This week we welcome back Richard Ellis Preston, Jr., author of Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War, the second book of The Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin. We first talked with Richard after the release of his first book, Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders on 2 July, 2013.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Richard, welcome back!
Richard Preston: Thanks, Kevin. It’s great to be back here with you again.
AA: Congratulations on the release of your second book of the series. There’s not much time between the release of the first book, Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders, and this one. Is that a resulting of the publishing process, or are you really writing that quickly?
RP: Man alive, I wish I could write that quickly! It’s a result of the offer/contract process being delayed. I was able to write the second book while the first one was in limbo. 47North liked the fact that the books were released so close together.
AA: Nice to hear your weren’t on a short deadline, but still, that’s a lot of work to write books in succession. When readers left Captain Buckle, his crew was pledging to follow him anywhere. Where does Engines of War take the Captain and crew next?
RP: The first book was what I like to call ‘hermetic,’ in the sense that it was small in scope. City of the Founders was mostly a rescue mission so it barrels through a single trajectory and we don’t see a lot of the outside world beyond the zeppelin and the Founders city prison. Book two, Engines of War, is the opposite: Buckle’s clan is attempting to forge a grand alliance with other clans as war with the Founders looms, and this opens up both the society and the geography.
AA: Without too many spoilers, what kind of adventures will we find everyone enjoying this time? How much of the previous Indiana Jones and Master and Commander feeling are present?
RP: I think that Indiana Jones and Master and Commander will always be present, whether I intend them to be or not. The opening of the book, the first third, is a series of wild action sequences involving alien beasties – kinda Indy stuff there. The end of the book is a huge zeppelin battle, so Master and Commanderish there. There is a lot of political wrangling going on as well.
AA: The zeppeling battle sounds interesting to read. How much more of the Snow World do readers get to explore?
RP: I think it is a lot more. They see several clan strongholds plus two new clan territories. As I said, book two is much broader in scope than book one. The entire Snow World is drawn into the vortex in book two.
AA: As a continuation of the story, what unique challenges did you face in writing this one so it wasn’t just a repeat of the first?
RP: I did not run into any issues of repetition yet but I’m sure that may arise in later books. This second book just takes off from the launching pad of the first. I have never written a series before so it did take some trial-and error work to figure out how much I have to reintroduce the characters and situations to readers who read the first book but are many months or years removed. Jeff VanderMeer was my development editor on this book as well as the first and with all of his experience he is quite good at knowing just what is necessary in terms of reintroduction.
AA: Jeff is a great resource, and certainly well known to the steampunk community. Did you find you had to do as much editing and cutting down on the back story as happened with the first book? What kind of things didn’t make it into print with this one?
RP: Oh, boy, well, when I was writing the first draft of this book I was 500 pages in and not even to Part 3 yet (these books tend to be about 400-450 pages long). I always write long first drafts because I don’t edit myself at all in the first creative burst. But I did realize at that point that what I had first considered Part 3 of book two was actually an entire novel in itself (hence, book three). Engines of War had its own natural ending point (a huge battle) so it was easy to wrap things up there. Book three takes place almost entirely in an underwater city. As for back story, I really tried to avoid much exposition in this book. There is some room for it in book three, though.
AA: Anything that absolutely had to be in the story?
RP: I wanted to make sure that readers understood that the Founders had once been more powerful and that many of the established clans were once Founders colonies before the Founders empire had collapsed.
AA: Any easter eggs or external references which sharp-eyed readers should look for?
RP: Yes, there are – but I can’t give them away lol! The geopolitical structure of the Snow World is loosely based on the geopolitical situation in Europe just before the First World War; if you are familiar with that balance of power you could probably identify which one of my clans is roughly representative of each specific nation but I may have developed things too far away from that starting point for that to be easy to do. I’d say keep a sharp eye on Penny Dreadful, the robot which appears at the end of Book Two. She is important.
AA: Talking now about some of the characters, are there any real life inspirations for the Captain and crew?
RP: The dog, Kellie, is written to be my old dog who passed away a few years ago. I sort of wrote the series for her, believe it or not. She doesn’t pop up much in the books but when she does I feel like she is here with me again and I love that. I’d also say that there is some of my own father in Balthazar.
We’ll take a quick break here in our chat with Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.
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Check back soon for the conclusion where Richard talks about scenes from the book and his writing style.