Now on to the next author featured in Once Upon a Clockwork Tale: Katina French. Let's see what she has to say:
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
What got you interested in steampunk?
I think the combination of Victorian-style adventure tales with the steampunk aesthetic. I love the classic, sort of serial-pulp novels from Robert Louis Stephenson, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. My dad is a retired metalworker, and he specialized in brass and copper work when I was a kid. They're actually incredibly hard materials to work with, so I respect anyone who can work in that medium, even if it's making brass goggles. My parents built street rods (customized antique cars) together. So I kind of grew up in that DIY, "maker of cool things" culture, and that kind of ingenuity is very much an element of steampunk fiction. Plus, I like wearing corsets!
What is "Bitter Cold" about?
It's a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Snow Queen." It's about two kids who grow up together as best friends. Fantastic events conspire to test their dedication to each other. At the core, it's still that story--about how the boy is lost, and the girl risks everything to save him. The setting is an alternate version of North America where the American states never united after the Revolutionary War. So in this world, the states are independent republics. There was never a Civil War, although there have been lots of little civil wars between competing republics. It's a lot more like Europe right before World War I, with the addition of magic in the form of alchemy. Of course, since it's steampunk, there are also dirigibles, mechanical reindeer, and a band of Tennessee hillbilly gypsies.
Balkanized North America are a popular trope in steampunk and alternate history. What is it about the setting that draws authors to it?
From a world-building standpoint, fracturing North America gives you room to push regional differences into truly foreign cultures, which can be fun. From a plotting perspective, the thing that makes fragmented, parochial governments and political instability a bad thing in the real world--a higher likelihood of conflict--is what makes it a great thing for a fiction writer. Anything that can bring conflict, raise the stakes for your characters, and create danger and obstacles is a good thing to have handy.
Plus, there's a lot of intriguing what ifs there. If there were never these massive, unified continental governments and armies, how would that have altered things for native Americans? Would slavery have been even more entrenched, or would uprisings and abolitionist movements had more success against smaller governments? Would competition with each other have slowed or accelerated technological advancements? There are a lot of big questions you can address just by saying "What if we'd never united after the Revolution?" Some very influential people were opposed to a single strong, federal government. It's not like it was never a possibility, and I think that makes it something fascinating to consider. Because it very well could have worked out that way.
What inspired you to write the story?
I love fairy tales, especially the ones that haven't been bowdlerized or Disney-fied to death. I think "The Snow Queen" is a story about the lengths love will go to in order to save someone who's lost, and you don't see a lot of those stories in steampunk. Plus, I married my childhood best friend. I have some life experience to apply to that kind of tale.
What sources were particularly helpful when researching for the novel?
Well, the original fairy tale was obviously pretty helpful, although it's fairly long. A lot of the action takes place as a sort of aerial chase, so I had to research airships. I needed to know how fast they could actually travel. Since it was my first steampunk story, I also read Writing Steampunk by Beth Daniels. It was a quick read, and it helped me find out where to start doing some of the heavier research specific to the genre.
Do you have any other projects you are working on?
This year I made a crazy goal of trying to produce and publish an eBook every month. Some of them are long short stories or novelettes, and the first two are set in the same alternate version of North America as "Bitter Cold". In fact, the first one is a steampunk version of "Red Riding Hood," featuring some of the characters from "Bitter Cold". The next one will be a contemporary fantasy that's more of a southern gothic take on The Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a monster pulled from Orkney Island folklore.
How did you hear about Echelon Press?
I belong to a writers' group called Quills & Quibbles with Marian Allen, who is another Echelon author. I enjoyed her Echelon novel, Force of Habit. She knew I was interested in both steampunk and fairy tale retellings. When Echelon announced they were open for submissions for Once Upon a Clockwork Tale, I decided it was too perfect an idea not to take a shot and submit a query.
What are you reading now?
I just finished Goblin Moon by Teresa Edgerton which is a neat fantasy of manners novel with some steampunk/clockpunk touches. Right before that I read John Scalzi's Old Man's War, which is the first novel from the universe where he's set his new Kindle Serial stories,The Human Division. It was wonderful, funny and touching, especially for a military sci-fi book. I'm also slowly working my way through The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I finished A Study in Scarlet earlier this month.
Do you have advice for would-be authors?
With the publishing industry in such a tumult, it's easy to get sucked into all the stuff around writing. Things like marketing, or choosing a publishing model, or building an author platform. But you can't get anywhere until you start actually producing finished prose. And by "finished" I mean "it has a beginning, middle and end," not "it's professionally edited." First focus on applying butt to chair and getting to "The End." Keep reading, so you keep feeding your writer brain. Once you have a few promising drafts, then you can start worrying about what to do with those drafts. Don't get our cart before your horse.