‘Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology’ is a collection of short stories that expand classic Victorian literature, attempting to answer questions, offer retellings, and open new vistas to stories by Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and others.
Why will readers relate to your characters?
My wife, Belinda Sikes, and I wrote an origin tale for Ebenezer Scrooge, so most readers will have an idea of who our main characters are already. Jacob Marley figures prominently as Ebenezer’s business partner, but these are much younger men than we meet at the beginning of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Since our story sets out to answer the question: “What the heck happened to Scrooge that turned him into the cantankerous, crotchety, miserly grump of Dickens’ story?” I think people will relate to him from an underdog perspective. Our story doesn’t end well for Scrooge (honestly, how could it), and it’s that expected tragedy that should help readers feel sympathetic towards our young Ebenezer.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
In His Frozen Heart, Belinda and I explore how far Ebenezer would go for love. Owing to his ultimate status as a miserly old bachelor, we had to take the story down dark paths, but the message is still there. Love is worth anything. Whether it’s a fairytale romance like Wesley and Buttercup, or a star-crossed tragedy between a Capulet and a Montague, when characters are in love, they’ll do anything to preserve that bond.
That’s a truth in real life as well, and I hope people who read my stories are reminded of that. Even in my darkest tales, I often weave a thread of love into the plot.
What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?
As co-authors, we had a particularly challenging task. Who writes what? Who writes first? Do we each write and then see how what we’ve written matches up? In the end, we decided that I’d cobble together a basic narrative, introduce the characters, get them formed, and build the world. Since this was to be a Steampunk story, a certain amount of technofantasy was called for, and I do love inventing gadgets, so that was fun.
Belinda then took what I’d written and amended my historical gaffs (she’s much more knowledgeable about Victorian society than I am), added (and fixed) dialogue, and built some more backstory into the characters and their relationships with each other.
We did a few back-n-forths this way until it was time to just let it go and cross our fingers that the editors would like it.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve been writing a novel set in an alternate history Chicago, circa 1929, and I’m in my last round of major revisions before I start shopping it around. The story follows Mitchell Brand, top newshawk for the Chicago Daily Record, as he tracks down what really happened at the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. On the way, he runs afoul of Capone’s mob, encounters some paranormal hobos on rusty bicycles, and learns that everything is not nearly what it seems in Chicago City. He might just make it out alive, too.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your work-in-progress?
Can’t resist the temptation to do the Hollywood thing:
In a world where tyranny and corruption hold sway, one man will fight to expose the truth, risking everything to get the story of the century.
What do you like to read? What is your favorite genre?
I like to read just about anything I can get my hands on, be it technical, history, philosophy, essays, books on languages and linguistics, and good old fashioned sci-fi and fantasy stories like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and John Carter. I’m a big fan of Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman, and classic noir detective stories by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
I’ve also become a huge fan of a new author, Colin F. Barnes. His technothriller (Artificial Evil: Book 1 of the Techxorcist), and his Gothic horror (Heart for the Ravens) added hours of delight and enjoyment to my life. I recently had the pleasure of beta reading Assembly Code: Book 2 of the Techxorcist and was floored. I mean, bowled over and left wondering what hit me floored. Colin’s a new favourite writer of mine and I’ve been eagerly devouring everything he’s written.
Favorite genre? The otherworldly, the strange, the weird, the unexpected. Stories with those elements often show up in horror/sci-fi/fantasy, but I’ve come across so-called ‘literary fiction’ that’s impressed me for the same reasons.
What advice would you give other novelists about book promotion?
Follow Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) and Porter Anderson (@PorterAnderson) on Twitter. The rest of the advice you’re looking for will come from them. Daily. By the truckload. And it will all be useful.
What do you think the most influential change in book publishing will come from?
It’s already here. Amazon. The only publishing-involved company to actually drive progress and change and growth and development. While New York struggles with securing its not too inconsiderable relevancy and maintaining as much market share as it can, Seattle is pushing every corner of the envelope and doing things that are working and working well.
What is your favorite place, real or fictional? Why?
Chicago, Illinois: the real one, though I like the one in my novel, too.
It’s the heart of the United States, the central city from and to which all roads lead. All paths of travel across the USA eventually make berth in Chicago. Whatever your vessel is, you’ll end up there and there’s a good reason for that. Chicago used to be, and in many ways still is, the central manufacturing metropolis of America. For decades during the 19th and 20th Centuries, nearly everything made in America was either assembled in or fully produced in The Windy City.
It’s got history, diversity, railroads, airports. It was America’s first actual architectural laboratory when, in the late 19th Century, Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler joined Daniel Burnham and John Root in building the Chicago landscape in what would become recognized as a distinctly American style of architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright got his start in Sullivan’s office, where he developed the earlier versions of his signature Prairie Style. While New York architects argued over which of the canonical Beaux-Artes styles they should employ, Chicago architects were using those styles as bases for innovating designs of their own.
So much of America’s history is owed to Chicago, and despite its notorious reputation as a city with a higher murder rate than birth rate, it’s still the most authentically American city I’ve ever visited.
Thanks for reading. You can purchase Mechanized Masterpieces on Amazon. Links to the anthology and my other publications are on my website at http://www.ajsikes.com
I’m currently running a contest for my latest publication, which appears in Noir Carnival, coming out this Saturday, July 13th, 2013. If you’re afraid of clowns, don’t scroll down my home page.