Caitlin collects comic books, print books, vintage clothes, and bad habits, and loves tea, loud music, and ghost stories.
Airship Ambassador: Welcome, Caitlin! It’s great to catch up with you again after we last met at Steamcon II in Seattle. What can you share with us about your steampunk YA novel coming out next year, Iron Thorn, which is the first book of the Iron Codex, and will be released on February 22?
Caitlin Kittredge: The Iron Codex is a young adult trilogy, and Iron Thorn is the first book. I describe it as alternate history steampunk story with a Lovecraftian twist because there’s a lot of Lovecraft influenced supernatural creatures throughout the story and there’s stuff like magic and supernatural occurrences, so it’s not strictly a sci-fi basis. The basic idea is that instead of atomic energy, the world went a different way and it’s become a very totalitarian sort of police state. It’s not McCarthy-ism but it’s definitely a parallel to McCarthyism for what’s happening in the novel. It’s set in the early 1950’s in a small city in Massachusetts and it’s about an orphaned girl named Aoife (ee-fa) who gets a letter from her brother who’s been condemned as a seditionist and is on the run form the government. She goes to find him and help him and the story goes from there. And to tell you much more would be spoilers. <laughs>
AA: Well, darn it. We’ll have to wait until Iron Thorn comes out?
CK: Yeah, sorry. February 22nd is the release date from Delacorte Press which is a division of Random House. I’m excited about it.
AA: Is there a lot that you’ll have to do as soon as it comes out? Does the book tour start right away?
CK: No, I’m not going to do a book tour as far as I know, unless they’re just going to spring that on me in February. Delacorte’s really doing a lot for it and I’m really excited. It’s going to have its own display at the bookstore and they’re going to hand out sample chapters to a bunch of people at various conventions. It’s a lot more than anyone’s ever done for me with my adult series, so that was actually kind of mind-boggling when I got my editor’s e-mail and it’s like, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do this n’ this, and this n’ this n’ this, and if you’re available, you can do some local appearances and we’ll set those up for you.” And I was like, “Wait, I don’t have to call the bookstore myself and like beg for them to let me come sign books? That’s amazing. I will go wherever you want me to!”
AA: So you’ll be flying around the country…
CK: Yeah, just tell me where to show up and I’ll be there. No official tour as of now, but small plug, if you want me to come to your bookstore, you can always drop me an e-mail and I will see what I can do.
AA: Tiffany Trent, who wrote the Hallowmere series, also wrote for “Corsets and Clockwork”. How did you get to be involved in this anthology with your story The Vast Machinery of Dreams?
CK: Tiffany’s awesome. I love Tiffany. I knew the editor, Trisha Telep, from a couple of other anthologies. I wrote a story for her that was in the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance, Part II. I don’t expect everyone to run right out and buy that one who’s reading this type of interview. I was in another one for a young adult supernatural horror called “The Eternal Kiss” and I really liked the story I wrote for that. That was for a different publishing house than did the Mammoth Vampire Romance thing. They wanted to do another one with Steampunk, and I said to Trisha, “Well I write steampunk, if you need someone to fill a slot.” And she was like, “Oh sure, oh sure.” I wrote the story and actually kind of forgot that it was due and then had to finish it in about a week. So if you like the first half and hate the last half, that’s why. I totally blame myself for that one. Although, I’m actually really proud of the story.
The short story is called The Vast Machinery of Dreams. It’s set in the same world as the Iron Codex just a couple of years before the stuff in the Iron Thorn happens. The stuff in the Iron Thorn happened post-World War II, and this happens pre-World War II.
There’s a pulp writer in The Iron Thorn named Matt Edison who is a famous pulp writer, and the main character, Aoife ‘s best friend Calvin, is really into his stories and reads them every month in the pulp magazine. Matt is the equivalent of the writers for Black Mask or The Shadow but it’s about him when he was a teenager and how he got his start. You find out that something kind of horrible happens to him at the end and that his stories in the future have a much more sinister bent than they seem to when they were viewed through Calvin’s eyes because he just thinks that they’re great– they’re adventures—YAY!
It’s really hard to get all that world building from a novel into a 6000 word short story, and so I was especially happy that I managed to, actually. People shouldn’t be totally confused when they’re reading it; at least I hope they’re not.
I sent it to Trish and I said, “I know this was supposed to be romance, but can it still be romance if he goes crazy in the end and has horrible things happen to him?” And she said, “Sure, whatever.” <laughs> Possibly because the story was due the next day.
AA: I think your story about writing the story is pretty entertaining, so I expect The Vast Machinery of Dreams to be pretty good, too! Let’s talk about your other series, of which there are several, and for which I need to pass along a standard “Damn you, Author!” because I had to add several more titles to my reading list.
Your various series are written in different styles. What are those formats and how is the process for writing each one similar and different? The Nocturne City series is a gritty fantasy noir, Black London volumes are “fairy tales gone wrong”, and Black & White is a dystopian saga along the lines of Watchmen.
CK: Oh, the Nocturne City novels… I did another interview last year about what it’s like to be a young writer and I said, “One of the major pitfalls is that it’s kind of like being a child actor–everyone watches your growing pains because the first novel that I ever finished is the one that got published, so everyone got to see me screw up less in each subsequent novel. And it was a good teaching experience because I knew that even if I really screwed up, someone was going to read the book, and talk about it. My publisher was going to read it. There were some very steep learning curves there.
But Nocturne City was my most influenced book because I was young and I was still really dependent on outside influences. I read a lot, including pulp novels and old detective novels like Mickey Spillane and Chandler and stuff, and it really came more from that. I just wanted to write a supernatural story because what I like to write about is monsters and creatures and magic and things like that, so it’s very obvious what my influences are in the Nocturne City books.
I don’t want to say they’re derivative, because they’re not, but they’re very heavily influenced by other writers. I like to think that the Black London books are a little bit less influenced by other writers or at least influenced differently–that there’s more homages in there than outright just writing along the same lines, the same formula, because there are a lot of homages in the London books that are on purpose so chances are that if you see something in those, it was a little more deliberate. The Nocturne books are all my growing pains; those five books were the first books I ever wrote and you can basically read those to see how I grew and changed as a writer and learned how to actually do this as a professional rather than a college student who was like “I’m going to write a book about werewolves. It’s going to be great.”
AA: I enjoy a subtle homage and references to other works. I appreciate them, especially when I get them, because to me it always seems like not an in-joke, really, but an in-connection. If you know this other story then you’re going to read this and get the related reference.
CK: Right, right. In the London books, I was shocked at how hard they were because I was actually really paying attention to my craft on a whole new level that I hadn’t even known existed when I started writing the Nocturne City books and that I learned to be better as I was writing them. Everyone learns to be better as they write more and more books but they don’t always have to do it in public in front of readers, so they start out more polished. I expected to write the second book in two months, and it took me seven or eight probably. I was thinking, “This is hard; it’s really hard. I’ve never had a book be so hard. Oh my God, I’m a failure and I can’t really write at all and this was just a fluke.”
I went through all of that writerly angst that all writers go through with the first two London books, especially the second one, which seriously almost drove me to a nervous break down. I hated it so much by the time I was done. But I love it now because it came out, for all my angst, pretty good. I feel like I know the characters in the London books a lot better and it forces me to consider a lot more stuff with every sentence that I put down. There’s a lot more in it, everything’s a lot more weighted because the world is so much more dense and the characters are so much more developed.
I freely say that I like the London books better than the Nocturne books. I think they’re better written and I think I actually kind of knew what I was doing by the time they came out. I don’t hate the Nocturne books, and I still think they’re good, and but they’re definitely like my freshman effort. So that’s the difference between the two processes: the London books are much harder because I actually know what I’m doing now.
We’ll take a break here for the first part of our interview with Caitlin Kittredge.
Join us next time when Caitlin shares her thoughts about her characters as role models and music play lists for writing. Until then, read more at her website.
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