Airship Ambassador: Hi Colleen, thanks for joining us this week.
Colleen Gleason: Thank you for inviting me!
AA: Your latest book (#21?) is The Clockwork Scarab. Can you tease us a bit with what it is about?
AA: What was the motivation for writing The Clockwork Scarab and creating Evaline and Mina with their notable parentage?
CG: I had wanted to do a young adult novel for quite some time, and the idea of a steampunk world fascinated me. One “traditional” element found in a lot of steampunk work seems to be the juxtaposition of literary characters with historical characters…and being a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, I started thinking about doing a female sort of version of him…something that would do Conan Doyle’s character justice, but would make sense for a teenaged girl. A Holmesian niece seemed like the perfect fit…but she had to have a friend or partner, right? And since I’ve written a number of historically-set books dealing with vampires, I thought a vampire hunter would be fun. Enter Bram Stoker’s sister, Evaline Stoker, as the perfect foil for Mina Holmes.
AA: What is the story you’ve created for Irene Adler? How much of Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of her in the 1891 short story A Scandal in Bohemia come forward here?
CG: Irene Adler is the impetus for the partnership of Stoker and Holmes. She pulls the young women together, creating a sort of brilliant assembly of talented women. But the Irene Adler in this book is more developed than the one in Scandal, for she now works for the British Government under the guise of being the Mistress of Acquisitions at the British Museum. Miss Adler’s extensive travels, ability to put on a show, and intelligence serve her well in this new role. We find out a little of her background in each volume of the Stoker & Holmes series (I just finished book two).
AA: Why a steampunk world to tell this story?
CG: I love the idea of juxtaposing our technology with the fashion, culture, and mores of Victorian England. Also, I felt teen readers would find an alternate reality more compelling than one steeped in perfect historical setting. Aside from that, Sherlock Holmes (and thus Mina) weren’t actual historical figures in Victorian London, therefore the world is already not quite accurate.
AA: Aside from the large amount of research done to create the right feel of the characters and location, how much of yourself is in The Clockwork Scarab?
CG: The Clockwork Scarab is the kind of book I would have devoured as a teen–it has all the elements I love: smart girls, a good mystery, suspense and thrills, and compelling male characters worthy of a crush (literary or otherwise). So there is a lot of “me” in the story in that way–I wrote something that crosses genre in more than one instance, that includes a hodge-podge of things that somehow knit together into a cohesive story.
But also, there is more than a little of me in both Mina and Evaline. I have the tendency to be pedantic and controlling (Mina), as well as, at times, brash and bold (Evaline). I am both socially awkward (Mina) and yet able to weave my way through social engagements with ease and humor (Evaline). I love fashion and technology (Mina), and have a close and loving family (Evaline). So the two young women are also two sides of myself.
AA: What kind of back story is there for The Clockwork Scarab which didn’t make it into the final book?
CG: There are definite backstory elements that didn’t make it into this book–who the villain/villainess is and came to be The Ankh, and also how Miss Adler decides to pull Mina and Evaline into their respective roles. This backstory will unravel throughout the series, little by little.
AA: This is the first in a new series for you. What can you share with us about the next books?
CG: The second book is finished and I think it’s even better than the first! I just love it. Book two will incorporate the very popular Victorian past time of séances and spirit-talking…as well as a dog with a mechanized leg and a pub called The Pickled Nurse.
AA: This being a young adult book, what would you like for readers of all ages to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
CG: It was important to me to write two different female characters that were foils of each other in some ways, and yet had just as many things in common–because I think that’s true of who we are in general, and especially in our young adult years. It’s my hope that each reader would find at least one of the two main characters to relate to–and in doing so, would also learn that despite perceived differences between others, as humans, we often have many more commonalities.
I wanted readers to read about strong young women with skills and abilities that varied, that were valuable, and that complemented each other–and to recognize that though we each have moments of self-doubt, and make mistakes, in the end if we are true to ourselves and our abilities, we will do the right thing.
This book is not about the guys–although there are three male figures in the book. This book is about girl power, in a time where girls were relegated to marriage or spinsterhood, and had little value in society other than bearing children and doing housework. I want young women to read this and see how strong they can be, and to find confidence in themselves.
We’ll take our break here in talking with Colleen Gleason,
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