We are so pleased to have Kate Cross here today to talk about her Wardens of the Realm steampunk romance series. The first book in the series, Heart of Brass, recently hit shelves and will be followed by Heart of Steel. You can read an excerpt from the book here. Want to know our thoughts on Heart of Brass? You can read Kiwi’s review here.
I’ve always loved stories. My mother would read to me as a child, but more often than not, she’d make up her own stories to tell me. She always made me part of the process, asking me what I thought should happen next. This grew into a love of books and a love of writing. I wrote my first story (that I can remember) at age 8, and my first book at age 12, and my poor mother sat and listened to me read aloud a portion from every project.
Occasionally she would ask me how I came to ‘know about such things’ but other than that she never told me that something I had written was wrong or unacceptable for my age. I’m sure I must have terrified her at times! There were nights when she would knock on my bedroom door and tell me to go to sleep, only to find me laboring over a notebook, scribbling like mad. I would reply, “I can’t!” and she would shut the door. One Christmas I came downstairs to find a writing desk and electronic typewriter (yes, I’m dating myself) waiting by the tree. We were fairly poor, and I’m not sure how she and my father were able to afford the the setup on a lumberjack’s pay, but it was the perfect gift.
Ten years later I was living with my fabulous boyfriend (whom I later had the good sense to marry), and working at a job I hated with a manger I despised even more. My boyfriend suggested I quit the job, go back to university and, “write that book.” Since we were living in Canada at the time, and a full year of university would only run me a few thousand dollars, I decided the risk was worth it.
I sold my first book before the start of my second year. It was a historical romance, and the beginning of a career that would land me on the USA Today bestseller list, win me a few awards, and see my words translated into roughly a dozen languages. Best of all, that career introduced me to so many wonderful people, many of whom I consider good friends.
Since my first book came out in 2001, I’ve written more than 25 books and 3 novellas, all of them for publication. I begin every book with the mantra — to make it the best book I can. Each new project is a way for me to improve and grow as a writer. I’m always eager for the next book because each one is like a new beginning.
Want to read more from Kate Cross?
DFT: Could you start things off by telling us a little about the Wardens of the Realm series?
KC: Sure! The Wardens of the Realm (or Clockwork Agents) is a covert government agency sworn to protect the British Empire. There are agents scattered all over the world. I like to think of the series as a Victorian Bionic Woman/Six Million Dollar Man meets James Bond. That dates me a bit, doesn’t it? J There’s a lot of intrigue and deception, cool gadgets and, of course, romance!
DFT: Can you tell us a little about the main characters in Heart of Brass?
KC: Arden Grey has spent the last seven years believing her husband is still alive. Everyone else thinks he’s dead, and his brother is pushing to have him legally declared dead so he can assume the title of Earl Huntley. When Arden discovers that she is right, she will do anything necessary to save the man she loves. Lucas Grey has spent those seven years under the control of The Company, enemy of W.O.R. He’s been sent to London to kill Arden – and he almost succeeds. Together the two of them fight to regain Luke’s memory, rekindle their romance, and unmask a traitor. Oh yeah, and stay alive. Staying alive is a big part of their struggle!
DFT: If you could describe your main characters with only 3 words, what would they be?
KC: Luke – deadly, loyal, confident. Arden – stubborn, intelligent, dedicated.
DFT: Tell us something about your research process and the choices you make when creating the story.
KC: Most of the research is into the Victorian time period, which I then bend to suit my purposes. The gadgets and machines are a mix of my imagination and things I’ve seen in a book of actual Victorian inventions. In my world, women have much more freedom, and can wear trousers if they so desire. However, there are still those familiar trappings as far as society and proper behavior is concerned. I’ve really tried to keep the polished surface and dirty underbelly of the Victorian era. I want these books to appeal to sci-fi/fantasy readers, but I also want them to be accessible for historical romance fans.
DFT: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell us about?
KC: Currently I’m working on the 3rd Kady Cross book, which is a steampunk YA series for Harlequin Teen. The 2nd, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar comes out May 23rd. Then, in July I have God Save the Queen out from Orbit as Kate Locke. It’s an urban fantasy set in a world where Queen Victoria is still alive, and still on the throne.
DFT: Which fictional steampunk world would you like to live in and why?
KC: My own! LOL. If not my own, then probably Gail Carriger’s because there are fabulous clothes, dashing men, and lots of tea!
DFT: How far in advance do you plot? Chapter by chapter? Book by book? Or do you plan out the whole series before starting?
KC: I start with a synopsis and then often plot five chapters at a time. I need to start with big picture and then work my way in. I had ideas for the first 3 books before I ever started writing the first, but you have to leave a little wiggle room, so I try to keep the plot relaxed enough to work with any surprises that pop up.
DFT: How do you maintain a story arc through the course of a series while still delivering a conflict and resolution in each book?
KC: Wow, what a great question! I’ve never been asked that before. I think my love of comic books and ongoing TV series have really helped with that. If there is an arc, I try to work out how each couple/character fits into it and then tell their portion in their book. In romance, the conflict is really between the couple and their particular struggle – so I use that story as one of the building blocks for the arc. Right now the Clockwork Agents books don’t share an arc, but because the world is the same, there will be carry-over from some of the stories. That may change if the series is successful and readers want more, then I might start weaving a larger story that carries over two or three books. I really think carrying an arc throughout a series relies not just on character, but on the world-building. A complex world will always come with a bit of politics that has a place in each book.
DFT: When and how does foreshadowing important events come into play?
KC: You know, half the time I’m not even aware of it! It’s maddening, but sometimes things just fall together in a way that’s half luck and half talent. Of course, I have no problem taking credit for it, but I think it just comes from practice. Subconsciously, a writer knows how to tell the story and these little things that seem insignificant and first will come to mean something much more later in the story. Plus, you can always go back and add foreshadowing. I don’t want to burst any bubbles, but I would say many authors write a scene later in the book and then go back to the beginning and add details so the event has more resonance. There’s a saying in script writing (I think that’s where it comes from) that goes something like, “Don’t show a gun in act one if you’re not going to use it in act three.” I try to write by that.
DFT: How important is it to ‘play by the rules’ you’ve established for your series?
KC: Very! Unless you can find a plausible way around them. Readers will always catch you breaking your own rules.
DFT: Does plotting become easier or more challenging the further along into a series you get?
KC: I think it depends on the series. If you have that ongoing arc, then it can sometimes become more complicated, and previous books will impact future work. And you can’t introduce something totally new later on that’s never been mentioned before, but could have been used in an earlier book. You have to be careful. I think the key is to either be really fluid with your world, or very strict with it. You either have to be like Tolkien and have written a history of your world, or you need to relax, give just enough detail for things to make sense, but also leave you room to move.
DFT: How do you find the balance between plot, prose, and character?
KC: I’m a character heavy writer. For me, the character and plot comes first and everything else is secondary. Character will drive the plot provided there are things happening for the character(s) to do and react to. I tend to ‘vomit’ the story onto the page and then go back through to flesh things out. I love revisions because I do so much better once someone else has looked at the story. I’ve never given much thought to balancing anything, but I think that layering and revising process provides that.
DFT: What comes first in your writing? The world, the characters or the plot?
KC: Usually character. Almost always character. I come up with a person who is in a particular situation. I’ve been trying to give more thought to plot lately, though. Plot is where a lot of those high concept ideas lurk.
DFT: What steampunk series world do you most wish was yours?
KC: Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas world. Hands down one of the best I’ve stumbled upon. Just amazing.
DFT: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview.
Available on May 1, 2012 from Penguin/Signet Eclipse
About the Book:
Arden is an undercover agent for one of the most powerful organizations of this steam-powered world—the Wardens of the Realm, a group with extraordinary abilities, dedicated to protecting England against evil.
Arden Grey enjoys a life most women in 1898 London can’t even dream of: she has the social status, wealth, and independence of a countess. She also has the ability to witness the final moments of a murder victim’s life. But ever since the disappearance of her husband, Lucas, none of this means anything to her. Until one night, when Arden spies a man watching her—a man she recognizes as her missing husband.
He’s been ordered to assassinate Arden as retribution for her part in the killing of a Company agent. Luke remembers nothing of his life before The Company, a corrupt agency that has erased his memory. Even so, something prevents him from completing his assignment. There is something familiar about his lovely target, something that attracts him and fills him with dread. For he knows that if he doesn’t kill her, someone else will—and kill him as well.
Click HERE to read an excerpt
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