Interview with Author Michal Wojcik

This week we are talking with Michal Wojcik, author of Strange Things Done, which is part of steampunk anthology, Clockwork Canada.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Michal, thanks for joining us for this interview.

Michal Wojcik: Thanks for inviting me here.


AA: Readers may know you from some of your other short stories, such as Dreaming of Jerusalem, Iron Roses, and Ink Skin, which has appeared in On Spec, The Book Smugglers, Pornokitsch, and Daily Science Fiction. Now Strange Things Done is in Clockwork Canada. What is this new story about?

MW: At a basic level, it’s a secret history set during the Klondike gold rush. The hero is a member of a secret organization that recovers unusual artifacts, and she’s dispatched to Dawson City after a prospector discovers something unnatural in the permafrost.


AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?

MW: I was a big reader of Jules Verne and other old adventure stories of that sort when I was ten—I find myself going back to them for inspiration. There’s also something fundamentally appealing to me about how people envisioned and interacted with technology in the era, best seen by how authors like Verne and H.G. Wells tried to extrapolate the potentials and dangers of machines. It’s odd to play around in earlier visions of the future (or the imagined boundaries of technology at the time), but it’s also freeing to play in those collective imaginary spaces from past eras and measuring them against how things turned out in reality.


AA: Knowing how those things turned out also opens some opportunities to still play “What If” with history, and make some suitable tweaks to it for a story. What was the motivation for creating Strange Things Done?

MW: This was the first time I wrote a story specifically for an anthology call and didn’t try finding something suitable I’d already written; I’d tried my hand at steampunk (or other -punks) in the past but hadn’t had a go at the genre for a few years when I got around to writing Strange Things Done. I guess the idea of specifically Canadian steampunk fascinated me. After the call went out, I thought backing to growing up in the Yukon and being introduced to Robert Service’s poems about the gold rush in school, and wanted to do something with them.


AA: What can you share with us about the main characters, Tessa Fitzpatrick, Lady Amery, and Annabelle Leigh?

MW: Tessa is a practical person, young but pretty world-weary thanks to some sour experiences during her childhood in Alberta; she can imitate a high-class lady but she still thinks and speaks like a street urchin. Anabelle is the mentor figure, a tough woman who teaches her charges how to fight and make their way in the world; she sees their potential and knows exactly how to motivate them. And over both of them is Sabina Amery, who keeps her motivations largely to herself.


AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?

MW: Lady Amery’s organization is primarily all about retrieving objects with unusual properties, and those objects also let her develop equipment significantly more advanced than anything else available at the time. Tessa carries special guns, knives, detection devices, and a kind of grenade called a “ferocient canister”, all geared towards facing the kind of opposition she’d expect when carrying out that retrieval.


AA: Any one of those items might be enough to engage steampunk readers. It was fun while reading to see what item might come up next. What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Strange Things Done?

MW: It’s our world on the surface, more or less, but on the edges of most people’s experiences there are super-technologies and apparent magic vied over by clandestine organizations. It’s all hush-hush, sure, but the strange happenings threaten to break out at any moment and wreak havoc.


AA: Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?

MW: There’s hard-talk in saloons and treks through a boreal forest that hides something ancient and monstrous.


AA: How did elements of your own life and experiences play into Strange Things Done?

MW: I grew up in the Yukon, and the gold rush is almost an ever-present feature in how others define the territory, though it’s often the gold rush as constructed by Jack London and Robert Service. My first summer job was as a walking tour guide in Whitehorse and we had to wear nineteenth century costumes to play up the image, but when I was off-tour I would read through the library there and actually learned a lot about the early history of exploration in the Canadian northwest; I brought a lot of that into the narrative. The other big key was the Yukon landscape, which takes on a personality of its own if you spend a lot of time in the wilderness.


AA: It seems like there is a lot of history there, even without the gold rush, and that the area is pretty amazing today. What kind of back story is there for Strange Things Done which didn’t make it into the final book?

MW: There are plenty of references to real people that I ended up cutting out—meeting characters that anyone without an interest in the Klondike likely wouldn’t recognize.


AA: Might there be more stories for Tessa, Lady Amery, or Annabelle? Maybe a place for those other real life people?

MW: I don’t have anything else planned for them, though I wouldn’t rule it out.


We’ll break here in chatting with Michal. join us net time when he talks about his writing process.

Keep up to date with Michal’s latest news on his website and Twitter.

You can support Michal and our community by getting your copy of Clockwork Canada here.

Published in: on August 23, 2016 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Steampunks: Welcome or Unwelcome?

In the steampunk documentary, Vintage Tomorrows, photographer Libby Bulloff says “When you walk down the street in a top hat and spats, you are causing a riot. You’re making a statement.”

What that intended statement is will be different for each of us, and it may be quite different from what any audience may hear for themselves. Some people will be interested and intrigued, some will perceive it all to be an amusing oddity, and some will give a “What the…?” reaction.


Lindsay Dowd by MI Geek Scene

At conventions and the smaller regional and local events, we wear what we wear for the event, to embrace the festive spirit, and honestly, to look totally awesome. Those event spaces can also be safe spaces for our attire as we are among like minded people, and usually among accepting venue staff.

Sometime, however, we aren’t always among other who might enjoy the fun nature of steampunk. Several years ago, I commented on how the front desk staff of the St Anthony Wyndham made it quite clear they didn’t want us nor the convention there. Their attitude showed in every thing they did with the attending people. Aetherfest is sadly over, at least for now, and one can only hope that the hotel’s front desk staff has changed over and provides better customer service.


Diana Vick, co-organizer of Steamcon

Another public event where steampunks weren’t made to feel welcome was in 2014 when security at the Westfield Plaza Mall in Carlsbad ejected a group of steampunks for “wearing apparel that disguises, obscures or conceals the face”. The mall operators never really made a public statement about it and while the situation made the news for a while, it died out as such news stories do.

In August 2016, Sarah Chrisman blogged about her and her husband’s experience at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, Canada. In a nutshell, Sarah felt rudely denied admission to the park because of their everyday-wear, 1800s period style of garments. Apparently, there was sufficient feedback sent to Butchart Garden’s PR department, that they issued a public response. In summary, they said “No period outfits.”


Jaymee Goh, Silver Goggles blog

Regardless of the accuracy of Sarah’s account, or the brevity of Butchart’s response, the bottom line is that if you are in your finest steampunk-wear, you’ll be denied entry to the gardens. And Disney, and several theme parks, and some museums.

When in doubt, call ahead to see if there will be any problems.

Thankfully, these stories in the media seem like exceptions more than commonplace occurrences. From my own experiences, the vast majority of people like seeing steampunks and our attire. Some pay compliments, some want to get a picture with us, some want to chat and learn more.


Eric Larson, Teslacon, as Lord Bobbins

The hotel staff at the Madison Marriott West, home of the Teslacon convention, even get into the spirit of the weekend by adding some steampunk items to their workday attire.

When I fly around the country, I’ve taken to wearing at least a vest and dress pants, if not always a steampunk coat (even with those air vents, it gets HOT on the plane!), and my experience on almost every airline is that I feel treated with friendlier, if not better, service.

Lastly, I’ve been in full steampunk attire outside of the actual convention space – restaurants, stores, parks, etc – and while most people might have glanced my way but didn’t say anything one way or another, some people did pass along friendly compliments or inquired about what the outfit and event was all about. There was one time at Steamcon in Seattle, where a gentleman had follwed a group of steampunks back into the hotel, asked about what was going on, and wound up purchasing a ticket for the day.


Dr. Mike Perschon, Steampunk Scholar blog

What has been your experience?

Has your corset or top hat caused a riot in the streets?

Was there pandemonium and breathlessness caused by your polite mannerisms?

Did you find yourself surrounded by new fans and Facebook friends?


Share your stories below, and keep being awesome!


Published in: on August 17, 2016 at 8:55 pm  Comments (7)  
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Interview with Author Harold R. Thompson, Part 3

Welcome back for the conclusion of our chat with Harold R. Thompson, author of The Tunnels of Madness, which is part of the steampunk anthology, Clockwork Canada.

Read Part One here

Read Part Two here


Airship Ambassador: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?

Harold R. Thompson: It’s safe to say that I interact with other storytellers on a daily basis, due to the nature of my day job, and that’s great. I don’t really get to talk to other writers much, though that seems to be slowly changing. I don’t personally know many writers, believe it or not.


AA: How have you and your work grown and changed over time?

HT: I’m in the process of trying to get another novel ready for publication, and I wrote the first draft in 1999 and the final draft in 2005. As I go through it, I keep thinking, “I wouldn’t have written that today.” My interests have changed and my mind has broadened. Having a family will do that, I think.


AA: A constant sea of change for all the items vying for our attention. Writing can be a challenge some days. What are some of your methods to stay motivated and creative?

HT: I’ve never really had a problem with motivation when it comes to writing. Once I start a project, I become obsessive until it’s finished. I may stop for a while in between projects, take a rest, but then the mood will come over me and I’ll start jotting ideas. That can happen anytime, anyplace. The actual discipline of writing, of assembling those ideas, is something I’ve been doing for so long now that it’s just part of my life. Every evening I sit at the computer and I usually get some work done, even if it’s only for half an hour. I guess I trained myself.


AA: How is Nova Scotia for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc

HT: Nova Scotia has an old literary tradition and a fantastic and colourful history. It also has an inspiring coastal landscape. As a writer, you can live in a place like this and it doesn’t cut you off from your readers and publishers, because everything can be done through electronic communications, if you want. There are tons of resources on line.


AA: It does sound like a wonderful place to live. Do people outside the regular reading, steampunk, and convention communities recognize you for Tunnels? What kind of reactions have you received?

HT: So far, since the book has been out, aside from the steampunk fans, only my mother has said anything. Luckily, she liked the story.


AA: Yay for Moms, everywhere! If you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing now?

HT: Taking photographs or making movies. Maybe getting more exercise.


AA: Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. What has that situation been for you and how has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?

HT: It’s helped in the obvious way by generating income so I can live and so continue to write. For most people, writing is not terribly lucrative. That’s just a reality. I’m also lucky in that my day job is also in a creative field and involves a subject I love, which is history, so the two jobs have a symbiotic relationship.


AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?

HT: It’s summer, so I spend a lot of time on my mountain bike, but I also enjoy photography and video. I’d like to do more film/video, but it’s more complicated than other storytelling media because you can’t really do it on your own.


AA: How do those interests influence your work?

HT: Getting out in the woods or on the trail always makes me want to get back to doing something creative, for some reason. As for the film and photography, they mesh with my writing because I’m very visual, and imagine every scene as a scene from a movie.


AA: There’s only so much time in a day – what interests don’t you have time for?

HT: All of the above! Especially video. And sleeping. There’s never enough time for that. I’m not kidding.


AA: I hear that! More sleep would be so nice. What other fandoms are you part of?

HT: I’m a bit of a quiet fan. Of course I’m a big “history nerd,” but I’m also a long time Star Trek fan, and Star Wars. I also enjoy comics and am still a huge Batman fan, after all these years.


AA: All very good interests! Are there people you consider an inspiration, role model, or other motivating influence?

HT: I admire the work of a great many writers and artists, too many to pick just a few, I think. I will say that one of the things that really inspires me while writing is music. If I can, I play music in the background and it helps me focus. I have pretty varied tastes, but most of the time I listen to prog, hard rock, and jazz. Right now I’m really into Rush (and by “right now,” I mean for the past thirty years). So that’s a big motivator.


AA: Rush has some great music, and there’s even a steampunk book, Clockwork Angels. What event or situation has had the most positive impact in your life? What has been your greatest challenge?

HT: Having a family has had the biggest impact, and reminds me to count my blessings, which is probably my greatest challenge. Writing can be disappointing and frustrating when things don’t work out the way you hope or intend. My family helps me shrug and keep going.


AA: Three quick-fire random questions – what is your favorite sea animal, action movie, and appetizer?

HT: Sea turtle, the last fifteen minutes of Last of the Mohicans, and bacon-wrapped scallops.


AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers?

HT: I’d like to thank those who’ve read the story and hope they enjoyed it or at least got something out of it. I never set out to write steampunk, but this anthology gave me the opportunity, and I’ve enjoyed the experience. Since then, three of the dozen or so short stories I’ve seen published in the last year have been what you would call steampunk. If there’s a steampunk bug, maybe I’ve caught it?


Thanks, Harold, for joining us for this interview and for sharing all of your thoughts.  We look forward to hearing about your next projects!


Keep up to date with Harold’s latest news on his website.

You can support Harold and our community by getting your copy of Clockwork Canada here.

Published in: on August 16, 2016 at 6:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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