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SFFWRTCHT: A Chat With Author Andrew P. Mayer

A game designer by day and native New Yorker, Andrew P. Mayer is the author of the steampunk trilogy Society of Steam Book 1: The Falling Machine, is out from Pyr. Book 2, Hearts Of Smoke and Steam, will arrive at the end of the year. Active at cons like Dragon*Con, you can also find Andrew online at www.societyofsteam.com and www.facebook.com/societyofsteam and on twitter as @AndrewMayer.


SFFWRTCHT: How’d you get into writing?

Andrew P. Mayer: I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I started when I was around 12 years old. Of course it took a while to get good enough at it that people wanted to read it.

SFFWRTCHT: What did you start with? Stories? Books?

APM: Short stories mainly. I tried my hand at novels, but it took a while to get the hang of those.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you always been a fan of steampunk? Science Fiction? Fantasy?

APM: It’s been genre for me as long as I can remember. I started out mostly with science fiction stuff and some horror.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/influences growing up?

APM: It’s really classsic classic stuff. Asimov, Bradbury, Tolkien, Moorecock. And all the Blish Star Trek stuff.

SFFWRTCHT: How many stories/books have you written before selling The Falling Machine?

APM: Success took a long time. I was close to breaking in when I decided to go into video games. That was a decade long detour. Is it going to bum everyone out if I tell you that The Falling Machine was my first completed novel? But I’d written a ton of short stories and novellas previously. Almost all unpublished.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did it take you to find an agent and publisher for your book?

APM: I actually don’t have an agent…. (gasp!) I sold the book about six months after I finished it.

SFFWRTCHT: The Falling Machine is the first book in the Society of Steam trilogy, right?

APM: Yup. Book two is up for pre-order and will be out before the end of the year.

SFFWRTCHT: Give us the quick pitch summary please. And tell us where the idea came from?

APM: Sarah Stanton sees sir Dennis Darby, leader of New York’s greatest team of Gentlemen Adventurures murdered in front of her. She has to solve the murder with the help of Sir Dennis’ greatest creation, a mechanical man called the Automaton. What she discovers is a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that threatens to tear the team of superheroes apart.

SFFWRTCHT: What do you say to those who think steampunk must be set in London?

APM: As a native New Yorker with a mother born in London I can officially declare New York a great place for Victorian adventures!

SFFWRTCHT: Where did the idea for the story originate?

APM: I’d originally written as a comic book pitch. The story was a bit different back then.

SFFWRTCHT: It did remind me of comics. The book is full of action and humor and great characters. Did you work with a lot of beta writers or critique groups on it?

APM: I wanted to do something steampunk, but was a little ahead of the curve Zeitgeist wise. I had a few early readers…. I wish I had more. I just spent a lot of time being my own toughest critic.

SFFWRTCHT: While we’re on that, how do you define steampunk?

APM: My two-second version is now Victorian-era fantasy, but that’s for people unfamiliar with genre fiction.  Although it’s a bit of a cheat, because I think steampunk is actually more science fiction than fantasy at its core.

SFFWRTCHT: Well, yes, because steampunk is very gadgety, isn’t it?

APM: To me science fiction is about humanity’s relationship with technology, and that’s at the core of steampunk.

SFFWRTCHT: I described your book as being part Verne, part Sherlock Holmes and part Superfriends. You really captured the feel, I think, of a novel like Verne or Wells write. Did you refer to them at all for capturing a feel?

APM: Stop comparing me to DC stuff!  Where are those 60s Avengers comparisons? I like what Verne did a lot. Not many people realize that 20,000 Leagues is a measure of distance travelled and not depth… So I wanted to capture some of that feel of a travelogue.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you make any conceptual artwork as you composed the novel?

APM: I did do some concept art. There was some early versions of the characters that I had someone do as part of the comic pitch.

SFFWRTCHT: Have you written short stories in this universe before or did it start with the books?

APM: The books. I did do a comic for Dark Horse Presents that you can find on the web. It’s a horror short called “Om Nom Nom”.

SFFWRTCHT: You already mentioned Darby dying. And he’s not alone. You’re brave because sometimes just when I get hooked on a character, they die. You really put your characters through the ringer. Do you like these characters or is this revenge?

APM: I think that character conflict is the heart of any story, especially action. A big help was Story by Robert McKee.

SFFWRTCHT: What else did you to develop your writing craft? Classes? Workshops? Or just trial and error?  And have you had any particular mentors?

APM: I did a lot of writing before I got something sold. I did workshops and writers groups when I was younger as well. I think it’s actually tougher now, because there are fewer magazines and editors who will take the time to critique submissions. I should name check Tad Williams though. He and I met in the early 90s, and he was a big inspiration. And I’m best buddies with Ken Levine. There is no harder critic than him on the planet!

SFFWRTCHT: How much research did you do to capture the historical period?

APM: Research is a bear. I did tons and tons and tons. It’s core to steampunk. But I needed to reach a point where I’d learned enough that I could actually close my eyes and imagine myself in that world. Steampunk is tougher than science fiction or fantasy in some ways. When a character reaches for something, you often can’t make it up.

SFFWRTCHT: Well, it reads like you accomplished it. Very vivid detail. Rich description. Really brings the world to life.  I thought Sarah Stanton was a great character. Very richly developed. Torn betwn societal expecations & her heart. Is it hard to write from a woman’s POV?

APM: Writing women to me means respecting the fact that an emotional experience can have a stronger effect. Men can shrug off a lot of things with “that doesn’t make sense”. And you have to accept that t’s an effective strategy for viewing the world that I think most men tend to minimize.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about the other books in the series. Are their events immediately following this book?

APM: Yup. The trilogy tells one big story, although I’m trying to give each book a bit of a different sensibility. I only allowed myself one magical technology in the world, but I do a lot with it. And I definitely broke “write what you know.”

SFFWRTCHT: How difficult is it maintaining your universe’s timeline? And how far back is the divergence?

APM: Maintaining the timeline was a nightmare because the older characters are referencing past relationships and events. But there is no divergent event! Their world is our world to some degree. I went Marvel comics style on that.

SFFWRTCHT: What kind of responses are you getting from readers and critics besides me?

APM: So far it’s been mostly very good and complimentary. I think some people resonate with the tone more than others. It’s not an intellectual story on a narrative level, although I try to keep it truly emotional and character driven. I deal with some deeper issues as the story moves forward… I’ve gotten some negative feedback on intentional fake outs.

SFFWRTCHT: Is the book more about entertaining the reader or is there a message?

APM: Well, if there is a message it’s about personal sacrifice and looking for the value in others.

SFFWRTCHT: How much has storytelling infused your game work and vice versa?

APM: I used to think they were diametrically opposed. But as games have started to have richer tools they’ve begun to become merge.

SFFWRTCHT: And most games these days have some storytelling don’t they? At least a backstory.

APM: When done properly, narrative drives user expectations in games. And as games get more mainstream, that gets more important.

SFFWRTCHT: What other projects do you have in the works for us to look forward to?

APM: Book three is filling my vision right now, but I have a YA concept I’m batting around with a friend. And then there’s an epic Sci-Fantasy thing that’s nagging at me.  I have a friend who’s been doing a lot of kids stuff and romance, and I want to try my hand at that, but still genre. Also, I do plan to do a short prequel novella after I finish up Book 2.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the forthcoming space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

 

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