Alkimia Fables: Interview – Avery Lavolier

This is an in-character interview with Avery Lavolier from Ghosts in Quicksilver, taking place sometime between Book 2 and Book 3! Preorder Book 2 in paperback over here; wait for the free ebook release on July 15th; or catch up over here.

Lights, camera, action; Avery Lavolier appears on the set holding a Bridgehead cup and looking less surprised than they really should be.

DUNSTAN: Could you look a little more shocked? Awed, perhaps?

LAVOLIER: You gave me a heads up.

DUNSTAN: It was a cryptic note!

LAVOLIER: It seemed perfectly clear to me.

DUNSTAN: It said you’d be summoned to a mysterious place outside of your world at midnight! Signed in blood!

LAVOLIER: First off, I know blood when I see it. You can’t pass off red ink as blood just because you think it looks cool. Second of all, you’re aware I’m friends with Dionysus, right? (makes a face) Maybe friends is a strong word. It takes a lot to throw me off.

I scowl and sit down in the director’s chair. Well, fine. I’ll take it.

DUNSTAN: Fine, fine. But you’ll be extremely shocked to know that-

LAVOLIER: -You’re the writer of the book I’m in?

DUNSTAN: Stop doing that!

LAVOLIER: You’re the one who gave me mind-reading powers.

DUNSTAN: I’m going to make a bird poop on your head in Book Three. Anyway. To business. I’m interviewing you in the lead-up of the release of Book Two: Sulfur. Would you like to tell the audience a little bit about yourself?

LAVOLIER: Not particularly.

DUNSTAN: I think you may be missing the spirit of this.

LAVOLIER: I don’t like open-ended questions! Can’t you ask me something more specific? Something like Buzzfeed. Five top albums. Favourite movie from the 1970s. Fuck, marry, kill of deceased poets.

DUNSTAN: Those are overly specific.

LAVOLIER: Yes, but I can answer them. And technically that is telling you something about me.

DUNSTAN: Okay, fine, go ahead and answer the questions you’ve gone ahead and provided for yourself.

LAVOLIER: Gil Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man, 1971, Red Sparowes’s At The Soundless Dawn, 2005, The Cure’s Disintegration, 1989, The Chameleons’ Strange Times, 1986, Hozier’s self-titled, 2014.

DUNSTAN: …You have those on hand?

LAVOLIER: It’s a good conversation piece. Movie is a tie between Jesus Christ Superstar and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And while technically it’s more ‘smooch’ than ‘fuck’, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg. Or maybe kill Amiri Baraka. Definitely want to kiss Sylvia, though-

DUNSTAN: How much thought do you put into this?

LAVOLIER: You realize that I spend a lot of time with Will.

DUNSTAN: …Oh, god. Right. What’s her answer to that last one?

LAVOLIER: I think it changes regularly, but she’s expressed a lot of interest in screwing Jim Morrison, if that’s any indicator.

DUNSTAN: Forget I asked.

LAVOLIER: No. Your face is too precious.

DUNSTAN: (clears throat) So, how did you get involved with the elemental community in Ottawa? You mentioned Dionysus.

LAVOLIER: They played a part, sure. But really, it was, uh – (shifts) I started going to queer events more? The stuff with Dionysus shook me out of the routine, and I ran into Luka. He’s Isaiah and Robin’s boyfriend, so I started hanging out with them, and I was around when they adopted their kid.

DUNSTAN: Who is also an elemental.

LAVOLIER: (laughs) Yep. An Air elemental, which is fun to deal with when he’s acting up. And puts a whole new spin on ‘grounding’ someone. Cassandra and Will showed up in there, too. Around the same time, actually, I think? Stuff just kind of kept happening.

DUNSTAN: You took on a bit of a leadership role.

LAVOLIER: Oh, no, I don’t like that. I’m not a leader. No, you have people who – run different areas of Ottawa. Some are more, er, gang-minded about it than others. Lila’s a bit too mafia for my tastes. Cassandra’s very idealistic. Me, I’m Switzerland. I help where I can and I stay out of the political squabbles. It helps defuse the worst of the tensions, you know? We all want the same thing. Er, usually. Stay off the radar of the normies, stay out of trouble, don’t blow anything up.

DUNSTAN: What about you? What do you want?

LAVOLIER: Pretty much that. I like helping people. And I record what I can. That’s part of the problem with elemental history. All marginalized history, really – nobody really, uh, thinks it’s worth recording, or that it’s real, so our records are patchy. I know what I can do with my powers, but Will’s work in an entirely different way. Way stronger, too. And merde, it’s a little scary, not knowing. So I write things down. I’m happy with that.

DUNSTAN: That’s nice. I like that. I hope other people appreciate it.

LAVOLIER: Some do! Some get worried about it falling into the wrong hands, which I can understand. I’m Bajan on my dad’s side, and my grandma talked about obeah sometimes. But she was always too scared to write it down. Nervous about the wrong people doing bad with it, or backlash against my dad for her being a “witch”. Problem is, here I am now, and I’d love to know more, but none of it’s written. It’s all gone with her.

DUNSTAN: Double-edged sword.

LAVOLIER: Exactly.

DUNSTAN: You mentioned queer community and events. What’s the crossover like?

LAVOLIER: Crossover between queer community and the elemental community? Er, a bit strange, really. You get elemental powers from trauma, right? But it’s not reliable. It’s sort of like playing the lottery. Some people go through horrible traumatic shit and never get powers. Some people have their dog die and end up with world-breaking powers. Not that dogs dying can’t be traumatic. That’s not what I mean. It’s just that trauma is a bit of a – it’s an unreliable measure. So it overlaps, it’s a Venn diagram, but it’s not a circle. It’s a little more intertwined in Ottawa, because Ottawa’s… I shouldn’t say small. Ottawa’s not actually small. It’s a city masquerading as a small town. But everybody kind of knows everybody when it comes to the subcultures, so there’s more connections here.

DUNSTAN: As opposed to?

LAVOLIER: Toronto, for example, really. Toronto’s huge, so the elemental “community” or communities can essentially operate completely outside of the queer communities, even though it shares members. And not everybody who’s an elemental is part of the community, and not everybody who’s queer is part of the queer community, and so on so forth. Probably the biggest crossover point is actually in stuff like mutual aid, sex worker groups, stuff like that. Shelters. That’s a big one.

DUNSTAN: Shelters?

LAVOLIER: God, that one’s actually depressing. More than usual, anyway. Uh, so obviously, long term effects of trauma, a decent chunk of elementals end up unhoused or transient, drug users, stuff like that. And you get into this cycle in particular of people destabilizing, using stuff like drugs to get a bit of false stability with their powers, but it’s not – it’s skin-deep, basically. It’s a stop-gap. It works sometimes, but not if all the stuff that got things out of control is still affecting you. And if you try to use shelters, that gets worse, depending on your powers. Because a lot of unstable effects affect other people.

DUNSTAN: Oh. Christ.

LAVOLIER: Usually it’s not too bad. But by the time you hear about things like localized earthquakes or weird high-pressure phenomena at shelters and mental health wards, anybody who knows what’s up will get over there as fast as possible. Especially Salt elementals, but obviously that’s a bit of a no go at the moment.

DUNSTAN: There’s other options, though, right?

LAVOLIER: For core elementals, yeah. Uh, Water elementals can get Fire elementals under control, Fire calms Earth, Earth calms Air, Air calms Water. (beat) I think. One sec. Yeah, that’s right. It’s a circle, but I always mess up part of it. I’m not core, so I don’t have to think about it that often.

DUNSTAN: Right. And for celestials it’s a little more complicated.

LAVOLIER: I don’t remember who came up with the term celestials, but it sounds so needlessly pretentious.

DUNSTAN: What’s the difference between the two, anyway?

LAVOLIER: Core elements are more centered on the physical world. All of them are things that are here, on this plane, things we can touch and see and feel. Celestial elements are Salt, Sulfur and Mercury, and they’re tied instead to the psyche. I have the full paradigm in my notes somewhere, but – Paracelsus, that’s right – it’s related to Paracelsus. But yes, with us, when Sulfur and Mercury spin out of control, only Salt elementals can ‘naturally’ stabilize us, unless we calm down on our own. Which everybody can do, but not if we’re getting constantly triggered. Salts don’t have any options, but it’s also really, really hard to destabilize Salts.

DUNSTAN: So what do you do when there’s no Salts around?

LAVOLIER: Remove the issue, or get away from the problem, mostly. Sometimes that’s not possible, but most of the time, there’s something you can do. With permission from Will, she’s got a really good example – she and Cass can’t spend too much time together because it’s really easy for one or both of them to destabilize. It’s a protective thing, and not anybody’s fault, but ultimately, it’s safer to just keep relative distance from each other. You can’t rely on a Salt or Earth elemental always being around, so knowing what triggers you is really important.

DUNSTAN: Pretty much the same as PTSD.

LAVOLIER: Yeah, honestly. PTSD’s sort of a prerequisite to being an elemental, even if some of us don’t present with the more normal symptoms or wouldn’t be diagnosed with it. With any mental illness, managing symptoms is a tightrope balance as it is. We just have different kinds of harm to consider.

DUNSTAN: I like that you said ‘different kinds of harm’ instead of actual or real harm.

LAVOLIER: I thought about it. But I’ve hurt people in plenty of ways without my powers ever getting involved, and really, Sulfur’s one of the more dangerous ones without ever leaving a single mark on someone. So that wouldn’t be accurate.

DUNSTAN: There’s a lot of talk about mental illness being dangerous or how that’s a stereotype. How does that translate for you personally, when it comes to the elemental stuff?

LAVOLIER: (blows out their cheeks) …Whew. Uh, that gets even deeper than this interview so far. I don’t mind, by the way, before you get all self-conscious.

DUNSTAN: You peeked.

LAVOLIER: Sorry. (pauses and thinks it through) I think we get really… worried and tangled up about mental illness being dangerous and danger being bad and something to be eradicated, and how the only ‘good’ way to represent and rehabilitate how mental illness is seen is to defang it. And I don’t agree with that. Why is it we can have movies where Iron Man and Thor destroy entire buildings and Chris Evans derails trains to make social statements – I love that movie, by the way – and we’ll glorify kid-murderer cops, but the moment marginalized people are dangerous, it’s something to fear? Yeah, mentally ill people are dangerous sometimes. Queer people can be dangerous. Black folks can be dangerous. I’m dangerous. That doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be seen as a person. If it takes me being a bit unpredictable or lashing out for you to dehumanize me or think I’m not worthy of living, then you were always going to, no matter how well-spoken or well-dressed or fascinating I am otherwise. And let’s not get away from the fact that elementals get these powers because somebody hurt us, usually. No, mental illness can be scary. It sucks the worst for the person in it.

DUNSTAN: How do you put this into practice?

LAVOLIER: (pauses) You’re asking about Kiera. (sighs) Yeah, a lot of this is excellent on paper. I live by it. I care about it. I’ll defend the people I love with it. But dangerous also means… dangerous to us, too. (Avery is quiet for a few moments) I still stand by all of it. Every single word. I’m a pacifist. I’m a prison abolitionist. But yeah. Yeah, it’s a little harder to, when it’s your friends getting hurt. That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Ideals are easy when they’re protecting you. Not so much when they apply to somebody you don’t like.

DUNSTAN: It might be a sign that they need to be more flexible.

LAVOLIER: Oh, maybe. But I’m not comfortable with supporting mentally ill folks who are dangerous and fit “the profile”, then turning around and kicking another out of the fold for being dangerous and fitting the profile. I’m just also not comfortable with spending more energy on a murderer than the people whose lives she’s ruined.

DUNSTAN: So where does that leave you?

Avery’s quiet for a long time. They stare into their drink, chewing their lip. They’re tired. They’re stressed.

LAVOLIER: Switzerland.

Want to catch up on the lore of Alkimia Fables? Check out the lore bible over here for a quick start.

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