It’s that time again for Celebrity Saturday!! Pull up a chair and a cup of coffee and enjoy the show!
Ren Cummins (@RenCummins) is author of the Steampunk YA novels: Chronicles of Aesirium. In this series there are four books: Reaper’s Return, The Morrow Stone, Repears Flight, and City of the Dead. They are an E-Book collection that is available on Amazon.
I am currently reading the Morrow Stone and LOVE it so far. I’m 48% through the story and in love with all the characters: Rom, Kari, Cousins…they all have such wonderful personality! Ren has done an amazing job capturing the world of Steampunk with fantasy elements that are fun for all ages.
Thanks again Ren for being here on Life, Muse and Coffee! I’m super excited to have a Steampunk edition of Celebrity Saturday, especially since you were one of the key people who got me into Steampunk in the first place! Right, pull up a cup of coffee and here are the questions!
1. How did you find Steampunk? What is it about Steampunk that inspires you so much?
Mmmm! Good coffee!
Ah, yes. Steampunk. You know, it’s really funny but my answer isn’t too different than the answer I hear from a lot of people writing in the Steampunk genre – – it’s not so much that we found Steampunk but Steampunk kind of found us. In my case, it snuck up behind me while I was writing and cracked me over the head and when I woke up, all I saw was gears. Okay, not quite like that. But I’ve always loved the aesthetic that is found in the elements at the core of Steampunk. There’s an earthiness and industrial quality to its components which transcend other fantasy and science fiction genres, partly because the very same physical items are still around. It feels like a kind of contemporary archeological spin on it as well; I watched a show on the History channel a few years back where they talked about light bulbs in the time of the construction of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, and, to me, that reminded me a bit of what Steampunk does, although on a fictional scale. It’s a lot of “What If”-fery, which is always fun, but with a proper attire and maybe even a fine hat. I’ve always love a bit of the Victorian in my fiction, and adding a splash of ingenuity and hyperindustrial finesse to that? I mean, come on, what’s not to love? And, also, once you figure out how to create steam with a reduction in fuel consumption, well, to me, there’s a definite resonance that can be found in wishing that were possible – even in the plans for the modern hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, there’s a touch of Steampunkery in that, and that kind of common frame of reference makes it very easy to get sucked into a good Steampunk yarn.
“There is Steampunk, and then there is STEAMPUNK!” ~Ren Cummins about his Morrow Stone novel.
2. Was it hard researching for the Aesirium Chronicles? Where did you turn turn to for such research – or did you not need any at all?
I know one of my editors was giving me a lot of feedback on research in my earliest draft of the books. I’d done a lot on Victorian culture, language, sociocommunity design and city construction and such, but I also had to study principles of steam engine and gun design. There are quite a few things that exist in the books which are based upon things that were designed here in our own history; usually, inventions that were abandoned in favor of other designs, or just based upon technology that was never fully capitalized upon.
But one of the things that I studied most was human culture, religion and history – and not just history history, but the history of the retelling of history; how information is delivered from one generation to the next, how myth is born, and how, in the space of relatively few years, a verbal retelling of history can lead to great misconceptions about the actual truth of a culture’s own history. Those are some key elements that exist in the foundation of the stories, and I wanted to try and give them some validity and basis in fact. I mean, just look at the United States of America – we’ve only been around a few hundred years, and even WITH our meticulous attention to detail and record keeping, we’ve lost a LOT of the facts about our own origin. Imagine a world still locked into a pseudo-industrial structure – how would their sense of history change over time? That was one of the key aspects to the books, and the part I’ve really enjoyed telling.
Lastly, a lot of other media sources inspired various scenes and stylistic flourishes in the books; everything from Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” to Anime like Cowboy Bebop, Battle Angel Alita and Steamboy; the Final Fantasy video game series; as well as graphic novels by Warren Ellis.
3. Have you written YA or Steampunk before the Aesirium Chronicles? Do you have other books or literature my viewers can read?
These are my first completed novels, period, in any genre. I’ve been wanting to write for my whole life, but I did take a distracting path towards music for about 10 years. I did a CD called “Obsidian Bridges” – which I still really enjoy listening to from time to time.
In fact, you may have noticed that music plays a big part in the books as well; I drew heavily on my background in songwriting and music theory to add an extra layer into the more esoteric elements of the books. I think music is the closest thing we have to actual magic in this world, so using that as a metaphor was a very logical step for me. When I made the decision to focus on writing again, I did a lot of blogging to focus out my writing style, did several short stories to get myself back in shape for storytelling, and then did two different projects which failed in development before the Aesirium books really exploded.
4. What books are in your library? What are you reading right now?
My library is a frightening monster, which has taken on a demonic life of its own. I was already struggling to keep it under control when my wife bought me an ebook reader (don’t want to do any arbitrary plugs here, but it rhymes with Spindle) and now it’s even worse. I’m reading several books at the same time, flittering back and forth between them like an engorged hummingbird. I’m finishing up the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan, but also reading Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and the Fables graphic novels by Bill Willingham. Speaking of comic books – I also picked up the Mice Templar graphic novels for my daughter at last month’s Emerald City ComiCon here in Seattle. I’m friends with the artist, Michael Oeming, and I really just love pretty much anything he and his wife, Taki Soma, create. My daughter LOVES the books, and I’m a mighty big fan myself. I somehow grew up while still being a fan of comics – Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Ron Marz and Geoff Jones – and there’s so many more! – write some truly magnificent, epic stories, and I really think people tend to overlook their great storytelling skills, just because their books have pictures in them. Comic book creators really do not get the love they deserve, I think.
5. How has Twitter and social media helped you on your journey as an author? Do you have a blog?
Wow, I can’t even begin to tell you how much it’s helped! Between Twitter and Goodreads, for example, I’ve seen a substantial upswing in response to my books, and it’s been fantastic – but, honestly, the part that has struck the deepest chord for me has been getting to know so many other authors, across so many genres. I made a conscious choice to focus on an artistic medium which would allow me to spend more time at home while my daughter was growing up, so I haven’t spent a lot of time at the various writing or science fiction conventions, doing the kind of physically interactive social networking that comes with the business. But with the internet and all its many glorious tidbits of interactivity, I’ve met people across so many different segments of population that I don’t know I would’ve met otherwise. For example, this – – being interviewed by you. It’s amazing to me as a writer to get a chance to talk to someone I might not otherwise have met who has read and enjoyed one of my books, and get an opportunity to hear what you liked about the books, and see that my own affection for these characters and stories is shared by someone else.
Additionally, I’ve “met” some great writers like Theresa Meyers (@Theresa_Meyers), Lorna Suzuki (@LornaSuzuki), Matt Delman (@mattdelman) and Jen Ashton (@jenashtonart) (and oh yes, there are so many more, but if you check the list of people I follow on Twitter, you’ll see them all there), who have shared with me some phenomenal handfuls of wisdom. Jen, for example, has been critically instrumental in helping me under some of the complexities and challenges with self-publishing, especially e-publishing. She is pretty awesome, by the way – I can’t say enough good things about her. I’ve spent a good deal of the past 6-10 months trying to meet everyone – – it’s like, if you’re going to be an author, these people are going to be your peers. So the sooner you start to associate with them in that way, the better.
I keep a regular blog at:
6. How do you feel about self-publishing vs. traditional?
Ah, this is such a big debate these days – and not just in book publishing, but in music and movies and video games. I think I’d have to start my answer to this question by challenging the use of the word “traditional” when it comes to the current publishing model. A hundred years ago, most books were “self published.” You wrote a book, found a guy who had a printing press, and you made your book. Simple. But over the years, larger publishing houses were formed and made the process so simple and provided the distribution paths to getting your books into bookstores, that, eventually, they were seen as “the only way” to get published.
It’s no longer the case now, what with the ease of self-publishing services and ebook readers. I think the important thing to remember is that we have options. If you find a publisher who is willing to work with you, and you like the deal they’re giving you, then that’s fine, too. Some authors just want to write and meet deadlines, and then move on to their next project. Nothing wrong with that. Plus, you have access to a lot of marketing and distribution options though a publisher that you might not have as a self-publisher. In the end, it all boils down to what you want from your efforts. I think it’s great if you want a large publishing house to distribute your books – assuming they’re willing to take a chance on you – but I suppose I’ve always been something of a control freak over my projects; that, combined with an insatiable curiosity to know how things work, and self-publishing just makes more sense to me.
7. What advice would you give my readers who are first-time authors about getting published?
Write. Seriously, finish your book, and then write some more.
I think it’s essential for new authors to not just sit around, waiting to be discovered. If you want to go with a publisher, then send out queries, develop your presentation style and get to know other authors and people in the business. Don’t be afraid of rejection, either. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Don’t let it make you bitter or frustrated, and, above all, if people give you feedback, listen to it. That doesn’t mean you have to accept it all, but at least consider it.
Also, learn about this industry. I mean, really learn. Pick the brains of others who have been doing it longer than you have, because chances are, they’ve learned lessons you haven’t learned yet. And, while learning lessons the hard way may sound like a great way to “suffer for your art”, some mistakes can not only set you back far on your path, sometimes they can damage your chances at being successful.
One other bit of advice: define “success”. What is your purpose of writing? What do you want out of it? If you don’t know, you need to figure that out before you spend any more time trying to make something happen.
Oh, and did I mention, “Write”? Seriously. Write.
8. Everyone seems to have a different answer for this question…but how would you describe what Steampunk is?
Matt Delman has a lot of this information on his Doctor Fantastiques’ website: http://www.doctorfantastiques.com/
And I know a lot of people just say “steampunk is whatever you want it to be”, but that’s not entirely true, either. But there aren’t yet an established series of definitions which completely isolate it from other genres or subgenres in literature. And let’s not forget, it’s not just a literary styling, either. Art, music, fashion – it’s spreading like a copper plated Borg across the landscape. Even made it into an episode of “Castle”.
I don’t think its’ simple enough to say “slap a couple of gears on it and a put a pair of goggles on and poof!”, though. It’s a delicate combination of elements – the neo-victorian cultural element, the anachronistic retro-tech, the fantastical and the industrial; all these things have to come together in just the right mix, or else it can be just kind of a rusty sepia-colored mess. And for the record, I do not believe that old joke “Steampunk is for Goths who discovered the color brown.” Though I do have a lot of goth friends who now love Steampunk as well. But I do find the two elements to be substantially distinct. Just wanted to be clear on that.
9. Do you participate in Steampunk events in real life or just online? How can my readers get more involved in the Steampunk community?
Most major cities are developing Steampunk coalitions of one form or another. Conventions are becoming quite popular, too! http://www.doctorfantastiques.com/, which I mentioned earlier, has a pretty good network set up, and is a good place to start. Twitter has a #steampunk thread that pops up all over the place.
I’ve been the Steamcon in Seattle, and it was great; I’ll be going again this year, as well. Before just jumping in, take a look around, see what you like of what’s out there, and talk to folks. Most steamers I’ve seen are more than happy to talk about their part in the general Steaminess; it’s a very delightfully social group of people, overall.
10. Do you have any current works in projects? Any other books your working on?
As for the Aesirium Chronicles, book 5, “Into the Blink” should be out very soon, and book 6 “The Crook and the Blade” is about 20% completed.
Several things are in the works beyond that – a couple of science fiction-centric anthologies with a few other authors, and another series of books that will have a much darker supernatural contemporary setting: think Portland with demons. But I’m not done with Aerthos and the YA Steampunk books, either.
I already have two future trilogies planned out; one that follows one of the main characters (I won’t say who yet) in the years immediately following the close of this 6-book series, and the second trilogy is set about ten years after the current series. Many pots on the stove, but they’re all coming along nicely. I’ve also got several Science Fiction stories sketched out, a “Superhero” themed book inspired by Seattle’s own real life superhero, Phoenix Jones, and a couple books of philosophical meanderings, as well. I’ve already got enough ideas laid out that, even if I never had another new idea, I could still knock out another 15-20 books. Ugh. That’s actually kind of frightening. I need to hurry up.
11. What activities do you help you break your writers block? Or do you never get writers block?
I don’t really get “writer’s block”, per se. Mostly because when I want to write something, I write.
I’ve literally had to pull my car over so I can write, if the words happened to hit me while I’m driving. Not very safe, but it beats trying to write on the steering wheel. It used to happen to me when I was doing music, too. I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of times I had to call my voicemail and sing a bit of melody or scratch bits of lyrics down on coffee shop receipts or whatever I could find handy. I keep a notebook by my bed, as well, in case I get ideas in the middle of the night. You just have to be ready when the ideas strike you. I’ve had a lot of notes written down on toilet paper, too – no room is safe from the muse, damn her. But sometimes, it’s hard to get myself to sit still long enough to write. So I try to establish a pattern to writing: do some cleaning around the house, play a bit of video games or read, and then sit down and write. One of the things I do to get my mind into writing is that I set up song playlists on my digital music player (again, no plug here, but it rhymes with iZod); and I only listen to that playlist (though it has about 1000 songs on it) when I’m writing. The reaction is kind of Pavlovian; I hear the opening strains of the Doctor Who soundtracks by Murray Gold, or Alice in Wonderland by Danny Elfman or the Tron soundtrack by Daft Punk, and my mind switches into writing mode. It’s weird, but it totally works. I’ve found that setting up a kind of ritualized series of sensory stimuli works very well to clear your head and put you in a writing mode.
12. Rom is a very strong main character with a voice of her own. Was it hard getting into character of an 11 year old Reaper? How did you discover Rom?
Rom came from a tabletop roleplaying game I ran several years ago with my wife, Lizz, and a few of our friends. The game ended but I really missed Rom most of all – I had a complete background designed for the character (who, in our game, was actually much older than in the books) that I was going to surprise my wife with, who played her, but we never got to that in the game. So, a few months after the game ended, I was moping around the house and complaining that I missed the character, so my wife shook her head at me and said “well, maybe you need to write her story.”
It was a little disappointing that it hadn’t even occurred to me before that moment, but there we were. I draw on my wife and ten year old daughter Jillian for personality and decisions. Jillie has been great about this; she loves Rom so much that she and some of her friends play “Morrow Stone” at school, treating it kind of like a more elaborate Pokemon adventure. I even mentioned this in one of the books’ dedications, but whenever I don’t know how Rom might respond to something, I only have to look at Lizz and Jillie to imagine. Last night, in fact, Jillie commented that she thinks she’s very much like Rom, and said “You should know, I don’t plan things, I just act. Just like Rom!”
13. Do you drink coffee or tea to help you write? If so, what’s your favorite for writing?
Coffee – white chocolate mocha. And lots of water. But not so much that I have to keep running to the bathroom.
14. Is there anything else I didn’t ask that you’d like to add?
Claire, thank you so much for this. You’re awesome! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your Zeppelin story, too – – – – we should talk more about your plans to publish. 🙂
So that’s it folks! Hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I have!
Ren’s books are as amusing as his interview, so I suggest you check out The Chronicles of Aesirium series by Ren Cummins on your e-book store: . You won’t be disappointed!
Thanks so much for reading, everyone and just as a reminder Tweet @SmithEClaire if YOU’d like to be the next Literately Rockstar on Celebrity Saturday! Everyone is welcome to be the next star and it will happen every Saturday morning! So stay tuned!!
Hope you have a writerfilled weekend and enjoy your coffee!