Following the launch of the Kickstarter fundraiser a few days ago, we are talking with Scott Wakefield and Rory Boyle, authors of Steam Patriots.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Scott and Rory, thanks joining us for this interview.
Scott Wakefield: Our pleasure!
AA: Aside from the Kickstarter description and the press release, what is Steam Patriots about, in your own words?
SW: Steam Patriots is a speculative fiction story about the adventures of Felix Ward, set in a steampunk version of the American Revolution
RB: It’s a faux historical journey through the American Revolution focused on Felix Ward and a few of the Founding Fathers in a steampunk environment.
AA: What was the motivation for creating Steam Patriots?
SW: We love steampunk, and all of its incarnations, and we thought it would be fun to back the traditionally accepted timeline up a few years, and create an “origins” story of sorts. And the American Revolution has so many wonderful stories and people, we couldn’t resist combining the two.
RB: We thought it would be a nifty change of pace to take steampunk out of the usual context of Victorian England and make it predate that period a bit. Give it an American twist and beginning.
AA: Working with real history can provide a wide playing field to work with. What kind of back story is there for Steam Patriots which didn’t make it into the final book?
SW: The whole idea of Franklin developing the steam engine will just be a fact of our new timeline. It may be alluded to, or perhaps be part of a preface – we’re not sure, since the books aren’t in their final stages.
AA: The press release talks about a series of five stories in this series. Are there any plans for side stories or spinoffs?
SW: We certainly hope so. Noble Beast is planning for five novellas, but there really is no limit to where this can go. While we’re researching and writing, we have to stop ourselves sometimes, because we keep discovering SO MANY amazing and intriguing stories.
RB: We’ve teased the idea of continuing into the Barbary Wars. But we’ll see where this initial series takes us.
AA: My young nieces and nephews are now recipients of steampunk books. When I send them Steam Patriots, what themes and ideas might they glean from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
SW: There’s always the overarching classic theme of freedom and self-reliance. But on the personal, micro-level, we want people to know that no one is perfect, and every one of us has room for growth.
RB: I’d want them to put the book down and understand how great men and women hundreds of years ago did the impossible and individuals can have huge impacts on the face of history.
AA: In doing the world building for Steam Patriots, what kind of research, and then balance, went into it?
SW: TONS of research, which honestly has made me ashamed of what I don’t know about American history. We are trying to follow actual American history, with steam tweaks. We’ve taken some liberties, but we want to stay true to the great things our Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War Veterans did to free our country.
RB: Ugh, definitely what Scott said. We logged more hours in front of our laptops and at the library than we can remember.
AA: Once the world was created, what story elements did you include so readers could feel Steam Patriots come alive?
SW: The reasons for the Revolution weren’t cut and dry – ie., England is bad; The Colonies are good. And many people struggled with their allegiances, their families, and whether they were willing or able to fight. We want those feelings to come across. We also want the tension and action of the battles to jump off the pages.
RB: I don’t think our readers will have a hard time feeling what they’re reading; if they’re reading it then they’re probably already fans of steampunk and/or history. They probably already have a preconceived notion of what they want to feel.
AA: What are some of the initial feedback you are getting from the idea of Steam Patriots?
SW: What I hear most often, is that people who aren’t too interested in history or even books, are saying to us, wow, I think I’d really enjoy your story, and it might get me into learning more about the Revolution.
AA: Now that the Kickstarter is launched and people hear about Steam Patriots, how else can those new readers find you and follow along progress?
SW: Facebook and Twitter are the easiest methods right now. And it’s great to have someone who has been in the steampunk world for a while mention us, or say, Hey, check these guys out.
AA: What kind of attention has Steam Patriots generated?
SW: We’ve caught the attention of museums, re-enactors, historical societies, and many people in those spheres. We’re so thrilled about that. Our goal is to tell a great story and get people excited about history, and if someone can use Steam Patriots to do that, then we couldn’t be happier.
RB: I was surprised at how much attention we drew so fast. The steampunk sphere is a very close knit group and very inviting. It seems like everyone wants more steampunk and more variations of it, so we’re more than happy to oblige. Attention has been drawn a lot to Patrick Arrasmith’s artwork for the book; his style is perfectly matched with ours.
AA: With the various interviews I’ve done and other conversations with steampunk authors, it’s clear that there is not just one path to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
SW: Ours was very atypical. I came across the Steampunk Holmes Kickstarter project and thought what they were doing was exactly the vision we had for Steam Patriots. We had the idea, and Noble Beast had the bigger picture, and the know-how and means to make it happen. We made contact with Noble Beast, pitched the basic idea, and they liked it. After reading the manuscript, Noble Beast thought it was a great idea, and we decided to take the short manuscript we’d written, and give more back story, and then flesh out the details of the war.
AA: That’s a great way to make and take advantage of an opportunity. Having the idea and a manuscript enabled you to be ready to walk through the door when it opened. Once you did, what lessons did you learn about having an editor, their feedback, and your writing?
SW: Editors comments can’t be taken personally, which I have a hard time with. But they, of course, have the best intentions for the book. Our first go-round with the beginning of the story didn’t really fly, and it’s taken a lot to wrap my brain around a different tack.
RB: I underestimated the amount of great feedback we would be getting, and how much it helps move the story along. And listen to your PR person!
AA: If you weren’t authors, what else would you be doing now?
SW: I’m still in the military, so that would most likely continue to be the option. Time will tell how these books play out, and career decisions will need to be made.
RB: I’d definitely keep my day job.
AA: With so much going on in your day, what do you do to keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?
SW: My wife is a wonderful encouragement, and wants me to be a successful author, so she is very accommodating with my schedule and eccentricities. I have needed to say no to lots of gatherings and hobbies. My hope is that the end result will be a lifestyle that allows me to write, rather than having to make the time for it.
RB: I actually write a LOT. Mostly for my own peace of mind, or for artistic purposes. I engage in a lot of outdoor activities, and I find homebrewing to be very enjoyable.
AA: Those sounds like good activities to give you variety. Is there time to talk with other writers for critiquing and brainstorming?
SW: My critique circle is very small, and I try to not beat the book to death. It’s fun to chat on Twitter, and get some input about what people love and hate in the steampunk world.
RB: We’ve added in our two cents at a few steampunk authors forums and chats.
AA: How long have you been writing, and what kind of changes have you seen over time?
SW: I’ve been writing things down, with the goal of getting published for almost 20 years. I look back on old notes and stories and laugh at how bad they are. But I don’t throw anything away, because I’ll see something that I’d forgotten about, and think – however poorly it’s written – it’s still not a bad idea.
RB: I think the more I write the easier it becomes. Words start to flow a little better when I revisit similar but older ideas.
AA: Writer’s block happens to everyone and can be rather frustrating. What is your solution to overcoming it?
SW: Skip ahead. I find that I get tired of a scene or chapter. Often my mind is moving on to the next battle or exciting moment, and I can’t focus on tying up the loose ends of this scene. In my drafts I have a lot of areas where I write “BREAK”. I’ll come back to it later. I learned this during a NaNoWriMo attempt – I just need to keep the momentum; when a complete story is down on paper, it’s an amazing thing that liberates your mind. I also step back for a few minutes and play my banjo or take a walk.
RB: I usually write a purposefully bad ending to the scene, maybe out of context or humorous so that when I come back to it, it’s so ridiculous it shocks my brain back into story mode.
AA: Where are you both based? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc.
SW: I’m in Ketchikan, Alaska right now, which limits my access to big-city type of events and publicity. The four-hour time difference does make it difficult to collaborate.
RB: I’m in Buffalo, New York. I know that my day starting 4 hours before Scott’s doesn’t bode well for him when I have ideas first thing in the morning.
AA: Both of you have day jobs and writing is your ‘other’ job. How does that work out for you and how has it helped/hindered in your daily writing?
SW: I often wish I could quit today, and be a full-time writer, but I know that would be foolish. Having a steady income eliminates the debilitating fear of going broke. It does, though, make finding time to write very difficult.
RB: It affords me a great mental release at the end of the day. I can switch gears from Coast Guard work to writing and then back again the next day. It’s a good balance.
AA: Do people outside the regular reading and steampunk communities recognize you for Steam Patriots? What kind of reactions have you received?
SW: We seem to be drawing in a good deal of people who may have otherwise passed up a steampunk story. Rory and I are pretty low-key conservative guys, and we tend to be attracted to the technology and gadgets more than the “punk” side of it. But that’s what is great about steampunk – everyone brings something new to the world. It’s a world of endless imagination and creation and fun.
AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?
SW: My family is number one for me, and we’re having a great time in Alaska – kayaking, boating, hiking, camping, and everything else. I also love to travel, play the banjo (clawhammer style), and we lived on a boat for 18 months.
RB: I like hiking, fishing, rock climbing, traveling to places I haven’t been before. I’ll try almost anything once.
AA: It’s a good thing to be active and moving like that. How do those activities influence your work?
SW: Felix and his dad are musicians, and we’re trying to weave a bit of the wonderful colonial musical history into the book.
RB: I can identify more with the characters when I’m in someplace new and I don’t know where anything is. In our story our characters find themselves in many new and unfamiliar places.
AA: Thanks so much for chatting with us, and best of luck on the Kickstarter and upcoming publication. Any final thoughts to share with our readers
SW: Let us know what you think; we love the relationships we’re building, and can’t wait to let you be a part of these great stories.