Airship Ambassador: Hi H.G., thanks for joining us for this interview.
H.G. Howell: Thanks for having me!
AA: Readers will get to know you now from your first published work. What is The Spark about?
HGH: The Spark is a character driven, sci-fi epic that chronicles the downfall of 200 years of peace brought about by radical ideologies.
AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel for this story?
HGH: When I first began writing The Spark, steampunk had not yet broken out as such a major cultural movement as it is now. Even then it was an aesthetic I really enjoyed and felt it was the best fit for the story that was beginning to ferment in my imagination.
AA: How does The Spark express your vision of steampunk, and what does it add to the existing works in the genre?
HGH: One of the main things I feel The Spark does is that it brings a level of “use” for all the fanciful gear, accoutrements and invention so commonly found within the steampunk culture. I believe every item has a purpose outside of simple fashion. The fun bit of The Spark is that most of these machinations and fashion has been relegated to a group of people known as Kinetics – men and women that develop an affinity with natural elements of the world.
The Kinetic folk have tremendous power through their gifts; they are able to harness electrical currents in the air, or the manipulate the heat and earth. These attunements, however, cause great discomfort and risk to the kinetic people. In turn they have developed technology to help combat these shortcomings.
For instance, pyrokinetics (fire wielders) are plagued by being able to see the worldly heat (think a hot day and seeing the heat radiating off a sidewalk but much more intense). What did they do? They crafted fine crystal lenses with adjustable dials to accommodate their locale and to alleviate the strain on their vision.
AA: That’s a nice way to mix natural biological gifts with the scientific mechanical accompaniments. What was the inspiration and motivation for creating The Spark?
HGH: I always wanted to write a novel. For years I was in a rut, always having great scenes in my head but I could never find a way to develop upon them in any proper way. In 2011 I met a fellow writer whom introduced me to NaNoWrimo. I loved the idea of the challenge and signed up. I had no idea what I was going to write at the time.
One afternoon I found myself rummaging through the NaNo forums and came upon their Sentence Adoption center. Essentially, this was a forum for writers who had written a sentence but couldn’t find a place for it. As I read through the various entries I came across one that just “sparked” my imagination; all of a sudden with one sentence all of my previous scenes that went no where now had a home. That sentence was “The world outside was angry.”
AA: That would definitely set a tone, for you, what’s written, and the reader. What are the key themes in The Spark?
HGH: The main theme in The Spark is the loss of innocence. There are many levels in how this theme plays out throughout the overall narrative. In some cases it is quite literal, but in other cases it plays a bit of a subdued part. Also the themes of tradition versus progression, alienation of people, and on some level the inadequacies of an overseeing governmental body for the welfare of the people.
AA: What can you share with us about the personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities of the characters Julien, Katherine, Marcus, and others?
HGH: Julien represents the old guard. He is an aged kinetic that has spent his life trying to uphold the values and mission of the Great Peace. Julien represents the stubborn pride in the face of danger, and progression.
Katherine plays the role of the atypical damsel in distress. Her life, however, is tied to the greater threat within the narrative. Her heart has always been duty to her family, but an event in her past brings shame to her name. To rectify her mistake she takes on a life of missionary work in the poorly province of Syntar.
Marcus, oh Marcus. His is a story of youthful optimism and the tragic propaganda of the Imperial Order. With Marcus, I wanted to show the destructive nature the Imperial Order put its recruits through. In a lot of ways his arc was inspired by the Hitler Youth and the propagated brainwashing that took place in Nazi Germany. What I most enjoyed about Marcus was finding the challenge in making the deplorable acts the Order does seem justifiable from their perspective.
Gossimer, not listed above but a very important character, represents the everyman thrust into a situation he is wholly unprepared for. He spent his life as a steward for politicians and is suddenly thrust into military service. Young and brash, but yet scared for his life, Gossimer is perhaps a favourite of mine – if not for his story arc then at least for the mechanical construct he befriends.
Dalar has ties to many of the cast of characters within The Spark. He is a high scholar – essentially a scientist – born to a wealthy family. He has a son and wife in a quaint little town just to the north of his province’s capital. Due to his area of expertise, his peaceful life is upset as he is sent on a search and rescue mission for Katherine.
Lillian is Dalar’s wife, and mother of their son Jakob. Her arc is perhaps one of the most tragic in the story. Her history is marred with sorrow, causing her to be a worried mess in the present. The events of narrative bring yet more tragedy to her. Instead of succumbing to her anguish, Lillian turns it into a burning hatred.
AA: Those are some strong character foundations. How do they change throughout the story, or does the world change around them, instead?
HGH: Many of the characters go through changes through the organic course of the story. Marcus springs to mind as the most drastic, but that can be attributed to the plot of his arc. Katherine, and even Julien, are perhaps see the least change in character throughout the narrative. The world, however, changes for all the characters through actions and decisions other members of the cast make.
We’ll pause here in chatting with H.G. Howell, Join us next time when he talks about story details, memorable passages, and what might come next in The Spark world.
You can support H.G. and our community by getting your copy of The Spark here.