Sit.Write.Bleed.(SWB): Hi, Gail and Larry! Thank you so much sitting down to take about your current and upcoming works. Let's talk about Iron & Blood (Solaris), an American Steampunk novel you recently two co-wrote. Most steampunk I have read has a distinct European flavor, so it was really interesting to see that you both set it in Pittsburgh. Being from the area, what kind of things did you consider when you sat down to write this book? How does America as a setting change aspects of the genre?
Pittsburgh just seemed to us to be the perfect place for a steampunk story, the quintessential American setting, because at the height of the Age of Steam, Pittsburgh was in its full glory. Pittsburgh was a very wealthy town that gained its money on coal, steel and manufacturing. It attracted immigrants from all over the world, especially Eastern and Western Europe. Pittsburgh, like Chicago, was a big-shouldered, elbows-out brash newcomer on the scene, and if anything lived up to the 'melting pot' immigration experience, it was Pittsburgh. And yet for the most part, people who came to Pittsburgh from parts of Europe that were nearly constantly at war with each other came here and coexisted peacefully, intermarried, and mingled their native cuisines.
So much amazing architecture from the period is still standing and not only preserved but in use. It's not hard to visit those sites and feel the history all around you. And then there were the larger-than-life figures, like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Thomas Mellon, George Westinghouse, and the titanic battles between Carnegie, Gould, Morgan and Rockefeller for domination. Throw in local players like Christopher Magee and William Flinn, who were the Tamany Halls of Pittsburgh, and the union struggles and the tension that's always present when people leave their native lands for a strange place and struggle to keep one foot in each culture and you have a powder keg exploding with possibilities. The more we dug into the history, the more ideas we found!
Victorian culture was different in the US, at least outside of New York and Nantucket, because we didn't have some of the social structures that fed and sustained it in England. For example, we had no queen or aristocracy. But we did have newly minted oligarchs who envied the power of the old-money Continental aristocrats, and tried very hard to replicate their fashions. Only in a place like Pittsburgh, practicality sometimes trumped pretense. Northwestern Pennsylvania is a very practical place, and the people like Carnegie who became wealthy came from thrifty Scots-Irish roots in many cases, so they didn't come from the blue bloods and there was always still a bit of an inner struggle against the establishment even as they became the establishment.
SWB: So Gail, the third book in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, War of Shadows (Orbit), was released in April. Following the further exploits of Blaine McFadden, a hero in a post-apocalyptic epic fantasy, what was it like to take this character into his third book? Did you learn anything new about him after it was all said and done?
Gail: It's very rewarding to take Blaine into his third book because he went through so much in books one and two, and those gambles are starting to bear fruit, though not always as anticipated. Don't forget, I've already written book four, so I have some inside knowledge of where it all ends up! I'm thrilled that my characters always surprise me in some way--sometimes multiple ways--in the course of writing a book. There are new insights, unexpected comments and plenty of surprises for me as an author as the creative process works its magic, and I'm glad, because it keeps me engaged and excited.
SWB: Larry and Gail: Co-writing a book is an art form unto itself in many cases, with authors usually creating a system to get the manuscript written. What was the process like putting together Iron & Blood?
Gail: Larry has been increasingly involved in a growing way with the books for a long time but behind the scenes. It started with editing for typos and continuity issues, then grew into brainstorming to get past rough patches and then into suggested revisions and now to drafting and revisions. For Iron & Blood, we worked together from the very start at a foundational brainstorming level--we created the world, the characters and the plot together. We each contributed ideas and then played off each other to develop and flesh them out. Likewise, with the story, we decided on overarching plot elements then sat together and played ‘what if?’ capturing all the ideas and then deciding what we wanted to keep. We put them together in an outline and began writing. After 28 years, we play well off each other, and we know each other's strengths and weaknesses. We can keep each other focused and get each other to lighten up. It's a good partnership!
SWB: Larry, tell us about your background as an author: What brought you to writing fiction in the first place?
Larry: Confession time. I first dabbled when I got to play Dungeon Master, creating back stories and adventures for the players. This went on for a number of years, even when Gail and I first met. We shared a love of fiction and writing. Then in my Corporate Life, writing was a large part of my work, but sadly though I wrote a great deal I didn’t have the opportunity to be very creative, write as much fiction, nor have nearly as much fun. While I have written, re-written, edited and drafted in conjunction with Gail, Iron and Blood is our first true co-written piece. The lines have started to gray on other works as once we found our collaborative groove, it’s hard to go back. Working as a partnership also lets us be more productive.
SWB: Gail, you have recently built quite a back list of short stories featuring Jonmarc Vahanian, who appeared in your critically-lauded series, Chronicles of the Necromancer. Having gotten into self-publishing AFTER having the series released under a traditional publisher, what have you noticed about the self-publishing industry as it sits now? Are there benefits to it? Drawbacks?
Gail: I think that advances in technology coupled with the internet have gotten self-publishing past the initial problems of quality production and mass distribution. It's possible for an individual or a small press to put out a print book or an ebook of indistinguishable quality to a book by a big publishing house. Not all self-published/small press offerings are done that well, but a growing number of them are and it gets easier every year to do so. That takes one problem off the table.
The biggest issue right now, I think, is that Amazon is really the only game in town for self-published and small press authors. It's getting more and more that way for all authors as the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores shrinks, but at least traditional publishers can get their books into those stores. While Amazon offers easy mass distribution, we're all at the mercy of its algorithms and whims, as we have seen with the Amazon-Hachette war and other disagreements between big publishers and Amazon that resulted in the publisher's authors having their works removed from Amazon, delayed shipment or suppressed in the algorithm. That means that it's not just about creating a good book, it's about gaining visibility in a crowded marketplace where the rules for producing that visibility are not only constantly changing but kept secret.
SWB: What do you both have coming out after Iron & Blood?
Larry: The second Deadly Curiosities novel, Vendetta, comes out at the end of December. It's a powder keg of an adventure! The Weird Wild West anthology (ESpec Books) with our Iron & Blood-related story comes out in November. Gail’s part of the Monsters anthology currently on Kickstarter for Silence in the Library, and we had two new space-themed stories in the Space anthology for Origins Gaming Fair and in Contact Light, the companion anthology. Expect those characters to get their own series. Gail also had a superhero story in the recently released Heroes anthology. Those are all Silence in the Library projects. We're working on plans for a second Jake Desmet steampunk novel and a third Deadly Curiosities book. We also finished up 10 new Jonmarc Vahanian Adventure short stories for Season 2, so now it's time for the second season of 10 new Deadly Curiosities Adventure short stories. Gail has also turned in a Blaine McFadden short story to Orbit Short Fiction that takes a look at the Velant years we don't really see in Ice Forged. At some point, that will also become a series of short stories. We're working up ideas for a brand new epic fantasy series, and we'll be finishing up an Iron & Blood-world novella for Wattpad. Plus there are stories requested for at least half a dozen upcoming anthologies, and two more Iron & Blood-world stories in Dreams of Steel 5 and a yet-unnamed corset-themed anthology that have yet to be released. Plenty of good stuff in the works!
SWB: Let's talk about covers a bit. All of the Martin releases have had beautiful covers on them that are really eye-catching. Do either of you have favorites, either from your works or others?
Larry: We have been very fortunate to have awesome cover artists. There haven’t been any books where we were unhappy with the art, and a great cover is a huge help in attracting readers. We do judge a book by its cover! That said, Gail is very partial to The Summoner (which won a Best Fantasy Art award for Michael Komarck back in 2007) and to Dark Haven (also by Michael). He is also the artist for Iron & Blood's spectacular cover, Larry’s favorite. Gail really liked Chris McGrath's cover for Deadly Curiosities, and he has turned in a fantastic piece for Vendetta.
Gail: And I've got to plug the great ebook short story covers Larry does for our Jonmarc Vahanian and Deadly Curiosities Adventures. Buttons is one of my all-time favorites!
SWB: As always, let's finish up with a fun question: If either of you had to throw a dinner party for your characters, who would you invite and what would you serve them?
Gail: Well, the bad guys aren't getting an invitation! My/our books tend to have ensemble casts, so I'd love to host each group separately, and then maybe get them all together and see what would happen!
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series;The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies.
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