Interview: Cherie Priest
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Current Song: Pitter-Pat by Erin McCarley
I virtually met Cherie Priest - published author, steampunk aficionado, and associate editor of Subterranean Press - last month, when her novel Boneshaker was included in the March 2010 issue of readergirlz as one of the books postergirlz recommended folks read alongside the novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.
Cherie and I chatted back and forth in email, and when I Flickr'd through her steampunk photographs, I felt the desperate urge to visit an abandoned train station. Sadly, I have yet to do so.
Lately, Cherie has been hard at work on the first draft of Maplecroft (title subject to change) and rewrites for Bloodshot. She let me steal a little piece of her time for this interview.
Three of your works, Boneshaker, Dreadnought, and Clementine, are all set in the same world - The Clockwork Century. Was this an intentional choice - you had plotted out a series, or been contracted to write multiple books in the same line - or do you simply find yourself returning to it again and again when the mood strikes?
Boneshaker was actually the last book in a contract, so although I loved it and wanted to do more with the world setting, I did not know if I'd ever get the chance. I was fortunate, though -- and the story took off ... and now more books are planned. The truth is, I did so much back-fill and world-building for Boneshaker that the setting suggested a thousand other stories -- other stories I wanted to tell. So I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to write more of them, and very lucky that the franchise seems to have found its footing.
At your blog, you've shared word count counters and other insights on your current works-in-progress. How do you feel about first drafts? Do you find them difficult, exciting, or both?
Difficult and exciting both, definitely. I'm not one of those writers who agonizes over every word, rewriting sentences as I go (though that's a perfectly valid way to go about it, and this process works quite well for some people). I just need to get the whole thing down on paper -- one way or another -- and if it's a crappy first draft, that's okay. My favorite part of the process is usually the first big round of rewrites, after the project has had a chance to cool off for awhile. I love the act of shining up the rough little book and making it gleam.
Right now, the Bloodshot edits are eating my life, but I genuinely enjoy doing them. This book was handed in too quickly (long story re: deadlines for other projects), so I knew it'd need a great deal of reworking, and that's fine. Reworking is my specialty!
Do you have high or low retention rates for what ends up in the final draft?
The rate of what stays vs. what goes varies from project to project, of course. For example, Dreadnought lost 20,000 words in the rewrites, and then gained back another 5,000 (for a final product around 120,000 words). And Bloodshot has already lost a few thousand words, and needs another 10,000-20,000 written in addition (for a final product around 110,000 words). You just never know.
How were you introduced to steampunk?
I've always really loved the Victorian aesthetic, particularly the fun tech aspects of it -- so as steampunk has come into its own I went right along with it. Though it's been around for a long time (in movies, TV shows, video games, books, and more) it feels like the last five or ten years have really seen it gain serious pop culture traction.
I guess one of my earliest "awareness" moments was probably the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride at Disney World, which has since been revamped to a "Finding Nemo" themed ride -- much to my personal horror. The 20K LUTS had the whole nine steampunk yards going for it -- the look, the sound, the tech, the villains, the heroes ... all of it. The first time I ever went on that ride I was a kid (early to mid 1980s), and I remember thinking that one day I wanted a house decorated just like the Nautilus.
You've been writing since you were twelve. How do you feel your pre-adult writing and real-life experiences helped shaped your professional writing and career?
Well, they say you have to write a million words of crap before you start writing the good stuff (whoever "they" is) ... and although every single thing I wrote as a teenager is now a source of profound embarrassment to me, I'm still glad I did it. If nothing else, it got me started on that path to a million words of crap quite early; so by the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was actually writing content that had a snowball's chance in heck of being good enough to publish.
You've written full-length novels as well as novellas and short stories. Which story length do you prefer, as a writer? As a reader?
As both a reader and a writer, I tend to prefer full-length material. I'm a natural digresser -- in conversation and on the page -- and I have a hard time boiling down a story into a nugget-like size; though sometimes, I start with an idea for a short story and it turns into a novella. An old writing teacher of mine once said that there were two kinds of writing brains: the kind which compress ideas, and the kind which expand them. I'm an expander. I need room to flesh out the story I'm trying to tell.
As for reading short stories, I tend to become impatient with them. I come to the end and find myself going, "Where's the rest of it?" But there are a handful of writers who are the exception to that rule. Even so, by and large, I go for novel-length books above short story collections.
You are attending The Victoria Steam Expo in May as the guest of honor! When and how were you notified of this? Have you been to this expo before?
I'm so excited about this event, I tell you what! And I wasn't notified, per se -- I was invited, and then there was a lot of negotiating back and forth to make sure that I could give the convention what it required, and that it would fit within my schedule. I guess I've known for a few months ...? Hard to say. These things tend to be planned pretty far in advance.
I hope that you have fun at the event. What challenges do you face when writing sci-fi/fantasy? Do you find it more alluring and creatively satisfying than realistic fiction?
Probably the biggest challenge is to make it credible and immediate ... even while throwing in monsters, ghosts, magic, and improbable technology. Generally speaking I do find it more satisfying to write speculative fiction, though I couldn't tell you why. Just personal preference, I suppose.
Lastly, what are your ten favorite novels of all time?
I honestly have no idea how to answer this question. It's like you've asked me to name a famous blonde; I just don't know where to begin -- and even if I did, I could never keep it down to just ten.
Visit Cherie Priest at her website and LiveJournal.