc.

In some cases I just had to make an educated guess. There aren’t very many detailed descriptions of heresy trials from the mid-12th century (the Inquisition didn’t come around until the 13th Century) and heresy trials were usually handled locally by the bishops using whatever methods they deemed appropriate rather than by a central church authority using a handbook. Basically, the Inquisition took existing techniques and standardized them. So I looked at the available information about heresy trials during that period and found a mention of one in Guibert de Nogent’s Monodies where he described the suspects being questioned before a large crowd in a cathedral with a dunk tank to force them to undergo trial by ordeal if they didn’t answer the questions they were asked. Guibert didn’t record what the questions were, so I took a look at the sort of questions typically asked by inquisitors like Bernard Gui in later years and figured out what essential pieces of information a medieval bishop would want to know.

It was basically that way throughout the story. I used what I knew about history and what I knew how to look up, then made educated guesses for the rest. In some cases (like the 1939 sequence), it takes place in an alternate timeline, so I had to look up essential information about what technology was actually available in 1939 and how history might have played out differently if a few key things had changed.

All in all I’m pretty proud of the results.

4. How have your personal struggles with gender and sexuality influenced your work?
Before I came out trans I lived as a gay man for six or seven years, so I had more experience in the gay community than in the trans community. At the time I began writing this story I had only been transitioning in earnest for about a year. This is part of the reason why I have a gay protagonist but not a trans one.

At the same time, I feel like my experience with gender dysphoria informs the story in other ways. As I mentioned, the protagonist of this story is always painfully out of place in his world, no matter what timeline he manifests in. It’s also a story about competing narratives of identity; Ned thinks he knows who he is but is confronted with a deepening and disorienting mystery. When he finally gets to the bottom of who he really is, the truth doesn’t necessarily make him happier, bit it makes him more complete and brings out a certain courage in him that he never knew he had.

In a way, I guess I was trying to explain the profound feeling of that frightening identity crisis a lot of us go through when our gender dysphoria hits critical mass, but in a way that someone who has never felt at odds with their assigned birth gender could relate to. Not everyone can understand what it’s like to feel abject horror at your own body, voice, and name, but everyone can understand what it’s like to be totally out of place and not know who you are or where you stand. From there it’s just a matter of degrees.

5. How would you like to see representation change in the next five years?
I’d like to see more literary magazines reach out to trans writers, first of all. I’d like to see trans writers become more visible and get more press.

I’d also like to see more stories about people who don’t even know they’re trans until they become adults. All my life I’ve always felt weird and out of place but I never knew what was wrong most of that time. I was 21 before I felt something that was clearly identifiable as gender dysphoria, 26 before I really knew for sure I was trans and 28 before I felt strongly enough about it that I knew I had to transition. During that time I ran into a lot of people who thought I couldn’t possibly be trans because I didn’t fit the classic narrative of knowing since I was a young child, and it caused me to internalize a lot of doubt that made it really difficult to finally accept myself.

6. If you could give an aspiring author only one piece of advice, what would it be?
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on as a writer was to try to shut out the influences of other writers out of some silly idea of trying to keep my style “pure.” Don’t do that. We learn to write from a textbook, but we learn to write well from great authors! No matter how “pure” you try to keep it, you’ll still end up writing like the few writers you’ve read, and your lack of reading will show. Painters often learn to paint great works of art by copying the styles of master painters first, and writers should do the same. Read the best writers in the genre you want to write in. Learn the earmarks of their style, especially their recurring themes, tropes, and narrative structures. Imitate a good writer’s style, then consciously change things to make it your own. When you’ve mastered one, move on to another. Combine the best techniques you’ve learned from other writers with your own techniques and tricks. Develop your own mature voice through time, practice, and patience, not by sheltering yourself from outside influences.

7. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
I have a number of projects in the pipe right now. I’m working on a screenplay based on The Vimana Incident, and I still need to give the Spanish translation a final proofread. But my next novel project is probably bigger and more ambitious than Vimana. It’s called The Linen Butterfly, and it’s going to be a surreal story about simulated worlds, multiple layered realities, gnostic allegories, hints of reincarnation, and a scathing look at the tech industry’s collusion with the Military Industrial Complex. It takes place primarily in two settings, a medieval simulacrum and a near-future cyberpunk VR lab. A dark thread of supernatural struggles, corporate intrigue, and the disquieting specter of World War I runs through it. I’ve been held up a little on this one owing to a very chaotic couple of months, but I hope to have a first draft finished by Summer of this year and a workable draft done by the end of this year.

Rose LaCroix has been writing since her teens.  Her first published novel, “Basecraft Cirrostratus,” was released in 2010 and was nominated for both an Ursa Major Award and a Rainbow Award for LGBT fiction. Her third novel, “Escape from St. Arned,” debuted in 2014 and her fourth novel, “The Vimana Incident,” debuted in 2015. Rose’s research on medieval history has also been published on Britannica.com.
Her influences are many and include George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Franz Kafka, Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley, Hermann Hesse, and H.P. Lovecraft.
She lives in the suburbs west of Portland, Oregon with her husband, comedy musician Kobi LaCroix, and their two cats.
You can read some of Rose’s short stories at roselacroix-novelist.blogspot.com or purchase The Vimana Incident here.