TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Andrew: People tell me that I have a tendency to kill off their favorite characters too quickly, but I see it slightly differently: the characters that get the most love in my stories are the dead ones. They certainly have to suffer less, and the living characters remember the departed in a way that lets me look back and deconstruct their lives.
That said, I do plan to go back and write some prequel stories so that I can return the deceased to life and make them suffer a bit more…
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Andrew: I've wanted to be a writer since I was 11 years old, so it's really the old school folks that inspired me to begin with: Asimov, Bradbury, Pohl, Moorecock, Gibson, Sterling, and all those 70s and 80s writers.
When it comes to modern genre writers there's a few that come to mind as strong inspirations: I really love China Mieville's worldbuilding. He's just fearless in the world he creates, and he's able to tackle big ideas. I loved Scott Westerfeld's pre-YA stuff. I think all his young adult is great, including his Steampunk. And he broke open that whole area. But the irony is that I think his adult work has a genuine maturity to it that's desperately missing right now.
Let's see… I also really like Richard K. Morgan's prose. I'm excited to see where his fantasy series is heading. And Dan Abnett's work in his Warhammer books is insanely awesome. The guy can write the hell out of an action sequence, and he's really set the bar for what's possible in licensed fiction. Even though he's playing in a pre-defined sandbox he finds a way add weight to things and make them incredibly compelling.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a panster?
Andrew: Plotter to the core: I actually tried to write novels back in the 90s, but I was completely unable to finish one. When I started again back in 2007 I began by plotting them first, and that pulled me through the book. To me a big part of the motivation for being a writer is getting to tell stories that I want to read, so if I'm not excited to see how they're going to turn out I won't be motivated to do the work.
That's not to say I don't rewrite or change things as I go along, but I need to make sure the foundation and the structure is strong.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Society of Steam novels? Why steampunk?
Andrew: When I went out to Burning Man in 2006 I saw the Neverwas Haul (http://www.neverwashaul.com/) and the amazing devices that Kinetic Steamworks (http://kineticsteamworks.org/) folks had built. I’d also been hanging around the San Francisco metal-art scene a few years earlier, and it seemed to me like there was a genuine moment of zeitgeist happening around the idea of Steampunk
I realized we’d reached a point in our culture where small groups of people were now capable of producing what it had taken an entire factory to build in the 1800s, and that it was allowing us to reach backwards and forwards at the same time.
The Victorian Era really was the last age of genuine craftsmanship before we were overwhelmed by mass production. A lot of their legacy is still with us today, both in terms of the structure of our society. In many ways we’ve inherited their world, and when we reach back for some truth in our culture I think that it’s easy to discover a kind of kinship with the people from 100 years ago, and we can resonate with their successes, their excesses, and their failures.
That seemed like a fun place to play in… and the idea of adding superheroes to that only made it more enticing to me.
TQ: Tell us about The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam 1) and Hearts of Smoke and Steam (The Society of Steam 2).
Andrew: The lead character is a young woman named Sarah Stanton. Her father is a powerful hero named the Industrialist (who has a smoking top hat!). He’s a member of the Society of Paragons; New York’s greatest team of gentlemen adventurers.
Sarah has wanted to be a superhero ever since she was a child, although obviously that’s an impossibility for a woman of society in 1880. Tragic circumstances conspire to make her dreams come true, and she finds herself forced into a terrifying adventure when her mentor (Sir Dennis Darby, the leader of the Paragons), is killed in front of her on the top of the (unfinished) Brooklyn Bridge.
She soon finds herself at the center of conspiracy that most of the Paragons either refuse to acknowledge, or may actually be a part of. Helping her to uncover the mystery is a mechanical man created by Sir Dennis called the Automaton.
The first book is a bit of a mystery story, with characters crawling around secret passages and the like, but there are also some major battles, burning mansions, and some good old fashioned Father/Daughter drama.
The second book is more of a romance for the heroine, but at the same time she's discovering her limitations and how those shape her as a hero. Meanwhile it still has a lot of action, and the main villain's plan really starts coming together. I also get to create a Victorian Era steampunk puppet show, which was lots of fun for me.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in the novels?
Andrew: I think the entire theater sequence and battle at the end of book 2 was a lot of fun to create. It's the kind of big storytelling that I've always wanted to do, but it's grounded in a character driven core.
I also love the sequence in book 1 where Nathaniel wakes up with a hangover. Getting through that scene took the most research, since I was unfamiliar with a lot of the details. But by the time I was done I really felt like I understood the world a lot better. That sequence also starts pit small and just gets bigger and bigger, and I love stuff like that.
TQ: What sort of research did you do to create the world of The Society of Smoke and Steam?
Andrew: I've been in New York City a lot over the last year, and that's really given me a chance to walk around and visit the parts of Manhattan that still have a lot of Victorian Era buildings. Downtown below 14th street has a lot of cast-iron buildings, and as you head down to wall-street you can really feel like you're travelling back in time…
I've also done a ton of research from online and books, and I've travelled to a number of historical locations including Australia and New Zealand. There's a lot of surviving Victorian era buildings in down there, including the amazing Queen Victoria building in Sydney, and I got to visit them last year. One thing that's great about that era of construction is that they really wanted to show off the marvelous discoveries in engineering during the period, and the structures tend to really expose the ideas behind them.
All my research is in the service of reaching a point where I feel comfortable visualizing the world that I'm writing about without having to run to do research book every five seconds.
TQ: In the series, who was the most difficult character to write and why? The easiest and why?
Andrew: I'd say the most difficult has been Jordan Clements, The White Knight. The character is a bully and a racist, and yet I'm trying to keep him from being too broadly drawn, so I need to sympathize with him a bit.
He gets a POV chapter in book 3, and that's been the toughest so far because he's reprehensible, but he also has motivations for what he's done.
I'd say the easiest is probably Sarah. She still has her challenges, and one of the hardest parts of book 2 was making sure that she didn't become just another "gutsy heroine". But what I like best about Sarah is that she isn't trying to be a 21st century girl… She 's often conflicted because given a choice she'd rather be a girl of her era, but she's forced to take stronger measures to do what's right, and that puts her in conflict with her society. But it's often a sacrifice for her, especially because she has to do things that she sees as irreversible.
TQ: Why did you set the series in Victoran New York?
Andrew: I'm a native New Yorker, and New York in that period was undergoing the growth that turned it into the modern metropolis we think of today. London, on the other hand, was really just firming up, rather than being redefined.
My mother is a Londoner, so I did think about using England as a backdrop, but I was worried it was going to be overdone by the time I got finished, and it's easier for me to go visit New York. Plus I truly do have love for my birthplace, and by the end I really felt like I could make the city a character.
Also, superheroes and NY just seem to go together.
TQ: How many books are planned for the The Society of Steam series?
Andrew: The first series is a trilogy, but I'm going to be doing a short prequel that should be out before book 3 next year. That'll probably be an ebook with a small run print edition.
I also have some more books planned for the Society, but I'm not sure yet when I'll get to them.
TQ: What's next?
Andrew: I'm currently working on Book 3 of Society of Steam, and it's going to be the grand finale to this first series, so I'm working to get that finished by March so it can come out next fall.
After that I've got a head full of ideas that I'd like to explore. I also have a lot of talented artist friends, and I really want to do something that has a strong graphic component, but without going into traditional comics. I've been talking to people about that, and at the very least I'd like to try and do a heavily illustrated novel and see how the audience responds.
I can promise you that whatever I do next, it won't be a traditional genre piece. I loved bringing superheroes to steampunk, and a number of my other concepts have a similar "mash-up" feel to them.
One of my favorite things about being an author is that I can try big crazy ideas, and now that I've got a series of books out there I'm only going to go bigger.
Whatever I do next will probably (hopefully) be a standalone book, at least to start.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Andrew: Thanks for having me!
About The Society of Steam
Hearts of Smoke and SteamThe Society of Steam 2
Pyr, November 22, 2011
Trade Paperback, 305 pages
Sir Dennis Darby has been murdered, the Automaton has been destroyed, and Sarah Stanton has turned her back on a life of privilege and comfort to try and find her way in the unforgiving streets of New York. But Lord Eschaton, the villain behind all these events, isn’t finished with her yet. His plans to bring his apocalyptic vision of the future to the world are moving forward, but to complete his scheme he needs the clockwork heart that Sarah still holds.Cover Illustration ©Justin Gerard
But she has her own plans for the Automaton’s clockwork heart—Sarah is trying to rebuild her mechanical friend, and when she is attacked by the Children of Eschaton, the man who comes to her rescue may be the one to make her dreams come true. Emelio Armando is a genius inventor who had hoped to leave his troubles behind when he and his sister left Italy for a life of anonymity in the New World. Now he finds himself falling in love with the fallen society girl, but he is rapidly discovering just how powerful the forces of villainy aligned against her are, and that fulfilling her desires means opening the door to a world of danger that could destroy everything he has built.
The Society of Steam takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities and grants powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for, and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.
The Falling MachineThe Society of Steam 1
Pyr, May 2011
Trade Paperback, 285 pages
In 1880 women aren’t allowed to vote, much less dress up in a costume and fight crime...Cover Illustration ©Justin Gerard
But twenty-year-old socialite Sarah Stanton still dreams of becoming a hero. Her opportunity arrives in tragedy when the leader of the Society of Paragons, New York’s greatest team of gentlemen adventurers, is murdered right before her eyes. To uncover the truth behind the assassination, Sarah joins forces with the amazing mechanical man known as The Automaton. Together they unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that reveals the world of heroes and high-society is built on a crumbling foundation of greed and lies. When Sarah comes face to face with the megalomaniacal villain behind the murder, she must discover if she has the courage to sacrifice her life of privilege and save her clockwork friend.
The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, Book One) takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities and grants powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.
When he’s not writing new stories he works as a videogame designer and digital entertainment consultant. Over the years he has has created numerous concepts, characters, and worlds including the original Dogz and Catz digital pets.
These days he resides in Oakland, CA where he spends too much time on the internet, and not enough time playing his ukulele.
The Society of Steam Facebook Page
What: One commenter will win a Trade Paperback copy of Hearts of Smoke and Steam (The Society of Steam 2) from The Qwillery.
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
While Victorian London is the traditional setting for steampunk stories,
in which city or place would you like to see a steampunk story set?
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