UMBRAE Blog Tour

Today on the blog, I’m welcoming author Debbie Manber Kupfer with her new novel UMBRAE, the third book in the P.A.W.S. series. You can follow the rest of the March blog tour through the banner below:

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Step into the Shadows of Umbrae …

Miri’s world at P.A.W.S. in St. Louis is falling apart. First, Danny is accused of stealing her opapa’s charm. But before he can defend himself, he mysteriously disappears. Miri seeks Josh for help and advice, but he too has gone missing.

Then Lilith has a vision – Miri dragged away by wolves. Miri needs answers, answers that she feels sure are hidden in the blank pages of the book of Argentum.

With the help of Lilith, she travels to the ancient city of Safed. There, with the aid of a mystical rabbi and an outspoken werecat, her omama’s story is slowly revealed. And Miri uncovers something else, a world hidden deep beneath our own – the labyrinth of shadows also known as Umbrae.

Available in Kindle or Paperback

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Now, onto my interview with the author!

Interview with Debbie Manber Kupfer

Give us a short summary of what UMBRAE brings to your world in P.A.W.S..

In Argentum (P.A.W.S. 2) Miri receives a mysterious book from an old crone in New York. But the pages are blank. In Umbrae we follow Miri to Israel to the ancient city of Safed where she meets a mystical rabbi and an opinionated werecat and starts to uncover the story hidden in the pages of the book of Argentum. The story of her omama, Celia and a place hidden in the shadows – Umbrae.

How did the P.A.W.S. story come to be?

Back in 2012 I had a sudden flash. I clearly saw a young girl receive a silver cat charm from her grandmother just before her grandmother died and I knew it was important. Over the next few days the story of P.A.W.S. emerged in my head and I started taking notes. This was in October. I had heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and decided to give it go. During November I wrote frantically each day until by the end of the month I had the first draft of P.A.W.S.

What did you find the most difficult aspect of writing UMBRAE?

Keeping my timeline and my ever-growing character list straight. I don’t write linearly, yet Umbrae is essentially historical fiction, based around the years of the Second World War. Everything had to be matched up and crossed-referenced.

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. I’m an avid people watcher. I often take walks to local cafes and like to observe and listen. Often times people and snippets of conversations end up in my stories.

What is your favourite part of writing?

The ability to let go, to escape. When the story is flowing it’s a wondrous thing. I’m a discovery writer. I only have the vaguest idea of the directions my story is leading and often times my characters lead me off into the most delicious paths.

When did you realise you were interested in being a writer?

When I was about 8 years old. I used to keep notebooks with novels I was writing all based around our school playground. But although I continued writing stories and poems through the years I only got serious about writing in 2012 after I came out of cancer treatment. Dealing with cancer made me realize my own mortality and that if I truly wanted to write a novel I needed to do it and stop procrastinating.

What do you like most about the world in your P.A.W.S. Saga? Why?

Well I like that it’s supposed to be hidden in our world. That most of the places I mention are real places. I imagine readers searching Forest Park for the entrance to P.A.W.S. and I smile.

Why did you decide to self-publish the P.A.W.S. series?

I didn’t at first. I started off traditionally published with a small press. Then when my contract expired I decided not to renew it. Today I self-publish with Createspace/KDP and love the control I have over the process. The ability to set my own publication dates, prices, and choose my own covers. I’m not saying I’d never go back to traditional, but for now I’m happy being indie.

What would be your one piece of advice for authors working on a sequel?

Make yourself a timeline and character list and add to it whenever you add a new character or event. It is easy to just go with the flow when you are writing book 1 or a standalone story but for series you need to make sure it all matches up.

What’s next on your writing journey?

Londinium (P.A.W.S. 4) will hopefully by ready in late 2017. I’ve written the first draft and am just beginning the editing stage. In it (as you might expect from the name) Miri will be visiting the P.A.W.S. Institute of London.

Apart from that I’m also currently working with a local artist to draw pictures for a children’s story I’ve written, Cecilia’s Tale, and hopefully will be sharing this with the world some time in the next few months.

Thanks!

About the author:

debssmallI grew up in the UK in the East London suburb of Barking. I’ve lived in Israel, New York and North Carolina and somehow ended up in St. Louis, where I work as a writer and freelance puzzle constructor of word puzzles and logic problems. I live with her husband, two children and a very opinionated feline. I believes that with enough tea and dark chocolate you can achieve anything!

 

10 Questions With…SL Saboviec

On the blog today, I’m excited to be interviewing one of my Critique Partners, the fabulous SL [Samantha] Saboviec, whom I met via Absolute Write. As a critic, she has a great eye for both detail and the bigger picture of a novel; as a writer, she can balance the creative prose with the depth of a storyline unravelling.

And, somehow, my 10 questions managed to morph into 12!

Her latest novel, REAPING ANGEL, is out now:

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After the battle at the Bastille, the Council of Seraphim offers reluctant demons Enael and Kaspen a chance to return to Heaven—but only after they’ve completed sufficient penance. Ready to move past the ugly chapter in their lives, they settle into their assignments.

Until Enael’s former lover, Voctic, a powerful demon, interferes.

Voctic seduces and demeans, taunts and entices Enael, stirring centuries-old longing in her while infuriating Kaspen. Caught up in the demands of their duties, Kaspen and Enael drift apart until she finds herself isolated.

Fed up with Voctic’s harassment, Enael prepares to fight back. When he targets the new human she’s responsible for protecting, she creates her own plan. His self-proclaimed “gala of the century” will be the perfect cover for her revenge. But will a hasty decision cost her Kaspen—or even her spot in Heaven?

  1. Hi, Samantha! Firstly, tell us a bit about your new book and how it fits in with the other books you’ve published.

My second book, Reaping Angel, is the sequel to my first book, Guarding Angel. The main character, Enael, helped win the big battle at the end of the book against a demon; however, the Council of Seraphim, Heaven’s governing body, is unhappy with her—go figure. This book is about her trying to do what the Council asks, but she’s got some, well, philosophical disagreements with what they’re asking her to do. Oh, and there’s another demon to harass her, of course. This time, it’s her former lover from centuries ago.

  1. What first inspired you to write this series?

I was first inspired to write this series from two angles. The first was the idea of guardian angels and wondering what they were like—how their lives intersected ours, what they think when they disagree with what we’re doing, and how we might make it difficult for them to do their jobs.

The second was the idea for the second book (which, yes, came first!): what would an “avenging angel” be like? Stories out of the Bible like Sodom and Gomorrah talk about angels who were specifically tasked to raze entire cities. They’re supposed to be God’s warriors. So… What’s that about? What’s their story? How can what we assume to be loving, reasonable beings take on such a brutal task?

  1. Tell us a bit about your journey from idea to published novel.

When I first had the idea for this series, I wasn’t really writing. I’d written lots of short stories as a kid, but growing up, I never considered trying to become a novelist. I wanted to do something sensible and wise, and we all know what people think about the sensibility and wisdom of being a starving artist.

I started writing Guarding Angel longhand in a notebook while I was commuting on the train to work. I set it aside. Then in the fall of 2013, I started doing some soul-searching and I came to realize that I was missing something in my life. That something was writing.

I finished and revised the book several times. I queried it, but the minimal feedback I received was that angels were overdone and not selling. But I really believed in Guarding Angel, so I found myself editors, a fabulous cover designer, and a book formatting teacher. Along the way, I improved my writing immensely, and now I’m working on book #3 in the series and book #6 that I’ve written total (not counting the one novel I wrote when I was 12).

Wow, that’s amazing: writing what you believe in, rather than what is the trend. 4. Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?

Several factors weighed in my decision to self-publish. For one thing, I wanted to learn what it meant to publish a novel, and I definitely did. I also feel strongly about the underlying message, and I think that people connect well with the story. It doesn’t fit in the marketplace that well because most of the angel stories are paranormal romance. Mine’s more about the condition of the human race and questions we all face, like: Why are we here? What’s the point of life? Why did this horrible thing happen to me? It’s not religious fiction because it’s not set against a single religious set of beliefs, but it is spiritual/philosophical because it’s meant to provoke thought.

All of those factors led to the realization that it would be hard to find a publisher for this. And waiting for my second, third, fourth, fourteenth book to be finished and find a publisher would mean that I set myself back in the learning curve. Working directly with an editor that I hired taught me things that have improved my writing tremendously.

It also gave me a dose of reality about the publishing business, while giving me the encouragement to continue. People I’ve never met have read my book. Some of those people like it. That keeps me going.

  1. What was the biggest issue/problem you encountered when writing and publishing REAPING ANGEL?

Lack of motivation to write when I was pregnant. I wanted to write Reaping Angel before Guarding Angel came out; however, when GA released, I was already five months pregnant. I’ve heard stories that pregnancy makes people super creative. Unfortunately, for me, pregnancy made me super bloated, grumpy, and tired. Then there was, of course, a newborn to take care of.

On the other hand, I’m glad that I was the one who set my own pace, worked when I could, and forgave myself the stretches of time when I was focused on something else. I’m very driven—I’m always urging myself to write more, write more, write more, get it out there, that’s the only way you’re gonna make—so I have to remind myself that it takes as long as it takes. Especially when it comes to producing something of a quality I can be proud of.

  1. What’s your favourite part of self-publishing novels?

The control. I seriously love how much control I have over things. I can’t help myself. 😀

  1. Who is your favourite character and why?

In Reaping Angel, my favourite character is Jacqueline, whom you meet about halfway through. She’s a complex human who’s reincarnated almost one hundred times and loves to be a healer and help other people. She chooses to become what’s termed a Victimizer—someone who brings spiritual growth to others by causing them pain. In this instance she’s… Do I want to give away too much? Well, I’ll just say she’s a serial killer in the late 1800s and leave it at that.

Ooh, sounds…creepy, but in a totally artistic way! 🙂 8. What’s next for the characters in REAPING ANGEL? Are you writing another book to be published?

Yes, definitely! As with the first, I had really wanted to have the final book, Warring Angel, written before Reaping Angel was published, but life got in the way. At the time of doing this interview, I have the first act (about 20% written), and I’m tentatively setting to publish it in summer/fall 2017 after several rounds of critiques and edits. The plot is pretty much written, and I’ve done research on the historical events I’m portraying, and now all I have to do is… write.

Haha, yeah, I know the feeling. The writing is, in some ways, both the best and hardest part. 9. Has Fantasy always been your favourite genre to write, or do you habour a secret love for any other genres? 😉

Anything science fiction or fantasy was my thing growing up. I’ve started to move away from writing fantasy in my novels, although more of my short stories are fantasy than science fiction. I’m about 20% into a science fiction novel that I’m setting aside for Warring Angel, and I’m burning to write more space-based sci-fi in the future. I’m sure I’ll eventually come back to fantasy, but the other side is calling to me!

  1. Do you feel that having a degree in Physics has enhanced your Science Fiction-Fantasy?

I think it helps my science fiction. I’ve only recently put that onto my bio because before, it didn’t seem to matter much when I was only writing fantasy. The thing is does for me is lays a foundation for my sci-fi stories. I know what’s possible and what’s not, but there’s an element of “fantasy” to my world-building since I include faster-than-light-speed travel and completely made up substances that do things I know probably will never happen. Then I put in a little bit about the substance being discovered outside the solar system despite all scientific beliefs prior…

There you go. I know how to cheat. That’s what it’s done for me!

Hehe, got to have a bit of realism science in fiction! 11. What are your plans for the future of your writing?

I’m planning on publishing a contemporary urban fantasy loosely based on the Fallen Redemption world, which I wrote in between Guarding Angel and Reaping Angel, either October 2016 or February 2017—depending on how things go as I get it ready. Then, of course, I’m going to publish Warring Angel summer/fall 2017. After that, I have a ton of story ideas. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with all of them yet, but I love that we’re in this new time for publishing. If I can’t find a publisher, then I’m going to self-publish them. I have faith that I’m slowly building a fan base, and hopefully will continue to!

  1. What advice would you give to writers struggling to make the leap from idea to novel?

Read craft books. Critique other writers’ writing. Write short stories.

For me, it was learning how a plot works that really made me feel like I was getting the hang of this writing thing. I mold my stories around the three-act structure, with some beats thrown in. And I practice it by picking apart movies and novels. Almost always, if a story feels “off,” it’s because it deviated from the three-act-and-additional-beats structure. Save the Cat! (Blake Synder) was an all right read for me, but some of the formulaic junk he has in there is just, well, yuck. I like to think we can do better than that.

I also recently read a couple of Donald Maass books about the finer points of the craft that I love. Some of it I already knew (write interesting characters!) but some of it gave me an “aha!” moment that took my writing to the next level. For instance, microtension is used all over the place—and now I pick it out when I see it and work hard at including it. For the record, those books are Writing 21st Century Fiction and The Fire in Fiction, although everything he writes is gold.

Don’t stop learning and reading and growing. The three things I listed—read craft books, critique others’ stories, and write short stories—is what helps you move beyond trying to force words onto paper in a novel format and into really becoming a storyteller. At least, in my humble opinion.

That’s great advice; there’s something for everyone to take from that. Thanks for talking, Samantha!

About the author:

profile_picS. L. Saboviec grew up in a small town in Iowa but became an expat for her Canadian husband, whom she met in the Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game Star Wars: Galaxies (before the NGE, of course). She holds a B.S. in Physics, which qualifies her to B.S. about physics and occasionally do some math for the sci-fi stories she concocts. Her dark, thought-provoking science fiction & fantasy contains flawed, relatable characters and themes that challenge the status quo.

Her short fiction is forthcoming from AE and has appeared in the weekly webzine Grievous Angel. Her debut novel, Guarding Angel, received an honorable mention in the 23rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. The sequel, Reaping Angel, is out now.

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P.A.W.S. Reboot Blog Tour With Debbie Manber Kupfer

Today, I’m welcoming author Debbie Manber Kupfer to the blog for ten questions about her novel P.A.W.S., which is going through a rerelease reboot! Read on past the shiny new cover for the interview!

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  1. What inspired you to write P.A.W.S.?

The idea for P.A.W.S. came to me in a flash. I clearly saw a young girl being given a silver cat amulet by her grandmother when she was ten years old and realized that the amulet was vitally important. Later that day I told the beginnings of my story to my daughter, and she said “Mom, you have to write that!” and so I did.

  1. 🙂 What is your personal favourite part of the story?

My favorite part of the book is when we travel back in time with Quentin and Alistair and discover the genesis of their relationship over the centuries. I’ve also written a story, Alistair, that was published in the anthology, Writer’s Anarchy III – Heroes & Villains, that further explores Alistair’s background. As I writer I love writing these parts as it feels like suddenly it all becomes clear. The characters are telling me their story, saying “look this is why I’m this way – now you understand?”

  1. Yup, I love it when characters have a lot to say for how they live now. For P.A.W.S., you draw on your Jewish heritage. Does your faith influence your writing a lot?

ARGENTUM-CONCEPT2-FrontWell, I grew up with Jewish traditions and more importantly my father escaped from the Holocaust via the Kindertransport when he was just six years old, so yes, his experiences find their way into my writing. The street in Vienna, Grosse Spielgasse, that I use both at the beginning of P.A.W.S. and in my Sins of the Past story, Griddlebone, is the one my father’s family lived on. I visited Vienna with him when I was young and we went back to that street and to the door of his old apartment. (What we found inside I’ve used in a little segment of Argentum (P.A.W.S. book 2) – but I won’t spoil it here!)

  1. Wow. I can see why that is so important. Completely different question – do you write to music?

Not normally. I love music, but I find it distracting while I’m working. I do, however, often have songs running through my head when I write particular scenes. For example, there’s a scene when Josh is wandering through a kind of no man’s land the morning after he’s first turned into a werewolf and I can strongly hear Green Day’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams playing in my head when I visualize that scene.

  1. Do you prefer to write for adults or YA?

P.A.W.S. is YA with crossover appeal. I didn’t really set out to write it that way, it’s just the way the story came. In my short stories it’s a mix – some more for adults, others YA, and some like Cecilia’s Tale, that appears in Flash It!, children’s stories.

  1. How do you find the time to write?

Well, between my puzzles and my fiction, I’m a full-time writer…sort of! I also have a couple of kids that distract me, but that’s good distraction!

  1. What was the most important aspect you concentrated on for the rerelease of P.A.W.S.?

Re-editing P.A.W.S.. Today I’m far happier with the final result.

  1. Tell us a little bit about the P.A.W.S. journey to publication. Eg. Did you always decide on pubbing with a small press?

When I first wrote P.A.W.S. I wrote it predominantly for myself. I had the story inside me that needed to come out. I had no thought of publishing; just finishing a novel was an achievement in itself. I’d been writing stories all my life, but had never finished anything before. The other thing I’d never done, was show my writing to anyone. I considered it private, kind of like a diary. Still after finishing P.A.W.S. I felt I needed to do more, so I took my prologue to a local writer’s group. I was extremely nervous when I read it aloud and astounded by the reception I got. The group encouraged me to find a publisher.

Still I was nervous – I tried writing query letters to agents, and couldn’t find the right words. One of the members of the writing group was Robin Tidwell of Rocking Horse Publishing. I talked to Robin, she read my book, and I signed a contract and in June 2013 I became a published author. Rocking Horse went on to publish the second book in my series too, Argentum.

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I am also in the Fauxpocalypse anthology, which is where I met Debbie!

In the two years since P.A.W.S. was published I’ve met a ton of indie authors online in some wonderful groups – Fiction Writers and The Dragon’s Rocketship being my favorites. I also self-pubbed on Createspace two books, a puzzle book, Paws 4 Logic, and a short anthology, Will There Be Watemelons on Mars? I’ve also been part of a number of anthologies including Fauxpocalypse and Sins of the Past and I’ve learned a lot about publishing. So when my original contract with Rocking Horse expired this June I decided not to renew. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I was given by Robin and Rocking Horse, but am excited to continue my journey as an indie author.

I have a beautiful new cover created by the supremely talented Rachel Bostwick (find her on Fiverr). a newly edited book, and some bonus features at the back including a little tale featuring everyone’s favorite kangaroo animagus – Joey Marks.

  1. What are your future writing plans or projects?

I’m currently working on book 3 of the P.A.W.S. series that is tentatively going to be called Maze of Shadows. Also there’s an audio book of P.A.W.S. in the works. I’m the editor and a contributor to a sci-fi horror anthology, Sins of the Future, that should be coming out on Halloween 2015, and finally (and this one I’m really excited about) I’m working with an artist to produce a children’s picture book, Adana the Earth Dragon.

Ooh, sounds good. Thanks for popping along, Debbie.

debsprofileYou can follow Debbie on Facebook or her blog for more details.

Debbie Manber Kupfer grew up in the UK in the East London suburb of Barking. She has lived in Israel, New York and North Carolina and somehow ended up in St. Louis, where for the last 15 years she has worked as a freelance puzzle constructor of word puzzles and logic problems. She lives with her husband, two children and a very opinionated feline.

Creative Writing at University

Interested in what creative writing is like as a society project in a larger UK university? Below is my short interview with Emily Upson, the president and organiser of Reading’s creative writing society, Scribblers, originally published in Reading Uni’s The New Frontier magazine.

What inspired you to revive Scribblers?

At a poetry reading where Conor Carville, a Reading creative writing professor, and I were discussing how little time we have in seminars, he said “it’s a shame the creative writing society folded”. The more he talked about what they did, the more I wanted one.

What sort of creative writing are you interested in?

Mainly experimental prose – playing around with rules to express meaning in as many ways as possible. I like to think that however weird and wonderful the writing gets, it still works.

Who are some of your favourite writers?

Scott Fitzgerald has to be one of my favourites, due to the sheer beauty of his writing. I’m passionate about literature that makes a difference, whether personal or societal difference. This leads me to Aphra Behn’s works, Madame Bovary, and, very recently, Satanic Verses.

That’s quite a selection! Tell us some Scribblers events this coming academic year.

We’re organizing more ‘Scribbler Support Groups’, where everyone writes together, aware of each other’s goals. It’s very easy to talk and plan to write, but there’s nothing like peer pressure, a support system, and plenty of coffee to get writers to work.

As well as the “Start Scribbling” event we held on the 20th October, we’re planning more talks with guest speakers; next term’s “Start Scribbling” will be even bigger! A book cover design day is in the pipeline.

Thank you, Emily.

So, we’re always busy, always doing things, but the Scribblers have weekly meetings and frequent events, so it is very involved society. One of the things I love is that Emily and her society are so open to different types of writing and never judgemental about the pieces produced in 15-minutes’ worth of time.

Steampunk Spotlight: Folly Blaine

Steampunk Spotlight is back, woop! *begins waltzing* Today, I’m interviewing Ms. Folly Blaine, a cheerful writer of Lovecraftian short fiction, fantasy and horror. To view her entire bibliography, see her website – her latest short story is a steampunk piece about steampunk shape-shifters in the Gears and Growls Anthology.

Welcome to the blog, Folly. 🙂 What inspired you to start writing Steampunk-esque short stories?

I love the whole Steampunk aesthetic–the costumes, the Victorian setting, the whole alternate history aspect. And I love that Steampunk encourages its fans to interact in the real world and create amazing costumes and contraptions.  Specifically for my short story though, “The Man at the End of the Chain” that just came out in the anthology, Beast Within 4: Gears and Growls, I was also inspired by the anthology’s theme: shapeshifters with Steampunk technology incorporated into their bodies. That was a fun challenge, and it let me go a little dark with the subject matter, which I like.

You have written a lot of horror fiction. Does your writing process differ between writing Steampunk and the horror genre?

Mostly I just try to tell an interesting story. But in terms of process, horror is about the mood of the piece, the sense of dread I want the reader to experience. Steampunk focuses on the setting and historical perspective. So the main difference for me between writing Steampunk and horror, is that writing horror is about pacing and mood, while Steampunk requires more research, more historical context. I particularly recommend Henry Mayhew’s excellent book, London Labour and the London Poor, as a primary source of information.

Alt-history fantasy has expanded into a whole umbrella of genres, including Dieselpunk and Atompunk. What, in your opinion, is a vital attribute of a Steampunk setting or story?

All of these genres are about asking what if—what if this event or events had gone just a little differently–and it’s so satisfying to ask that question. For me, Steampunk is specifically about expanding the genre of Victorian-era science-fiction, and exploring a vision of what the world could have been technology-wise, if say, Charles Babbage’s steam-powered computer (Analytical Engine) had been built 170 years ago. Also, I think it’s important not to limit the “what if’s” to a Victorian England perspective, but taking the whole globe into consideration. 

How did you go about building your Steampunk world? Were any aspects stronger/more well formed than others when you started writing?

For “The Man at the End of the Chain,” I began with the single image of an organ grinder and built the story from there. My story is about a were-capuchin, basically a woman that can shift into a monkey and is forced to work for an organ grinder in her capuchin form, and based on that initial image, I did a lot of research about organ grinders during the time period, as well as therianthropy – shapeshifting ability. I was interested in playing with the idea of a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and using that to explain the main character’s shapeshifting ability, and I was also interested in cemeteries. So based on all of those images, I did some research, connected the dots, and out came this story.

A capuchin monkey. Cute, eh?

 

That’s amazing! I love how much thought you’ve put into even a short story. Do you participate in other parts of the Steampunk genre/lifestyle or only the writing side of Steampunk? 

I’ve attended an annual Steampunk convention called SteamCon in Bellevue, WA, which I enjoyed a lot. Mostly though I’ve focused on the writing side. I’ve never been great at assembling the amazing costumes others put together, but I’m happy to admire their creativity from afar.

Hehe, me neither. Any advice to readers and/or writers just getting into the Steampunk genre?

For writers, it’s a good idea to read inside and outside of the genre. Check out the Mayhew book I mentioned earlier for historical context. Look for critique groups or beta readers who can give you honest feedback. For readers, my introduction to the genre was The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer and S.J. Chambers, and that was helpful for giving me a high-level understanding of the genre. Most recently I’ve enjoyed reading the Steampunk webcomic, Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

Readers, I’d recommend the comic, too. Folly, what’s the future for your writing? What are your current goals?

I attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, WA, over the summer and came out of that experience with six new short stories. I need to finish revising them and send those out. Lately, I’ve been narrating and mastering audiobooks for other people, which has been pretty rewarding.  And I just had another short story come out, “Arkquarium,” in a Lovecraft-inspired anthology called That Ain’t Right: Historical Accounts of the Miskatonic Valley. That story takes places in modern times and is about a strange creature that wreaks havoc at the Arkham Arquarium.

Tell us something interesting about your current Steampunk-y WIP. 

I’m working on a short story about a female mad scientist exiled to Prague in the late 1800s. Well, she doesn’t think of herself as mad, but there’s definitely something wrong with her. 

Ooh, thanks for joining me, Folly. These are great answers 🙂

Find Folly Blaine on Twitter. You can learn more about her on her blog about page, Maybe it was the Moonshine.

Steampunk Spotlight: AG Carpenter

*bounces off walls* Hullo, readers. D’you remember that Steampunk Spotlight I created, like, a couple of months ago? Well, I have another steampunk author on the wings here – the lovely AG Carpenter. Follow her blog and Twitter for all her updates. What I love best about this interview is actually its length and the depth AG goes into when thinking about steampunk. I particular like her thoughts on the individual versus society and how that is brought into steampunk fiction.

Steampunk watch
Steampunk watch

What inspired you to start writing Steampunk novels and novellas?

Comic books. I was reading a lot of graphic novels at the time and really enjoyed Mike Mignola’s HellBoy series, and the dark and disturbing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. I didn’t even know what kind of subgenre to put them in, but I was very much in love with the alternate history meets speculative technology aspects of those works and I thought “I could write something like this.” But I hadn’t even heard Steampunk, so I spent five years or so tossing around an “alternative history” idea before one of my beta-readers said “This is probably Steampunk.” Which gave me a specificity in abiding by or breaking all the tropes that have developed within that sub-genre. I love tropes and digging in deep on one or two and then turning them on their heads.

Does your writing process differ between writing Steampunk stories and other speculative stories?

Not really. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been writing speculative fiction, but the “what if?” elements invariably are there to help me highlight some part of the story and the characters. So, when I choose a setting it’s based off ‘what will best highlight this story?’ Sometimes it’s space opera, sometimes it’s straight fantasy, sometimes it’s steampunk.

I have a fondness for Steampunk on a visual level because it has an aesthetic that appeals to me, but not every story works with corsets and cogs.

hellboy4_lgAlt-history fantasy has expanded into a whole umbrella of genres, including Dieselpunk and Atompunk. What, in your opinion, is a vital attribute of a Steampunk setting or story?

The advent of steam power changed labor in our world in a permanent way. We’ve since moved on to other types of engines and power, but the groundwork was laid in steam. It made agrarian work easier, and enabled a system where things could be mass-produced. Cloth, for example. And carpets. Typewriters, sewing machines, light bulbs. All of these things that needed mass-production in order to survive as household necessities. Steam made available and affordable – a different class of living even for the poverty class.

It also meant a decline in specialty and artisan trades and the training that went along with it. The industrial working class was more utilitarian because anyone could be trained to run a machine. Even a child. So, we gained better living conditions, but lost some of the individuality we’d had previously.

That’s something that Steampunk draws on pretty heavily, I think. The clash of individual against society, the march of progress that is also regressive, the loss of the old ways in the face of a new conformity. These are ideas that Dieselpunk, Cyberpunk, etc build on, but the changes are, in some ways, never going to be as drastic as the advent of steam. (Computers, of course, have drastically changed the way we can interact as individuals. But I’m not entirely certain the changes have improved society to the same extent as we see with the Industrial Age. The improvements are less striking. To me, anyway. I still use a pen and paper to draft parts of my work, so I’m old fashioned in that sense.)

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The Industrial Age. (Or just an excuse to display this photo 😉 )

How did you go about building your Steampunk world? Were any aspects stronger/more well formed than others when you started writing?

I started with the basic idea that I was looking at a particular time period (1888. And, yes, for exactly the reason you’re thinking.) And the knowledge that magic had been predominant, but the development of Steam as an energy source was bringing Science back to the foreground.

Then I wrote a story. A really bad draft that was exhilarating at the time, but makes me cringe to look at now. But I knew I had the bones of a story I liked so I started working on it to make it better.

As I went, I started solidifying more about the world. Ireland was never conquered by the English because it was a stronghold of the magic folk and they beat back Crom and his attempts to appropriate Ireland. Crom was afraid of magic and science and had plunged Britain into a sort of dark ages because of it, but traces of that prejudice have remained ingrained on the British folk. And most of the technology used to be driven by springs and magic, but is now being transformed into less refined steam-driven technology.

Each of those little revelations occurred as the story came together, so it wasn’t an immediate vision of the world I was working in. More of a connect-the-dots affair. Which is always fun, because it kept me interested even when I was working on what seemed like the zillionth draft.

Do you participate in other parts of the Steampunk genre/lifestyle or only the writing side of Steampunk? 

At this point it’s only the writing side. Because money and I’m not especially crafty. I drool over all the nifty things – laptops and desks and clothes – but it’s not a practical addition to my life at this point.

I can certainly concur with that point! Any advice to readers and/or writers just getting into the Steampunk genre?

When I was first working on the Steampunk Novel I put some of the chapters up for feedback on a particular writing forum. I was feeling my way through writing a novel and refining my storytelling skills and needed some solid critique to help me find the weaknesses in my craft. Which can be a bit of a brutal way to learn how to write fiction, but the publication world is not for the thin-skinned. Some of the comments I got told me that I shouldn’t have magic in a Steampunk story. Or that I needed more of certain tropes. Or that the voice of the story didn’t fit the genre. They wanted more like Peake and Dickens and I’m less wordy and less conversational than either of those, despite loving their work.

I was pretty discouraged for a while and actually put that first novel aside because I thought maybe I couldn’t write in the genre. But I poked around a little more and looked at more examples – and back at the things that had originally inspired me – and eventually I realized that just because Steampunk is a sub-genre and has particular tropes, it doesn’t mean there’s not room for new work. I couldn’t let what someone else expected from me control what I wanted to write.

It’s that whole “To thine own self be true” adage and it’s scary. I’ve come to realize that I will probably always write about magic and really bad things will always happen to my characters and there will always be some doubt about whether or not my characters will make it to the end of the book alive, let alone live happily ever after. But they will be my stories and that is more important than just writing what someone else wants me to write.

So, that’s my advice. If you want to write a specific thing (Steampunk or Contemporary Thriller or whatever) then find out what it’s made of, then write the story you want to write. Even if it doesn’t seem like it hits all the same notes as what has already been written, there is always room for new work. Always.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film cast

Magic is awesome, though. 🙂 Tell us a little about your journey to getting an agent.

I started my Agent Quest in December of 2012. Over the next ten months I sent out a lot of queries. A lot. And I got a satisfactory number of partial and full requests, but no offers, just a steady stream of “Not quite right for me.”

In July of 2013 I received an invitation to Revise and Resubmit. I was excited. I got a long email from the agent with notes on things they wanted changed. Some of them I agreed with and some I didn’t, but that’s part of the editorial process. I spent four weeks revising and sent the new MS back.

Then came the rejection. It was not just a rejection, it was detailed and criticized things that had not been brought up previously. Things that had to do with writing style, the voice of the book, and my writing craft in general. I was… gutted. And angry.

I went back through my list of possible agents and found one that I had been hesitant to query because there was this rumor that he didn’t rep fantasy. And there were no guidelines on the single webpage for his agency. But my gut said “This guy.” So I sent just the query and told myself I’d give it another couple of months and then maybe it would be time to move on.

Four minutes later I got a response. Please send me the full manuscript. After I stopped doing my victory-dance-in-my-desk-chair, I sent the MS and settled in for a wait.

About two weeks later I got a phone call in the middle of the afternoon from a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered a cheerful fellow on the other end identified himself as Bob Mecoy and said he’d read my manuscript and loved it. He wanted to know if I could tell him more about the “potential sequels” I’d mentioned in my query. We exchanged a few more emails, had a long phone call about another round of revisions to the novel and suddenly I had an agent.

I know you didn’t ask for advice here, but I will say that if anyone is thinking about finding an agent you really shouldn’t give up. I see stories about folks who turn to self-publishing or the small press route after receiving only a handful of rejections from agents. And those are both valid options for many folks, but if you really think having an agent represent your work is the best option for you, don’t give up on it. You put time and effort into writing your novel, do the same for finding an agent.

SO true. Tell us something interesting about your Novel. 

The magic in the Steampunk Novel is essentially energy that is manipulated by sound. But it’s not merely spoken or even sung. It’s an enharmonic manipulation where there is a base tone and a melody tone sung at the same time. (YouTube has some pretty fantastic videos of “throat” or “overtone” singing.)

The fantastic detail of the magic is the use of words in multitone singing, of which I’ve not found any examples in real overtone singing. But the singing itself is absolutely real. (And amazing. Seriously. Check out YouTube.)

Okay. For your pleasure, readers:

Thanks for giving such an insight into your writing processes and steampunk-ness, AG!

My PhotoA.G. Carpenter writes fiction of (and for) all sorts. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Stupefying Stories and Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls. She prefers Die Hard to When Harry Met Sally and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly over Animal House. Her favorite color is black. Repped by Bob Mecoy.

7 Quick Takes about Interviews, Anniversaries, and Arranging Swing

Time for trading the seven things of the week with the bloggers over at ConversionDiary. Join us. 🙂

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes about back to school, veggie choppers, a great DC event, and recording radio spots under dicey circumstances

~1~

It’s weird to read all those posts about people going back to school these past couple of weeks. I know so many US bloggers that it’s easy to forget that British students don’t get back to school until September, and I for one, don’t go back to academic work in Reading until almost October.

~2~

I’ve been moving between houses this week, and my schedule has been a little off kilter, but not so worse for wear. It’s only been a change of walking around and observing the scenery.

~3~

Last Sunday, I went to one of my greatest friend’s parents’ anniversary. It was a nice evening, and good to see my friend again.

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And her boyfriend mucking about…

~4~

As you’ll see by yesterday’s post, Ready. Set. Write! is now over *weeps at sudden lack of schedule* I’m deep in looking for CP and betas from this and the other conventions that have been around…virtually, but I’m aware that my time-freedom is running out*.

~5~

I also had the chance this week to start my Steampunk Spotlight segment about alt-history fantasy authors by interviewing Cindy Spencer Pape. Authors, flock to me! I am very interested in this topic, and I find the best way to learn is through studying others (says the Psychology student). Sadly, I’m still waiting for Cindy’s book to come through the post, but I’m sure it’s awesome. In fact, I’m still waiting for a good few things through the post, so yeah… T_T

~6~

A lot of what I’m doing at the moment is actually behind the scenes work – writing, as you know, is generally an input-output imbalance type of work, as is being a musician and creating costumes, but in addition to that, I’ve been helping out the Reading Uni Swing Dance society, and we’re currently trying to sort the meal for our first big social of the academic year.

~7~

Still editing. I guess I’m making slow progress, but I hit the 55K mark (with the prologue and epilogue letters), so I’m somewhat on track. This week I’ll be polishing chapters 10 and 11 for my primary CP and pushing on through the last five chapters, which, in terms of prose, are a bit messy, despite being more polished, in terms of how much they’ve changed, than the others.

 

*Random psych point: did you know that women are more aware of their bodyclock when exposed to audible ticking? I can’t find the link to the news article at the moment, so you’ll have to find the evidence yerselves 😉