Interview with Tom and Phaedra Mintun Part 2

Welcome back to the conclusion of our interview with Phaedra and Tom Mintun, creators and authors of Margaret Magee Meets Morris.

Part one of the interview can be read here.

AA: Welcome back, Phaedra and Tom. We left of talking about the research which went into your book. What kind of back story is there for Margaret Magee which didn’t make it into the final version?

We have an incredible amount of back story going on with Margaret, Morris, and the Inari steam universe as a whole. Because we have so many books on the way we have created a rich, full world to play in! 

AA: Are there any plans for a sequel or spinoff?

Yes! Margaret Magee Meets Morris is the first book in a series that follows these same characters as they grow up. Readers will be able to move from the picture books to early chapter books, all the way up to young adult books.

AA: When I get my young nieces and nephews to read Margaret Magee, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?

That everyone has the ability to be strong and everyone has moments of vulnerability. Everyone should be given the chance to reach their full potential and not be judged based on their exterior or station.

AA: What are some of the initial reactions to Margaret Magee which you’ve heard about?

Jeff’s art is really the first thing people see and I think it speaks to his talent that everyone who sees these characters smiles. Everyone we have talked to about the project with has been really enthusiastic. I showed some of the early sketches to my best friend’s little boy, he is four, he lit up and exclaimed, “I love this little girl!!!”

AA: People heard about Margaret Magee at Steamcon last year, among other sources, and now continue to hear about it every day. How are those new readers finding you – conventions, website, word of mouth, etc?

The majority of our interested readers are coming to us via word of mouth, our website or our twitter account currently. Now, as we launch the web serial and the beta set for Steam Rolled, we will be launching significantly more marketing initiatives. Heck, with characters like these, the marketing is a big part of the fun!

AA: The web serial was fun to read, as was playing the dice game. What book tours, conventions, and signings are coming up for you?

We have a few other conventions on our list for the summer, namely Fairy Worlds and San Diego Comic-Con, which we are hoping to get the chance to go to. As we currently have predominantly digital products coming out we are still working on how to do tours and signing.

AA: Aside from a small initial printed release, Margaret Magee is available in electronic format. What platforms can people use to read your work?

In the next few weeks we should be releasing eBook versions of Margaret Magee Meets Morris for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Nook, and Kindle. We will announce and provide links for each platform on our website as they become available.

AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?

Aside from our pre-release print run, available at the Iguana Comics Anniversary Party, we won’t be seeing this book in print yet. Digital was a natural avenue for us as Tom is an experienced mobile device programmer and easily adapted to the eBook publishing environment. We are still doing our research and deciding what is right for our projects.

AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?

We are still in the learning process, so I’m not sure we can offer much advice. What we have learned is that it is important to really do your research and make choices that are a good fit for you and what you want to accomplish.

AA: If you weren’t authors and artists, what else would you be doing now?

I originally set out to teach high school English literature, and even planned on starting a school directed toward students with non-specific learning disorders. I have always loved words and stories so finding ways to share that with others would without a doubt be a part of my life.

Tom is a marketer and analyst for large corporations and is continuing with that.

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

We are regular attendees of the Iguana Comics book club, which is attended by a vast array of creative minds, it has become a wonderful place to go and get fresh views. I am a voracious reader and have made a lot of friends who share that love, and I have people I depend on for discussing things with. Tom and I are also lucky to have each other, we are always sharing new things, we both love to learn so we are constantly reading articles, current events, research on history and science… well the list goes on and on, we are interested in the world as a whole and we love to discuss whatever we are interested in at the moment. I think this fascination with learning new things and sharing ideas influences the way we approach writing.

AA: How is western Oregon for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc

We actually live in Southern Oregon. We live in a log house on 300 acres about 20 minutes outside of Grants Pass. We love it here, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth! I find that having so much space to explore is always a good way to find inspiration and get my imagination going. We haven’t run into the problem of being limited by our remote location, technology really knocked down those barriers and we are always willing to travel!

AA: In addition to Margaret Magee, you are also releasing a steampunk dice combat game, Steam Rolled. What can you share with us about that? (How did the idea start, how is it played)

Steam Rolled is a one on one combat game, in the tradition of games like Button Men and Brawl, that is quick and easy to play but keeps the encounters fun and dynamic. We have released 4 beta characters as the first set for free on the website and will be adding new 10 character sets as time goes on. We already have a set in process for summer and have a set planned for fall.

We will be interested in what the players think of the game, and what kinds of characters they would like to see. We encourage anyone who tries it to email us and let us know what they think!

AA: As if that weren’t enough to keep you busy, you are also publishing a free web serial. What will those stories be about?

The web serial, which I touched on above, follows Scottie, a Skyman on the dread ship Shirley led by Captain Jim Daniels lovingly dubbed Stickwicket by all who know him! It is a throwback to the pulp fiction serials, full of high adventure and daring escapes. The crew takes on the contracts too weird or dangerous for other ships. We see this as a great way to allow our older readers to jump in and explore the Inari Steam Universe.

You can look forward to regular, weekly episodes starting April 11th, chock full of daring and adventure!


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

We have a house full of pets, including Josephine, my Great Dane/ German Shepard mix. We have a core group of friends we hang out with regularly and we can often be found hosting game and movie nights. When we have the time we like to play video games, we are currently playing Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet. When the weather allows we are down at the park a few evenings a week playing tennis or walking Josephine. Tom plays guitar and is learning to play the mandolin and cello. 

This is the hardest question for me to answer, it’s like asking what do you like to do other than the thing you like to do! I love books and words so writing and reading things that inspire me never feel like work. I am very lucky that I get to do something that I really enjoy! Over the last six years or so I have gotten into baking, that is what I do when I need to clear my head and sort out ideas. In the summer I love doing anything outside, I love to swim and camp.        

AA: How do those interests influence your work?

A lot of these things are what we do to refresh. It’s all that stuff that keeps us from stagnating. In the young adult books we have a group of gypsies and they are very musical, they play instruments but even just the goings on around camp has a lot of rhythm to it, a lot of that came from Tom and his passion for music.  

AA: This has been great to hear about your book and other projects. Are there any final thoughts to share with our readers?

My father would tell this story about when he was in the army. There was a room full of payphones and everyone would use them to call home. He would get up early every morning and stuff cotton in the coin returns. In the evening he would go back and collect all the change that he had trapped. He loves this story, forty years later he still thinks this was the most awesome way to make money ever. It might sound crazy but this was my big aha moment when I realized that what makes something worth the effort is how much you enjoy what you are doing, and that thing might not always be the most well worn path.

AA: Where can people get Steam Rolled to play?

As stated above, the beta set will be available for free on the website next week. We will also make the majority of the characters for future sets available for free on the website, with full sets being available from us in person at cons or from the website by purchasing physical copies.


Very exciting plans coming up! Thanks again for joining us, I’m looking forward to more stories and more characters.

For the latest news and releases, visit the Inari Steam website for more information.

Published in: on April 24, 2011 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Tom and Phaedra Mintun – Part 1

This week we are talking with Tom and Phaedra Mintun, authors of Margaret Magee Meets Morris.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Tom and Phaedra, thanks for making the time to join us for this interview.

Thanks for the opportunity, we are really excited to be here!


AA: What is Margaret Magee about?

Margaret Magee Meets Morris is the first book in a series about a little girl and her robot. As the title implies this is the story of how they meet. Margaret is rescued by a dock robot, who she calls him Morris, while visiting the docks with her father. Margaret instantly sees him as her friend and decides to take him home with her.

The story is really about how people are more than they might seem at first. Margaret is small, but she is very strong. Morris is this huge robot, but being taken out of his environment makes him vulnerable. Their story starts with him saving her, but Margaret gets the chance to return the favor later in the story.  

AA: That is a great premise for the story and the messages in it. What was the motivation for creating Margaret Magee?

We are children of the 80’s we grew up with wonderful adventure stories like the Gummi Bears, Teddy Ruxpin, and DuckTales it seems like these stories are dying out. A lot of the entertainment for children today follows formulas, and focuses of education basics that rely on repetition and simplifying things down to a level of condescension. Good storytelling and plot development have gone by the wayside, and we are deeply bothered by this trend. Kids are extremely smart and perceptive and they are being done a disservice.

We talked a lot about how to contribute to the world and make it a better place. We are both storytellers so this seemed like the natural place to start. We wanted to create something that was both fun and had a positive message without beating kids over the head with a moral. It was important to us that it be something parents and children would both enjoy, and that holds that feeling of adventure and possibility that were present in the stories we grew up with. 

AA: Margaret Magee is a collaborative effort for both of you, along with artist Jeff Egli. How did that work for you, who did what? How did Jeff get involved with your project?

Tom and I work extremely well as a creative team, we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other. Margaret Magee Meets Morris is the first book in a series that follows these characters as they grow up. So readers that start out reading this book will be able to move up to the early chapter books, chapter books and young adult books and stay with the same characters. We are also beginning to have stories that follow the early adventures of Scottie, a sub character from the young adult books as a serial on the website that are much more pulp fiction style. We set out to create a whole world for these characters to live in, and we wanted to have many points through which people could enter the Inari Steam universe.

Tom is amazing at character development and the over all structure of a story. No matter what age level we are writing for we like to start with an outline. During that process Tom paces around the room and I sit at the computer and type. Sometimes we outline on long car trips, Tom drives and I carry a note pad. We talk about the characters, who they are, what they want, where they are and where they are going. While we lay out the rough plot we both throw out ideas and decide what works best for the characters. We go back and forth making suggestions and building on each other’s ideas. We know WAY more about every character, detail and back story than could possibly make it into a book!

Once we have the main points of a story I sit down with the outline and put words to it. For the children’s books that means putting together the script (the words you see on the page and a short description of what each page looks like.) For the novels this part of the process is a lot more involved, I have a short paragraph describing the events of a chapter and I turn that into about 2,500 words.

The biggest challenge with creating the script for Margaret Magee Meets Morris was making sure that things were revealed by turning the page. I ended up pulling blank paper out of the printer and throwing it into a binder and writing out each page so I could make sure every page was exactly where it needed to be for the experience of revealing the story.

Then I hand everything back to Tom and get his opinion. We make changes and adjust from there. When we work on the novels I write each chapter and then pass it off to Tom and he gives me feed back, so we are always on the same page, so to speak.

Before we went to Jeff we had tried working with other artists. People would commit and say they were able to do it and we wouldn’t get any art, deadlines would go wooshing by and we would have nothing. We had planned on having a completed book ready for Steamcon but it was only a few weeks away and we had nothing, we thought our project was going to die.

Jeff is one of the co-owners of Iguana Comics, the awesome comic shop in Grants Pass, and we have admired his art for years! We honestly thought there was no way on earth he would work on our project but we called him up and asked if he would meet with us. When we met with Jeff we had the script for Margaret Magee Meets Morris, a handful of reference material and a crazy tight deadline for Steamcon. Jeff loved the project and was without a doubt our hero! He jumped in and had the first character sketches within days. He was honest with us that there was no possible way to have the book done right and have time for it to be printed for the con.  After we all talked it over we picked our favorite pages and he drew those first and we used those for promotional material. Jeff Egli and his wife Sunda, who did the beautiful water coloring in the book, went above and beyond to help us get everything ready. The buttons we handed out at Steamcon were all made at Iguana Comics by Sunda hours before we left for Seattle! 

The rest of the book just fell into place (Which is code for Jeff worked his butt off and we got started on other projects in the Inari Steam universe). Jeff would send us rough sketches and we would look them over and make adjustments if need be and he would make it happen.  It was incredible to see our mental images for the book appear on the page. It was a big learning process for all of us and turned out to be a fantastic collaboration. I look at the finished book and I can’t imagine anyone else having done this. Jeff is so talented and his art just makes these characters come to life!


AA: That’s very inspiring to hear how well you work together with each otherand come to a collaborative vision of the Inari Steam universe, as well as being able to express the stories in it to people of all ages. Were you looking for any particular style to illustrate the story? What were some of the design concepts involved in creating the visual theme?

We didn’t look for a particular style at first. When we were looking at Jeff Egli’s art it really resonated with us and the collaboration with him really created a lot of the visual theme.  While we had core concepts for what the characters looked like and how they behaved, Jeff and Sunda really fleshed out the environments with the little details that make the pages come alive.

AA: Authors often talk about how elements of their own lives, the reality and the dreams, make their way into their stories. How did this play into Margaret Magee

As I mentioned above, Tom and I were both heavily influenced by the cartoons of our generation. We both love hero stories with a lot of adventure. We talked about what kind of characters we wanted to write about. We put a lot of time into thinking about who was needed in the world today, what role models are lacking and what we would want to give to the next generation. Margaret and Morris are less about us and more about the readers.

AA: What kind of research, and then balance, went into creating the Margaret Magee world?

Our research ranges from robotic mechanics, to air currents, to the electro chemical properties of pickles, to fashion, design, and social interaction of the time period. We want our characters to feel authentic, relatable, and timeless. The world itself is meticulously plotted, the characters time lines are written out, and the way the world works is consistent between all of our projects.

We’re going to take a break in our interview with Phaedra and Tom Mintun. Please join us next time when we continue talking about their first book and other projects coming up. Until then, visit their website for more information.


Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2


Published in: on April 17, 2011 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Nova Albion 2011 Recap

The Nova Albion convention was held during the weekend of March 25-27 and my original review was running onto six pages, so before I post that, here’s the more condensed version (although it might not seem like it).


When I first started going to conventions, it was about the panels, the entertainment and the information for me. I wanted to hear interviews with actors and authors, attend various panels and presentations, and when I needed a quiet break, watch the fan videos and films.


That element is still there for me but as I got to meet people and make new friends, it’s the joys of spending time with them which remains in my mind and heart once the convention becomes a memory. It just takes a simple ‘hello’ to get things started. At steampunk conventions and events, it’s easy to meet people and find common interests. I’ve made new friends by talking to a presenter after their panel, joining a public conversation during Lobbycon (the gathering of people in the lobby before the official start of the convention), and simply by complimenting someone’s outfit.


Nova Albion was an amazing weekend for me because it was a reunion on so many levels, and a chance to meet new people. I was meeting friends from other conventions, finally meeting some friends in person I had only talked with online, and getting some time to talk with people that I only had time to say “Hi” to in passing before.


James Ng, Ay-Leen the Peacemaker, Jaymee Goh and I had made plans before the convention to connect around our varied schedules and at least have dinner together one night. Food and meals are a great way to find some quiet time and share some good conversation with people.

Photo from TempestedBird

We were happy that Ekaterina Sedia, author of Alchemy of Stone and the upcoming Heart of Iron, could join us one night for dinner. Kaja Foglio also joined us for dinner on the last evening. One of the best dinner events, though, was Saturday night when there was a “Girls Night Out” and a “Guys Night In.”


For the “Girls Night Out”, Ay-Leen and Jaymee headed out with Ekaterina, Kaja, Cherie Priest, Anina Bennett, Liz Gorinsky, and Alice Bentley in tow. All I got from them was this picture but they certainly had a good time.

For the “Guys Night In,” Paul Guinan, James and I lazily went to eat in the hotel restaurant. Good food, great conversation, and no picture to share! It was shared moments over food like this that really make steampunk event so enjoyable and fulfilling – strengthening friendships and making new bonds with people.


It was also Steampunk Scholar Mike Perschon’s birthday weekend and we took the opportunity to continue the fun and frivolity by settling in for a dessert celebration. Mike was inconveniently unable to participate in the celebration directly, but we weren’t going to let details like that stop us.

Aside from all that food (!), the sharing, and the laughter, there was still work for some of us at the convention. First, I was interviewing all five of the Guests of Honor – Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, talking about Boilerplate and the upcoming movie by J.J. Abrams; Major Catastrophe, who created the three story, self propelled, Victorian home, Neverwas Haul, along with his crew of friends and family; . Kaja Foglio from Girl Genius web comic; Cherie Priest talking about her newest book, Bloodshot, and the upcoming books in the Boneshaker universe, Ganymede and Inexplicable; wrapping up with James Ng, discussing his amazing and iconic Chinese steampunk series.

Photo from TempestedBird

For my last panel of the convention, I joined the amazing Jean Martin from SFSF on the “Building Fan Communities Online and Off” panel. Jean lead with great questions about social networks and media, how to get the word out, what works and what doesn’t, and how to keep the energy, enthusiasm and the group going over the long term. There was good back and forth discussion with everyone there and I left with several good ideas of what to try next for myself and Airship Ambassador.

Photo from TempestedBird

There were a lot of other panels, programming, and things to see and do. Jaymee and Ay-Leen’s presented Steampunk Around the World, where they discussed multiculturalism in steampunk. Working together very well and playing off each other, they presented important topics in a pleasant light hearted manner which was informative and entertaining. Viceroy Chang maintained order during the Q&A session, and there were many good tips and pointers about navigating respectful inclusion of other culture’s ideas and imagery and awareness of how others may react and respond.

Photo from TempestedBird

Vernian Process, Veronique Chevalier. Unwoman, Brass Farthing, Lee Presson, Jon Magnificent and others presented great entertainment during the weekend. Dancing, singing, shouting, laughing, and a whole lot of merriment!


One thing I enjoy about all the creativity in our community is how easy and fulfilling it can be for us to be admirers, supporters and outright fans of each other’s work. There were many amazing handcrafted goods in the vendor’s areas, and in so many great outfits. Two moments stood out for me – first when James signed one of his prints for Ekaterina, and she signed her new book for him!


The other was during the stage transition, our group was hanging out in the hallway when the members of Vernian Process came by and there was an exchange between Ay-Leen and Janus Zarate, the VP bass player, complimenting each other on their respective works.


With so many people to meet and talk with, so much programming and so many events, it was only inevitable that I would not see everyone or spend enough time with them.


League of Steam was in the room right next to mine, but I realized it too late, and we only had a chance to talk for a few minutes total during the whole weekend. Excellent performance and entertainment by them – make sure you see them when you can!


Tom Banwell is one of the artists on the Airship Ambassador Gallery page, and while I recognized his work at the convention, I totally missed having the opportunity to meet him in person.


Andrew Mayer is another who I missed in person. We follow each other on Twitter but it would have been great to talk with him about his upcoming steampunk superhero duology, Society of Steam, which will be published by Pyr Books in May 2011.


While I got my copy of Exhibition Hall 16 from Chris Garcia, we didn’t get any mealtime together like at previous conventions. Similarly, I greeted Kevin and Andy as they brought in their Tiki Dalek for the Museum showing, got and gave a quick hug with Gail Carriger as we passed in opposite directions, and chatted several times with Dan Sawyer, the Programming Director for Nova Albion this year.

Photo from TempestedBird

At least I was able to grab a few people to record promo spots for the Airship Ambassador YouTube channel, AATV, The Steampunk Channel.


Once the convention was over, and we would each head to our separate destinations, it was all those little moments which created and strengthened our friendships, and those friendships would be our lasting and continual connections, with email, chat, Skype, Facebook and Twitter support, until we see each other in person again at the next convention.


See the list of conventions and events around the world here.

Hope to see you there, too!

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment