Interview with Jean-Christophe Valtat

This week we are talking with Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of The Mysteries of New Venice series, which includes Aurorarama and the new sequel. Luminous Chaos


Airship Ambassador: Hi Jean-Christophe, it is great to catch up with you again now that your Luminous Chaos book tour is over.

Jean-Christophe Valtat: Hello Kevin. Thanks for your invitation. I’m glad to have chance to take up the conversation we started in Seattle.


AA: Diving right in, what are The Mysteries of New Venice  about?

JCV: It’s a more difficult question than it seems, as I sometimes wonder what the hell it’s all about… At a first level, It’s about a city built in the Arctic in the early 1900s, a deliberate utopia that has to be defended against both its harsh surroundings and its constant internal cabals. At another level, it’s about the power of imagination, of fiction, the way it affects reality, be it in love or politics.

AA: Breaking it down a little further, what can you share with us about each story?

JCV: Aurorarama , about a revolution in New Venice, is modeled on turn of the century adventure novels, with all its hallmarks – polar exploration, airships, anarchists, lost race etc…Luminous Chaos, which is both a prequel and sequel, takes place in the Paris of 1895 and is, accordingly, based on French mysteries serials of the time, with its cast of occultists, morphine-addicts, prostitutes, revolutionaries,  decadent poets, butcher thugs, fringe-scientists and so on…Suspended Citadels, on which I’m working on, will be more steeped in myths, fairy-tale, or esoteric traditions.


AA: It all sounds intriguing and there are plenty of items for readers to be interested in. What was the motivation for creating Aurorarama? How did the idea come about?

JCV:  New Venice was brainstormed with a friend, on a single afternoon, circa 1990. It was originally a movie project, which turned into an unpublished four-handed book in English, Pineapples & Plums. We left it at that, but in 2007, I wrote another one on my own, Lutes & Lobsters, as a birthday present to this friend. I had so much fun doing this that I decided I’ll do try and do another one, for good, this time.


AA: You had some interesting things to say about steampunk in this 2010 post, responding to Charles Stross’ complaint against steampunk at the time. For this book series, why a steampunk world?

JCV: When we first came up with New Venice, we had no inkling that Steampunk even existed. As a matter of fact, the first New Venice book had more of a roaring Twenties / jazz age feel. When I took up the idea again, my literary tastes had somewhat shifted towards the XIXth century and, for that very reason, I was very receptive to the steampunk aesthetic I had been exposed to. So it came as natural choice that the new New Venice would be steampunk, although, now, I’d rather use the word dreampunk to stress the mental, hallucinatory aspect that is typical of series.


AA: Authors often talk about how elements of their own lives, the reality and the dreams, make their way into their stories. How did this play into Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos?

JCV:  A lot. As it was created with a friend, there are a lot of private joking going on, for one thing. They are very personal books, involving real people I know, and I constantly use personal anecdotes as a basis. Then of course, world building, as airtight as you want to make it, is still a reflection of your social situation, or of current political issues, so there’s some of that, as well. As to dreams, they are becoming more and more central to the process: they are one of the main themes of the next novel. And it’s a good feeling when your own writing circuits back into your dream and the dream; in its turn, feeds the writing to come.

AA: The books have plenty of multi-layered action, intrigue, and perspectives. What kind of back story is there for both stories which didn’t make it into the final version?

JCV: I use a lot of the material that comes from the two unpublished books, if only to give a sense of historical depth and complexity to the city. Pineapples & Plums was a bit too wild to serve even as a back-story –but  there are some elements that have remained, besides a few characters: P& P,  the mind-expanding drug that allows the memories of the dead to be charged into their heirs, and the mysterious “Polar Kangaroo” –both central in the book to come. From Lutes & Lobsters, the most prominent character is Helen, a British anthropologist, antiquarian and somewhat magician, who eventually becomes a half-retired sea goddess: she gets a lot of mentions in the first two books and is to play an important part in the third novel of the trilogy.


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

JCV: I like it when readers say they dreamt about New Venice. It’s one of the effects I am myself dreaming to achieve –to write something immersive that would seamlessly blend with dreams.


AA: New Venice and its inhabitants provide plenty of materials for dreams! What kind of research, and then balance, went into creating the New Venice world?

JCV: A lot of research. I like to have historical, scientifical, technical facts to start from and anchor my imagination. In Luminous Chaos,  “Od” power or magnetic crowns, which transmits thoughts from one person to another-were real theories or objects, for instance, and it takes just a little leap to take them into fantasy. Likewise, I wanted my XIXth century Paris to be very accurate, both spatially and historically, because it helps to have a clearer vision of the story. I find it hard to separate research from writing, as a matter of fact, as they constantly feed off each other.


We’ll break here in our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat.

Next time, he’ll talk about world building, writing and conventions.

Keep up to date on his website and get your copy of Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos today.


Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 9:26 am  Comments (10)  
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Interview with Katherine Gleason, part 3

Welcome back for the conclusion of our chat with Katherine Gleason, author of Anatomy of Steampunk.

Read part 1 here.

Read part 2 here.

Anatomy Steampunk Cover

AA: What do you do to keep a balance between creating a book and the rest of your life?

KG: Balance? What is that? 😉 My life can be pretty much a roller-coaster. But I do try to even things out. I practice a lot of yoga. Even so, I do end up neglecting many personal tasks when I’m working on a book and facing a deadline. I eat a lot of take out, don’t return messages from friends, leave unopened snail mail around the apartment, and I often end up filing an extension on my personal income tax. Sigh.


AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?

KG: I had a small writing group in my neighborhood for a few years. Sadly one of our members moved away. So, now there are just two of us. Typically, I don’t workshop the nonfiction. There is rarely enough time, and I usually get enough feedback from my editors.


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

KG: I don’t know how to answer this. I’ve been writing nonfiction books for about twenty years. Early on I wrote lots of directions for making crafts—origami kits and pamphlets. I’ve also written little books for kids about science—one on recent research in animal social behavior, which is one of my favorites, one on archeology, another one on genetics. I guess if I look at the origami and the science books and then look at my two most recent books—Anatomy of Steampunk and Alexander McQueen: Evolution, which are both coffee-table books—I could say that my books have gotten longer and prettier. So, I guess that is progress!


AA: How is your city for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc

KG: I’m in New York City. So, there is a lot here. I’m not really sure that location does matter any more, though. It is nice that so much of publishing is here, but I can’t remember when I last met with an editor or publisher face to face. We do so much of the work via email.


AA: Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. What has that situation been for you and how has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?

KG: Pretty much writing nonfiction books is my day job. Sometimes I edit and project manage a book or a series of books as they move through the editorial and production process.


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

KG: The book did get a brief write up in the New York Post, which was so cool. A little feature about shopping. I hope that it piqued the curiosity of folks who were not previously aware of steampunk!


AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?

KG: Writing, writing, and more writing. My cats, of course. I’m kind of obsessed with them. I have two, and they are young and very energetic. (Although they are both sleeping right now.) And I love to garden. I grow mostly foliage plants as my community garden is quite shady. I also go to the theater and to museums quite a bit, and I love to walk around New York City and window shop and see all the other people who are walking around, too.


AA: How do those interests influence your work?

KG: I think the energy of New York creeps into my work. We have a certain speed here. We walk fast and talk fast. The visual stimulation is also important to me. There’s always a lot to look at. When I’m looking at art or looking at people’s outfits on the street, I get ideas. I also find that I need breaks from words and looking at a great painting can really help my brain settle.


AA: Who or what do you count as your influences, motivators, or role models?

KG: Curiosity. I guess that’s really it for me and a love of learning. I love to immerse myself in a new topic, learn everything I can, and then share all the cool stuff I’ve found with others.


AA: Three quick fire, random questions related to fashion  –  what is your favorite fabric, accessory, and historical dressing style?

KG: Wow, it’s a toss up between denim and velvet. In terms of accessories, I love canvas messenger bags. There’s a shop around the corner from me called Love Shine, and they make the totally most fun canvas bags with various colors and prints. I love walking by there just to peer in the window. To look at, I’d say late Victorian/ early Edwardian. To actually wear, probably now. Because now just about anything goes.


AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers

KG: If you want to write stuff, write. If you want to create, create. If you want to learn a new skill, take a class or ask a friend, or check out Youtube for an instructional video. Do a little bit of your own thing every day and don’t beat yourself up for what you have not done. Have fun. Relax. Also, say “please” and “thank you.” That’s what my mother always taught me, and I think it works. Thank you, Kevin, for having me. This was fun!! And thank you, gentle readers!!


Thank you, Katherine, for joining us! I’m sure we are all looking forward to a sequel.

Until then, keep up with Katherine Gleason on her website, and get your copy of Anatomy of Steampunk today!

Published in: on March 20, 2014 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Katherine Gleason, part 2

Welcome back for Part 2 of our chat with Katherine Gleason, author of Anatomy of Steampunk.

Read part 1 here.

Anatomy Steampunk Cover

AA: What were some fun moments in pulling this together? Any frustrating experiences?

KG: I had a really amazing time emailing with so many of the designers. We really had some great correspondence going on. Lots of late night message exchanges, and that was fun. Going to Temple Con was amazing, too. Frustration… oh, gosh. Sure, there were definitely frustrating moments. Luckily at this point I have forgotten the specifics! After a book is done, I usually do forget!

AA: What did you learn along the way?

KG: I learned how generous and accommodating and creative steampunks are as a community. Everyone was so amazing and helpful and lovely. I really feel that everybody in the steampunk community is part of this book, whether one’s image appears inside the covers or not. The book honors all the individuals who’ve been a part of steampunk and have built the movement and its great wave of creativity and fellowship.


AA: With such a great selection, which entries didn’t make the final cut? Are there any plans for a second, or more, volume?

KG: Wow, another volume would be fun, but right now there are no plans for such. I guess it will all depend on sales. If the book sells a lot, my publisher may want more. (Hint: Please buy the book! It’s excellent for people who are already into steampunk. It’s also great for people who are new to steampunk, and for people who want to stay up-to-date on fashion trends. It makes a super gift. What about the teenagers and artists on your gift list? There are more than 200 color photos inside! The book is available at bookstores across the country, and it can be ordered online at IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.)


AA: When people peruse Anatomy for inspiration, what would you like for them to take away from the many pictures that they could apply to their own creativity?

KG: Well, I guess two main things. We really wanted to foreground the diversity of steampunk. There are steampunks of every race and age, of every size and gender expression and ability. There are also steampunks all over the world. I’m totally fascinated to see the way that various individuals express and explore their identities through steampunk, and I hope that more people continue to do so. And secondly, I do want to emphasize the DIY know-how and experimentation of steampunk. Try working with some new materials or techniques! Depart from the directions! See what you get! And if you don’t like it, try again. You never know how an experiment will turn out until you test it for yourself.

AA: If you weren’t creating steampunk fashion books, what else would you be doing now?

KG: I’m always working on about six different things at once, between sending out short stories and revising them and writing some new ones and working on nonfiction, and I’ve been writing a play on and off for a while now. Oh, and gardening. I’m involved with a community garden in my neighborhood. I used to do a lot of event planning there—music and poetry readings.


AA: What has the fan reaction been like? Have you had a chance to talk about it at conventions or book signings?

KG: I have done a few event. I was at New York Comic Con, which was fun and totally crazy. I got to participate in a panel with a group steampunk authors—Andrea Cremer, Kate Locke, Beth Ciotta, Genevieve Valentine, and Emma Jane Holloway, who were all really super. I also spent some time at my publisher’s booth, signing books and chatting with people and admiring the amazing outfits and costumes that people turned out in. That was fun! Back at Halloween, I participated in a conversation with Noam Berg, musician and steampunk craftsperson, and author Jean-Christophe Valtat, who wrote the novels Luminous Chaos and Aurorarama. And Noam and I judged a steampunk fashion show. In mid-October, Berít New York and Kristin Costa, two of the designers whose work is featured in the book, held a fashion show and party in Greenwich Village. I attended and sold and signed books and talked a lot with a variety of people. In mid-November I was in California. Clockwork Couture hosted a crafting event at the shop in Burbank, and I got to meet Trip Hope and Glenn Freund from the League of S.T.E.A.M. And Donna Ricci, of course, and Kristi Smart! And a bunch of fun people showed up and made sleeve garters. I think I talked nonstop for five hours!


We’ll stop here in our chat with Katherine Gleason, author of Anatomy of Steampunk.

Check back for part 3 where Katherine talks about writing and other interests.

Published in: on March 18, 2014 at 9:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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