Today, it is with great pleasure that I turn this blog over to Nebula-nominated author, horror aficionado, and self-admitted urban explorer Cherie Priest. Check out the Q&A for some entertaining insight into the woman behind Boneshaker, some early rumblings of a Boneshaker movie, and the word on not one but two upcoming sequels: Clementine and Dreadnought.
Over to Cherie…
Rebecca H. writes: “She left enough loose threads that there could be a sequel to this book: 1. Did Jeremiah survive?”
CP: That’s a question for Dreadnought to answer 🙂 At the moment, there are two impending sequels to Boneshaker: Clementine, a novella from Subterranean Press (available May 30), and Dreadnought from Tor books (available fall of this year).
“2. Why did the Chinese (or anybody) continue to live in what was a literal hell on earth? It wasn’t entirely clear to me that scavenging and drug production were incentive enough to live in underground tunnels under a poison gas cloud with flesh-eating zombies an ever-present danger, especially as none of them seem concerned about enjoying their loot in future.”
CP: The answer is both complex and simple: They didn’t leave because it was their home.
To give you some kind of comparison for the mindset, I grew up on the Gulf Coast and weathered many hurricanes over the years. My family very rarely evacuated even when we knew we ought to — for a variety of reasons. We didn’t want to leave our homes to the elements and to subsequent looting; we didn’t really believe the damage would be very bad (after all, it usually wasn’t); evacuation was expensive and we didn’t really have anywhere to go; we figured that even if the worst occurred, we could wait it out and eventually everything would return to normal.
It’s a game of odds, weighing the costs of leaving with the likelihood of personal disaster if you stay. We were lucky, and while we lived in southeast Texas and the west coast of Florida, we always landed on the right side of the odds. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
[As a point of reference, I have to mention Hurricane Katrina. Many, many New Orleans residents stayed to wait out the storm — even knowing how bad it could hypothetically become — for all the reasons listed above (and many more). And plenty of people have remained (and returned) in the aftermath, hoping to rebuild.]
So I guess you could say that my alternate-history version of Seattle is, in a way, kind of a worst case scenario of disaster management. The people who remain inside the walls are the people who belong there, and who have nowhere else to go. They stay because they once believed that given enough time, everything would blow over; but in the case of my fictional Seattle it hasn’t happened — and instead, the residents have gradually adapted to their new circumstances.
“3. What happened to Briar and Zeke? Did they stay in the city, or did they fly out with Captain Cly and go east?”
CP: Again, you’re going to have to wait for Dreadnought.
4. Why has no one attempted to seal the Blight hole in the earth’s crust (and again, lemon sap doesn’t seem to be reason enough)?
CP: It’s simply too large. They lack the equipment to attempt it, and without Blue or Minnericht’s cooperation, they also lack the capacity to create the equipment. Besides, they aren’t 100% certain exactly where the source is located. There might be more than one place where the gas breaches the surface
NKP writes: “[…] The scene in Briar’s old home surprised me a little bit. I had the impression during her stay within the city that she didn’t know what became of Leviticus. What also left me wondering was, why Captain Cly didn’t tell her about Minnericht before giving her the lift to the city. He knew about the rumors of Minnericht’s identity and that he ran the criminal underground. If he really thought he owes Briar a favor because of her dad, why didn’t he mention a warning? Everyone else told Briar of Minnericht.”
CP: I thought it was pretty clear (though of course, I could be mistaken) that Briar knew exactly what had happened to her husband. In fact, I’m often accused of having been entirely too obvious about it; so I’m not sure how to address the first part of your comment.
But as for why Cly didn’t fill her in, well. He didn’t honestly figure she’d be inside there long enough (or deep enough into the city) to encounter Minnericht, and it wasn’t as if he could dissuade her from going regardless. He did his best to prepare her for the reality of the walled city and decided to trust her judgment.
“1) When you came up with the idea of the rotters, did you think the scientific possibility through, that some gas could have such an effect on living beings? 2) Or are the rotters just facts which don’t need to be explained? 3) Are there only human rotters or also animal rotters? 4) What gave you the idea for the Boneshaker? Thank you for your time.”
CP: At the end of the day, they’re zombies — and inherently improbable. However, I do try to be consistent with them — and with how the gas affects living beings. I think (hope) it’s made pretty clear that the gas treats people and animals a little bit differently, as evidenced by the crows, for example. And that’s a point which might come up again in future books.
I never quite know how to answer the question of what gave me the idea for Boneshaker. There wasn’t just one idea. It was a collection of small ideas that came together and began to snowball into a whole project. I wanted to write a steampunk book set in Seattle; I liked the word “boneshaker” because I felt that it was hilariously evocative if you didn’t know what it meant; I wanted to write about a woman of a certain age; I watched a lot of PBS; I took the Seattle Underground tour about a dozen times. All these things and more … they sort of fed together, that’s all. And eventually the book grew out of it.
Ponytail writes: “What gave you the idea behind Boneshaker?”
CP: See above.
“Why did you use italics when Swakhammer was talking?”
CP: Because he’s wearing that crazy helmet/gasmask, and it changes what his voice sounds like. If you’ll notice, when he isn’t wearing the helmet/gasmask, his words aren’t italicized.
“What exactly is “steampunk”?”
CP: I’ll give you my stock answer to this one: Steampunk is a style (of books, clothes, video games, movies, etc.) that draws its inspiration from old science fiction stories. By “old” I mean Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, and their ilk. Steampunk art is often (but not strictly always) indicative of a place and/or time wherein steam is the dominant form of high technology. Or at least it usually looks like it is.
“What did you do to celebrate your Nebula Best Novel nomination for Boneshaker? (Congratulations, I hope you win!)”
CP: Thank you! And to celebrate, I danced around the house in my underpants, then threw some clothes on and dragged my husband out for drinks.
“I read you started writing novels at age 12. What were you writing about?”
CP: My first attempt at a novel was called “Reign of the Desert Snow.” It was an adventure about me and my cousins fighting murderous drug dealers inside an Egyptian pyramid. Yeah … anyway. Let’s just say it was terrible and pretend it never happened …
“Who is your author hero and why?”
CP: I’m not sure I could pick just one! But if I had to, I’d say Terry Pratchett, because as far as I’m concerned, he’s the storyteller of our time. His books are an amazing blend of humor and seriousness, fairy tale and social commentary. I will buy absolutely anything with his name on it. Also, he’s handling some imminent health problems with outstanding grace and dignity (he was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s), and I just can’t say enough to recommend him.
“Why did you begin writing horror and science fiction – and zombies and steampunk?”
CP: Because I like horror and science fiction, and zombies and steampunk. It isn’t really any more complicated than that 🙂
“I think Boneshaker would make a great movie. Ever been approached for any of your novels for movies?”
CP: Thanks – and I agree. We’ve been approached by several companies, actually; but so far nothing has firmed up. Hollywood is tricky, and must be navigated with caution and patience.
KellyK. writes: “1. It’s suggested that Mennericht has some control over the rotters. What kind of control did he have? Was it specific control (ie. some sort of mind link?) or was it a more general influence (ie. herding the rotters towards a target location)?”
CP: He doesn’t really control them, except that he’s learned how to keep them out — and how to let them in. There’s no good way to “manage” the undead, alas. So yes, he just herds or lures them around (with mixed results).
“2. Boneshaker is very different from your previous works that I would classify as southern gothic. What made you decide to try your hand at steampunk and will you be returning to your southern gothic roots.”
CP: I love southern gothic and I’d be more than happy to write more books in that genre; but my earlier works … well … didn’t sell so great. That’s one reason we (me, my editor, my agent) decided to try a different kind of fiction. And I went with steampunk because Seattle is chock full of steampunks and steampunky things. It seemed like an obvious and natural step to set a steampunk story here in this city — where I live at the moment.
However, I’m still a southern girl (just a transplanted one) and I hope to return to the southeast eventually. You can safely bet that I will, in fact, go back to southern gothic at some point.
“3. Even though Boneshaker has a lot of scifi elements, it stills feels like it belongs in the horror camp. Would you agree? And do you find you have an affinity for a specific genre like horror?”
CP: I come from a horror background, so I’m always a bit pleased when people peg Boneshaker as horror more than sci-fi. So thanks! I do agree, and I do love horror. In fact, I’m fiddling with a couple of horror side projects right now.
4. What authors would you say influenced you as a writer?”
CP: Probably I’m most influenced by dead people. When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to read any genre fiction; my mom feared and loathed it. But for some reason, if the authors were dead … it was okay. So I got started with a lot of Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lovecraft, LeFanu, Blackwood, and F. Marion Crawford. They remain some of my favorites.
Airelle writes: “Ok a question, the wings thru the wheel, idea behind that.??”
CP: I think you’re asking about the line art inside the book …? If so, then that was a design decision made by the art department at Tor. I had nothing to do with it. I think(?) it’s a 19th century cast iron stove logo, or something like that.
AvidReader writes: “1) I think Briar is a great female character, and the fact that she’s a mother makes her all the greater. Are you a mother? If so, did that influence how you wrote the character. If not, did you draw from friends or family in creating Briar?”
CP: I don’t have any children, but I have a lot of experience with children and I really like them. I have a half brother who’s about 14 years younger than me, and I took care of him when he was small; and I have a cousin who is 16 years younger than me, and she lived with my mom off and on for years. (Bonus kid experience: I worked with kindergardeners for years.)
Briar is a fairly shameless homage to Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley.
“2) How did the writing process on Boneshaker differ from your other books (if it did at all)? This book is a definite change of pace and I’m wondering if it was more a case of you coming up with the concept and the story unfurling quickly from there as more of a plot-driven story then previous character-driven books?”
CP: I’m honestly not sure. I’ve now typed about five answers to your question then deleted them all because they weren’t right … so I don’t know what to say. My “process” is usually about the same: I spend some time with a notebook playing with settings and characters, then I wind them up and turn them loose. I don’t think it was terribly different with Boneshaker but I don’t remember. I finished writing it well over a year ago, and there have been three or four projects in the interim. It’s hard to keep it all straight, after awhile.
“3) Any early rumblings about a potential Boneshaker movie? It’s definitely big screen material. If you were casting your own movie, who would you see playing Briar? Swankhammer? Cly? Minnericht?”
CP: See above for the answer to your first question.
If I were casting it … oh boy. Briar would definitely be Rhona Mitra (I loved her in DOOMSDAY and she’d be perfect); in my head, Andan Cly is Ron Perlman (though I hesitate to admit that he’s a little old for the role now – which is not to say that he’s old! Just that Cly is only in his mid forties); I can kind of see Jason Statham or Vin Diesel as Swakhammer (they’re both good at that grouchy/cranky/burly thing, though they’re both a little young to play him); and Croggon Hainey HAS TO BE Kevin Grevioux (Raze from the Underworld movies).
“4) Are you the type of writer who maps out their story before sitting down to write it, or do you allow the story to “write itself”. I’m curious to find out if you knew all along the true fate of Leviticus Blue or if you even surprised yourself near the end.”
CP: Eh, it depends. As I mentioned above, I don’t do outlines, really; but I often sketch out plot arcs … though sometimes I don’t. I’m all over the board with that. But yes, always I knew what had become of Leviticus 🙂 It seemed obvious to me as soon as I got a good handle on Briar, and what she was like, and how she behaves.
“5) I read that you give talks on something called “urban exploration” which I’m assuming is pretty self-explanatory. Or is it? And if this is a hobby of yours (the urban exploration, not the talks) can you tell us how you got into it.”
CP: Urban exploration is essentially the exploration of abandoned buildings (though not always in cities). I’m not sure how I got into it; mostly I’m just nosy. But I’m a careful explorer. While I freely admit that I’m prone to trespassing, I don’t break and enter – and I never steal things, or vandalize places. I try to treat abandoned locations like parks: Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
DreamSong writes: “I remember reading Four and Twenty Blackbirds as a free online book and was wondering your thoughts on the whole free ebook debate. Since your novel was free, it’s pretty obvious which side of the debate you’re on, but I was just wondering your reasoning. Do you feel that providing a free introductory copy of your work will help a writer get noticed? In my case, that’s exactly what happened.”
CP: Four and Twenty Blackbirds was offered for free as part of a promotional giveaway from my publisher. I didn’t mind. It was good exposure, and it was handled well. But in contrast, Boneshaker has been very heavily pirated, and that’s less charming – when people scan your work without your permission and make it available to a few thousand of their nearest, dearest friends.
It’s hard to answer your question, because there’s no one correct path that will work for everyone. If it works for you, great. If you don’t like the idea of giving things away for free, that’s fine too. There are good arguments on both sides.
“Did the response to Boneshaker by both readers and the science fiction and fantasy community take you by surprise? How did you hear the news that you’d been nominated for a Nebula?”
CP: Oh, totally. I mean, it’s my seventh book … but you just never know what people are going to plug into. I suppose it’s partly a matter of timing; steampunk is getting a lot more visible in books, video games, and movies. But I am very, very grateful for the fan and critical response.
I got the Nebula news via a phone call from Mary Robinette Kowal, the secretary of the SFWA. Nearly gave me a heart attack, it did.
“With all the focus on blogs and twitter and facebook, etc., do you think a new writer has to maintain an online presence to succeed? What steps have you taken in this regard? And how much is too much?”
CP: In this day and age, I think that a bare minimum of internet presence is probably downright essential for new writers – but I hesitate to make that a formal declaration. There are always exceptions to the rules. I don’t want to go on the record as telling writers that all of them everywhere have to be dialed in up to the eyeballs if they want to succeed, because that’s obviously not the case.
I’ve been online in some capacity or another since about 2001, and I enjoy it. I like being able to network, chat, and communicate with readers and other writers; but then again, I’m the first person to admit that the internet can be a huge time sink — and sometimes I just have to unplug in order to get work done. Striking a balance is tough.
As for what steps I’ve taken, well. I started with one piddly little LiveJournal and ended up with that LJ plus two websites (one a formal author page, one a site for the Clockwork Century material), a Twitter feed, Facebook, a YouTube channel, Flickr, and a Goodreads account. But I didn’t do that all at once. It just sort of … evolved over the last nine or ten years.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here, I think it’s just this — don’t force it. Start small, get your feet wet, and as you get more comfortable online, go where it takes you and have fun with it. Also, beware of blogging and tweeting nothing but self-promotion. Nobody wants to read that stuff. If you’re going to be public, be yourself.