Interview with Karina Cooper

This week we are talking with Karina Cooper, author of The St. Croix Chronicles, which includes Tarnished, Gilded, and Corroded. Karina can also be found in The Steampunk Museum.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Karina, thanks for joining us. It’s so great to share time with you again.

Karina Cooper: It’s fabulous to be visiting, thanks so much for inviting me!


AA: Tell us about Cherry St. Croix and her stories.

KC: Cherry St. Croix is a well-to-do Society miss who wants no part of the social system that doesn’t much like her. Born wealthy, but abandoned by tragedy, she grew up with the kind of background that would cause any proper matron to entertain a fit of the vapors. These stories, The St. Croix Chronicles, are all about Cherry’s struggle to find her place in a world that thinks she’s odd. Of course, one’s “place” is rather difficult to ascertain when our intrepid heroine moonlights as London’s only female collector—or bounty hunter, as our uncouth American tongues call it.


This series isn’t really about the oft-examined “badass female character”; though one might get the impression, what with the whole “only woman bounty hunter” aspect. Cherry is certainly skilled in various things considered vulgar by nearly everyone in Society—and so she keeps it secret—but she’s not perfect. Far from it. These books detail Cherry’s struggle not to just to find her place, but to learn who she is—not just as a St. Croix, but as her own person. She begins as an opium addict, hooked on laudanum, and she makes many choices because, for and despite this condition. She has dreams she intends to reach, and the consequences that come from her choices are just as real and difficult as those painful missteps we all have to take in order to grow.


I call the stories “Cherry’s misadventures”, because though she’s good at heart, she’s deeply flawed. Imagine all the worst parts of a petty thief combined with the selfishness of the only-child, and give her a sharp mind and a drug addiction. When Tarnished opens, she’s self-confident and determined to succeed no matter the cost. In Gilded, she’ll have to start making some really tough decisions, and by the time Corroded hits bookshelves, out September 23 2013, she’s miles from where she started as that fresh-faced, invulnerable youth in Tarnished. Cherry’s arc is not always positive, and it doesn’t always end happily, but she does grow and change, and I have so much fun putting her through hell.


What I love most about these books is that I’ve shaped them to be what I call “steampunk-flavored”. The steampunk elements are light, primarily because I wanted to write these books as a “gateway” for those who love alternate fiction or historical urban fantasy, but weren’t familiar with steampunk. To do that, I took some of our favorite classic stories from the day—think Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells and those overwrought Gothic romances—and sprinkled those feelings, patterns and archetypes through each book. Applying them to a world where magic, alchemy and the occult could be just as real as science allowed these things to shape the world, without overwhelming it. The end result is an urban fantasy that is set in Victorian London, but one whose historical accuracy is colored by the precepts of magic, science and alchemy in a different way than the London we know. It’s a little bit murder mystery, a little bit thriller, a little bit steampunk, and very much urban fantasy.


AA: That’s quite the character journey on which to bring the readers. What was the motivation for creating this series?

KC: It’s hard to look back and remember what the motivation was. I’d been chewing on an idea for a steampunk for a little while, but no idea really gelled for me—which is common. I end up mulling on ideas for a long time before it takes hold, which works out, because it gives me time to write other books while I take notes on ideas. At the time, I wasn’t super-into the steampunk culture, I was mostly just an observer as the mancandy—that is, my husband—delved into the aesthetic.


Somewhere along the way, while at an Abney Park concert, a flash of inspiration hit me: what if my heroine was a bounty hunter? Of course, that’s certainly not an uncommon trend in steampunk, and so I dwelled on that for a while until I could grasp something more about it. The rest fell into place through research, note-taking, and refinement.


AA: You’ve mentioned that people, places and things sometimes make their way into your stories. What kinds of things wound up in these stories?

KC: My Easter eggs! Because the steampunk community is a pretty close one, I really like to give shout-outs to people I’ve met and befriended along the way. Some are more subtle than others, and some are so subtle that I doubt they’ll ever get picked up on, but I know they’re there, and it makes me happy.


The big one is obviously The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway, which is inspired by Steampunk Boba Fett and Captain Anthony LaGrange—two of my favorite people in the steampunk world, and wonderful fellows besides. This prequel novella was done as a lark, detailing out Cherry’s first ever collection at the age of fifteen. Frankly, if anyone has any issues with how Cherry developed, they can blame those two miscreants! My favorite part about this book is that half of everything I make from the sale of the novella, I’m donating to Steampunk Boba Fett’s favorite charity, Make a Wish.


In Tarnished and Gilded, keen readers will recognize the name of Her Majesty’s flagship as the H.M.S. Ophelia, also the name of Abney Park’s airship. In the books, I reference that a band of pirates tried to take it. Mind, this is not the H.M.S. Ophelia, because our stories don’t crossover, but I hoped they’d enjoy the homage! I also introduce two gentlemen who look a lot like Captain Robert and Dan at the circus. Also, did anyone notice the reference to the violin? That’s for Nathaniel Johnstone, of the Nathaniel Johnstone Band. Really very obscure, but it makes me smile.


In Corroded, we’ll be introduced to Maddie Ruth, a new character that was developed with help from Amanda Morris, who won the winning bid for Books Fighting Cancer 2012.


Really, I just like interweaving things inspired by real life people into my fiction. It’s kind of one of my simple pleasures.


AA: I’m going to have to read all of the stories much more closely now! What kind of back story is there for this series which hasn’t made it into the final books?

KC: Oh, dear, a lot. Cherry has this whole phobia of the circus, which was colored by her youth in Monsieur Marceaux’s Traveling Curiosity Show. She doesn’t remember a lot of it, because one of the side effects of continued opium use is the loss of memory—which gets worse as the user uses more and more. The older she gets, the less Cherry remembers, but she’s got these bone-deep instincts that overwhelm her. We’ll definitely see her come face to face with this past.


We’ll also see more about her mother, Josephine St. Croix, who was the darling of Society and the ideal Cherry is often held up to—and found to be wanting, naturally. Her absent guardian, Mr. Oliver Ashmore, is a story all by himself, and she’ll have to deal with the “demon” she pictures him when he finally makes his appearance. We’ll also visit the dangerous Underground at some point, and really get into the secrets of alchemy.


Cherry spends a lot of time haunted by her past, and these will never stop rearing up to bite her. The interesting part is whether her methods for dealing with them will change. Right now, she relies heavily on laudanum to soothe the ghosts.


AA: Sounds like there’s a whole series or two just in that back story. Are there any plans for further sequels, series, or spinoffs?

KC: After Corroded releases in late September, the following book, Tempered, is tentatively slated for February of 2014. I can’t tell you what it’s about, because it would heavily spoil Corroded, but it definitely represents a turning point for Cherry St. Croix. I do have plans for two more books after Tempered, but I don’t know if they’ll be made a reality or not. Time will tell! If readers love the series, I hope they buy it so my publisher knows they’re all hungry for it.


As for spin-offs, I don’t think so. As it stands, I don’t like to stay in one world too long as a matter of course. I think every story needs to end, and a lot of the times, the setting is as much a part of that story as the characters are. If I were to “continue” in this vein, I think I might fast-forward into the Edwardian era, in a new locale and with new characters. That way, if I cameo a favorite character, it could be a fun Easter egg for readers to recognize. I do love doing that.


AA: When the steampunk community reads this series, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?

KC: Do you know, I’m not really sure? I don’t usually write things with a community in mind, and I wasn’t really looking to break into the community this way—as an outspoken activist, I seem to have made a mark, brief though it always is, simply being me. Members of the steampunk culture have already called the series “not steampunk enough” or have indicated they enjoyed it, and that’s good enough for me. As I said earlier, I sort of wrote this series as a gateway into steampunk—so people can dip their toes in to the steampunk pool and see if the flavors are to their liking. If not, there’s still lots of urban fantasy elements to hold them over. But of so, then maybe they can move on to heavier steampunk books.


I’m not so conceited that I think anything I write really could be applied to anyone’s life. If it does somehow speak to someone, I’m humbled and surprised and definitely grateful, but I don’t really write with life lessons in mind. I hope you’ll forgive me!



We’ll break here in talking with Karina.

Next time she’ll talk about story research and writing advice.

Keep up with Karina on her website, and grab a copy of her books,

Tarnished, Gilded, and Corroded.


Published in: on September 29, 2013 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Thomas Willeford, Part 2

Welcome back to the conclusion of our interview with Thomas Willeford.

Part 1 can be read here.


Airship Ambassador: In addition to creating wonderful steampunk items, you are also an author. What is Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos all about?

Thomas Willeford: It’s essentially a makers guide on how to create your own steampunk accessories. It’s quite easy to understand and follow, but without being condescendingly simple. You will be using real tools and materials, and be creating some truly neat gadgets.


AA: How did that project come to be?

TW: McGraw-Hill called us and asked if we wanted to be a published author, and I told them to piss off because I thought it was a scam. Then they called back to clarify the offer rejection, and I realized they were legitimately offering me something here. So, after groveling and apologizing profusely, I obviously took the deal!


AA: There are two more books due out soon, Steampunk Adventurer’s Guide and Cosplaying Lantern City. What can you tell us about those? Spoilers?

TW: SAG is an all-ages collection of more projects, this time using easier to work with materials and tools. The tagline is “projects that anyone can make!”, so it’s geared more towards those who don’t have access to power tools, preferring instead to utilize scissors and foam. It also features a storyline throughout with illustrations by Phil Foglio (best known for webcomic Girl Genius). CLC we can’t reveal too much information yet (as the show is still in production), although it will continue in the same vein as the previous books, but with the focus on how to create some of the props and costumes from the show.

Lantern City

AA: Speaking of Bruce Boxleitner’s steampunk tv series project, Lantern City, how did you get involved, (what are you doing)  and how much fun has it been?

TW:  We received an email from Matt Daley, the writer, last July stating that he was a huge admirer of my work. He mentioned he was working on a new tv series with Bruce Boxleitner, and we met up at SDCC last year establishing an ongoing working relationship. Bruce met Matt Daley, Trevor Crafts, and I for dinner with the lovely Gail Carriger during SDCC last year. It’s been incredibly fun working with them; the only restriction is this HUGE non-disclosure agreement that keeps getting in the way of telling you how much fun I’m having.


AA: Without giving too much away, what can you share with us about the series?

TW: The jist of the story is that three people from modern day San Fran via a Magic Lantern to an alternate steampunk universe, specifically Lantern City. It is ruled by a fictional dictatorship, known as the Grey Empire, and the travelers need to get back to their own time as well as navigate the social and political drama of Lantern City. The entire cast has not yet been confirmed or announced, but we can say that John Rhys Davies, Gigi Edgley, and Mira Furlong have confirmed leading roles on the show. The plan is to start filming next year in Northern Ireland, and a good way to find out a lot about Lantern City would be to read the illustrated novel Rise by Matthew Daley through  Section Studios, also available on Amazon at .


AA: I often see you at the steampunk conventions, both in the vendors room and as a panel speaker. How many conventions do you wind up attending in the course of a year?

TW: We average one convention a month. Anything from regional steampunk conventions to large scale events such as DragonCon and SDCC. We’ve also been doing museum shows and the occasional University lecture.


AA: What are some of the highlights of conventions for you?

TW: Meeting people who have made projects from the books, making connections with the industry, and talking to people about their own personal projects. I do love to give advice where I can, and am always happy to answer any questions people may have about their own ideas.


AA: The conventions are a great way for people to meet you in person and see your work up close. What are some memorable fan reactions to all of that?

TW: The most memorable fan reaction would be an 8 year old boy at Steampunk World’s Fair came into my booth, looked up at me with the utmost sincerity, and said “Are you Lord Archibald Feathers Featherstone?! I’m a great admirer of your work!” It was possibly the cutest thing to ever happen to me.  <laughs> Having Sir Richard Taylor of Weta Workshops come up to my booth to “see what I was doing lately” and discuss small scale steam locomotives (along with his father) was also extremely cool.


AA: If you weren’t an artist-maker-author-speaker, what else would you be doing now?

TW: Either working in a sign shop or as an independent contractor in a laser cutting shop. Or, pumping gas while asking if you’d like fries with that.


AA: What do you do to keep a balance between books, business, art, conventions, and the rest of your life? Is there a balance or is it more like a time share amongst all the interests?

TW: BALANCE?! What is this balance of which you keep speaking?? You keep using that word…. I am still working as hard as when I started 20 years ago. The way I achieve balance in my life is, almost everyone with whom I associate is part of what I do.


AA: Do people outside the regular reading, steampunk, and convention communities recognize you? What kind of reactions have you received?

TW: Yes! We had several people at Comic Con recognize us from Oddities and Odd Folks Home. Some people have even recognized me from Castle. The reactions have been almost universally positive. The one minor exception is, people keep saying “You got ripped off on Oddities! They sold that for so much more!” We laugh, and say “Don’t worry, we knew they were going to make money off of it. That’s the whole idea.”


AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests and topics fill your time? Do you have any time?

TW: There’s no such thing as free time in my world. I do enjoy Legos and Bioshock, however. Tabletop gaming…..but there is very little free time in which to indulge.


AA: What other fandoms are you part of in some way? (as a fan or other participation)

TW: None. I have no time. What would I LIKE to do? Here’s how sad that is: I would love to have a weekend where I got to sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons. Or Call of Cthulu. One whole weekend.


AA: How do those interests influence your work?

TW: I make the things I would like to see made. It’s like my writing: I write the story I want to read. I’m just lucky that, occasionally, others want to see the stuff made and read the story as well.


AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers

TW:  I talked to other writers and actors and such, and often hear some horror stories about dealing with their publishers or being in the public eye. My publisher has been incredible and easy to deal with. All the film crews have been absolutely charming. Even on my bad days of too much work and things going crazy, I get to have a really absolutely incredible life. Who gets to make costumes and gizmos from a once completely and utterly obscure fandom that they happened to be involved with, for a living? AND, more often than not, there are hot women involved!


Thanks, Thomas, for your time! Best of success on all of your projects.

Keep up with Thomas on his website.

Published in: on September 22, 2013 at 5:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Thomas Willeford

This week we are talking with Thomas Willeford, author of Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos: A Maker’s Guide to Creating Modern Artifacts and the upcoming Steampunk Adventurer’s Guide and Cosplaying Lantern City.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Thomas, thanks joining us for this interview. You’ve been quite busy lately on the convention circuit.

Thomas Willeford: Yes, it’s been absolutely mental! We just got back from SDCC, and are working on Bruce Boxleitner’s Lantern City and finishing up the edits on my next book!


AA: Before we get into your writing, Brute Force Studios, and assorted projects, let’s start at the beginning with how you started learning the various skills to create the amazing items you produce? My education with power tools started as a youngster with my dad and weekend projects around the house. What was your path at the beginning which led you to using a laser cutter today?

TW: In the beginning I started with carpentry and construction. My father was exceptional with any tool; when I said I wanted to be an artist, he forced me to go to work with him instead stating “I didn’t ask you.” Little did I know, all those tools would be what I’d use in my art. When you’re young, you think art in drawing, and sculpting involves clay….or, in my case, Play-Dough.


AA: What were some of your earliest projects?

TW: Some gaming models for Space 1889, and a mechanical arm so ugly the public will never see it. It could only be dismantled and killed with fire.


Photo © 2010 – 2013 Babette Daniels

AA: With degrees in physics, history and art, you’ve certainly rounded out the major curriculums. Most people are lucky to get one topical degree. What led you to each one and how do they influence and inform your work?

TW: I was an amazingly nerdy kid, so physics seemed like the way to go in high school. After attaining the degree, however, I realized there were no hot girls in physics, and the ones that were had been hunted to extinction. So I decided to go for a history of technology degree. Then I realized after getting the history degree that there are no jobs in history.  This is very important in your 20s. I’m much older now, and I know exactly where all the hot girls and jobs are! Thus comes the art degree….But with this completely weird education, the only thing I am qualified for is being a professional steampunk and mad genius.


AA: What first captured your attention about steampunk?

TW: I hate to sound cliché, but I was doing it for a long time, then suddenly in the 90s found out there was a name for it. I think its draw (at least to me) is how imaginative it is.


AA: What was your first steampunk project?

TW: A mechanical arm that we try not to speak about amongst polite company.


AA: People are possibly most familiar with your work from the armature piece you created for the 3.4 episode of Castle, which Nathan Fillion wore as he learns more about the steampunk culture in that episode. What can you share with us about how that opportunity came about, and what went into designing and building that piece?

TW:  We were sitting at our booth at SDCC, when we were approached out of the blue by Raleigh Studios. They said they’d been looking all over the con for someone they felt could make the caliber work they desired, and we were it! They stated it was a shame we didn’t live in LA, as they thought our work would be perfect for the Castle episode. We informed them that we would be in LA the following week; their response was to hand us a business card with a name and address written on the back, with the implicit instructions not to be late. We showed up, and they bought everything; what they couldn’t buy, they rented!


AA: While that armature may be the most viewed item you’ve created, your work has also been on display at the University of Oxford, Penn State, and the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, among others. What were some of those other pieces and what kind of events were they displayed in? Aside from the arm, which item has garnered the most attention?

TW: The most attention, besides the arm, was the clockwork tarantula. It was a stop motion animation model with 50 points of articulation. It was purchased by the Cosmopoliton Hotel in Las Vegas for their Steampunk art collection. The other thing that received a good deal of attention was the ornothoptic backpack, which featured a set of WW1-style aviation wings inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, with a wingspan of approximately 6 ft. One piece of mine that got great notoriety for the wrong reasons was a monocle that was designed for the Oxford Steampunk exhibit (the first museum exhibit of specifically steampunk art in the world) that ended up being stolen from the event. I ranted online and thought nothing of it, and it got attention from as far away as Japan asking if I got the piece back. It was never returned, however.


AA: How have you and your work grown and changed over time?

TW: I’ve hopefully gotten better than that ugly arm I made for the first piece! Honestly, I’ve gotten more serious about it. At first, it was just for me and my art, and perhaps the 5 other people in the world who cared about steampunk. Now, with all these new kids on the block, I need to up my game every time I make something.


AA: All of these fantastic items come out of your shop, Brute Force Studios. How did that entrepreneurial adventure begin?

TW: My ex-wife and I were looking for a way to get out of our day jobs. We figured that since we already made costumes for ourselves, perhaps we should look into creating costumes for others and conventions. Once the money started coming in, that was it. Within 2 years, our day jobs were costing us money.


AA: Owning and running a business is all combinations of dreams and nightmares, especially when you have employees, interns, and hopefully, clients. What is one of your favorite memories so far in the history of Brute Force, and perhaps one of a more challenging time?

TW: One of my favourite memories was working with 3 of the people from Face Off on a steampunk Frankenstein monster (I got to be the monster!) for Adobe and their Photoshop World Expo. We became Team Monster, and it was one of the most fun weekends I’ve ever had.


AA: For those readers who might be encouraged to start their own business, what advice and wisdom would you pass along to them?

TW: Don’t! It’s mine! ALL MINE!!!! Actually, it’s a lot of hard work. For the first two years I worked my day job 9-5, then worked every evening til 9 at night, and every weekend. For two years. Talent will only get you so far; hard work will get you further.  There are people who say I got very lucky, and maybe I have been. However, luck only opens the door. You still have to fight your way through, because you’re probably not the only one that door is opening for.



Time for the interview intermission!

Check back next time for the conclusion of our chat with Thomas.

Until then, keep up with him on his website.


Published in: on September 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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