Cherie Priest – Author of Clockwork Century
Interviewed by Jean Marie Ward
JMW: Hello. This is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is Cherie Priest, the celebrated author of the Clockwork Century series, which started with Boneshaker and is now winding up with her November 2013 release, Fiddlehead. Welcome, Cherie.
Cherie Priest: Thank you for having me.
JMW: Our pleasure. How does it feel to say farewell to the gas zombies of Seattle?
Cherie Priest: Well, I mean it’s bittersweet in its way. I had no idea it was going to go on this long, to be honest. Boneshaker was almost written as a one-off because it was the last book I was under contract for. I had no idea it was going to stretch out like it has. But that said, the war needed to end and this is a good place to put it down for a little while and in Fiddlehead, the Civil War is going to come to a close.
Cherie Priest: Yes. And actually, next year I have a much smaller project, a novella coming out with Subterranean, called Jackaranda [sp] that is loosely tied to the Clockwork Century universe, but much like Clementine, which I also did with them, it’s kind of outside the scope and main thread. But that will probably be the last of them for a while.
JMW: For a while. The series has generated a lot of passion among sci-fi and fantasy fans. What do you think has made it so controversial?
Cherie Priest: Well, most of the controversy seems to have to do with my terrible history, my bad, bad history. I get a great deal of email from people who have history concern. No, my husband says I need a page on my website called “Yes, I Know,” just with the frequently asked questions or frequently made accusations, like “Yes, I know the
Civil War didn’t go on for nearly 20 years,” “Yes, I know that this building wasn’t built at that time, that these trains weren’t in service, that there weren’t any hydrogen power interventricles [sp] or certainly not armored military ones at that time.” So I get a lot of complaints from the history nerds. And I put disclaimers at the front and end of the books, typically, saying that I know… “Here are some of the things I did and if you are a true stickler for historic accuracy, these probably aren’t the books for you,” which in no way stops any of the hate mail.
JMW: That’s too bad. But some of the stuff-the most outrageous stuff-especially dealing with your female characters, are based on historical characters. You mention in one of your Dragon Con panels a confederate spy who got so well known that she had to stop spying?
Cherie Priest: Yep, Maria Isabella Boyd, or some… She’s one of those characters about whom both a lot is known and not much is known. I’m not even entirely sure how old she was when the war landed. But no, she was a confederate spy who was a teenage girl, ran letters back and forth for Stonewall Jackson, married and divorced and widowed and all kinds of… in and out of POW camps and toward the end of the war, when northern papers got wind of her and found pictures of her, they made terrible fun of her. She was not a beautiful woman. I think the phrase that went around was that she had a body that would stop a clock and a face that would stop a train.
JMW: Oh dear.
Cherie Priest: They were not kind. They were very unkind. But she was so charismatic and so clever and capable and charming that men typically didn’t notice that she wasn’t beautiful and she was quite successful in her… One quote I read said something about how she had the most finely turned angle this side of the Mississippi or something like that. So she was a real person and she’s fun to write. And Princess Angele in Boneshaker was a real person, not a cross-dressing ninja in real life, but the… Her complaint in that book with Minnericht is based on a real thing that actually happened and it ends differently in my version of things. But there is real history and the real stuff is always so much weirder than anything I could make up.
JMW: Speaking of your passionate fans or your interesting male… challenging male? Why do you feel you owe Charlie Strauss a drink?
Cherie Priest: Oh, Charlie drinks for free. A couple years ago, I guess, he did a blog post that was-bless his heart-kind of amounted to a lot of cane rattling and “You Steampunk kids, get off my lawn” and in it he called me out personally. He was complaining that Steampunk is supposed to be science fiction that it was not actually very scientific and as he makes this thesis statement, he says in parentheses “I’m looking at you, Cherie Priest, with your gas-powered zombies” and he linked me. And so it just flooded my page with traffic and the most traffic I’ve had in ages and I got to do a follow-up post that got even more traffic because I was teasing him back. I was like “Yeah, and God, he’s right. If only I consulted more zombie scientists we could have avoided this whole embarrassing situation.”
So it was all good natured fun and I didn’t take it personally and we have since become friendly online and all is well. But the whole thing just cracked me up. It was hilarious.
JMW: I can imagine. It sounds it. I’m sorry I missed that exchange.
Cherie Priest: It’s still on the internet. You can go Google around to it.
JMW: Oh, I will. You are also heavily involved in George RR Martin’s Wild Card Universe. What is your role in that series?
Cherie Priest: I don’t know that I would say “heavily involved.” I am new to the Wild Card Consortium as of a couple years ago… I guess two or three years ago now. I wrote the interstitial mystery for Fort Freak, which was one of the new Wild Cards being released.
JMW: What does the…? Explain the term of the “interstitial mystery.”
Cherie Priest: The Wild Cards books tend to be-although they are not always-mosaic novels, where it’s more than one author. There is usually like a frame story or a story that kind of runs through the whole thing and is the bulk of it with these smaller stories in the middle of it, written by other people. I wrote the big story that held it together. It was called The Rat Race because each of them kind of have their own names. And that was… It was my first foray, actually. George told me not to go for it. He
pitched the interstitial and then the writers of the Consortium get to pitch story ideas that fit the interstitial or for the interstitial itself and he told all us new kids not to… He was like “This is kind of a pain in the butt. Leave it to the old guard.” But I had a really good idea and I threw it at him and he said no, so I redid it and I threw it at him again and I believe his exact quote was “This is less bad.” So I was like “What would make it not bad?” and we went back and forth about five or six rounds and finally he was like “Just shut up. We’re going to use it. It’s the best idea we’ve got so far, so this is what we’re going to run with. Don’t thank me because it’s going to eat your life for about six months” and it did. But it was great. It was a master class in writing and I don’t regret it for a moment. And since then I’ve done a short story- it was actually fairly long-on tor.com called The Button Man and The Murder Train. And I’ve contributed a few characters that have been used here and there, but I was really booked up for this last year when he was putting together the next one, so I’m not going to be in that one. And I think there are probably 35 people in the Consortium at this point, probably… maybe more than that. I’d guess 35-45 people who have worked on the series over the years, so I am a little, tiny part of the Wild Cards universe. We’ll say that instead.
JMW: Yes, but you did do a frame story and that story on Tor, which was a really, really fad.
Cherie Priest: Oh, why thank you.
JMW: I mean that in the best possible way, not…
Cherie Priest: It’s supposed to be kind of weird and tragic.
JMW: Yeah, melancholy and weird and tragic. Yes indeed, it was. We’ve talked about the Clockwork Century. We’ve talked about Wild Cards. But you’ve got some stuff on your own that’s percolating. What are you working on and can you share some of the details?
Cherie Priest: Just a little bit. I’ve got a handful of things in the queue. I’m working on a young adult project for Scholastic. The lead times on those are so far out. I think it’s slated for middle of 2015 at this point, even though we’re working on it now. And apart from that, I have a big, fat, crazy epistolary gothic novel called Maple Croft coming out from Ace next year and the low pitch for that is that it’s Lizzie Borden fighting Cthulhu with an axe and the higher pitch is that it’s… Well, I mean it’s a love letter to Dracula through love craft. I’m very excited about that one. And we’ll have a follow-up for that, but we haven’t nailed down what it’s going to be exactly yet, in the following year.
JMW: How do you follow-up Cthulhu and Dracula? I mean that would be really tough acts to follow.
Cherie Priest: Dracula isn’t in it. It’s the same structure as Dracula with the letters back and forth and the journal entries. I have some ideas. I’m actually going to talk with the editor this evening. We’re getting together for supper and we’re going to maybe hash out some of that.
JMW: Oh, how cool. And by the time this airs, you’ll be well on your way.
Cherie Priest: Hopefully I’ll know.
JMW: Is there any chance you’ll return to the universe of your vampire novels, Bloodshot and Hellbent or the Eden War series that you did when you were starting out?
Cherie Priest: Not much at this time. The Eden books have recently been released in England actually, and they seem to be doing okay there. Maybe if magically they take off and sell wildly in the UK, maybe Titan will want them or Pan McMillan [inaudible 0:09:28.5] over there. So those are kind of done for now. The vampire books, I had a third on deck but they just didn’t quite sell well enough for the publisher to be interested in any more. So no for that one either right now. I kept saying that if I’d just get some down time I’ll go ahead and write that third one after all, maybe put it online for free. But downtime keeps not happening, so that’s just going to have to be a back burner thing.
JMW: Hey, downtime means they’re not paying you.
Cherie Priest: Right. This is job security. I’m not overworked.
JMW: Not a bit.
: No, it’s fine.
JMW: Anything you’d like to add?
Cherie Priest: Well, nothing springs to mind. I suppose Fiddlehead comes out this fall and Jackaranda will be out next year and that’s the other Steampunk one, the last of those definitely in the queue for now. And Maple Croft again, late next year and after that, it’s hopefully the young adult project and we’ll see what happens from there. It’s going to be a busy couple of years.
JMW: Cool. I’m so glad for you. Thank you and thank you from BuzzyMag.com
Interviewed by Jean Marie Ward
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Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.