An Interview with M.K. Hobson

by Chadwick Ginther - Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010 at 10:21am

While attending the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio, I had the pleasure of meeting author M.K. Hobson. Her debut novel, The Native Star was a delight to read, and she was kind enough to answer some questions about herself and her writing for our readers.

CG: How did you get your start as a writer?

MKH: I have been writing stories since I learned how to write. I had an early fascination with the book as an object, so I wasn't just content to write stories, I also had to do the illustrations, create a cover, and bind the pages into a book. The results were always slightly unsatisfactory -- and they still are, truth be told. It's like there's this Platonic ideal of a book in my mind, I don't know how it got there, but I doubt I will ever achieve its creation.

CG: What attracted you to writing in the period of the Reconstruction?

MKH: I think the "Gilded Age" -- the period after the Civil War and before World War One -- is one of the most fascinating, definitive periods in American history. The seeds of much of what we are as a nation today were planted then. We were just beginning to look at ourselves as "Americans", just beginning to realize that our future destiny might be much larger than we'd ever imagined. It was a very exciting and mythic time.

CG: What was the most interesting tidbit of information you found while researching your novel?

MKH: While researching the book, I first learned about the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. The Exposition, which was the first World's Fair in the United States, really captured my fancy, to the point where it ultimately became a large set-piece in the second half of the book. I find events like the Exposition fascinating because it was so beautiful and so cosmopolitan, and yet so temporary.

CG: What would you say was your greatest challenge in writing The Native Star?

MKH: I wrote the book all the way back in 2002, when my daughter was very young, so simply finding time to write was a challenge. Also, I had to pare back everything I wanted to do to keep the narrative tight. There are many alternative scenes that never made it into the book.

CG: There seems to be an environmental undercurrent to the book, what with the Black Exunge acting as a sort of toxic waste and the populace's reliance on magic feels similar to our modern relationship with oil. Was this intentional?

MKH: Originally it wasn't, but as I fleshed out the idea and the parallels became more obvious, I did play it up. I didn't mean it to be an ecological statement as much as a critique of the kind of short-sighted "manifest destiny" mode of thinking that was so prevalent during the industrial revolution (and is still prevalent today, alas.)

CG: The magic system of your book is fascinating and multi-layered. Could you explain a little about it to our readers, and why you decided to include multiple types of magic?

MKH: Because this is historical fantasy, I wanted to come up with a magic system that would fit with real-life magical traditions from around the world. Looking at a wide variety of them -- hoodoo, Ozark folk magic, European, Asian and African magical systems -- I tried to extract the commonalities. Those, as I saw them, were faith, spirit, and blood. That's how the three magical "traditions" came into being.

CG: Since Credomancy affects reality with a sort of majority consensus rules, if you could make enough people believe one thing in order to change to our world, what would it be?

MKH: If every human being were to truly believe that the happiness of every other human being was just as important as his/her own happiness, I think most of the world's problems could be solved pretty quickly.

CG: In your world, magic exists as a part of everyday life. Why did you decide to integrate it into society rather than having it remain hidden from the general populace?

MKH: I love a good "secret history" as much as the next writer, but I didn't want to take that approach with this book because I was really interested in seeing how I could integrate magic with actual history. Also, settings in which magic is practiced in secret usually end up having one of "those" scenes ... you know, where a muggle sees something magic, or one of Darrin Steven's clients sees Samantha levitating a casserole out of the oven, and there's a big zany to-do about it ... and I find those kinds of scenes really exceptionally tedious. I prefer to avoid them all together.

CG: A big part of Steampunk seems to be the "Do it Yourself" attitude it fosters. How involved are you in the craft side of the culture?

MKH: I really enjoy sewing and costuming. I've created several period costumes for myself (photo courtesy of Devon Monk), and I also love sewing for my daughter, who's just getting started on the con scene and has a way better figure than I do. She's a joy to sew for.

CG: Steampunk has been one of the more popular movements in SF lately, but you coined the term "Bustlepunk" for your work. Could you explain the distinction?

MKH: For me, "Bustlepunk" reflects my own personal interest in the manners and sartorial trappings of the era--whereas Steampunk generally seems more focused in the gizmos and techology.

CG: You've written the series as a duology. Do you have any plans for Emily and Dreadnought beyond Book 2, The Hidden Goddess?

MKH: There are a lot of places I could go after The Hidden Goddess. My original idea was to jump forward fifteen or twenty years and begin another duology following one of their sons. However, I do have an idea for another Emily & Dreadnought book, so I could possibly write that. I'd also very much like to write a book or books about Penelope Pendennis.

CG: Finally, what is your favourite Western Myth or Legend?

MKH: I don't know if I'd call it my "favorite" myth, but the myth of the rugged individualist with a strict moral code--whether he's a heroic gunslinger with a past or an honest sheriff facing down a pack of bad guys--is the one I most strongly resonate to, and is probably the one that has the strongest influence (for good or ill is a matter of debate) on the American psyche.

For more see, M.K. Hobson's website here.

Categories: Interview, SciFi & Fantasy, Romance

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