Part one can be read here.
Part two can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: In talking with a number of authors, the path and process to getting that first book published can be quite varied from agent/no agent, writing for a decade/published immediately. What was your experience?
Nick Valentino: What happened was that I originally wrote horror novels and I was shopping these around. It took two years to write them and I was sending them all around. I didn’t really know what to do, and in the meantime, I wrote Thomas Riley. I went to Dragon Con and kind of got inspired. I came out with my first draft in the first four months and I thought I’d bring it along everywhere I go. On a whim, I picked Southern California Writers Conference and at their conference you can pick agents and editors to critique your first 10 pages. I did a bunch for the horror novels and one for Thomas Riley. That was it. Most of the ones for the horror novels, they didn’t even show up, or they didn’t get it or something ridiculous. The one person who saw Thomas Riley said, “If the rest of this doesn’t suck, I want it.”
I think part of it was that I had the cover art, at least to some degree, but I could show it and the cover artwork shows exactly what the book is about. You know about the airship, the people, the goggles. Even if you don’t know steampunk, you get the feel for Thomas Riley. It was the first person who saw it and it was kind of like winning a game show. You hear about those writers conferences where someone gets picked up and paraded around. It’s like “Hey, keep coming back because these people got picked up, too.”
It was really strange. I wrote Thomas Riley for a niche audience and thought this will be my fun book because steampunk wasn’t that big. It was just something that I thought was cool and I thought it was cool for a long time I didn’t know there was a name for it. I thought it was more like Hayao Miyazaki stuff, or anime, and that kind of thing. I kind of dug that even since I was little. That’s why I got into it. I thought, “I’m going to write a steampunk book. Maybe I can get someone to publish it and it’ll just be for them, because I like that.” I had no idea that a year later there’d be conferences dedicated to it. It just didn’t exist then. There wasn’t even one. It was just science fiction conventions and that’s where people would show up. The whole journey was a kooky, crazy thing and no one else saw Thomas Riley. Although, the only other one I mailed it to was TOR.
AA: It might seem like a basic question, but why do you write?
NV: Originally I played in a band and I was the singer or screamer or whatever, I wrote tons of lyrics. I have books and books. I must have 100,000 words of lyrics. It’s insane. I played in a band since I was 14 and easily had 10 to 12 hard-core years touring all the time. That’s essentially how I started writing. It was poetry to a point. When that started getting really tough on me and being around people you might not want to be around, because there’s so much drama involved with all these people, I just made the conscious decision to stop. I thought that I was already writing and I wanted to write real stories. I wanted to do this by myself, so I just quit, saying “I’m going to write a book,” and I just stopped playing. Part of it was that it was going to be just me and I didn’t have to rely on three or four other people. There weren’t going to be the problems with everything that goes along with that kind of intimate partnership. There’s a lot of stuff that comes up, traveling with these guys in a van and stuff comes up. I just wanted to do it by myself.
Why do I write? Because I have to have a creative outlet and I have to be doing something. If I don’t have that, I’m going to go crazy. If I’m not playing music or if that becomes too painful then I’m going to do something by myself. I had a blast doing that and I need to be able to do something. I’m really phasey with other things in my life. Like I’ll do stencil art, or something, just for short periods of time but this is my main creative outlet.
AA: If you weren’t a writer, what would you probably be doing instead? How would your life be different?
NV: If I wasn’t writing, or if I hadn’t gotten swayed towards music, I was pretty darn good at baseball, so I probably would have gone in that direction. I was recruited in high school to play shortstop but I just got obsessed with music and so I just quit. It was bad. My parents didn’t like that at all, they were not pleased. So, probably something in sports.
NV: When I travel, I meet tons of awesome people and I meet all types of different writers. If they are steampunk, then I definitely meet them. From every small town to every big city, you are always building relationships with these people and they are 99% amazing people. I have connections with Atlanta and Memphis and going to cons there, and by being involved in steampunk culture and meeting people, I was approached to do the story by the editor. She said they were doing this anthology, by Kerlak Publishing, a small publisher out of Memphis, and it would be fun, I could buy books to take to cons and such. I was the first one accepted. Essentially, I wanted to do something fun and different. There’s my favorite bar and I thought I’d do a Western. I had never done one and thought, “Here we go.”
I did a lot of research on outlaws in the West and found out about the Rube Burrows gang. They were Texas farmers who fell on hard times and wound up robbing trains. They essentially didn’t have anything crazy about them other than they got caught in Nashville right next to my favorite bar. I completely steampunked them out. Like their horses have braces on their legs that make them go as fast as the train so they can catch up with them really easy, and they have grappling hook weapons so that they can fly off the horses. It is a really strict retelling of the thing except for that I added the Twilight Zone twist where the Pinkerton Agency is in there. And actually, the Pinkerton agency was after them and came to Nashville and found tem. But I made them a kind of world police, time traveling group who are tracking the gang down and actually take them to the future. That’s it and that’s their fate – they get caught and it’s over.
They know there is something really insane inside the train. Something that’s mind blowing that will further their careers as train robbers. It turns out to be a World War II-ish tank that could not have existed in 1887. They don’t really know how to drive it and they don’t really know how to do anything with it so they’re hitting things and busting the train car with it. Their inability to drive it and then the Pinkerton agency ends up messing them up.
Thanks, Nick, for joining us and sharing your stories! It’s been great getting to know you better.
Coming up, Nick’s story, Ten Thousand Years, a Japanese steampunk story, will be featured in Echelon Press’ anthology Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance.
For more information, check out Nick’s website.