AA: Hearts of Smoke and Steam is the second book in the Society of Steam trilogy – what tantalizing things can you hint at for us? Anything about the third book?
AM: Hearts of Smoke and Steam has a heaping helping of romance in it, and a few new characters.
The third book is about our choices vs. our philosophies. It’s an epic ending, and what I hope is the hardest part. Either way though, I know how it all comes together.
AA: Here’s the role model question – when my nieces and nephews read The Falling Machine, what would you like for them to learn from Sarah and her adventures to apply to their own lives?
AM: One thing about Sarah is that, in my mind at least, she’s fairly conservative. She’s not constantly fighting the system; she’s fighting to understand how to make it work. That gives her the strength to question the assumptions in her world, but she’s not just a reactionary.
But she’s also a genuinely passionate person. For her, being a superhero is a way to express herself creatively. I think you’ll see more of that in book 2.
AA: You are originally from New York. What research beyond your own experiences went into creating The Falling Machine world?
AM: Well as much as I could make it so, this is a story set in New York in 1880. I poured through histories and photos, spent time walking the Brooklyn Bridge, visited museums, and traveled to locations in the city.
I wanted to get to the point where I felt like I could live in that world and walk around in it, and luckily a lot of that New York is still standing, so it’s not that hard to travel back into the city’s past—if you know where to look.
AA: What elements did you include so readers could believe in and be immersed in The Falling Machine world? What did you want to specifically be part of the story?
AM: Well, there are lots of specifics in there, from tooth-brushing to the early electric lights. But ultimately you want that to all fall away. I tried to create a feel to that world that works, and I only bring up the details when I think they’ll add to that feel.
It’s also fun to get away from some of the modern ideas about design. Things were a bit more clunky back then because they wanted the structures to show the world how clever they were. We’ve moved in the opposite direction since then, and I think it makes a nice contrast.
AA: People continue to hear about The Falling Machine every day. How are those new readers finding you?
AM: Are they? I sure hope so. Interviews like this are a great help. Also twitter and Facebook have been kind to me. Cons are excellent as well. I also think a lot of people also picked up my book in the Border’s liquidation, so that’s something good coming out of something bad…
AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like with Pyr?
AM: It’s been great. Lou is an amazing editor, and he and I get along really well.
Pyr has gotten the book out there, and I think the booth at DragonCon is really a high point, because you can reach so many people.
I love that con because so many of the people there are actively looking for new things to discover.
AA: There really are no shortcuts to being a successful writer. What are some of your own guidelines in writing to help ensure that your story is the best it can possibly be?
AM: I think that in the end, for me at least, the writing is the beginning of it. Words written create an opportunity for me to edit and polish my work. I’m constantly trying to do more in a first draft, but even so, every revision improves the work, and that’s exciting.
AA: Who are the people which have inspired you in some way to be a writer?
AM: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 11 years old, so it’s really the old school folks that inspired me: Asimov, Bradbury, Pohl, Bester, Moorcock, Gibson, Sterling, and all those 70s and 80s writers.
AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?
AM: I’m terrible about that part. I used to do a lot of it, but these days I tend to work in more of a vacuum until the true first draft is done. I’d like to share the work more, but ultimately it’s a question of time.
AA: What do you do to keep a balance between book writing, tours and conventions, and the rest of your life?
AM: I don’t. The last year has been totally unbalanced. It’s been the living equivalent of “drunken master kung fu”, where I just sort of lean into the moment and see where it’s going to take me. And unlike Jackie Chan, I don’t need to be drunk to make it work.
AA: How is Oakland, California, for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc
AM: I actually think the Bay Area is a terrible place to be a writer. Portland is a much better city for that because you can turn off the distractions. But those cities don’t work so well for my career as creative director.
Between the internet and airplanes I don’t think location matters much for finding an audience.
AA: If you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing now?
AM: Playing more games and watching more TV? Writing is a passion, so it’s not an either/or thing. I write because I can’t imagine not doing it.
AA: By day, you are a videogame designer and digital entertainment consultant and writing is your “other” job. What has that situation been for you and how has it helped/hindered writing a novel?
AM: There was a time when I was getting up at 5:30 in the morning to write before work. I’ve managed to create a better schedule than that now, but since writing takes a long time to become a job that can pay a living wage, it’s still somewhat extracurricular.
In a way it’s the opposite. Writing hinders everything else: work, relationships, entertainment. It’s truly a form of madness.
AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?
AM: My every living moment is filled with either my work, my writing, my relationship, or managing my life. In the non-existent left-over time I do things like Yoga, meditation, and other practices that can keep me healthy and sane.
AA: Thank you so much for joining us for this interview, and best of continued success with your books and coast to coast traveling! Are there any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
AM: If you’re driven to write, do it! If you’re driven to read, I hope that you’ll check out my books. I plan on writing a lot more of them.
Kevin Steil is the creator of the steampunk news and information resource website, Airship Ambassador, the annual month-long global blogathon, Steampunk Hands Around the World, and is the curator of the online Steampunk Museum. He has been a guest and speaker at a number of conventions, contributed to several books, and has consulted for national media programs and events. He can also officiate your wedding!