The Next Big Thing Blog Hop!

I have been tagged in The Next Big Thing, a branching pyramid-of-prose where authors discuss their latest release or WIP.  I was tagged by fellow Clarion 09er Liz Argall—writer of comics, a novel-in-progress, and wonderful, wrenching short stories that have been published in Apex, Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and several other places.

What is the title of your book?

My second novel, Timekeeper, was released two days ago! It’s the sequel to Timepiece, released last year–and you really want to read Timepiece first–so it makes sense for me to talk about them both.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Timepiece was born when a friend of mine told me about a dream she’d had, in which a package arrived in the mail for her then-infant son. Inside the package addressed to him was a package addressed to me (how odd, she thought) and inside that was a velvet bag containing a pocket watch. Opening the pocket watch, my friend discovered the period casing contained a futuristic-looking screen cycling through images of different historical times and places. “I think I had your dream, Heather.”

I tried to write a story about me and her son and the pocket watch, including a reason for the nested packages, but I couldn’t get it to gel. A pocket watch seemed to belong to an older era anyway…so maybe this wanted to be a Victorian time travel story. Maybe steampunk—huge mechanical monsters stomping down a gaslit street? Yeah. Stomping after what? What would mechanical Victorian monsters hunt? Something natural run amuck, of course—the Victorians would totally build monstrous scientific artificial things to constrain monstrous natural things.

Okay, so where did the run-amuck natural things come from? And when? It would have to be long enough before the Victorian era—say 1885—for the organic monsters to become a problem, generate a solution, and have time for the solution to become its own problem. Eighty or a hundred years, say? What was going on in England eighty to a hundred years before 1885?

Five seconds later, I was scrambling for Wikipedia to look up the dates of the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Five seconds after that, I knew exactly what the story was about.

What genre does your book fall under?

Steampunk and/or alternate history. Timepiece is more the former and Timekeeper more the latter. There’s a healthy time travel component to both.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Funny you should ask. I was at the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ Fezziwig Ball a couple of weeks ago, and so were Elizabeth and William. Seriously, eye color and lack of war injuries aside, they looked exactly like my mental image of the characters. I mentioned on social media at the time that I’d happily hire them to star in the movie version…

But you probably meant actual actors, right? Hm. I agree with Liz–this question makes me wish I’d seen more movies.

This photo of Anna Kendrick suggests the right sort of look for Elizabeth.

And this photo of Donald Sutherland is perfect for Maxwell.

In my head, Katarina’s face is more angular, and there should appear to be a greater difference in age between her and Elizabeth, but the lovely Camilla Belle is certainly close enough.

William was harder to find. Thomas Brodie-Sangster has the right sort of coloring and facial structure, but looks overall too young. On the other hand, that’s what makeup is for, right?

Similarly, Ben Barnes is a little young for Trevelyan, who is a hard-used thirty-five when we first meet him, but this photo communicates the right kind of intensity.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Timepiece is a steampunk time travel adventure about a girl, a pocket watch, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and giant clockwork robots taking over London.

Timekeeper picks up where Timepiece left off, bringing to a conclusion the story of Elizabeth and William.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Both are self-published. Last year, I did a guest post here explaining the rationale.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

In 1983, Tim Powers won the Philip K. Dick award for The Anubis Gates, a breathtakingly fast-paced time travel adventure considered one of the first steampunk novels. I had Timepiece largely drafted before I encountered it, so I can’t claim direct inspiration, but Timepiece wants to be The Anubis Gates when it grows up. Let’s just say if you like mine, you’ll love his.

Similarly, if you liked the intricate plotting of Connie Willis’ time travel epic Blackout and All Clear… you won’t think I did it as well as she did, but you’ll have a sense of what I aspire to.

Who or What inspired you to write these books?

There were many, many, many times I would have thrown them both against the wall and commenced an exploration of other career options—food service, lion taming, something like that—if it had not been for my supportive, encouraging, and extremely-patient-with-the-highs-and-lows-of-the-creative-process husband, Richard Jackson. He also drew the cover art, helped work out the mechanics of the constructs and the rail gun, and assisted with action-scene blocking. He’s awesome that way.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Ever read Frankenstein? You know the part where he moves to the Orkney Isles to make his monster a mate? You know that scene where he’s sitting at his laboratory window one summer night watching the ocean and suddenly, out of nowhere, after months of work, he for the first time envisions the world that might result if his monster reproduces? You know how the blocking of that scene makes absolutely no sense, with the monster first looking into his window and then subsequently heard rowing from the mainland?

Yeah, that’s all I’m going to say.

Now, I tag these authors to answer these same questions next Wednesday:

  • E.C. Ambrose, author of “The Dark Apostle” historical fantasy series inspired by 14th century medicine.  The series launches with Elisha Barber in July. I’ve read an advance copy, and it is magnificent.
  • Kenneth Schneyer, fellow Clarion 09er and Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop member. His short fiction has appeared in Analog, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clockwork Phoenix 3, Escape Pod, and many others, and based on those experiences, I can’t wait to read whatever he’s working on next.
  • Nicole M. Taylor, also a member of the Clarion class of 2009. Her short stories have appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer Magazine and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. She is currently working on a novel called The Witches Knot, parts of which have appeared as “The Undertaker’s Son” (Shimmer Issue 15) and “Hold a Candle to the Devil” (BCS 106), and based on those two excerpts (not to mention the rest of her work), I’m drumming my fingers on the table waiting for her to finish it so I can read it all.

Comments (3)

[…] I was tagged to participate in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop by the marvelous Heather Albano, author of two (so far!) steampunk novels you can learn more about at her post: […]

David KudlerJanuary 11th, 2013 at 11:38 am

Ken tagged me and pointed me to your post (since he adapted the meme to suit his short-story style).

Having finished Timepiece and started on Timekeeper, I was fascinated by your answers here. Your friend’s dream seems like a definite call from the muse — misaddressed? And I can definitely see Donald Sutherland as Maxwell! That wonderful combination of grumpy, a bit creepy, but also kind of sweet….

The self-publishing question was interesting for me. On the one hand, I’m a small publisher who works with folks who would otherwise self-publish — it’s an approach I totally get and support, and am certainly in a position to take advantage of. On the other hand, an agent friend-of-a-friend read my book and asked if she could represent it. What’s a writer to do?

My wife’s just finished Timepiece and loved it — but wanted to kill you for where you ended it. Fortunately, I was able to set her up with the next volume immediately. 😉

In any case, here’s my response to the meme, which focusses on the YA historical adventure novel I was telling you about:

HeatherJanuary 11th, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Hi David!

I tried to reply over on your blog, but it wouldn’t let me – kept saying “Error please include a comment” when there was *so* one in the comment box!

Anyway. Your novel looks awesome and I can’t wait to read it. Very glad to hear Timepiece was well-received in your household, and that your quick-loading of Timekeeper kept me from danger at the hands of your wife… 😉 (In retrospect, I don’t think I’d do the cliffhanger-esque ending again – we learn by doing. 🙂 )

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