Welcome back to part two of our talk with Henry Walton, author of The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket.
Part one can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: 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 Thaddeaus Shockpocket
Henry Walton: There are many elements of my life that parallel that of the Shockpockets and most certainly played into the stories.
Thaddeaus Shockpocket is a scientist, inventor and explorer and his father is an English explorer that marries an American woman shortly after meeting her on an archeological dig. Not so coincidentally, my degree is in science and my father was an English RAF officer and pilot that married an American woman shortly after meeting her at a USO dance during World War II.
Like Thaddeaus, I have traveled throughout the world and into the mountains, deserts, and jungles of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. I have also invented several truly useless devices over the years.
In truth, the Shockpockets are probably thinly veiled versions of my family. As far as placement in a Victorian setting, that period has always intrigued me to the point of minor obsession. As far back as I can remember, when our family would visit London, I was always drawn to the Science Museum and the areas with steam engines and electrical devices. If I could travel back to one period in time, it would be the turn of the century.
AA: What kind of back story is there for Thaddeaus Shockpocket which didn’t make it into the final book?
HW: The back story of Thaddeaus’ parents is not brought out in book one Albion 77, but is revealed in book two Victoria, so I won’t give a spoiler here.
There is also more of a back story to Thaddeaus relationship with Wallace Bogglesworth that has been slightly revealed but not totally. Wallace publically humiliates Thaddeaus for his unorthodox methods and frequent mishaps, but they actually share a deep friendship that goes back to when they were school mates at University. This is being revealed slowly but I have not yet decided whether to include more of their family backgrounds into the books as it does not drive the story at this point. In fact, their friendship goes back even further than University. Their respective fathers were also scientific peers and close friends. Thaddeaus’ father Reginald was, like Thaddeaus, a bit unconventional and Wallace’s father felt it was Reginald’s lack of professionalism that led to his disappearance during a search for the Yeti. Wallace’s father never forgave Reginald for leaving a wife and young boy behind in pursuit of chasing myths, and that sentiment carries through to Wallace.
AA: Are there any plans for a sequel or spinoff?
HW: Book Three of the series will be published in late 2015 or early 2016. Without giving too much away, let’s just say Thaddeaus travels to visit with his uncle Nick, (Nikola Tesla) and they work the kinks out of the time wave synchronization device. I had planned to wrap up the series at book three but with the device working, some new possibilities are opening up. To be honest, I am never quite sure what Thaddeaus will be up to next. I just follow along in my head and jot it down in the journals.
AA: Listen to your characters – they’ll tell you what’s what! When people read Thaddeaus Shockpocket, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
HW: My favorite phrase is “The world is absolutely brilliant. Difficult sometimes. Confusing often. But humorous almost always.” I would like readers to come away feeling that there will always be challenges and but we can all persevere. And if they snort a little tea out their nose while laughing at a passage in the book, I have succeeded.
AA: Everyone, take that as a warning! Be careful drinking your hot tea while reading! What kind of research, and then balance, went into creating the Thaddeaus Shockpocket world?
HW: One might think a work of humorous fiction would not take much research. I certainly did when I began the series. Well, that turned out to be entirely wrong.
Beginning with time lines, even though I never mention what years the events take place, all of the stories in the journals are tied to specific years and every event is mapped on a master calendar to ensure that dates match the proper day of the week for all journal entries.
And that is the simple part. Because the journals mention actual events such as the Wimbledon matches, I had to research actual dates for those events to match up in the book. The year that young Thaddeaus meets Nicola Tesla in Colorado Springs needed to coincide with the actual dates of Tesla’s residence in Colorado and Thaddeaus’ age at the time.
Just a few of the things that I researched for the stories include: The development of airships, both hot air and gas balloon, to have background for Thaddeaus invention of a combined hot air and gas airship. The dates of developments in winged flight to provide details for Thaddeaus modified seaplane. The history and dates of sightings of the Loch Ness serpent. The history and dates of sightings of the Yeti. Details of discoveries of Egyptian mummies and research of Coptic jars. Even tracking down the Inuit Inuktitu language word for I am cold – Qiuliqtunga. It is for a throw-away joke in the book, but I wanted it to be real.
Actually, it just goes on and on. However, I must admit that I enjoy research and probably could have gotten away without some of it. I hope the books encourage others to research further some of the things they read about in the journals. I have started adding a glossary to the end of the books to give a bit more background on events and historical characters mentioned in hopes that these will be a jumping off point for young readers to do more research.
AA: That’s a really great bonus, not only to see what inspired you, but also to read up on the real historical stories. What elements did you specifically include so readers could feel the Thaddeaus Shockpocket history?
HW: I think setting the stories around and within actual historical events helps place the Shockpockets into a world and alternative history the readers can lose themselves within.
AA: What are some memorable fan reactions to Thaddeaus Shockpocket which you’ve heard about?
HW: A specialty baker in Minnesota created a series of cookies with artwork from the books replicated on the tops. She hand-painted each cookie and then posted photos on her business web site. Another fan presented me with a framed cross-stitch cloth of her favorite quote from the book. I have heard of at least one fan cosplaying as Tweak at a convention. It is all quite amazing to me.
AA: That’s wonderfully flattering to see how you’ve inspired others, too. How are new readers finding you – conventions, website, word of mouth, etc?
HW: Gaining market exposure and awareness is an enormous challenge. Calumet Editions and I are trying to leverage social media to promote the book series. We utilize the Shockpocket website, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and try to stay active on steampunk community web sites. I also attend conventions as often as possible and do book signings at locations such as Barnes and Noble and local book shops. In the past month I finally set up a blog and will begin populating that. In turn, Calumet Editions will repost my blog on their twitter feed that currently has over two million followers. I am anxious to see what kind of interest that generates.
While we pop over to the blog, we’ll end part two of our chat with Henry Walton.
Keep up to date with Henry’s latest news on his website.
Also, check out his exhibit page at The Steampunk Museum.