Custer is alive and well as President of a USA where the Cheyenne
still exists as a Nation and ride dinosaurs instead of horses. Is
this your average Alternate History piece or just a strange scenario
where an author could try different genres and styles in one single
story? Kurt R. A. Giambastiani, author of THE FALLEN CLOUD SAGA,
talks here about the limitations of the literary labels, his interest
in American natice cultures that includes his own Micmac ancestors,
and even alternate contemporary politics.
OCTAVIO ARAGÃO - According to your family names, you have
a double heritage, Italian and Native American — Micmac, if
I’m not mistaken. How does it affect your work? Is there any
interest by you in your antecessors and your family and, if so,
how does it appear in your novels?
R. A. GIAMBASTIANI - Italian, Breton, Swiss, and Micmac
(or Mi'kmaq), yes...a typical American pedigree. In my curiosity
about the history of my various ethnic rootstocks, I've read a great
deal about the places and peoples in my background. Some have appeared
in books, while others have not. Still others have come in due to
an interest unrelated to my ancestors.
suppose, though, that you could say that my interest in my Micmac
heritage eventually led me to my writing about the Cheyenne in the
Fallen Cloud Saga. For years I studied the many and varied cultures
of the North American native peoples, and so when the notion of
a culture clash set in an alternate America arose, I had a base
of information from which to draw ideas.
the other hand, my most recent book (DREAMS OF THE DESERT WIND)
is set in Jerusalem, drawing not on my ethnic background, but on
my experiences living in Israel. So while my ethnic history may
have influenced me in some works, it’s really my curiosity
and my own, personal history that drives me.
OA - You are a writer who specializes in the sub-genre
of Alternate History. Why not Historical Fiction or SF (since AH
is quite a mix of the two genres)? What first attracted you to the
- Well, alternate history is not really my specialization; it's
simply my track record. THE YEAR THE CLOUD FELL was my debut novel,
and that led (as it often does) to a sequel, and then another (and
another). So, to date, most of my work has been in AH. My latest
book, DREAMS OF THE DESERT WIND, is not an alternate history but
a "modern fantasy." But I do have a strong interest in
historic and ancient cultures, and this has colored my novel-length
work to a great degree.
is simply where my Fallen Cloud Saga fit best. I mean, if you want
to tell a story where Cheyenne Indians ride dinosaur mounts to fight
off the western expansion of a 19th century America led by President
George A. Custer, you're pretty much locked into AH. But the Fallen
Cloud Saga isn't your classic alternate history. It's not a point-of-divergence
novel. It imagines a world that is both very similar and very different
from our own.
don't seek out a genre label for my books...that's the publisher's
job. I don't sit down and say, "Hmm, I think I'll write an
historical fantasy, now." I just write the stories I want to
write. Some fit easily within an established genre. Most don't.
I've published works of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mainstream,
alternate history, historical fantasy, as well as articles of non-fiction.
I've also written pieces that really don't fit any genre, or fit
more than one at once. DREAMS OF THE DESERT WIND is such a book,
part thriller, part science fiction, part romance. It drives my
agent crazy, though, and makes the job of marketing and selling
my work much harder.
OA - In your FALLEN CLOUD series, General Custer
survives Little Big Horn and turns himself, according to his own
ambitions in our reality, into President of USA and also in a interesting
character alongside his son, George Custer Jr., hero of THE YEAR
THE CLOUD FELL, first novel of the series. What’s your secret
to building such personalities?
- In the case of the Custers, I had help. George and Libbie Custer
were fascinating persons in historical reality, and they left behind
letters and writings that I used to build their Fallen Cloud counterparts.
But I always try to make my characters as memorable as possible
and the keys to that are making them understandable and making them
Armstrong Custer is one of the most reviled and disparaged figures
in American history, but during his lifetime, he was a tremendously
famous hero. While I wanted the reader to see him as the enemy,
as the "bad guy," I also wanted you to empathize with
him. To do that, he can't just be a mindless megalomaniac or a preening
fool. He has to be understandable; you have to be able to see his
thinking and say, "Yeah, I can see why he'd do that."
Likewise, he can't be monolithic. He has to have internal conflicts.
We all have doubts and second thoughts. The characters need them,
too. Through the Fallen Cloud Saga, Custer's internal compass shifts
and his goals begin to change. As they change, he moves slowly from
the "bad" side to the "good" side in the reader's
estimation. This also helps to make him more real and more memorable.
other characters like George, Jr., Speaks While Leaving, Mouse Road,
and Storm Arriving, the same rules apply. Good-guy or Bad-guy, they
all need to be comprehensible and believable. They need to be real
people, with real desires and real conflicts and real doubts and
insecurities. If they're just cardboard cutouts, you won't care
about them, and you'll forget about them when you turn the page...IF
you turn the page!
OA - You are launching now your new book, DREAMS
OF THE DESERT WIND, a non-AH
novel. Is this your first step into the mainstream? If so, do you
believe there is a great difference between mainstream and genre
novels or, like our last guest Philip José Farmer, "a
novel is a novel" plain and simple?
- DREAMS OF THE DESERT WIND is a cross-genre novel. It has corporate
espionage, political intrigue, mind-to-mind communication, a love
triangle, and more, all wrapped up in a clash of modern and ancient
cultures set in the heart of the Middle East, Jerusalem. While this
is the first novel of mine that sits outside the AH sub-genre, I'm
not sure I'd call it "mainstream."
a sheer business perspective, I'd respectfully disagree with Mr.
Farmer. Genres are Labels that help publishers sell books. If you
pick a science fiction novel off the shelf, your expectations are
different than if you picked up the latest "literary"
novel. Publishers count on that, and foster it, but this heavy reliance
on labels also fosters a more formulaic output, and that is counter-productive
to the artistic aspects of fiction.
an artistic (or storytelling) perspective, yes, "a novel is
a novel." More than that, some of the best work coming out
these days successfully flouts the traditional genre labels, blending
elements of various genres. Primarily, I see the breakdown of that
all-encompassing "mainstream" label. Writers like Susan
Power and Christopher Moore are creating works that have undeniably
genre elements, but that are being published as mainstream. In the
end, though, these labels are a marketing tool, and while they may
dictate how a novel does as a piece of merchandise, they have nothing
to do with a novel's success as a novel.
OA - Do you receive a lot of mail asking if your
settings and characters are free for use in role playing games or
fan-fictions. Why not produce, as Michael Moorcock and Larry Niven
did before, your own RPG based in your fictional universes?
- No, I don't receive much mail on this subject, but I'm not against
the possibility of licensing any of my creations for use in legitimate
RPG universes. I played RPGs for years in my youth, created my own
worlds--some historical and some fantastical--and would love to
see the world of my Fallen Cloud Saga adapted for an RPG. To date,
however, I've received no serious offers.
for fan-fiction, though, while I understand the compliment implicit
in it, I do not grant permission for my works to be adapted into
fan-based work. Mostly, this is to protect my creation, and to protect
my ability to license it for use in an RPG or other work that can
reach a greater audience. I've also found some fan-fiction to be
distasteful and disrespectful to both characters and setting, and
I won't risk them being misused in that way.
OA - Now let's turn a little political: as an AH
writer, what do you believe would happen to the United States ú
and also the World ú if the results of the last Election
- Oh, boy. Well, at least the election is over! You know I'm not
a devotee of the "point of divergence" philosophy, so
to be consistent I'd have to say that, in the long run, I see no
difference one way or the other. America will survive, it will weather
this Puritanical storm, and its supremacy will eventually wane in
comparison to other global coalitions like the EU.
the short run, though (and here I mean in the next 10-20 years),
I do see two paths based on this election's results.
way we're going, I see an America that becomes more class-based,
more intolerant, and increasingly isolated from its neighbors and
allies. An isolated America is a dangerous America, so I worry about
my country and the world in general. I think we're in for a rough
time. The other way, I see an America that works to rebuild its
place as an honored member of the global community, attacks the
causes of religious fanaticism and not the symptoms, and leads the
world rather than fights it. Perhaps from this, you can guess that
I'm not happy about the way things turned out?
thanks so much for your interest and allowing me this opportunity