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,