Hi, everyone! It’s Nico Rosso and Zoë Archer. First, we want to say thanks to Coffee Time for having us on the blog today. We’re married and co-write the steampunk romance series The Ether Chronicles for Avon Impulse. We created the world of the Ether Chronicles together, and now switch off writing the books in the series. Nico writes the steampunk Westerns, and Zoë writes the steampunk everywhere else.
And now, without further ado, our interview!
1. What does Steampunk mean to you?
Zoë: First, thanks so much for having us on the blog! Second, to answer your question, steampunk is the blending of history with the scientifically fantastical. A cocktail that combines historical settings with a future that never was.
Nico: It’s a vision of the late 19th Century, altered as if the scientists and inventors of the time were able to bring to reality their wildest imaginings.
2. What is your favorite thing about steampunk or writing about steampunk?
Z: Usually in historical settings, I have to justify why my heroines operate outside of conventional society. But steampunk allows me to create a world that diverges from unyielding definitions of what women are permitted to do, so they can be spies, inventors, academics…almost anything at all, and there’s nobody to give them grief about it.
N: I really enjoy the opportunities for invention. Because it’s not total sci-fi, where almost anything is possible, I have to think like an inventor of the time and use tools and materials they would have at hand to augment real technology from the time or come up with something completely new. Then, once I have a machine or a weapon, I get to figure out how a character would use it and how it might alter the story.
3. What is your favorite steampunk accessory?
Z: Boots with buckles.
N: I’d love to get my hands on a clockwork Gatling rifle like Tom Knox has in NIGHT OF FIRE. How much fun would that be to wind up and turn loose on some tin cans?
4. What turned you on to steampunk?
Z: I rather fell into it by accident when Nico and I were creating the Blades of the Rose. That series wasn’t technically steampunk, nor did I think of it as such, but he and I wanted to create James Bond-like gadgets using Victorian era technology. The label of “steampunk” was applied to the series after it was written. But then he and I talked about creating an actual steampunk series, one that more fully embraced its elements, and so The Ether Chronicles was born.
N: Like Zoë said, it was accidental. We just happened to be creating fantastical devices in a Victorian setting. Once we learned there was a whole genre built around this kind of invention, the mingling of sci-fi and historical became even more appealing.
5. Do you have any upcoming Steampunk stories you can tell us about?
Z: I’m currently writing my third Ether Chronicles book, which is the fifth in the series. This one’s got a bit of a Gothic feel to it, as opposed to the more adventure-based stories I’d written before. Lots of mystery and atmosphere. But I can’t say more, because I don’t want to give away any spoilers!
N: My second Ether Chronicle NIGHTS OF STEEL is available now. So far, that’s my last Western for the run, but we’ll see what mysterious stranger might come riding out of the east if things go well.
6. Who is your favorite character of all from one of your Steampunk stories?
N: Anna Blue from the second book was a lot of fun to write. She’s one tough bounty hunter, but isn’t so hard that her emotions are completely buried. Because she’s so wary, it was interesting writing her journey to trust Jack, not just in the adventure, but also with her heart.
Z: As much as I said that the Blades of the Rose wasn’t really steampunk, the inventor character, Catullus Graves, remains not only one of my favorite steampunk characters, but one of my all-time favorite characters from any of my books. He’s a shy but kick-ass mechanical genius with a fondness for waistcoats and women with freckles.
7. What’s the hardest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
Z: Creating the tech. For that, I rely heavily on my mad scientist, Nico.
N: Because I enjoy the technology so much, the hardest thing for me is keeping the humanity of the characters balanced with all the ornate machinery going on around them. If the descriptions of the tech are too extensive, the people become too secondary, so I try to have the inventive devices feed the plot and the character development.
8. What’s the easiest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
N: Because mine are Westerns, the easiest part is devising the set piece locations, then amping them up with the steampunk elements. The evil mining company is a staple of Westerns, but for the Ether Chronicles, I was able to turn the villain into a rock eating fifty foot machine hell bent on destroying Thornville (as seen in NIGHT OF FIRE).
Z: I wouldn’t call it “easy,” but it’s certainly fun to come up with alternate timelines and histories. I don’t have to do as much research, but that also means Nico and I have to do solid world-building, so that it’s as real a world as the one in which we live.
9. What does steampunk allow you to do as a writer that no other genres can?
Z: Blend my love of history with my love of adventure and science fiction.
N: Bring my nearly impossible but somehow possible inventions into a Western setting.
10. What are the challenges and advantages to writing a steampunk story?
Z: Again, it’s a matter of integrating the technology so that it’s natural to the characters and the narrative. It shouldn’t feel slapped on, and ought to be crucial not just to the plot, but to who the characters are.
N: I think one of the biggest challenges is after it’s written. There are still many readers who aren’t familiar with the genre and might get intimidated diving into a new world. But then again, that’s also one of the advantages, because once they learn what steampunk has to offer, they find there’s a lot to like for all kinds of readers.
11. How much research does it take and how much imagination?
Z: There’s a lot of imagination. As I mentioned, Nico’s really the mechanical genius for the series, so he’s got the heavy lifting when it comes to designing the technology and making it seem reasonably realistic. Sometimes there’s a steampunk device we want to use and need to find a scenario in which to use it, and sometimes a situation arises in the plot that requires the “invention” of a new technology. But my Ether Chronicle books are usually set in exotic locations (the Carpathian Mountains, Arabia, the Outer Hebrides), so I need to research the settings and also elements of characters’ backstories. Just because the history is somewhat different from ours, there’s a lot that remains the same, and I don’t want to make mistakes.
N: Zoë’s answer pretty much covered it. Our alternate history makes researching many elements impossible, so we had to invent a world that was consistent and real enough that it seemed as if we did detailed archival work. A lot of the actual research for me was regarding the flora and fauna of my Western settings so the world is as real as possible, despite the steampunk tech.
Prize alert! We’re giving away one e-copy of SKIES OF FIRE and one e-copy of NIGHT OF FIRE to a commenter. Because we write stories set in different parts of the world, our question for you is this: what unique location or country would you like to see in a steampunk story?