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I Belong

Author Interview: The Clockwork Empire Series by Steven Harper

Our guest today is author Steven Harper. The second book in Steven’s steampunk Clockwork Empire series, The Impossible Cube, was released in May. The Doomsday Vault is the first book in the series. The next book, The Dragon Men, will be released on November 6, 2012. Please join us in welcoming Steven here today to Dark Faerie Tales. You can read an excerpts from the series here. Want to know what we thought of the first two books in this series? Read my reviews for The Doomsday Vault and The Impossible Cube. We are also featuring this series in our Steampunk Reading Challenge 2012.

About Steven:

Steven Harper Piziks was born in Saginaw, Michigan, but he moved around a lot and has lived in Wisconsin, Germany, and (briefly) Ukraine.  Currently he lives with his three sons in southeastern Michigan.

His novels include In the Company of Mind and Corporate Mentality, both science fiction published by Baen Books.  Writing as Steven Harper for Roc Books, he has produced The Silent Empire series.  He’s also written books based on Star TrekBattlestar Galactica, and The Ghost Whisperer, as well as the movie novelization Identity, which he managed under a deadline of only three weeks.  His numerous short stories have appeared, among other places, in all but one of Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthologies and in all of her humorous suburban fantasy anthology.  Currently he’s working on The Clockwork Empire steampunk trilogy for Ace Book, and The Doomsday Vault, the first in the series, is due out in November, 2011.

Most recently, he’s branched into the field of romantic suspense with Trash Course, written under the pseudonym Penny Drake, a name he swiped from his mother.

Booklist calls his novels “fast, furious, and absorbing,” and “intelligent enterntainment.”  Strange Horizons says his work is filled with “fast-paced adventure filled with intrigue and populated with characters you care about,” and The Romantic Times writes that “Harper . . . creates a compelling universe.”

Mr. Piziks currently teaches high school English in southeast Michigan.  His students think he’s hysterical, which isn’t the same as thinking he’s hilarious.  When not writing, he plays the folk harp, dabbles in oral storytelling, and spends more time on-line than is probably good for him.

You can visit Steven around the web here: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Want to read more from Steven Harper?

The Doomsday Vault (Clockwo... The Impossible Cube (Clockw... Dreamer (The Silent Empire,... Nightmare (The Silent Empir... Trickster (The Silent Empir... Offspring (The Silent Empir...


Welcome Steven!

DFT: Could you start things off by telling us a little about the Clockwork Empire Series?

Steven: A plague struck the world in 1750 and spread quickly.  It attacked a victim’s neural and muscle tissue.  Most patients died.  Some survived long enough for the plague to eat through their brains and destroy their muscles, leaving them shambling mounds that the world inevitably called zombies.  A tiny handful, however, were affected differently.  The plague made their brains come together instead of fall apart, and for a short time, they were able to create fantastic machines of steam and brass.  Unfortunately, the plague burns through their brains and makes them go quite insane before they die.  Their fascination with machines and their lack of caring for human life earned them the nickname clockworkers, and the disease became the clockwork plague.  In England, the crown formed a clandestine police called the Third Ward to hunt down clockworkers and bring them to a hidden lab to invent machines for the good of the empire until they die.  China venerages clockworkers and calls them Dragon Men, and the Chinese emperor tightly controls what they do for the good of China.  The empires—and my main characters—are caught in the delicate balance of world powers.

DFT: Could you tell us about your main characters in the Clockwork Empire Series?

Steven: Alice Michaels is the daughter of an impoverished minor baron.  She wants to be a good daughter for her very traditional father but keeps breaking the rules.  It doesn’t help that her family was devastated by the clockwork plague years ago, making them social pariahs.  In one last-ditch attempt to earn their way back into high society, Alice’s father arranges for her to marry a wealthy businessman.  Alice goes along with it, and her talent for fixing clockwork inventions turns out to be an asset, but then she unexpectedly saves the life of a handsome street musician, and her life takes a sudden turn.

Gavin Ennock is almost eighteen and a cabin boy aboard an American airship.  He loves being an airman and playing his fiddle in equal measures, but an attack by pirates strands him in London, where the only living he can make is playing on street corners.  To his shock, he’s kidnapped by a mysterious stranger and locked in a tower for weeks, until he’s rescued by a beautiful woman.  Gavin falls in love with Alice, but she’s already spoken for.

And then the Third Ward takes an interest in them both.

DFT: Who is your favorite character in this series and why?

Steven: Ha!  That’s like asking, “Who’s your favorite child?”  Among the supporting characters, I have to admit to a certain fondness for Dr. Clef and for Lieutenant Susan Phipps.  Dr. Clef goes completely round the bend in The Impossible Cube, but everything he does makes perfect sense to him, right up to the moment he decides to destroy the world.  Phipps is . . . well, I can’t talk about why I like her so much without spoiling upcoming books, but I will say I really enjoyed finding out why she acts the way she does and finding ways to turn her life upside-down. Oh, and how could I forget Louisa from The Doomsday Vault?  She gets to say all the outrageous things that everyone else is thinking.

DFT: What made you decide to combine Zombies and Steampunk into one entertaining series?

Steven: Well, really—can you have steampunk without zombies?

Actually, I suppose you can, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.  And that’s the answer, to tell the truth.  I listed all the fun, deliberately outrageous ideas steampunk is famous for: mad scientists, big clanking machines, huge airships, outre fashion, and zombies.  Then I created reasons for them all to exist in the same world.

DFT: What is your favorite Steampunk technology? Why?

Steven: Airships.  I think as a society we missed something when we stopped using airships.  They’re clean and safe and just cool.  The Hindenburg was a major aberration and we shouldn’t have given them up just over that.

DFT: What is your favorite Steampunk creation in your writing? (My favorite is Click the Steampunk cat!)

Steven: I love the little automatons, too. Click is so much fun. He and the whirligigs and spiders can do fun little surprises and add some humor when things are getting too grim.  I want a team of them for my own house.

DFT: What is your favorite part about writing this series?

Steven: Writing the climax of each book.  In each of them there’s been something that changed, something that surprised me.  The original climax of The Doomsday Vault, for example, was a real downer and it kind of fizzled.  I also realized that Gavin was acting very much out of character.  Once I changed it, the story improved immensely.  If you read the last couple of chapters carefully, you can probably find the spot where I spotted the mistake and changed direction.  Something similar happened in The Impossible Cube.  Feng was supposed to have a completely different role in that book, but Feng himself had other plans, and he took a major turn during the final scenes.  And I really had no idea how The Dragon Men was going to end.  I knew that the Impossible Cube was going to be a major part of it and that its foil, the Ebony Chamber, would be there as well, but it was Alice who figured out how everything fit together, and it was a real rush to write.

DFT: How much research went into creating this series?

Steven: Ohhhhhh, so much.  I’m not a math person, but I learned more about the irrational numbers and the square root of two and music theory than I ever thought possible.  And there was biology and the architecture of airships and, of course, history, history, history.  Researching The Dragon Men was the most challenging because I knew very little nineteenth century Chinese history, and you can’t just research a single time period—you have to know what came before to understand the current period.  For a while, I had stacks and stacks of books about China on my desk, nearly everything our local library had.  Now I’m researching Russia, though that’s a little easier—I adopted two of my sons from Ukraine, and I’m already familiar with the culture, so I can concentrate on just the history.

DFT: Do you have a long term plan or goal for this story universe?

Steven: I do—or I did.  The plan comes to completion during The Dragon Men, the third book in the series.  Alice and Gavin’s story arc comes to a conclusion, and so does the story arc for the world itself.  But then I got a surprise.  My editor at Roc called after she read Dragon and said she really wanted a fourth Clockwork Empire book, even though The Impossible Cube hadn’t come out at that point and we didn’t have sales figures on The Doomsday Vault.  I was caught off guard.  In my mind, the Clockwork Empire was a trilogy, and it was done.  But, my editor added, a new book wouldn’t have to be about Alice and Gavin; in fact, it probably shouldn’t.  I gave it considerable thought, and an idea evolved.  I started a new book with a new protagonist, and I’m using some supporting characters from The Impossible Cube to bridge the gap.  The fourth book is called The Havoc Machine, and this time we’re in Russia.

DFT: Do you have a particular writing process or ritual?

Steven: I write with a tall glass of diet soda at my side (caffeine!) and folk music without lyrics on the speakers, since a singer breaks my concentration.  I tend to use the same music over and over, and it puts me into a writing frame of mind.  The actual writing goes onto my computer, of course, but outlining and planning has to happen on walks or on bike rides—I have a hard time thinking things out at the keyboard.  This is good in that it gets me some exercise, but it’s chilly in winter!

DFT: What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) do you draw from while writing?

Steven: It’s hard to put a finger on just one or two.  Everything I read feeds into my writing.  I do have a tendency to lean toward whoever I’m reading at the moment.  When my ninth graders are reading Romeo and Juliet, I want to be more poetic, and when I’m reading Terry Pratchett, I want to be funnier, and sometimes I have to work to keep my writing style even.  I do envy Mercedes Lackey’s and Steven Gould’s ability to create empathetic characters and Octavia Butler’s ability to create entire worlds in just a few sentences and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s ability to make ancient myths accessible to modern readers.

DFT: Which genre do you prefer to read? Do you have any favorite authors or series?

Steven: I read a great deal of non-fiction.  History is a lot more fun when you’re an adult, I think, once you truly understand that it’s about people who lived and breathed and ate and went to the toilet and wondered if they were doing the right thing.  I love leafing through nineteenth-century yearbooks and making up stories about what happened to all those teenagers and teachers, long dead now.  This one became a successful businessman.  That one married into a wealthy family that went bankrupt a year later.  She got pregnant, married someone else fast, and told her new husband the baby was his.  And that guy was carrying on with the headmaster’s son in secret.  I love anything written by Octavia Butler, though it’s hard to read more than one of her books in a row—they’re little dwarf stars and take a while to digest.

DFT: What can you tell us about any other projects you are working on?

Steven: I just sold a novella to an anthology of clockwork fairy tales called Clockwork Fables.  Vasyl is a tinker in Kiev who seeks help from Baba Yaga, but he gets more than he expected.  And, of course, I’m pounding away on The Havoc Machine.  Thaddeus Sharpe lost his son to a clockworker’s insanity several years ago and now Thad hunts clockworkers for a living.  And then a stranger hires him, not to kill a clockworker, but to steal a particular machine, a machine of tremendous power—and havoc.  I also just updated the Clockwork Empire’s web site here.

DFT: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.

Steven: My pleasure!


Available May 1, 2012 from Penguin/Roc Books

About this Book:

In an age where fantastic inventions of steam and brass have elevated Britain and China into mighty empires, Alice Michaels faces a future of technological terrors…

Once, Gavin Ennock sailed the skies on airships and enchanted listeners with his fiddle music. Now, the clockwork plague consumes his intellect, enabling him to conceive and construct scientific wonders—while driving him quite mad. Distressed by her beloved’s unfortunate condition, Alice Michaels sought a cure rumored to be inside the Doomsday Vault—and brought the wrath of the British Empire down on them.

Declared enemies of the Crown, Alice and Gavin have little choice but to flee to China in search of a cure. Accompanying them is Dr. Clef, a mad genius driven to find the greatest and most destructive force the world has ever seen: The Impossible Cube. If Dr. Clef gets his hands on it, the entire universe will face extinction.

And Gavin holds the key to its recreation…

Click HERE to read an excerpt

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