Part One can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: What kind of research, and then balance, went into creating the upper and under worlds for Cherry?
Karina Cooper: Oh, jeez, the research. I did so much research. My bookmarks tab is so long, it doesn’t fit on screen anymore. I have to scroll three times.
I did a lot of reading, and I love watching the history channels—which, let’s face it, is as much sensationalism as accuracy, sometimes less of the latter than it should be. Fortunately, of all the subtleties of Victorian London, classism wasn’t all that subtle. It was really easy to divide the uppercrust London—that raised above the peasoup fog—from the lower streets still mired in the miasma. Victorian London had this huge divide between the wealthy, and those who could keep up appearances, and the laborers, immigrants, and poor. It was probably the easiest setting decision out of everything else.
The districts in each divide were based on various readings. For example, one of my favorite readings was Aspects of Literary Limehouse: Thomas Burke and the “Glamorous Shame of Chinatown” by Anne Witchard—which is such a fabulous name, I’m saving it for use another time. My Limehouse is decidedly guilty of being a “literary Limehouse”, and I did that on purpose, as part of my theme really is about sensationalism of the era.
This conscious choice I made was to be as historically accurate as I could, but also to soften that accuracy by folding in elements of “literary sensationalism” in the manner of the old adventure tales. It makes this thick stew of legit period setting merged with fantasy, and I really like that.
AA: What elements did you include so readers could connect and feel the world and history?
KC: Everything I can possibly get my hands on and shape into the story. Everything.
As I mentioned, I like using real-world people and scenarios to inspire the setting of my stories. For example, in The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway, there’s an event that happens in a train station which is legitimately accurate—I just put my characters there for reasons that relate to it. There are real-world events that are mentioned in passing in each of the books, and while they’re nothing more than an offhand comment or a single sentence, they help form this rich tapestry of a world that existed before the first page of Tarnished and will continue to exist after the series ends.
AA: So, more Easter eggs for people to follow. What are some memorable fan reactions which you’ve heard about? Any cosplay yet?
KC: While I haven’t heard of any fan fiction or cosplay events yet—I keep hoping!—I have been sent two very lovely pieces of fan art. I do love it when folks are inspired by anything I write! One day, I might have to cosplay as Cherry myself, just because I think it could be great fun! Maybe at TeslaCon?
AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
KC: I’m a little embarrassed to say that my publishing experience was ridiculously smooth. I finished Blood of the Wicked, the paranormal romance series published before Cherry’s books, and sent it off to a lot of agents, as one does. I quit my job while I was working on the second in the series, Lure of the Wicked, and two months after I first sent out queries, my agent offered representation. A month after that, Blood of the Wicked was sold and geared for a back-to-back release with the second book in summer of the following year.
I’m really very fortunate that I have a mancandy who works so I can devote my time to writing. Because of that, I’m able to write four books a year, and so there’s rarely any gaps in my publishing schedule—at least until the contracts run out.
AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
KC: No matter how good you think you are—or how bad you think you are—a good editorial critique is invaluable. I’m lucky in that my agent is an editorial agent, so when she gets the first books in a series to pitch to publishers, we’ll go back and forth on edits for a while. Then, it’s between me and my editor. The thing about writers—all of us—is that we have strengths and we have weaknesses. It’s the editor’s job to shore up weaknesses, and it’s our job to bring our strengths to it so we can merge our talent with their skill.
I hear stories of authors who refuse outright to make changes, and I always cringe. I’m lucky in that my first drafts are ridiculously polished, but I have a problem with loose threads. Typically, I end up skimping on details that make sense to me, but don’t to readers, and my editors have always caught those for me. While it’s our job to try and get better, so that we grow and learn with our editors, it’s also up to us to see our mistakes for what they are and work to resolve those. I invariably end up having to add scenes, but I can say without a doubt that such changes have always made my work stronger. I’m grateful.
I also really, truly, firmly recommend that every author at least begin their career with an agent. There are also stories of people who don’t bother, going over contracts and such by themselves. Honestly, if legalese is your thing, that’s fine, but two things to consider: less and less traditional publishers accept unagented work, and the more time you’re spending on the business aspect of the industry, that’s less time you’re writing. Your money comes from the words you put out, and is shored up by the contracts you sign. A good agent isn’t just another editorial eye on your words, but s/he’s got an overarching view of your plans, your career, and the fact that publishers are out for themselves—as they should be. So you need someone in your corner who is out for you. Between these two states of mind, compromise is reached. That’s the business.
AA: You’ve attended and been a guest at several steampunk conventions and events. How has that experience been for you?
KC: I love cons! Ever since I was little, I would go to Renaissance Faires, Highland Games, and other such events, but I never attended any sort of convention or conference until my first writer con in Seattle, WA. The feel tends to be the same, with like-minded individuals all gathering to celebrate something they love. I just love that feeling. I’ve never been a guest before, so it’s telling that I keep paying to travel to the cons I love attending.
TeslaCon is one of my favorites, because it’s like a Renaissance Faire meets steampunk, with interactive actors and amazing panels. I’m so excited to be a fan guest this year!
AA: Teslacon IV will be amazing this year! Especially with your fellow fan guests! You and your husband, Aron, created an event in Bellingham, Washington, The Fantastical Mr. Flip’s Carnival of Wonders and Curiosities. Could you share how that came about and what people will find there?
KC: Bellingham is an interesting city in that it’s two hours north of Seattle, twenty minutes south of the Canadian border, and still thinks it’s Seattle. For all that, its steampunk showing was pretty small! One day, we decided to get some like-minded people together, and we started frequenting events—such as for local YA author Nick James—in all our gear.
One day, we lost our youngest member, 10 year old Caleb ‘Flip’ Kors, to a terrible accident. It was the fall before Tarnished was supposed to come out. Since I was considering doing a steampunk celebration in correlation with the book release, the mancandy and I decided to name the event after Flip, and hold it in his honor. We’ve run in twice, now, and each year, we get local steampunk musicians, authors, crafters and makers to come up and sell their wares, meet the community, and really show the locals what steampunk is all about—community, DIY can-do, and stellar artistry and creativity. The proceeds from these events go to the Caleb Kors Memorial Scholarship, which go to help underprivileged kids with aspirations of performing to achieve those dreams.
AA: In as way, it was Caleb that first introduced you and I together. You had shared Caleb’s story and the first event with me. His story and loss really just broke my heart. Now, if you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing now?
KC: I’d be a brothel madame. I think I’d be really good at it! It’d be one part of a Japanese-style host club, one part maid/butler café, and one part call service. I’d have a long-handled cigar holder and wear full-length gloves, and people would have to call me Mama. And occasionally, we’d do karaoke where I’d sing “When You’re Good to Mama”.
AA: Now I’m looking forward to karaoke at Teslacon! What have book tours and conventions been like, and the fan reaction?
KC: I got my first fangirl squeal when I was at RT Book Lover’s Convention in 2012. I’d only been published for less than a year, but I sat down next to a couple ladies on a bench—just killing time—and introduced myself because, you know, we’re all book lovers there. Next thing I know, one gives this squeal of joy and does the shake. You know, the fan shake. We’re fast friends now, but it was so crazy at the time.
I remember that same year, I was on a panel with Charlaine Harris, Jeaniene Frost, Chloe Neill, Pamela Palmer, and all these other huge names. I was the only non-list author in the lot! It was so scary, but they were all so nice, and the readers were fantastic. (I met Sean Astin. He was adorable and delightful and I love him.) My signings have all been like that, with wonderfully friendly people. I’m starting to recognize faces now and again—and while I’m always terrible with names, I love seeing repeat offenders at my table!
It’s still very strange to me. I’m not always recognized by face—my hair changes too much—but sometimes my name earns the squeal or the, “Oh, that’s you!”, and I never really know what to say. “Yeah, that is,” is my default. Sometimes, I’m all apologetic. “Yeah, that is me, sorry.” It’s very strange to me. I’m just grateful people read me!
We’ll break here in talking with Karina.
Next time she’ll talk about writing in Seattle, Washington.
Keep up with Karina on her website, and grab a copy of her books,