Part one can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: Welcome back, Nick. Living in Nashville keeps you on the road a fair bit for promotions, conventions and signings. What efforts do you take to keep a balance among writing, seemingly weekly reading/signing promotions, and other aspects of your life, and also remain healthy?
Nick Valentino: There’s not a lot of balance and it’s easy to get swept up in it because you’re tired and you’re hungry and you been on your feet all day, wearing combat boots, and you’re just beat. There was a good stretch where I’d go back to the hotel room and just write, or try to, but I want to have dinner because I haven’t eaten all day and it’s tough. It is really hard to be healthy on the road and really hard to do anything that’s not business. There are times when I’ve only eaten twice at a convention because I’m in work mode, whether it’s panels or selling or sitting at a table, you always have to be engaging. I get tunnel vision and just talk to every one. I don’t have a good balance is my answer. I’m not healthy on the road, and writing-wise, that’s definitely affected it because I don’t have time and then I’m beat and just want to get home and there’s only so many hours to get home. I’m just now at a point where I can sit down and start this back up, promoting Thomas Riley.
AA: The big focus for you right now, of course, is promotion of your first book, Thomas Riley, about two weapons designers who need some help to fix a bit of alchemy gone wrong. What can you tell us about Thomas and his assistant, Cynthia Basset?
NV: In Thomas Riley, they are both weapons designers for the country of West Canvia, which is another name for the Netherlands. As people, they are kind of lab rats. She’s more the grease monkey and he is more of the nerdy kind of guy. In Thomas Riley, they get thrown into the front lines of the war they have been making weapons for ever since they could probably tinker. They are forced to do an alchemic process which sucks out the soul of a dying woman and they’re not sure how it’s going to turn out, they just know that it’s bad and will probably end up bad. It actually gets thrust into Cynthia, who develops multiple personalities because of it. The lady actually talks through her at certain points when there is some kind of head trauma.
What they have to do is go find the only guy they know who can undo the process and he is a weapons maker for the enemy country. They try to get there via the normal government ships but it has problems. They wind up having to join the ship of sky pirates and try to get through that way. In doing so, they develop relationships with those pirates and they realize that these guys aren’t as bad as they thought.
They’re lab rats so they have no idea of what a lot of the outside world is like aside from they make weapons to kill people. They get to fire their own weapons for once aside from testing and are really excited about that. There’s a lot of nerdiness that goes around, and banter back and forth about how things perform but they never killed anyone so they’re forced to do things they’ve never done, even though they make those weapons. From there, they cross enemy lines get into a lot of trouble.
AA: One of the cultural and behavioral differences between our world and that of Thomas Riley is the role of women and their opportunities. Since I’m often sharing, or pushing, the steampunk stories on my nieces and nephews, what are some aspects of those characters as role models that they can look to and adopt into their own lives?
NV: The big thing for me when writing steampunk is that I wanted to erase racism and erase sexism, so I did. It just doesn’t exist in the world at all and I think that’s awesome because I was able to take the female characters and make them super important, to make them something that really could never happen in the Victorian era. There’s not even a mention of “hey, there’s a woman. You can’t fly the ship.” Most of them, or all of them, are captains and lieutenants or are other authority figures and that’s a big deal for me. I just thought it was cool. It’s like I fallen in love with some of the characters and I get really obsessed with these people for a while and then I go on to somebody else. That was just a big thing for me. I completely fell in love with Cynthia. She almost takes center stage but she shares being the protagonist with Thomas to a point.
It’s kind of weird because I don’t know if any of them are role models. She has a soul in her which speaks through her and is kind of mean, and what she has to do to keep it quiet is that she drinks. Some of those things she does are not all that great. I was on a young adult panel talking about the limitations of young adult books and I was thinking “She drinks a lot in that book,” but I haven’t heard any complaints about that.
They are kind of our swept away on this journey, in this adventure so I don’t think they are great role models. They aren’t bad people but I think they are just kind of taken away in the situation. They just deal with things as I would, maybe. Even some of the other female characters, like the pirates, are all pretty surly people. I don’t know if role model is really right. They are not super squeaky clean heroes. There’s nothing in it like “I can’t believe you gave this to me.” They are brave to a point and they are growing as people since they are lab rats who don’t know anything about the world their learning firsthand so I guess that is putting a positive spin on it.
AA: What items of 19th century life, culture, and behavior have been included in the story to make this world seem more real to the reader? What are some things from real history that you consciously changed?
NV: The first book is more of an introduction. It is more character based than history based. There are some tidbits of history through throughout. I was actually a history major but I didn’t put a lot in because I’m making up my own world. It’s a real world but I didn’t stick a lot of real history in this one because I wanted to play with it. I even name the countries different names and that’s something I fooled with explaining and even mentioned in the short story. I didn’t want it to be fantasy but completely alternate history. I went in that direction and there are not a lot of real world things. There’s Seychelles Island, which is their pirate port. It’s not like “oh, there’s Darwin,” and there are not any characters yet that I’m excited to keep. I have my cast and I like playing with the world as I want to. I kind of like to shift things around as I want to on my own. I plan on the second one to have a couple more touches of that.
AA: What has been the feedback and fan reaction that you see first hand? What are some of the memorable experiences you’ve had interacting with your readers? Fans who stayed up all night to read?
NV: Yeah, that was awesome! Stuff like that, every reaction has been super good. Not everything is super positive, especially online like “You’ve ruined my day!” But for the most part, it’s been really good. Pretty much every person I meet is pretty stoked. I have met people who come and know me that I don’t know and I could be in any city and I wonder how do you even know me? That actually happened in Memphis where she bought a book and came in to the vendor’s hall when it opened the next day. I was there at the table and she came in all beat up looking and said “I read the whole thing. I stayed up all night.” She looked rough but it was awesome and I gave her a hug. I was like “no way!” That was in the first two months that the book was out, so that was a really big deal for me.
You get little tidbits like that. I’m at the point where I’m getting presents where people bring me little things. It’s the coolest when I get pictures from little kids and it’s pretty awesome to put them right on my fridge. So, the reception has been awesome and everyone has been super good to me. I’ve met the best people. I guess before I started traveling, I really didn’t know much about con life. I went to Dragon Con and San Diego Comic Con but that was about it. Now I’m getting to interact with these people every week. Everyone is so awesome. The very first con I ever did was a little con in Memphis called Shadow Con, and they were all SCA people, so they had these Edwardian battles and live this medieval lifestyle to a point, at least on weekends. They were so cool and so accepting and this last January, they invited me back as their guest of honor. It was really a big deal to me as my first ever con and I was all nervous. I didn’t know what I was going to say to people; it was the first time I sold my book by myself. Every con has its own special thing and you never know what it is, so you get different cool little experiences at every one of these.
We’ll break here and when we conclude in the next post, Nick will share with us his path to getting published and what’s coming up next for him. Until then, read more information at Nick’s website.
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