AUTHOR JEFFREY COOK lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with his wife and three large dogs. He was born in Boulder, Colorado, but has lived all over the United States. He’s contributed to a number of role-playing game books for Deep7 Press out of Seattle, Washington, but the Dawn of Steam series are his first novels. When not reading, researching or writing, Jeffrey enjoys role-playing games and watching football.\
Jeffrey also has the honor to be the first ‘Steampunk’ author I’ve had on my blog. Read on to find out what that genre is and more about Mr. Cook.
Hi Jeffrey!! Grab a seat, kick back and get ready for my first question — The average reader may not be acquainted with the Steampunk genre. Explain what it is and why they should read it.
I end up making that explanation a lot. People who may not have any idea what Steampunk is frequently start showing some interest when I say “1800’s Science Fiction”, “Jules Verne-style Sci-fi”, or “If Jane Austen wrote adventure.” A lot of Steampunk fans will typically say Victorian Science Fiction, but the steam era started in the early 1800’s with Fulton, with steam trains with 300 yards of track to haul coal out of mines, etc.
Simple as the “1800’s Science Fiction” label is, most Steampunk does tend to have a particular sense of style. The characters and world look like the sepia tone photographs of the era, rather than the colorful period the Victorian age actually was. Then, they throw in lots of goggles, jeweler’s glasses, gadgets and zeppelins.
Steampunk is as wide open as modern science fiction. Wild Wild West (show and movie) are very Steampunk, so it crosses into Westerns just fine. Erasmus Darwin (real person), before he was discredited (for trying to teach young women life sciences), had some very advanced theories regarding rocketry. There was plenty of superstition, and unknown corners of the globe, that lets it include elements of magic and cross over into fantasy. One of the most successful Steampunk stories, Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, crosses into zombie fiction.
Why should people read it? Because there’s a lot of unexplored territory. How many genres can you say that about? Setting stories in the 1800’s opens up types of characters typically only involved in westerns or historical fiction, and then adds airship pirates, unexplored ruins, zombies, or who knows what else. Steampunk is a relatively new genre, or sub-genre, depending on how you want to look at it. That means there’s a lot of room, which can be harder to find in some other genres, to really explore the possibilities.
You’re two books into your trilogy. When you’re finished with book three, do you plan to stay in the Steampunk genre or branch out to another?
I’ve already started branching out, actually. My Young Adult Science Fiction book, Mina Cortez: From Bouquets to Bullets will be out in a week, through Fire & Ice YA. The third book of the Dawn of Steam trilogy will be out in a couple months. After that, I’ll be working this year on two other books: a currently untitled project, working with romance writer A.J. Downey on an urban fantasy story, and working with my editor, Katherine Perkins, on a Young Adult Fantasy series, The Fair Folk Chronicles. The Fair Folk story is planned for four books over the next three years.
I have a few steampunk short stories out there, and I plan to use the main characters from some of those in a collection of short stories eventually as well. Because of them, I’ll probably keep doing some Steampunk, but it’s not going to be a major focus again for at least a couple years. I do plan to return to the Dawn of Steam world eventually with a second trilogy, set 5 years later, but I want a little time and distance from it after the third book is out. I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m proud of the books – especially after Dawn of Steam: First Light, was named Moonrise Book Blog’s best science fiction of the year for 2014 – but I’m ready to stop writing in Regency style for a little while.
I do love Steampunk, and will keep going back to it, whether through more Dawn of Steam, through my Luca & Emily short stories, or my Steampunk adaption of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. I like variety, too, though.
Describe your writing process – From Conception to Publishing.
The first step is always the inspiration. It usually starts with a character or two, and then building a world around them. I do a lot of brainstorming, and usually finding someone to discuss ideas with, along with researching key concepts. As soon as the world is built, more or less, there’s two other major steps to the pre-writing process. First, I build a playlist for it. I prefer to write to music, so having a 50-80 song list that helps evoke the book in my mind helps tremendously. Second, I write an outline. For me, outlining is an organic process. I sketch out where I want to go, and then write a sentence or two for each intended chapter.
Inevitably, for most writers, there’s a conflict between characters and the outline. In my case, the characters always win. If I get new ideas, or character inspirations break the outline, which happens all the time, I follow the characters, and then scrap and re-write the outline at the end of the week. It helps keep me aimed for the end, while not feeling stuck in a rigid storyline.
My editor is critical to the process for me. In general, I finish a chapter, and, at her request, send it to her. She gets things edited to third-draft quality while I’m writing the next chapter. It makes later editing passes much faster and cleaner, and if there’s flaws, they get found much sooner. It’s an unusual process, but it has worked really nicely for us. Finding the right editor really is a huge key.
I’ve heard H.G. Welles is considered the godfather of Steampunk. Why do you think your preferred genre is comparable to being a red-headed stepchild in the literary world?
For comparisons, first, I’d probably say I lean more on the Jules Verne side of the spectrum, when it comes to godfathers.
And honestly, I think part of the flak Steampunk gets, it gets because of its closest relative – science fiction. No question, science fiction is a harsh relative. Fans of science fiction /love/ to fight. Star Trek or Star Wars? Babylon 5 or Dr. Who? Heck, science fiction spawned the Mohs scale of Science Fiction Hardness… yes, it’s a thing. The scale runs from 1, which is your Futurama or Hitchhikers Guide, to 6, which is basically non-fiction with a lot of applied science. Some Sci-fi enthusiasts can and will turn up their noses at things that aren’t realistic enough, or don’t fit X or Y criteria.
Steampunk is really different. Sure, some people still want to bring those same kind of arguments into it. There’s some crossover fans. Most Steampunk fans, though, don’t care if you’re writing about analog computers and train trips… or Japanese samurai in steam powered armor chasing airship pirates into the lower atmosphere. Is it fun, is it cool, does it look awesome, and does it tell a story? If so, the majority of Steampunk fans I’ve run into will have no problem saying, “Yeah, that’s Steampunk.” Usually along with, “That’s awesome!”
Steampunk has a long way to go to find its footing and place amongst a lot of more established, more defined genres. I think it will get there, and I think it will have more staying power than a lot of people give it credit for. Until there are a few more top sellers in the genre, with crossover audience appeal, though, I think it will continue to be seen as a fad, if a very prettily dressed fad, in science fiction circles.
I assume you’re rooting for the Seahawks in the Superbowl. Will they win and what’s your prediction for the final score?
I moved to Seattle for the first time in the late 1970’s, and quickly became a Seahawks fan (as well as a Broncos fan – I was born in Boulder, CO.) I’m in my Seahawks jersey as I write this. I’ve been a fan through all the lean years (and man, was there a lot of those.) So it’s nice being on this side of the fence for a little bit.
In fact, I’m a football fan to the degree that I’m hoping to eventually have one non-fiction book out, tentatively titled “It’s like chess, with collisions.” – intended to help people who didn’t get a chance to play in school or otherwise grow up with football, but who are interested in the sport, to learn about the game from the basics up. I have no idea when it will happen, but I truly love teaching people about the game.
I do have to say the Seahawks will win (but I’ve been a follower of the Hawks long enough to never, ever feel truly confident until the final whistle blows. Things have gone wrong too many times.) And I think it will be something like 31-24.
What do you enjoy most about writing — developing the plot, characters, or creating the landscapes/surroundings?
I love my characters. They are the start of almost every novel, with worlds built around them. I love working out personality quirks, abilities, how they affect the world and vice versa, and assembling a cast around them. Since, aside from football, role-playing games are my main hobbies, my characters frequently have full character sheets too.
The other part of the answer, though, is when a story is brand new. When I’m still asking a character, “Ok, so you have a really nice hat and a bunch of knives, even when all the bad guys have guns. Cool. But who are you?” When all the research and unexplored possibilities still lie ahead. Before the editing and long hours and reading the same passage twenty times has started. That’s the point that it’s all a ton of fun. The rest of it is all totally and completely worth it, though, just not as much fun.
And it’s worth it because, after I consider the above, my favorite of the categories you laid out, or the most fun – ultimately, the /best/ part about being an author is holding up a clean, edited book, being able to sell it, getting reviews, both good and bad (but mostly good so far!), and being able to say “I did that, and I’m proud of it.”
Being an author is what I’ve wanted to do since I was about six years old. I wish it paid more, certainly… but really, I’ve never enjoyed a job this much, or done anything as rewarding. The element I enjoy the most are the characters. The moments I’m having the most fun are when I’m developing a new story. The best part about being an author, in the end, though, is being an author, weird as that sounds.
Awesome interview, Jeffrey. Thanks for the opportunity to spotlight an up-and-coming author. Readers, be sure to check out his work — coming right up!!!
SYNOPSIS — In 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, two of England’s wealthiest lords place a high-stakes wager on whether a popular set of books, which claim that the author has traveled to many unknown corners of the globe, are truth or, more likely, wild fiction. First Light is an epistolary novel, told primarily through the eyes of former aide-de-camp Gregory Conan Watts, describing the journeys of the airship Dame Fortuna and its crew through journals and letters to his beloved fiancee.
The first recruit is, necessarily, the airship’s owner: war hero, famed genius, and literal knight in steam-powered armor Sir James Coltrane. Persuading him to lend his talents and refitted airship to the venture requires bringing along his sister, his cousin, and the crew that flew with him during the Napoleonic Wars. Only with their aid can they track down a Scottish rifleman, a pair of shady carnies, and a guide with a strong personal investment in the stories.
When they set out, the wild places of the world, including the far American West, the Australian interior, darkest Africa, and other destinations are thought to be hostile enough. No one expects the trip to involve a legendary storm – or the Year Without a Summer of 1815-1816. The voyage is further complicated by the human element. Some parties are not at all happy with the post-war political map. Most problematic of all, the crew hired by the other side of the wager seem willing to win by any means necessary.
Early on I’m exposed to Watts’ intentions to his recipient as well as his intentions on his impending journey and I’m hooked. His quest is exciting and he hasn’t even departed yet. It takes a bit of reading to get into the action but I found a lot of humor in Watts’ observations of the other people surrounding him, which made the read quite fun.
The book is very well spoken and paints a vivid and fun picture for the reader in a style of writing I haven’t before seen which makes it all the more enjoyable for me.
Cook manages to merge futuristic technology with a time behind us – making for a fascinating experience.
Dawn of Steam: Gods of the Sun is an alternate-history, early-era Steampunk epistolary novel.
Excellent and unique! A top Amazon reviewer loaned me this through Kindle lending. I am so glad she did. This is a unique work in that is not a continued narration, but a series of letters and journal entries by various characters. In doing this, we see the deeper point of view through these characters. Mr. Cook does an excellent job of bringing to life the delays in communication during the 1815 time period, and grips us from the very beginning.
I love this line “We have been shot at, hunted, ambushed, nearly trampled and otherwise hindered at every step….” How can that NOT grasp your attention and make you yearn for more? As you read on, you will not only read about the men of the time, but of the feisty women who manipulate and try to seduce to get what they want. The descriptions are good enough to allow you to imagine, but not so overly done that you lose interest.
Knowing this was Steampunk, I was a little apprehensive, as I am not that much of a sci-fi or gadget type of person. However, this book used that as a background and was a delight for anyone with an interest in historical fiction! Thank you Mr. Cook and Ms. Perkins for such an awesome work!