Welcoming Jeffrey Cook, author of Dawn of Steam, who is set for an interview with us today on Terraverum!
~Excerpt from ‘Dawn of Steam: First Light~
In 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, two of England’s wealthiest lords place a high-stakes wager on whether a popular set of books, which claim that the author has traveled to many unknown corners of the globe, are truth or, more likely, wild fiction.
First Light is an epistolary novel, told primarily through the eyes of former aide-de-camp Gregory Conan Watts, describing the journeys of the airship Dame Fortuna and its crew through journals and letters to his beloved fiancee.
The first recruit is, necessarily, the airship’s owner: war hero, famed genius, and literal knight in steam-powered armor Sir James Coltrane. Persuading him to lend his talents and refitted airship to the venture requires bringing along his sister, his cousin, and the crew that flew with him during the Napoleonic Wars. Only with their aid can they track down a Scottish rifleman, a pair of shady carnies, and a guide with a strong personal investment in the stories.
When they set out, the wild places of the world, including the far American West, the Australian interior, darkest Africa, and other destinations are thought to be hostile enough. No one expects the trip to involve a legendary storm – or the Year Without a Summer of 1815-1816. The voyage is further complicated by the human element. Some parties are not at all happy with the post-war political map. Most problematic of all, the crew hired by the other side of the wager seem willing to win by any means necessary.
Dawn of Steam: First Light follows these adventurers, as they open up the world. In the process, their journey helps lay the foundations for an age of enlightenment and technology to come.
Author Jeffrey Cook lives in Maple Valley, Washington, with his wife and three large dogs. He was born in Boulder, Colorado, but has lived all over the United States. He’s contributed to a number of role-playing game books for Deep7 Press out of Seattle, Washington, but First Light is his first novel. When not reading, researching or writing, Jeffrey enjoys role-playing games and watching football.
What is your main inspiration as a writer?
As my mother ended up noting on my wall when the book went up, I’ve wanted to write since I was six years old. My storytelling really started on the many, many long road trips I took with my dad as a little kid. We’d go back and forth making up interactive stories. I also started reading really early. A lot of authors have inspired me, but I wouldn’t say any single one is my greatest inspiration. That title really does go back to the days of not being able to read in the car, but having an appreciation for story, so we made our own.
When did you first begin writing?
I started writing poetry and a few short stories in 7th grade. I had a series of really amazing English teachers who helped to push me. I started on my first book in high school… and it was horrible. It never went anywhere, but the idea was planted. I did get a few poems published in community college, then spent a lot of the years immediately following college working on a comic book project that lacked a consistent enough artist to finish. The rough drafts for the Dawn of Steam novels were written in 2009 and 2010.
Which authors have been important in your growth as a writer?
There’s a lot of authors who have influenced me. I read a lot of fantasy when I was young, which still shows in some of my work. More than any single author or authors, though, the writers who really inspired me were Nanowrimo people. The hydrophobic ducks of Seattle in particular, but plenty of other Wrimos had a hand in providing feedback, pushing me to keep going, gave me sounding boards, and in some cases, proved that it really could be done.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer while writing?
Music is my muse. The very first thing I have to do when starting a new project is to build a playlist. I listen to a lot of blues and acoustic alternative, but sometimes have to change it up some or listen to things outside of my normal sphere for different projects. Otherwise, I have my old chair and a laptop. I can write at a desk, but I do best when I’m relaxed. The one downside to writing there is the dogs occasionally coming to try and help, but for the most part, I’m pretty comfortable in my little corner of the room.
Could you give us some tips on how good character development comes about? How do we create unique and relatable characters?
The characters tend to come to me before the story does, and they frequently help drive my stories. As a gamer, and sometime writer in the table-top-role-playing-games industry, I do tend to try and make character sheets or otherwise try and give my characters some definition through rpgs or character building questionnaires. While its not necessarily critical, it works for me, in part because a lot of systems both encourage fleshing out backgrounds and giving characters enough weaknesses.
Even if it never makes it onto the page though, going through seemingly minor details like what their parents did, who primarily raised them, their favorite color, favorite possession, worst habit, etc. can all help bring characters to life and help them become well rounded enough for people to identify with them. Little details in one spot that don’t make it onto the page may influence something later, or lead to characters becoming real enough to lead you off in strange directions when writing.
When you were creating the characters for your book, were they based on people you know or more imagination?
With an ensemble cast, there’s a lot of answers to this. Two of the characters in Dawn of Steam came out of a waking dream. One came partially out of bizarre coincidences in a card game. Almost all of them have some quirks and fleshing out that came from amalgamations of three or four people I know. A lot of them gained a little bit more definition based on fictional characters in Steampunk works or basic genre tropes. Because so much of Dawn of Steam is really about answering the question of how things got to the point they are in a typical Victorian Steampunk work, some of the traits and quirks were specifically built around being the prototypes that will become plucky female airship mechanics with goggles and giant wrenches, airship pirates, ass kickers in full Victorian finery and particularly the people who will have a hand in ushering in an age of technological enlightenment.
How do you plan the outline of your book and do you have suggestions for other writers on this subject?
I love outlines. After my playlist is done, the second thing I do in approaching a new project is doing my initial outline. I write down my favorite lines or ideas, chart where I’d like things to go, and give myself goals and starting and end points. Every four or five days, my characters have mangled my outline beyond recognition. I scrap my original outline and take the time to write a brand new one, with goals, targets, end points, new favorite lines and so on. I can’t really give any tips on writing a great outline. Mine are all over the place. What I can say is don’t get married to your outline. Let the characters run away with the story and write a new one. Outlines make wonderful suggestions and help keep you moving towards your resolution, but they’re not the story.
Do you have other books in the works and can you tell us a little about them?
Dawn of Steam is written as a trilogy. The second book is in second edits and is expected out in mid-September. That one uses the same characters, but explores some of the secrets of the Coltrane family and others. It also moves beyond the English and American spheres of the first book and covers Australia, New Zealand, South America and a bit more.
The third book is done in rough draft form. It should be out in the first quarter of 2015, and covers Japan, Africa, a lot more secrets, and eventually the big homecoming.
Also out next year, I’ve got the Accidental Inquisitor through first edits and waiting on the back burner. A.I. is a Young Adult science fiction novel set in 2154. The primary character is a girl who has worked most of her life to become a ballerina, but is pretty sure she’s doomed to work in her parents’ flower shop instead. So imagine her surprise when she’s inducted into the secret police instead… and due to her cover identity, still has to keep delivering flowers.
I have two other books in the idea stage, so still writing new material. One is set in the fantasy world of Deep7 Games’ Arrowflight, whom I write for at times. Masquer’s Dance covers the story of what happens when, in the midst of a corrupt mercantile city, instead of a handsome prince, a kidnapped princess is rescued from slavery by a band of masked harlequins.
Finally, I’ve got two paragraphs and a final line, plus a bit of an outline done for the fourth book in the Dawn of Steam series. This one picks back up 5 years after the end of book 3, with Matthew Fisher-Swift (10 years old in Dawn of Steam book 1) as the main character. That one has the most development still to go before it looks anything like even an outline, but its begun.
The book’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dawnofsteamtrilogy
and our main page: http://www.dawnofsteam.net/