Interview with Author A.J. Hartley

This week we are talking with A.J. Hartley, author of Steeplejack.


Airship Ambassador: Hi A.J., thanks for joining us for this interview.

A.J. Hartley: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.


AA: Readers may know you from your previous work, including the Darwen Arkwright series, the Will Hawthorne series, and several books on Shakespeare. Now, your latest book is being published. What is Steeplejack about?

AJH: It’s the story of Anglet Sutonga, a steeplejack in a place which looks like an alternate version of Victorian South Africa, as she is drawn into a web of murder and political intrigue, working as a detective/spy and relying on her street smarts and skills as an expert climber of tall buildings.


AA: Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?

AJH: Well, it is and isn’t steampunk. It’s got that nineteenth century urban feel to it, but it’s also alternate history/fantasy (part of the story revolves around a light-generating mineral, on which the main city’s wealth is founded), and is also more diverse in terms of people, landscape, flora and fauna. It’s very much a hybrid genre form for a hybrid world, and has not just elements of steampunk but also of mystery, thriller and fantasy. It’s the hybridity I chose. The story needed it.


AA: I think that combination works for this story. How does Steeplejack express your vision of steampunk, and what does it add to the existing works in the genre?

AJH: As I say, it’s only partly steampunk, so I’m not sure I’m offering a version of the subgenre as I am respinning it a little, morphing it into other generic forms and worrying less about those hallmarks of the form, and that means not being especially interested in steampunk gadgetry, for instance, weird science or Zeppelins! It’s a more realist take on the genre, I think, not because I dislike more conventional steampunk (particularly its aesthetic, which I really enjoy) but because I’m interested in fantasy which wears its relationship to conventional reality on its sleeve. I’m not looking for total escapism. I’m looking to see the world I know through a distorting lens.


AA: What was the inspiration and motivation for creating Steeplejack?

AJH: Several things. I had been kicking around a more conventionally Victorian mystery idea which would involve the people who worked on the very tall chimneys I remember from my Lancashire childhood (and one I see here in Charlotte as I drive to work) but I was also planning a visit to South Africa and Swaziland, mainly to see animals, and had been mulling a fantasy adventure set there. The two stories collided and intertwined in ways that felt unique and exciting.


AA: Travel broadens the mind? What are the key themes in Steeplejack?

AJH: Belonging, identity, family and sacrifice. It’s a story about how people make themselves through grit and choice and in response to circumstances beyond their control. It’s about carving out your sense of who you are and what you stand for in spite of what the world tells you. But it’s also about the power of class, race and privilege in determining the limits of normal existence.


AA: What can you share with us about the personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities of the main characters, Anglet Sutonga and Josiah Willinghouse?

AJH: Ang has been raised to be tough. She has spent most of her life working with boys in the heart of a city, alienated from her people and the place she was born. She’s an orphan but, at 17, has been living life as an adult for a while. These things have given her a lot of strength, but she’s also been raised to see herself as a second class citizen and she is easily cowed by authority. She’s bright and resourceful. Loyal. Fiercely principled but realistic. She expects very little from the world because she’s used to how she has been treated. Willinghouse is a young politician whose views are shaped by being mixed race in a society which is white ruled, but he’s also wealthy, privileged, even ambitious. He hires Ang without fully understanding how her strength compliments his some of the time, but how their world views and experiences are very different in ways bound to create friction.


AA: How do they change throughout the story, or does the world change around them, instead?

AJH: Both, I think. Ang grows much more confident in her dealings with people and Willinghouse learns a little humility along the way, both they are bent on changing the world, albeit in small, incremental ways, and they have some success there.


AA: Are there any objects or things which play a major role in telling the story?

AJH: The Beacon is the largest piece of luxorite—the light-generating mineral I mentioned before—ever quarried. It’s priceless, doubly so because no one has found any new sources of luxorite in years, and the story hinges on the Beacon’s theft. But more typically steampunky devices are deliberately not part of this world. I wanted to keep it anchored in reality.


AA: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Steeplejack??

AJH: Its diversity. The world is divided between three major ethnic groups in ways that complicate the social and political landscape. That is both the background of the main plot and a key element in it.


AA: Readers should find that diversity very interesting as the story develops. Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?

AJH: Lots of action and adventure! Particularly in high places which is where Ang feels most comfortable and has her best strategic advantage. Also, a complex mystery that will keep readers guessing🙂


Let’s pause here in our chat with A.J.. Join us for part two when he talks about back story and memorable moments.

Keep up to date with A.J. latest news on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

You can support A.J. and our community by getting your copy of Steeplejack here.

Published in: on September 26, 2016 at 7:02 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,

Interview with Author Leanna Renee Hieber, Conclusion

Welcome back to the conclusion in our talk with with Leanna Renee Hieber, author of Strangely Beautiful, The Eterna Files, and the sequel, Eterna and Omega.

Part One can be read here.

Part Two can be read here.

Part Three can be read here.

Part Four can be read here.

Part Five can be read here.


Airship Ambassador: 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?

Leanna Renee Hieber: Publishing for me has been so up and down that while it might be nice to call it my only job, I’m a bit too restless and momentum-driven to solely write. I have about 5 rotating freelance jobs, this allows for the flexibility I need to put my book deadlines first and be able to travel at least once a month to a Steampunk, Sci-Fi/Fantasy and/or Book convention to promote my work and the genre. Due to my extensive work on stage, I came away with a lot of theatrical contacts and union memberships that helped me keep my hand in the entertainment industry in some capacity and that’s been really wonderful.

I’ve done background work in television and film, been featured on shows like Boardwalk Empire. I do some stage management / floor director work at a small Manhattan TV studio, I’m a ghost tour guide, I craft jewelry I sell at conventions and on Etsy, I am a guest lecturer, I travel tons for writers groups and institutions like NYU, and my schedule is never ever the same from one week to the next and I’d really never have it any other way.


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

LHR: I’m basically a work-a-holic who can’t sit still or not have at least 3 projects on burners, so I pretty much have found a way to make any of my interests part of one of my jobs. My favorite thing to do is to wander graveyards (I know, how Goth), historic sites and sacred spaces. But that always leads to new story ideas, so that’s a beautiful, cyclical thing.


AA: There’s only so much time in a day – what interests don’t you have time for?

LRH: I really love birds and there was a time in which I wanted to be an ornithologist, so I wish I had more time to take to wildernesses with a pair of binoculars and a field-guide and go birding.


AA: Are there people you consider an inspiration, role model, or other motivating influence?

LRH: Besides the critique partners and collaborators I’ve mentioned, I follow a ton of extremely talented writers on Twitter and every day they say things that inspire and motivate me. Just today I tweeted release-day excitement about my favorite novel of the year, Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal, who I’m honored to call a friend, someone who I always feel makes me a better writer and person by being in her orbit. The list is so long of those I love and admire. In particular for Steampunk audiences, if you don’t know Diana Pho, @writersyndrome and, she is one of the most valuable and important people in the industry and I’m very glad to also call her a colleague and friend, as well as her wife and talented playwright Ashley Rodgers.

One of my best friends from youthful Ohio years is Kelley Hensing, a gifted dark fantasy artist whose work will truly appeal to Steampunk enthusiasts and she’s a vital font of inspiration and camaraderie, check out her work at . If not for the incredible, generous, prolific Isabo Kelly I’d not have found my way to my first resources or contract and she continues to help my career, same with my beloved Alethea Kontis. I’m so grateful the extraordinarily talented N. K. Jemisin is not only writing gorgeous, powerful books but helping Sci-Fi and Fantasy reach a wider audience via the NY Times.

The awesome, artistic and darkly fashion savvy folks of Wormwood and Gall have created clothing and accessory lines for my books and that helps them live in a whole new light and tactile expression, and that’s a wonderful and fruitful business partnership. I am very blessed to know a seemingly endless list of wonderful, diverse, talented, incredible people out there making awesome work and striving for better.


AA: What is the best advice you’ve been given?

LRH: Persevere, don’t compare your path to others, hold to good news and celebration, and never lose the love for the craft, do whatever you can to tend that light. Be good to yourselves and your community. Positive, supportive presences will always lead better and more fruitful artistic lives.


AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers

LRH: I’m so blessed by the opportunity to share my work and story with you, I’m very active on social media so please follow me, I am most active on Twitter @leannarenee, but I’m also on FB and please join my mailing list at in addition, please check out my Free Reads page there for links to several free reads and audio excerpts, the Eterna Files prequel novella “The Spark” is a great free way to get hooked on my series, and I hope you’ll join me as the action continues presently in Eterna & Omega, now available from Tor Books. Please keep up the beautiful work of being an imaginative and supportive community! I hope to see you all at a convention or event!


Thanks, Leanna, for joining us for this interview and for sharing all of your thoughts.  We look forward to hearing about your next projects!


LRH: Thanks again, so very much!


Keep up to date with Leanna’s latest news on her website and Twitter.

You can support Leanna and our community by getting your copies of Strangely Beautiful, The Eterna Files, and Eterna and Omega today.

Published in: on September 23, 2016 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Interview with Author Leanna Renee Hieber, Part 5

Welcome back to part five in our talk with with Leanna Renee Hieber, author of Strangely Beautiful, The Eterna Files, and the sequel, Eterna and Omega.

Part One can be read here.

Part Two can be read here.

Part Three can be read here.

Part Four can be read here.


Airship Ambassador: In your experience as a writer, what have been the hardest and most useful skills to learn?

Leanna Renee Hieber: To be resilient and adaptive. To want my books out in the world far more than I am ever afraid of what will happen to them. My first publisher, Dorchester, went bankrupt, owing me thousands, money I’ll never see. It was a devastating setback I am still financially trying to recover from. I had to stay strong, write the next books, work to sell them, keep going, all despite the rage and the frustration of my first edition Strangely Beautiful books going out of print when I’d just gotten started and the books had been doing very well. I had to learn some things were out of my control but they couldn’t keep me from writing. That experience was traumatic but it also steeled me, and I’m also all the more appreciative now when contracts go smoothly.

If I hadn’t have stayed working in the business, remained networking and attending conferences as a public presence, I would never have made the necessary connections and been able to put forth the effort it took to get to the next level and contract. I’m very much enjoying my time at Tor Books, with a wonderful editor and crew and I’m very grateful for that. Resilience, graciousness, hard work, passion and appreciation and gratitude when things go well and right, these things are vital to a healthy artistic backbone.


AA: Ouch, that’s a rough start, especially one to still recover from. What story would you like to write but haven’t, yet?

LRH: I want to write a story where one of my most beloved characters, Mrs. Evelyn Northe-Stewart, a gifted psychic and the woman I admire most in my fiction, is at the very center of the story. She is an elegant widow nearing fifty years old, a kind, brilliant mentor, surrogate mother, ridiculously gifted psychic and consummate badass.


AA: Perhaps, soon? Writing can be a challenge some days. What are some of your methods to stay motivated and creative?

LRH: I won’t lie, a deadline with money attached happens to be a great motivator. grin Other than that, wanting my stories to have as much time as I can give them brings me to the keyboard every day or if not to word count, spending healthy amounts of daydreaming time. I adore my characters. Loving the people in your head goes a long way to maintaining inspiration, communing with them becomes vital, problem solving and literally writing out their lives becomes a mission and calling. Really giving over to the story is vital, that creates its own momentum as you yearn to see it really come alive.

Also, caffeinate heavily.

Externalize your deadlines if you don’t have them given to you, not setting an externalized deadline attached to accountability and process leads to procrastination. Writing is hard. I love it but it isn’t easy. Like with any skill set, diligence is the greatest asset, and writing is really a muscle that needs a regular workout.


AA: Writing can definitely be hard, and some days I look at things I’ve written and think, “Well, that’s just boring.” How is New York City for writing? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc

LRH:  This is a madcap city where everything is a mile a minute. I like that, as it helps me stay focused and alert, the pace of the city keeps my pace up. I carve out recovery time when I hit a wall, but the amount of writing resources, communities, events, launches, mixers, reading series and genre chapters here, it’s a hub of networking and being able to have lunch with my agent, editor and publicist regularly helps me feel connected to the industry.


AA: In your experience, does it seem like readers prefer a print or electronic format? Do you have a preference?

LRH: It’s such a mix, I haven’t come away with a clear winner in terms of format, so I say make everything available to a reader in whatever way they wish to consume it. I get the most requests for audio versions of my work, so that’s a project for my next couple of years as I’d like to do all my audio books. (Thanks to my theatre training and 10 years on the professional stage). But first… I have to write the next book.


AA: Have you been affected by electronic piracy of your work? Aside from the loss of a sale, how does this affect you/make you feel?

LRH: Yes, I have, a lot. It is hurtful and infuriating. It makes me despair that people are so divorced from content creators, thinking that entertainment should just be free, or that there isn’t a ripple effect of harm done. Writing is my job. I wish those who pirate without any sense of the damage it does to creators would have part of their paycheck stolen one day to prove the point. It’s stealing. There’s a system in play to compensate every level of person it takes to make a book, hundreds of people work for my publishing house, it isn’t just hurting one person it’s hurting an ecosystem.

I understand some people pirate because they don’t have access to the entertainment in the manner in which they prefer, but if there are options, I beg people exhaust all options that support the artist first. Art is as valid a way to make a living as any other profession. It isn’t just the loss of the sale in terms of portion of royalties, it’s the loss of that book sale number, and publishing looks at sales numbers, to determine whether or not we get another contract. Art is as much an ecosystem as any business is, it is not just something we do for fun or luxury, and I hope that the world will continue to value and monetize art, or we’ll end up losing it, and that would be the greatest blow to civilization.


AA: If you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing now?

LRH: I’d go back to the stage. I miss the stage but there’s not time to go through the whole audition circuit, do shows 6 nights a week, and then still have time or energy to write. I also miss singing, which I do in the occasional church choir but that too takes time I don’t have at present.


Let’s pause here in our talk with Leanna. Join us next time when she talks about interests and life.

Keep up to date with Leanna’s latest news on her website and Twitter.

You can support Leanna and our community by getting your copies of Strangely Beautiful, The Eterna Files, and Eterna and Omega today.

Published in: on September 22, 2016 at 7:10 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,