I’m delighted to interview fellow Harper Voyager Impulse author, Brooke Johnson, whose novel, THE GUILD CONSPIRACY, book 2 in her CHRONIKER CITY series, is out now! I’m intrigued by this YA steampunk series that defies easy happily ever afters. Without further ado, take it away Brooke!
1) Please tell us a little bit about your novel, THE GUILD CONSPIRACY, and why you wrote it?
THE GUILD CONSPIRACY continues the story of Petra Wade and her efforts to stop the conspiracy she uncovered in the first book, THE BRASS GIANT. The British Empire is on the brink of war with the anti-imperialist French, and she’s determined to do whatever it takes to prevent it—even going so far as committing treason to keep the conflict at bay. With the complications of a long-distance boyfriend, the struggle to prove herself among her peers, and the watchful eye of a Royal Forces soldier, she has more than enough to contend with.
I wrote this particular story because I wanted to show the consequences of failure, something that I’ve rarely seen done in young adult fiction. Most books, even in a series, end with a happy ending, or at least with a victory for the characters. But that’s not the case with THE BRASS GIANT. And so the story that follows in THE GUILD CONSPIRACY is a result of that failure, and the consequences that follow. In my usual reading, I started to get a bit annoyed by how easy it seemed that heroes were able to topple a corrupt government or an evil king, and suddenly the revolution is over and everyone lives happily ever after. I wanted to write a story that explored a different side to that.
2) How was writing a sequel different from writing the first book in the City Chronikers series? What did you find most enjoyable / most challenging about writing a sequel?
Writing a sequel was definitely more difficult in a lot of ways. I was constantly worried about how it would be received by readers, which stifled both my productivity and creativity at times. I wanted the book to be bigger and better than its predecessor, and my ambitions got the better of me. I ended up writing more than twice the number of words I finally ended up with (literally 200,000 words, whittled down to just below 100,000 for the final draft), and had to cut several subplots, character scenes, and world-building anecdotes to get to an acceptable word count in the end. Revisions were a nightmare. The first book was much easier in comparison.
As for the most enjoyable part of writing the sequel… the characters were all a lot of fun to write. Especially the villain. While my editor did make me trim down most of his melodramatic monologues, I had the most fun writing his scenes. He doesn’t get a lot of page time in the first book, but that is more than remedied in the sequel.
3) What appeals to you most about Steampunk as a genre?
The science, mostly. I just love the grit and raw power of physical machinery, all the moving parts, the smell, the sounds. There’s something about clockwork and steam that has this tangible realness that I cannot help but love, especially when compared to the clean, quiet efficiency of modern electronics.
The other thing that draws me is the general optimism of the Victorians, that dewy eyed naivety of the future to come, when the British Empire was at its peak and it seemed that nothing could stand in their way. For all the problems of the time—and there were a lot—that optimistic view of the future is a welcome escape from the often dreary, dystopian outlook we seem to have now.
4) What research did you do to write THE GUILD CONSPIRACY? (or this series in general) What were some of your favorite sources (primary or secondary)? How do you organize your research?
I did a lot of mechanical research. I’m no engineer, so I had to read a lot of books to get a general grasp of the concepts and the terminology involved in Victorian science. I wanted to make sure that my descriptions were accurate enough that when I stretched the science a little bit, it felt believable. A lot of the machines in the book are flat out impossible without the benefit of modern processors, but it was fun to make up a world where advanced machinery might exist with more rudimentary technology. My go to for mechanical research is a set of encyclopedias I stole from my dad, a translation of a German collection titled How Things Work, which includes thorough explanations in layman’s terms of nearly every major invention in the lifetime of humankind. I also had to research a bit about the Victorians themselves, their society and etiquette, the economy of the time, their technology, trade, military organization, and various other historical tidbits. I looked at a lot of maps, and Google Earth was my best friend when I had to write scenes set in real world places.
As for organization, there isn’t any, really. I mostly research while writing. If something comes up that I don’t know the answer to, or can’t explain easily, I head to Wikipedia, get the general information, and if that’s not enough, I look up further sources. What I find gets put into the story, and then I keep on writing, until I come to the next opportunity for more research. This is dangerous. Before I know it, what should be a few minutes looking up trade routes becomes an hour long study into the history of the coal industry across the British Empire. I like accuracy, and sometimes that means I am way too thorough with my research, even if it only ends up as half a sentence in the actual story.
5) What are some of your personal favorite fantasy authors? What books influenced your development as an author?
Old favorites include the obvious: Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, but also Diana Wynne Jones, Kristen Britain, and Gail Carson Levine. New favorites include Terry Pratchett, Robin LaFevers, Rae Carson, Rick Riordan, Victoria Schwab, Stephanie Burgis, and Merrie Haskell.
As for what books influenced me most, I got started writing Goosebumps-esque, grade school horror and later moved onto writing a horribly clumsy amalgamation of a fantasy novel inspired by Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia collectively that will thankfully never see the light of day. After that, I read a lot of classics—Shakespeare, Chaucer, Poe—and eventually stumbled upon Diana Wynne Jones’s fiction, which validated my love of young adult and children’s literature. Later, I read and loved Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns series, which gave me the courage to rewrite the story of my heart (still unpublished unfortunately, but something I hope to revisit soon). And Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is what introduced me to steampunk and got me on that writing path.
6) What is the most helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received? The least helpful? What advice would you give beginning writers?
Most helpful: Write every day. Start now. It’s easy to think you’ll have time to write later, but that is most definitely untrue. The best time you have is now.
Least helpful: Don’t edit as you go. This works for some people. I am not one of those people.
My advice to new writers: Finish what you start. You learn more from finishing and editing a single bad novel than you do from starting a thousand promising ones that never reach the end.
7) If you could personally have any magical power (or any cool steampunk gadget) from any SFF novel (your own or another author’s,) what would you choose and why?
Magical teleportation. Travel is time-consuming and expensive. Being someone who lives several hours from family and takes cross-country vacations by car, if I could instead cast a spell and teleport to anywhere in the world, that would be great. Horribly pragmatic I know, but don’t underestimate the supreme boredom of long car rides.
About the Author:
BROOKE JOHNSON is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous. You can find her on Twitter @brookenomicon.