I’m starting a new feature! And I’m calling it “Three Questions Make An Interview.” I’m going ask awesome authors doing awesome thing three—and only three—awesome questions. I think this will work out well because having only three questions will make me think carefully about what I ask. Also, most authors are too drunk to answer more than three questions coherently. (I KID!)
Anyway, without further ado, here is our first
victim participant: Emilie Bush, proprietrix of Coal City Steam and author of “Her Majesty’s Explorer: a Steampunk Bedtime Story.” This charming Steampunk picture book follows the adventures of St.John Murphy Alexander, an automaton who walks the world exploring for the Queen. It goes on sale today (at a special discounted price for release day!) and is the perfect Easter-basket addition for retrofuturists of all ages.
1) The steampunk aesthetic seems a perfect fit for a child’s picture book—why do you think we haven’t seen more of them?
Really—I have NO REAL CLUE. I suppose you could argue Cat in the Hat is rather Steampunk, but not labeled such—as it pre-dates the movement. I agree that the look of Steampunk is a natural fit, but I can cite some great turn of the century stuff that are pillars of children’s literature that may just be too intimidating to live up to (From L. Frank Baum with Tick-Tock and the Tin Man, to Lewis Carroll with his various alternate realities to Beatrix Potter’s anthropomorphized animals, to the illustrated pulp.)
Secondly, Steampunk themes can be a little too adult to translate into children’s picture books. The aesthetic—yes, but themes that make Steampunk lit what it is (generally in the business of subverting Victorian morality, culture, (plus gender and class roles) don’t translate well to picture books. Also, modern publishing is changing, and a “sub-genre” has a hard time making a pitch as a “broad appeal sure thing.” BUT—I think the simple answer is that there’s a LOT of brown in Steampunk. Brown is a tough color to illustrate with. That’s why my layout designer is such a genius. My vision for the book was entirely sepia, and she did a version where all there was was the golden background tone, but then she added in small amounts of blue, orange and (to a lesser extent) green. She varied those tones only in intensity, not color mix, and it became very reminiscent to George Melies’s hand tinted film, which is TOTALLY Steampunk-y. Adults buy picture books, but kids need to enjoy them. What appeals to an adult aesthetically may not make sense to a kid, so I am pleased we found a way to have a Steampunk look that still has great splashes of high contrast and color, which small children understand and enjoy.
2) What would you have loved about this book when you were a child?
My first blush answer to this question was a glib, “My parents reading it to me.” That’s what kids love—their parent’s Big. Fat. Quantity time. But it’s more true than that. Kids love to have a part of what their parents do. I see a lot of people at conventions who HAVE kids, but leave them at home for any number of reasons (sometimes mommies need to get away, wear a corset and get their drink on, ya know? No mommy wants their kid to see THAT.) Like I said, there are some aspects of Steampunk that very small kids just won’t understand. BUT, there is a theory of development out there that says it is VITAL for kids to go play in their parents closets in order to become adults. They need to dress up in the hats and scarves, and in our case, goggles and boots, in order to LEARN to become adults. They play at being like their parents. That being said—I think the parents get as much out of sharing a Steampunk picture book with their kids as the children do. I’ve gotten several comments from reviewers who have said they shared it with a child (ones of their own, a niece/nephew, or the kids of friends) and were thrilled to finally be able to share this aspect of their lives in a way that the child could understand and get excited about. The kids REALLY feel that joy of connection coming from the grown up, and that makes them want to do more. My daughter wants to dress up as an airship pirate, because *I* dig the scene. She bops with Captain Robert and Abney Park because I play it on my laptop. Now, she has her OWN book—and it connects her to mommy.
I have a feeling that this story will be what some adult Steampunks show their own parents to show the gentle side of the movement… or to their “other” friends…. or their co-workers.
3) How did you and the artist, William Kevin Petty, work together? Did you tell him what to draw or did he tell you what to write?
We did this in the most tedious way ever, over Facebook. He was deployed to the Middle East, and we met inside the computer. It’s a long and interesting story, but more to the question at hand, we DO work well together and each have ideas that feed the other. We have bins of books planned already. I wrote the story based on a drawing he had done well before we “met”. I put in some notes with the story when I sent it. Some passages I had specific ideas about. Others, I said, “Go nuts. Do what you feel.” There was only one image from his original story boards to which I thought, “no that won’t do.” We tried a few other things and finally KEPT the original idea in the end. That was for “Her Majesty’s Explorer.” Kevin called me and asked me to write what became the bonus poem “Three Cheers for Steamduck.” The experience was different there. I had a better idea of what he was capable of, and I wrote to what I WANTED to see him draw. The words whispy, soda pop, bath, otter, fish and frogs, were all there because his animals are the most adorable things ever, and I love how he does smoke, steam and water. ANYthing that swirls or flows is easily in his wheelhouse. He has a great sense of humor when he draws as well, and I try to write to that strength.
About the Author: Journalist and writer Emilie P. Bush has written two novels. Her first, CHENDA AND THE AIRSHIP BROFMAN, was a “ripping good yarn!” and the tale was a 2010 Semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO VERDU picks up the epic tale where Chenda left off—high in the skies. Illlustrator William Kevin Petty is the founder of Allied Aethernautics, LTD., a Steampunk illustration company and specializes in exceptionally detailed pencil sketches and acrylic paintings. His work has appeared in Steampunk Magazine and across the web. Capt. Petty, when he is not deployed with the U.S. Army, lives and draws in central Louisiana.