This week we are talking with Andrew Mayer, author of The Falling Machine: The Society of Steam, Book One from Pyr.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Andrew, welcome to Airship Ambassador! You’ve been very busy, and popular, after the release of The Falling Machine.
Andrew Mayer: It’s been an exciting few months, and the second book will be out in late November!
AA: The Falling Machine is about steampunk superheroes that live in 1880’s New York City. What can you share with us about the characters and their adventures?
AM: The lead character is a young woman named Sarah Stanton. Her father is a powerful hero named the Industrialist (who has a smoking top hat!). He’s a member of the Society of Paragons; New York’s greatest team of gentlemen adventurers.
Sarah has wanted to be a superhero ever since she was a child, although obviously that’s an impossibility for a woman of society in 1880. Tragic circumstances conspire to make her dreams come true, and she finds herself forced into a terrifying adventure when her mentor (Sir Dennis Darby, the leader of the Paragons), is killed in front of her on the top of the (unfinished) Brooklyn Bridge.
She soon finds herself at the center of conspiracy that most of the Paragons either refuse to acknowledge, or may actually be a part of. Helping her to uncover the mystery is a mechanical man created by Sir Dennis called the Automaton.
The first book is a bit of a mystery story, with characters crawling around secret passages and the like, but there are also some major battles, burning mansions, and some good old fashioned Father/Daughter drama
AA: What were some of your thoughts and goals in creating the tensions between Sarah and her father? Aside from the dramatic story telling, were there themes or concepts you wanted to explore?
AM: I think that there are big differences between friendship and family. Sarah is caught between those worlds, both in her own relationship with her father, and his relationship with Darby and his fellow Paragons.
It’s also about loyalty and honesty, and the conflicts that come when you’re trapped between youth and adulthood. That’s something that I think a lot of superhero stories explore—metaphorically at lest.
AA: In writing this book, what were your guidelines and definitions for steampunk and how are those expressed throughout the story, the characters and their actions?
AM: Well, I think I have it easy, since I set the book in a (slightly) alternate Victorian era.
But honestly, a big part of Steampunk to me is the maker movement, and I wanted to get some of that feeling in there.
I’ve spent some time around artists who sculpt metal, and I really wanted to capture the essence of a certain kind of artistic madness that I believe is a big part of what drives the creative aspects of steampunk. I felt that it was something that hadn’t been adequately expressed in the fiction.
Making it a superhero story was a good way to showcase a lot of these larger than life personalities.
AA: In previous interviews you mentioned that your experience with comic books and Burning Man helped spark the idea of your steampunk superheroes. What was the driving motivation for writing The Falling Machine? Why a steampunk world?
AM: I think it helped that steampunk has continued to tap into the zeitgeist of our times over the last half decade, and that’s helped to keep it fresh and fun.
It was also the story I started that I discovered I could keep writing, and initially that came as much a surprise to me as to anyone.
AA: Comic books were one of my major interests growing up, and beyond, honestly. Some stories were over the top, some were wild and wacky, but overall, I think they showed what life could be like, and there were creative ways at looking at the world, one’s life, and the obstacles we face. How did comic book elements, as well as facets of your own life, the reality and the dreams, make their way into The Falling Machine?
AM: Comics work best for me when they match the ridiculous with the sublime. That’s why I think Jack Kirby has ended up being the patron saint of the modern comics. His style is all action and reaction, and really set the tone for the next generation to come along and deconstruct his storytelling.
I got to interview the man before he died, and that had a huge impact on me. Kirby was struggling to create a truly epic mythology through the medium of comics, and in a lot of ways he succeeded. He certainly created the cosmic back story for both Marvel and DC.
But I think life is always going to be more complex than you often see in comics no matter how gritty they get. That’s one of the limitations of the medium, because it’s so visual. It is far more external and action oriented than written fiction, which can really move around inside the character’s heads. Movies can do both, but there recent love affair with comics have pushed films deep into the territory of external storytelling.
AA: What kind of back story is there for The Falling Machine which didn’t make it into the final book?
AM: Well, there are two more books to go, so you’re going to find out a lot more about the world and the characters as we go along.
But the story starts with the end of an era for the Paragons, so you don’t get to see a lot of those characters in their prime. I’m going to write a prequel novella next year that covers some of that territory.
I’m also seeing a lot of people making assumptions about the story and the motivations of the characters that may seem to come from a very different place by the time they get through the end of book three.
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