Interview: Cherie Priest
by Gayle Surrette
Review by Gayle Surrette
SFRevu.com *Interview ISBN/ITEM#: INTCheriePriest
Date: 24 September 2009
Links: Cherie Priest's Blog / Review: Boneshaker / Show Official Info /
SFRevu: I noticed you have a couple of more steampunk stories coming out soon, what's the draw to writing in the steampunk universe?
Cherie: Most of my previous books and short stories have been inspired by some bizarre real-life fact -- a strange situation, or historic tidbit -- that I then warped to suit my own nefarious narrative purposes; and working in my steampunk universe scratches that same itch. I get to play with real history and real events, but I can also twirl the facts around my finger, or bend them, or fiddle with them, until they work better for my characters. Besides, what's not to love about dirigibles, weird tech, and retro clothes?
SFRevu: I enjoyed your Author's Note in Boneshaker regarding the liberties taken with history to better fit the story. Just how much research does it take to place a novel in historical context? What I'm really getting atis do you write first and then look for the history, or research first and try to match the plot to the facts? Chicken or Egg?
Cherie: In this particular instance, the Clockwork Century (my shorthand for the world setting) really came first, and the details came after. It started when I was having a conversation about steampunk with an old friend, and somehow we came around to how the two mega-forces of war and pornography drive technology like nothing else. And somehow the idea clicked in my head: What about the Civil War? What if it'd kept on going for years -- or even decades longer than it really ran?
The great thing is, you don't even have to imagine the kind of technology that would've come into play. You can just go digging around for old patent applications and see some of the amazing, terrible, baffling, elaborate Victorian devices which were never made.
I've lived most of my life in the southeast, a great chunk of that time in Tennessee and in Kentucky -- where you can't swing a stick without hitting a Civil War marker. This basic contextual awareness (and my own history-nerdiness) made the research easier; since I already knew the basics, refining the research wasn't quite the gargantuan task it might've been otherwise.
Or to put it another way, when I began to write an alternate version of the Civil War in America, I did not first have to learn everything there is to know about the Civil War in America. I came to it with a solid enough background to dive right in and get started.
SFRevu: In your books, setting is very important to the plot and mood. Do you get a scene and setting first or do you have a plot that just would fit best with a certain setting? Even though you currently live in Seattle, I imagine the gold rush drove the setting to Seattle?
Cherie: To tell you the truth, the thing about the gold rush only dawned on me later, once I'd already started mapping out Boneshaker and writing some of the early chapters. I wanted to write a book set in Seattle largely because I live here now -- and for awhile, I worked down in the old quarter (Pioneer Square, they call it). I learned a lot about the historical circumstances that formed the city, as well as the infamous "Underground". It was interesting, that's all. I wanted to tell a story about it.
I didn't know that my first Seattle book would also be my first steampunk/Clockwork Century book, but that's where it went, and I'm very happy with the results.
The Civil War itself doesn't come into play much in this story, since the war occurs a couple thousand miles away back east ... but I figured that twenty years of war technology and social upheaval would absolutely have an impact felt all the way to the west coast. So although the original universe was conceived as an "eastern theater" sort of thing, Boneshaker is both very much a part of that world-setting, and a very northwestern story too.
SFRevu: As an editor and writer, do you get much time to read for pleasure? If so, what are the last 5 books that you read for pleasure?
Cherie: Not so much anymore, but I still fight for it once in awhile! Right now I'm reading George Mann's The Affinity Bridge which is pretty good so far; previously I picked up Caitlin Kiernan's The Red Tree, which was simply divine; I nabbed an ARC of John Connolly's The Gates (of Hell Are About to Open) and loved it; Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett's Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel was amazing and lots of fun; and before that, I think it was Drood by Dan Simmons, which was good -- but I didn't like it half as well as I liked The Terror (partly because I'm just not a fan of Dickens, to be fair).
SFRevu: What's your all time favorite activity to do for fun?
Cherie: Explore abandoned buildings. Hands down, favorite thing EVER. I'm fascinated by old places, and I've been known to trespass to get inside them (though I won't break and enter -- there's a world of difference). I never destroy or steal anything when I do these "urban explorations" -- I try to treat empty places like public parks. I take only pictures, leave only footprints.
SFRevu: Thanks for your time.