Interview with Ekaterina Sedia – Part 2

Welcome back for the conclusion of our interview with Ekaterina (Kathy) Sedia, author of The Alchemy of Stone and Heart of Iron, among many other novels, anthologies and writings.


Part One can be read here.


AA: People continue to hear about Heart of Iron every day. How are those new readers finding you – conventions, website, word of mouth, etc?

ES: I think steampunk websites and word of mouth. But the cover is quite gorgeous, so I suspect in bookstores it catches people’s attention quite well!

AA: What kind of attention has Heart of Iron generated?

ES: It has received a few nice reviews, and made the Locus Recommended Reading list, so I’m quite pleased so far.


AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a unique journey to seeing their works in print. You’ve mentioned before that you accidentally fell into writing. Did you accidentally fall into getting published, too?

ES: Well, to get published you have to send your work out. But I’ve worked with my publisher before, mostly with short stories in their magazines and anthologies, so Prime has certainly been more receptive to my novels than anyone else, and they have been quite supportive of my career.


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

ES: Other people’s lessons will likely be largely irrelevant. But read a lot, write, then submit a lot seems to be what does the trick for most people. Also, no one’s too good to be edited, and your agent and your editor are your friends – they too care about your writing, unlike the rest of the indifferent, cold world.


AA: If you weren’t an author, or a professor, what else would you be doing now?

ES: I have no idea. Well, I am also editing! But in all likelihood, I would be working in research, probably neuroscience since it’s been my first scientific interest.


AA: What has it been like being out on book tours and attending steampunk conventions, and what has the fan reaction been?

ES: There are many advantages to being with an independent publisher – I can talk to the person in charge daily, I have input in my cover design, all decisions about my books are made with my participation. The downside is that small publishers usually don’t send writers on tours – and even the large ones do so for their most commercially successful ones. So I only go to cons when time, finances, and day job allow. Cons are really a lot of fun – I enjoy meeting readers and other writers. In fact, this March I’ll be at Anomalycon in Denver – feel free to stop by and say hello! I am very friendly.

AA: What do you do to keep a balance between book, convention, and tour life, and the rest of your life?

ES: Between my job, editing, and writing, I don’t actually have much of a social life. And I don’t sleep a lot. So I guess there really isn’t a balance – I do what I can fit in a day.



AA: You’ve mentioned Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Viktor Pelevin, among others, as influences on your writing. In what ways did they influence Heart of Iron?

ES: Mieville certainly inspires me to write about politics a lot, even though our focus often differs. As for Pelevin – the heretical hussars are the most direct tribute to his philosophy.


AA: How have you and your work grown and changed over time, from According to Crow to Heart of Iron?

ES: A great deal. All my books are very different, so I don’t even know how to compare them directly. In another interview a while ago, I said that the downside of that is that every book is a first book in my case, so I get amused when reviewers talk about my potential to become as good as Somebody Famous. But really, this is it – there’s no unrealized potential, I’m not building up my skills with every book, since they all are different. There’s no linear progression (or any progression). It’s just a bunch of books.


AA: How is being in New Jersey for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc

ES: Location matters very little these days, I think, as long as there’s an internet hookup. I like this part of New Jersey a lot, so I enjoy living there – very wooded, very green, great for walks and train access. For writing, it doesn’t seem to matter terribly much.


AA: Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. For you, that would be teaching college courses in genetics and plant sciences. How has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?

ES: I don’t consider writing my job, it’s a hobby. I mean, the moment it starts interfering with my job, I’ll drop it. Being a published writer allowed me to teach an occasional writing course; and of course being out there in the world and working gives me something to write about. Academia is a very stimulating environment, so I really wouldn’t wish for anything else. Keep in mind, college professors do much more than just teach courses – we do research in our fields of study, we help run our colleges (so that is a lot of committee and administrative work). It’s a lot, but I love it.


AA: Do people outside the regular reading, steampunk, and convention communities recognize you for The Alchemy of Stone and Heart of Iron? What kind of reactions have you received?

ES: I assume that people other than con-goers read my books, otherwise my sales would be pretty dismal! I do occasionally get fan emails, which always makes my week. And I always respond.

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

ES: Weightlifting and fashion blogging. I am also involved as a Board of Trustees member of an environmental startup; I’m hoping to share more about that when we get the project off the ground a little bit.


AA: How do those interests influence your work?

ES: Fashion is a language all its own, and I think knowing how stylistic/sartorial choices can contradict or support a character’s narrative is just one more useful tool. Working out certainly adds some contemplative time. And yes, environmental issues. When I do write SF, it tends to be about near future Earth, and environmental degradation is a subject impossible to ignore in this context. I mean, not every near-future piece has to be about environmental disasters, but at least we need to acknowledge that we are rapidly creating a very different world – the one we might not actually like very much.


Oh, and of course environmental issues and fashion nicely dovetail when it comes to global justice issues – we all know that our clothes are made with a terrible amount of land degradation, not to mention horrid conditions in which it is made. Sorry, that got depressing fast – but I think the takeaway here is that things influence each other a lot, and the world is a messy place, and we need to acknowledge the messiness, at least, rather than completely ignore it and imagine a perfect future (or past) without giving a nod to the present.


AA: It has been great chatting with you again! Are there any final thoughts to share with our readers?

ES: Read what you love and write what you’re passionate about. And feel free to say hello at cons.


Thank you so much for joining us for this interview! I’m looking forward to reading all of your work, so thanks in advance for making my to-be-read pile even bigger!


Until we talk with Kathy again, you can read her latest news on her website, blog, and Twitter.

Her books are available here:


The Secret History of Moscow

Alchemy of Stone

The House of Discarded Dreams

Heart of Iron

Paper Cities (editor)

Running with the Pack (editor)

Bewere the Night (editor)

Bloody fabulous (editor; upcoming)

Wilful Impropriety (editor; upcoming)


Published in: on March 18, 2012 at 9:33 am  Comments (2)  
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Interview with Ekaterina Sedia – Part 1

This week we are talking with Ekaterina (Kathy) Sedia, author of The Alchemy of Stone and Heart of Iron, among many other novels, anthologies and writings. I first met Kathy at the Nova Albion convention in March 2011, and thoroughly enjoyed her company and conversation during the weekend. It’s a shame we live on opposite coasts, because I would love to talk with her more at all the other steampunk conventions.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Kathy, thanks for taking time out of your teaching and writing schedules to join us for a chat over some virtual tea.

Ekaterina Sedia: My pleasure, Kevin – a very real one, although the tea is sadly virtual. I really need to stock up on the stuff!

AA: The Alchemy of Stone was about feminism, free will, class struggle, and religion, and The House of Discarded Dreams isa place where forgotten dreams fester and take on a life of their own. Heart of Iron released this past summer and I really enjoyed the creative descriptions and imagery while reading it. For those people who haven’t read it yet, what is it about?

ES: Ostensibly, it is about alternate history in which Russia and China (well, the Taipings) allied against Britain and the Ottoman Empire – and the plot involves our heroine, Sasha Trubetskaya, trying to forge this alliance with help from her indomitable aunt, some suspiciously politically acute fur traders, heretical hussars, and some well-known legendary characters, against meddling and resistance from the British Secret Service led by Dame Florence Nightingale. But I guess people will enjoy the book most if they don’t expect a heart-stopping adventure but rather meditation on nature of heroism, national identity, strength, and the role of embarrassment in world history. It’s a very geeky little book, so be warned! I even wrote a historical compendium for it – and you can find it here:

AA: What was the motivation for writing Heart of Iron?

ES: I already spent the advance! Joking aside, I wanted to write alternate history dealing with a place other than the US or Western Europe, and I wanted to address concerns different from the ones Western-focused alternate history explore. Here, we are not looking at manifest destiny, but rather at two countries in the grip of dramatic change (the Taiping Rebellion in China, the dramatic reformism following the success of the Decembrist Revolt in Russia), and at people who are trying to control the chaos around them out of the sense of self-preservation, not necessarily heroics. And as in all my books, I was interested in the themes of oppression and people living under oppressive rules – and still doing their best.

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 Heart of Iron?

ES: I am acutely interested in issues of discrimination and justice, so of course that tends to make it in. In addition, Aunt Eugenia is probably my ideal self were I born a century or two earlier. She is pretty much the person I only aspire to be.

AA: What kind of back story is there for Heart of Iron which didn’t make it into the final book?

ES: Well, the whole thoroughly researched and thought out bit about the inheritance laws for women is only hinted at. Thankfully, all the backstory is now in the historical compendium I mentioned earlier. And there are always some obscure references that make it into any book – for example, the scene with a piano-playing automaton is a nod to the player piano-playing serf from the film An Unfinished Piece for Player Piano, based on some Chekhov’s work, deals with issues of serf liberation. I rewrote the scene with an automaton, since in my book the technology is very much taking the place of manual labor.

AA: The descriptions of people, places, and things really grabbed my attention and often I felt like I was in the scene, drinking hot tea from a samovar, trying to settle into a new living space at school, or feeling the trepidation and excitement of a new adventure. What experiences did you draw on to write those?

ES: I love food and tea, so as one of the beta readers noticed, my writing tends to get really emotional around those things. As for other experiences – I’m afraid to say, I make things up much more frequently then remember them. I have a terrible memory for real life events, but a vivid imagination. I am always suspicious of my versions of past events (and the very nature of reality).

AA: You drew on some of your professors for characters in your other stories. Were there real world inspirations for the characters in Heart of Iron?

ES: Not in any real sense. I rarely base characters on real people except in the most general way. It is much easier to imagine someone with a combination of traits I want than to look for a real person having those characteristics and then risk a libel lawsuit, you know?

AA: If Heart of Iron were a movie, do you have people in mind already to play various characters? Certain people came to mind for several of them.

ES: Not really! I know a lot of writers mentally cast their books, but I never do. I have no visual image for any of them, really. Well, maybe Ren Quan for Chiang Tse? And Mia Wasikowska would have to be Sasha, because as far as I know, she is the only young Hollywood actress authorized to play “kind of plain”.

AA: Sasha Trubetskaya is at the advent of great change in her country. Are there any plans for a sequel with her or a spin-off in the same world?

ES: I wrote a synopsis for a sequel, but I honestly doubt I’ll ever write it. As you probably noticed, I tend to write stand-alones because as a reader I don’t like series too much, and can’t imagine writing them. Maybe a few years down the line.

AA: Heart of Iron has a bit of a coming of age storyline with Sasha. When I get my young nieces and nephews to read Heart of Iron, what would you like for them to take away from the story and Sasha that they could apply to their own lives?

ES: You won’t always be in control of your circumstances, and things will happen that you wish didn’t. What makes a person strong is to keep going and to remain true to yourself, even when things aren’t going your way.

AA: What kind of research of the three empires, and events like the Taiping Rebellion and Opium Wars, went into creating the Heart of Iron world?

ES: Lots. Along with historical sources and the internet, I read quite a few books. Most important were probably Jonathan Spence’s God’s Chinese Son and Arthur Waley’s The Opium War through Chinese Eyes. The latter was especially heartbreaking, and I think Sasha got a bit of my hero-worship for Commissioner Lin – a Chinese official charged with stopping Opium epidemic in China, right before the First Opium War. Much of it never made it into the book, but the sense of deep injustice done by the British remained, I think, and bleeds through in quite a few places. And Spence’s book is a remarkably thorough account of the life of Hong Xiquan, the founder of Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace, that certainly pushed me to research Christian heterodoxies, Chinese ethnic groups, and a whole lot of other things. I really recommend these books – even though both are written by white men, they are thoroughly documented and contain a wealth of primary sources.

AA: Your fantasy novel, The Secret History of Moscow, made use of actual Russian folktales. What elements did you include so readers could feel the Heart of Iron history?

ES: I don’t really know how successful I was, but a lot of characters in Heart of Iron are actual historical people – from Florence Nightingale to Prince Nicholas to Sidney Herbert

Who was the British Secretary at war during the actual Crimean War. I also referenced real historical events with their different outcomes – success of both the Decembrist revolt and the Taiping Rebellion would’ve created quite a different world.

We’ll pause here and until we talk with Kathy again, you can read her latest news on her website, blog, and Twitter.

Her books are available here:


The Secret History of Moscow

Alchemy of Stone

The House of Discarded Dreams

Heart of Iron

Paper Cities (editor)

Running with the Pack (editor)

Bewere the Night (editor)

Bloody Fabulous (editor; upcoming)

Wilful Impropriety (editor; upcoming)


Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2

Published in: on March 13, 2012 at 10:21 pm  Comments (3)  
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Steampunk Renovation Challenge

Steampunks are some of the most creative people I have ever met. From the books to the art work, the fashions and the music, steampunks are a cornucopia of ideas and possibilities.


Recently, I was asked for ideas about redecorating a guest room in a steampunk theme. We’ve all seen the great pictures of Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum’s home in Sharon, Massachusetts and I’m sure many of us have just drooled over the details.


Bruce also operates ModVic, a Victorian home restoration and steampunk design company. Many ideas there, too!


There are plenty of articles and component pieces around the internet, and now here is a challenge to pull them together. Your task is to suggest individual design elements, or a whole design plan, to create a steampunk’d guest room that you would like to stay in yourself.


What items would make this an engaging, comfortable, even luxurious, place where you would want to rest and relax?


Here’s the layout of the space. Think of it as a blank canvas, ready for your brushstrokes to create a showpiece of the steampunk aesthetic.

Thinking about the walls, ceiling and floors, what is the color scheme for the rooms? Can we take a cue from exterior Victorian home colors?

This photo is from


What about textures? Paint or paper? Flat or textured?


The rooms aren’t necessarily large or with high ceilings, but would cornices and moldings add a nice touch?


Are there some design elements or inspiration that could be taken from this renovation of the Harmony Club building in Selma, Alabama?


For lighting, maybe something like an arc lamp as photographed by Curious Expeditions , from Frank Buchwald or Art Donovan? Personally, I love Frank’s work, and I crave Art’s “Siddhartha Pod” Steampunk Lantern.

Could a new bed come from Ralph Lauren? Or should it be antique? Night stands? Tall dresser?

Looking at the artist’s on the Airship Ambassador Gallery page, maybe Rafa Maya or Eric Freitas should do the wall clocks?

Light switch plates by Jake von Slatt?

Hidden doors and secret passageways?



While scouting around for ideas and inspirations, I came across the following articles:

Excellent Examples of Steampunk Lighting

Steampunk 101 by Yanko Design

Steampunk Theme Decorating Ideas

Inkwell Manor in Second Life


Inspired? Share your visions either by leaving comments and links below, or emailing me at Kevin at AirshipAmbassador dot com. I’ll post a followup with everyone’s great ideas!



Published in: on March 4, 2012 at 4:02 pm  Comments (9)  
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