Elizabeth Watasin, author of titles like “Risen” and “bones,” has graciously agreed to an interview and a giveaway. One lucky person will win a copy of “Bones” and a grand-prize winner will get a copy of “Risen” and “Bones”(Giveaway policy). The books have a minor misprint on the cover.
Check out this interview with an author of two of the most fascinating characters in steampunk.
1. What inspired you to write these steampunkish Victorian stories?
—Strangely enough, the Dark Victorian series was an offshoot of a young adult contemporary fantasy novel I was working on. The story was so big and complex I had wanted a break. The Dark Victorian was mentioned in the YA novel and it seemed a good way to do something entirely different, which would be Gothic Victorian pulp fiction, some good gaslamp mystery stuff. I’d always loved Victorian London and turn of the century innovations, like airships and such. Just as I started the first novel RISEN, I became more aware of steampunk–late to the party, I know, but that made writing The Dark Victorian even more fun.
2. Which is more challenging, your work with Disney films or your work as an author?
—Working on films is easy. You’re learning a trade in a team environment, one with a set structure and another set of people specialized in managing the whole show. You’re basically a cog in the bigger works. You can always run to someone more senior with lots more experience who can guide you with a problem. You get a paycheck and benefits (if you’re union), and the work is assigned to you and you do it.
Being an author is entirely different, but it’s the best thing ever. It’s my stuff, my stories, and because I’m self-publishing, I control how the books look, the content, and how fast the books become available. I have an editor, she gets the biggest chunk of my budget because I know how important she is towards making the books a quality read. Self-publishing and writing on one’s own are not easy things to do. I have to manage myself. I have to make end products, and consistently. It’s scary, hard, and frustrating. The new publishing environment is constantly changing. Having to be publisher, publicist, designer, and creator is all way too much work, and there’s no one else to help pay the bills or take the blame when things get crappy, like bad printing, or figure out what to do when the money runs out. There are no paychecks, benefits, paid vacations, or sick leave.
If you ever wonder why, or are very irritated by, authors who aggressively self-promote, it might be desperation but I think after a while it’s passion. Or obsession. It becomes your whole life. Now that I’ve my second novel out I’m passionately immersed–not too annoyingly, I hope, and I’m still learning. It is a great challenge, but in doing my own work and becoming my own work, I am growing.
So money and bills and ‘god, I hope I don’t get sick’ aside, I think you shouldn’t take the more challenging path unless you still have that day job or a spouse who’ll carry you. At my weakest moments, I sometimes wish I had a steady paycheck somewhere, but it gets less so as the books grow.
—Oh, I barely watch anything now, but there are things I always go back to in my head, even if I don’t bother to view them again. Yojimbo, Babette’s Feast, Dreamchild, Le Double Vie de Veronique, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Casablanca, and Coconuts (the Marx Brothers). I guess I should put Seven Samurai in there. Scenes in that movie return to me at times.
4. Favorite author?
—Again, I have to go back to what I think about, and in the end I just think of Frank L. Baum and P. L. Travers (Mary Poppins series). I’m not sure in terms of my own work, perhaps more in terms of what I simply love.
5. What books are you reading now?
—Nothing but non-fiction, I’m still musing on the revelations in Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England, by Sharon Marcus. I just finished a wee essay, The Voice of Victorian Sex: Arthur H. Clough 1819-1861, by Rupert Christiansen, I’m in the middle of The Victorian Visitors: Cultural Shock in 19th Century Britain, another by Rupert Christiansen. So naturally after that one I’ll be reading King Khama, Emperor Joe, and the Great White Queen: Victorian Britain through African Eyes, by Neil Parsons. You can kind of see where this is going, it’s in prep for the next Dark Victorian book. I have found researching the Victorian era really fascinating because it reflects how we are now, in our rapid development, struggle with religions, gender issues, social-economic issues, the gap in poverty and wealth. Amazing stuff.
6. Your artwork is fantastic, at what point did you decide to go with a novel instead of a graphic novel?
—Thank you, I decided to simply write because I’ve hit mid-age and I need the stories to get done and out there. I wasn’t going to spend the next ten years working on one graphic novel. I had thought, well how about those turn of the century novels that had illustration plates, why not just do that? Some people who read long fiction dislike pictures, from what I understand, so I put the illustrations in a gallery in the back rather than have them appear throughout the book. With the stories done within a year rather than ten years and turned out into a beautiful print book, I am very happy with the long fiction process.
7. I know that you just got back from a convention. Do you have more appearances scheduled in the near future?
—Yes! I’ve just finished Wondercon Anaheim 2013, which was a very good show, I came home with far less books to carry back, and that’s very cool. This is the part of self-publishing that gets to be lots of work. Having to be out there and make sure people know you’ve a book series. I’ll be at L.A. Times Festival of Books, April 20 and 21, Booth 953 with GLAWS (the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society), Long Beach Comic Expo on May 11th, in San Jose at Clockwork Alchemy 2013, May 24-27th. Summertime, I hope to have another novel published, SUNDARK (an Elle Black Penny Dread). By the time I’m officially doing events again–in November, both Comikaze Expo 2013 in Los Angeles and Long Beach Comic Con–I hope to have my indy comic book series, Charm School, finally gathered into a complete collection. So that’s my graphic novel, this time as published by me.
—Multicultural steampunk! When I look at photos or accounts from Victorian London, or late 1800’s San Francisco, parts of southern California, and the upper East coast of the US, I already see a great mix of ethnic types. You see them in the school yearbooks, or street photography, or in the cabinet photos. All kinds of people making a life in the Western world, and of course dressing and acting so. I like this because I’m familiar with it. I’m a person of colour, my parents were Thai immigrants and it wasn’t easy for them in 1960’s San Francisco to start anew in the US. I’m a product of that kind of multiculturalism, though in the 70’s that was called ‘melting pot’.
Perhaps I’m interpreting your mention of ‘multicultural steampunk’ incorrectly, because I haven’t read up on what that means currently in the community, and I’m not about to read up on that right now and confuse myself further. I’m still recovering personally from being part of the 70’s melting pot.
So with ‘multiculturalism’ itself, I think in the neo-Victorian and steampunk genre I can take it further. I’ve been pondering issues concerning the African continent and the indigenous peoples and former slaves of the Americas–even though I’m primarily based in Victorian London. I feel that to make a multicultural society believable, I have to consider the imperialist actions of the empires of that time. I’ve major characters who are British but were born in Nepal, an independent kingdom. Siam was also independent at that time. These are the sort of locations and cultures I would strengthen in the mechanical and supernatural world of the Dark Victorian.
But stepping back from that world aspect and returning to the city I’m writing in, I’m happy to introduce ethnic characters and cultures into the Dark Victorian just as much as I do gender issues. This is part of the richness and fun. As my beta-reader has pointed out to me, I may have created an ideal world with the Dark Victorian, but it’s not utopian. There’s definitely bigotry, gender inequality, and racism. I believe struggle against ignorance reflects real life. And I think it serves the reader more to be honest about that. It’s a complex issue, but one that will continue to be an aspect in the third Dark Victorian book, EVERLIFE, which is in progress.
9. Do you have a mentor?
—I don’t have one to actually go to, but I keep the works of certain people in mind when I work. Or I keep their voices in my head. Believe it or not, those would be the writers and creators of the TV show, Xena: Warrior Princess. I keep screenwriter Kathryn Fugate constantly in mind, if not her actual words. I try, at least as much as I can understand, to think always on what she would find is the heart of a story.
10. The books have a nice historical feel. What sort of research do you do?
—Lots. Besides the piles of books, I like life accounts–diary entries, letters, and such–and newspaper or other contemporary accounts for the Victorian period. It’s exhausting trying to digest that florid writing style where there are three-paragraph long sentences describing how The Times births the morning edition and then gets it into the hands of newsboys or how Billingsgate Market receives its fish and then distributes it out to all of London. But that’s how I get the absolute flavour (pardon the term), for what it really was like on the street, talking to people, what they ate, how it smelled, that sort of thing. Like movies, you want that richness in detail and experience. I can’t say that I’m an elegant wordsmith at it but I try.
—I don’t think I ever have. I get lots of ideas and my frustrations are in not being able to get to them all. If writer’s block is being stymied because a story is not working, well, I think then the story can’t be worked on at that time and I should go on to something else. The YA novel I mentioned before, that’s all worked out, it’ll just be an utter chore to wrestle the last fifteen chapters back to what I had intended the book to be (my editor on that book wrote like 1000 notes, 500 of which I managed to take care of. But now the book’s focus seems to be lost). So the YA novel is a case of burnout rather than not knowing what to do.
When you’re on a production, you haven’t time to be blocked, you have to go to somebody to help you out, turn stuff upside down, backwards, go outside and do something entirely different, like play an instrument—anything to stimulate a way to get to an answer. Or, the thing that’s blocked, perhaps it’s something that shouldn’t be pursued. At least at that time. I’ve another novel, a science fiction one, I’ve set aside for now because I think the ideas for it have grown old before I’ve even started writing scenes for them. I’ve stories more worth my efforts until I can figure out if the science fiction one still has possibilities.
12. What can “Art” (Artifice) teach us about love and humanity?
—Oh gosh, what can she? She’s near and dear to me, I leave it to reviewers or commentators to say it more clearly. At this time, she’s a pure being with a simple, near-clear lenses of what love is. If I’m going to resurrect people, I thought it best to make them a clean slate, so as to try and portray them as characters without instilled prejudices. Just like children, if they become prejudiced it’s because they’ve learned it and taken it on. This way beings like Art exist pretty much outside of society’s conventions. She loves simply and honestly and therefore should make lots of mistakes as she pursues the women she’s enamoured with, but perhaps those ‘mistakes’ show us what’s probably judgmental, limiting, and ignorant about ourselves and society now.
(lucky)13. Is there anything that you would like to add?
—Sure. Thank you very much for having my work showcased at Gnostalgia and I hope that everyone who picks up The Dark Victorian series will enjoy it. This discussion sounded pretty scholarly but at heart the books are Gothic mysteries with a pulp fiction attitude and good-looking women who kick ass too. So thanks again for reading and have fun!
Thanks Elizabeth for a look at the person behind the books!
If you would like to learn more about Elizabeth Watasin check out these links!
Okay, now for the fun part, the giveaway is open for U.S. residents (no PO boxes) starting April 13th and ending midnight April 27th (ET). I will draw the winners names Sunday and send them to the author Elizabeth Watasin. The book covers have a minor misprint, which should be a fun collectable. One winner wins a copy of “Bones” and another wins the grand-prize of both “Risen” and “Bones.” Use the form, and email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions or problems.