This week we are talking with Nick Valentino, author of Thomas Riley, and Engine 316.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Nick, welcome back for another interview with us!
Nick Valentino: Thank you so much for having me back! It’s been a while and I’m so happy to have this opportunity to share again.
AA: When we first talked, Thomas Riley was somewhat new on bookshelves.
NV: That’s right, that was late 2010 at Steamcon and I was in the middle of touring in support of the book. It took a while for the second book to come out for a lot of different reasons.
AA: Before diving right into your current projects, Can you share a bit of what you’ve been up to since our first interview? Aside from our chats and social media posts, I know you’ve been a very busy guy.
NV: Things have been absolutely crazy since we last spoke. I met Elizabeth Darvill at The World Steam Expo in Michigan and from there I fell madly in love with her. She moved to Nashville for a year and we are now married. We also packed up a big moving truck and drove across the country to move to Washington so we could be close to family. It’s pretty wild because I was born and raised in Nashville, I went to college there and pretty much it’s all I ever knew as a home base. So on top of marriage, life changed drastically in location as well. As writing went, I had a lot of issues getting the second book of Thomas Riley written to my liking but I did have some short stories published. My steampunk horror story, Bedeviled, is in the Dreams of Steam II anthology, my Japanese steampunk story, Ten Thousand Years is in the anthology Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance and I have a magic vs. technology themed story called, The Black Dress, that made it into Kerlak Publishing’s Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells anthology.
AA: Those are some really big things going on in your life. How have things changed overall for you?
NV: Things have changed a lot. My personal life is different, my surroundings are different and overall I’m just a happier person. I miss a lot of things but I love a lot of things about my new life as well.
AA: Now that you are here in the Pacific Northwest with your new family fir almost a year, how are all of you settling in? What are some of the differences between life in Nashville, Tennessee and here?
NV: We live in Gig Harbor Washington now and we have settled in quite well. This is my home now. I feel good about my surroundings and I can find most places in and around Gig Harbor without too much help. There are a ton of differences between Tennessee and Washington. For one Tennessee is much hotter than Washington. For me, Nashville summers are nearly unbearable. Strangely enough it also gets much colder in the winter than it does in the North West. Nashville is also very happening right now, attracting a huge influx of bands, food culture and nifty events. Washington is a much more “chill” place and in a lot of circumstances, that is a really good thing.
AA: What kind of things make it to the list of what you miss most from Tennessee and what you love the most about Washington?
NV: There are a lot. I guess the first thing that comes to mind is I miss my family and old friends who mainly reside in Nashville. Being so far away means I don’t get a lot of chances to see them. It’s a bit weird to go your entire life being down the street from them and all of a sudden they are 1500 miles away. Secondly, I miss my hockey team, the Nashville Predators. I had season tickets for the last 12 years so again, so it’s weird not to be able to go see them anymore. Note I am able to watch them on TV here which is great. Also, being in Nashville makes it easy to get to a plethora of cons and book events. Oddly enough there are not a lot of book events up this way. I would have guessed the opposite. I also miss the speed limits. haha They’re much faster in general in Tennessee.
Washington is a really great place. I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to explore Seattle proper as much as I would like yet but first off, I love being here with my new family. I really started life over when we moved here and while it can be difficult starting from scratch at times, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I also love the weather in Washington. Despite what people say about the rain, I think the temperature feels like Halloween in Nashville all the time or London, which is absolutely awesome. I love the beer culture in Nashville but I also love the beer culture in the North West as well. It’s different. Here, it has more of a European feel where quality suds are everywhere but in the South, there is more of a wide variety but you have to go to specific places to find it. Like you can’t buy liquor or beer over 6% in the grocery or at gas stations.
AA: I had a chance to read your short story, Ten Thousand Years, in the anthology titled Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance. What is it about, and how did the opportunity come along??
NV: It’s kind of a neat story. I was at a book event in Atlantic City with the owner of my then publisher Karen Sayed from Echelon Press and we were driving to Baltimore for the Baltimore Book Festival talking about the new influx of steampunk anthologies. There wasn’t a lot of them at the time but there was a lot of talk of a bunch that were going to come out from various publishers. At the time, I thought it was a really original idea to have a steampunk anthology that took place in nontraditional countries and I thought it would be a really cool idea for each author chosen for the anthology to pick a country. Karen liked the idea and added that each story had to incorporate a queen or empress. For instance, I chose Japan and Elizabeth picked Russia. My story, Ten Thousand Years, is about a sea captain who kidnaps the Empress of Japan off her exquisite airship to ransom her for the lives of his former military crew who were wrongly imprisoned by his own government. The captain and his crew go through hell to get the empress and attempt to get to his former military unit but he exhibits true honor and sacrifice for the men that he promised to set free. I’m pretty proud of this story as I feel like it has a lot of deep meaning hidden between the lines.
AA: The big news right now is that Thomas Riley is in its second edition from ZOVA Books. Congratulations! What spurred this release?
NV: Thank you! I’m really excited about it! I originally met with the fine folks at ZOVA Books at a dinner while I was attending the San Diego Comic Con. They were interested in putting out book 2 and 3 but at the time the first book was solidly contractually locked up. Eventually, they obtained the rights to the first book in the series which they re-edited and gave a revamped cover. That one came out last month. I always had at least a trilogy in mind for Thomas Riley so it was fortunate that ZOVA was eventually able to get all three books in their house so they can make a cohesive trilogy available in all the same places. ZOVA did a great job editing it. It’s quite different than the original and has a new teaser chapter at the end.
AA: You also have some other big news to share with our readers…
NV: I do! The second book in the Thomas Riley trilogy, called Thomas Riley and The Maelstrom just came out last Tuesday, June 25th, on ZOVA Books.
AA: As a sequel, what can you share about where Thomas Riley and the Maelstrom picks up after the first novel? Are there any back story bits between the novels which didn’t make it into print?
NV: It takes place about a year after the last book. What happened to Sam is a mystery in the first book so I really wanted to answer any lingering questions pretty quickly. I really wanted anyone to be able to read it so even if you haven’t read the first book, you can read Thomas Riley and The Maelstrom without having to read the first book, although in my opinion it would make it more of a complete story. As things that didn’t make it to print, it was mainly dialog that got cut. My editors wanted to keep the story fast paced and had me cut some inner dialog and some typical conversations between characters. There’s actually a good amount of back story that made it so the reader could keep up without having to read the first book. I feel like there are a lot of tidbits on many of the characters that enrich the characters from the first book. I wanted to give the reader a more in depth look at everyone, especially their personalities.
AA: When I was reading my review copy, I enjoyed the attention to descriptive details about the airships, characters and their actions. What was your process for any research, planning, plotting and writing of the airship scenes? Any actual airship models involved?
NV: I love putting things that I enjoy from my life into my stories. The Maelstrom is modeled after the aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise which clocks in at 1200 feet long. I wanted The Maelstrom to be absolutely massive like an aircraft carrier in the sky. Of course how does something so huge possibly fly? The Maelstrom doesn’t adhere to normal steampunk airship technology. Even many of its weapons are oddly not typically steampunk for a reason. All of these things rely on something entirely different which is going to be the basis for Thomas Riley 3.
When I was little, I loved Transformers. I really loved the feature movie they did where Optimus Prime dies. I modeled Captain Bradford Booker’s airship, The Saxon Rose after the Junkions from that movie. Much like the robots that were made from junk, The Saxon Rose is an airship that’s made entirely out of scrap from hundreds of other ships. While It’s a tough ship that can take beating, it doesn’t have a lot of natural firepower from its mish-mash of cannons.
The Pyre’s Fortune and The Blood Countess from the first book are more classic steampunk airships with the traditional sailed sea ship that hangs under a dirigible. While I love the traditional I guess, more common ships of steampunk, I wanted to ratchet things up in the second book and explore other styles of air travel.
AA: The Maelstrom is a pretty big ship. Without giving away too many of its secrets, how did your ideas come together about this ship and what it can do?
NV: I can say that The Maelstrom has the ability to manipulate the weather. I got the idea off of something I heard quite some time ago that the US Government was possibly experimenting with seismic warfare. Meaning that the US military possibly was creating earthquakes around the world through the use electromagnetic pulses from satellites. I thought, ‘Wow, how unstoppable would someone be if they could control the weather?’ And no one would be the wiser. Even its cannons are different from steampunk era weaponry, which again gives clues of it’s true nature. I love giving clues and teasers in my stories. It makes the reader wonder and question and I love to have people theorize and debate.
AA: How about some of the characters? Any real life inspirations for Captains Swan, Read and Benika?
NV: Oh absolutely,well some are not exactly real life.
Captain Swan is modeled after an evil version of Captain Avatar from the cartoon Star Blazers. He’s a traditional ship’s captain but Captain Swan is a pirate down to his soul.
Captain Read is most literally a mix of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. They both have fascinating real life stories and I wanted a character with both their personalities and tenacity. She’s bold and brash and emotional to the point if you get on her bad side, which is her normal side, then there is hell to pay.
Captain Benika has an obscure real life comparison. Originally I was doing research on Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess (Hence the name of the ship) and I read about one of her slaves that helped gather her victims. She was African, and I wanted a character that was not Caucasian. Even Benika’s back story which is largely on my wall in the form of a character bio, has her as the daughter of Haitian slaves that broke free and hammered her way to sky pirate captain. Physically, she’s modeled after Tia Dalma from Pirates of The Caribbean but her personality is completely different. Benika is most literally insane and can be over the top brutal. She’s one of the last people you’d want to meet in Thomas Riley’s world.
You often hear that authors might put you in one of their books. Such is the case with Bradford Booker. Captain Booker is modeled after one of my friends, Brad Smith, that went with me to many of the cons and book events while I was supporting the first book. He was instrumental in getting Thomas Riley out and I wanted to include a heroic character to honor him. Captain Booker is a little more brash and typically American than my friend but he’s also the “Gentleman Pirate” who has a worldly crew and zero prejudices.
Almost all of my characters have some sort of real life model or cultural reference. It would be fun to see what readers might think those references are.
AA: What might be coming up next for Thomas and Cynthia? Anything you can share?
NV: Thomas Riley 3 is on the horizon. I’m a few chapters in right now and I really like where it’s going. I can say that it will deal with time travel which is a steampunk plot device that I have only explored in my short story Engine 316. I feel like Thomas Riley and The Maelstrom will throw readers for a loop with the twists and Thomas Riley 3 will really bring the series home with what I feel is a deeper meaning to all three books.
AA: What’s coming up next for you? Conventions? Book signings? Other stories?
NV: I want to do as many cons and book signings as I can. It really just depends on how life shakes out. As for other stories, Of course Thomas Riley 3 is first in the lineup. I’m always interested in doing some fun steampunk shorts for anthologies and such. Also, Elizabeth and I are working on a the story book for a steampunk RPG for the gaming company, Harsh Realities, which really won’t be in production until next year but we’ve already started on our end.
AA: You’ve had a busy year behind you and now a busy year in front of you. I look forward to seeing how things turn out in the near future. Thanks again for coming back to Airship Ambassador! Best of success with your newest novel!
NV: Thank you and Thank you so much for having me! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you having me here.
Get your copy of Thomas Riley and the Maelstrom today!
Get signed copies here
Barnes & Noble Paperback:
Keep up with Nick on his blog.