I had the honor of reading an advance reader’s copy of Addleton Heights by author George Wright Padgett. In addition to that honor, I got to interview him for the release celebration!
Who did the cover art? How did you find them?
God bless the internet. I discovered a fantastic Italian artist by the name of Michele Giorgi (http://michelegiorgiillustrator.com). I have a commercial graphic art degree and have done my covers in the past, but Addleton Heights was different. This novel is solidly situated in the steampunk genre, so I wanted a classic romantic image with all the flourishes. While I do plenty of layout and design, I’m no illustrator; it’s an entirely different discipline, so I sought out someone with those skills.
I came across Michele’s art on the internet when I was a third of the way through the first draft and fell in love with his style. He hadn’t had any book cover commissions at that point, but I took a chance and contacted him in the hopes that he’d try something different. I emailed him with highlighted samples of his work which struck the tone I was looking for.
Many of the Steampunk images I’d come across to that point were often dark and grimy. I love those murky atmospheres, but wanted to go a completely different direction in an effort to make the book stand out. The end result is an image of bright sunshiny day in January with the snow gently falling to the ground. It’s wonderful contrast to many scenes contained within.
Is there any possibility of a graphic novel using the same illustrator in our future?
That would be amazing! I’d love to see that happen someday. Michele, if you’re reading this, I’m 100% up for it.
How much research was involved with writing a Steampunk novel set in the turn of the century (1901)?
Believe or not, I found myself doing as much research on this novel as I did for the space clone mining novel Spindown (www.georgewpadgett.com/spindown)
I tend to get caught into these perfectionist cycles where I compulsively need to know everything about the subject before putting anything on the page. The idea being that the more that I can understand the world that the characters exist in, the easier it is for me to immerse the reader into the scene. The end result is great because I get to transport the audience into the center of wherever I’m taking them; the downside is it’s a slower process. For instance, because I tend to go overboard, I now know all about the migratory birds of the Nantucket/Martha’s Vineyard area though there’s only two or three mentions of birds in the entire novel.
I’m not complaining; I love learning so the research was fun. A huge component steampunk stories is their connection to history/alternate history, so I spent time studying about the area’s whaling oil industry losing out to Pennsylvania coal as a source of energy, the use of immigrants for the transcontinental railroad, Queen Victoria’s death later in the month the story takes place, the Boxer Revolution in China, etc. Weapons play an important part of the story, so I spent time with weapons expert Drew Heyen to make sure everything was authentic. Hopefully there’s enough history in the book to satisfy the cravings of those that are looking for it, but not too much as to bog down the story for those that have come to it looking for a mystery-action experience.
How was writing Addleton Heights different than writing your other books?
First of all, it’s the first full-length work that I’ve written entirely in first person narration, meaning we only see what our detective hero, Kip sees and thinks. He tells us everything we need to know. He has this delicious deadpan sense of humor mixed with a bitter melancholy. Life has been hard on him and he’s developed all of these colloquial sayings that he spouts out when describing things. These ‘Kipisms’ (as I came to call them) were a blast to write.
Also, I wanted to be true to the genre while offering something enjoyable to those uninitiated to steampunk stories. While the steampunk genre doesn’t officially have any set rules, there are elements that help to frame the story. As the story developed, I sent chapter sections to a group of beta readers for feedback. Doing it while the novel was written, allowed for me to tweak it as I went to ensure everything was ‘firing on all cylinders’. As a bonus, one of beta readers, a fellow writer, Christian Roule was well versed in the genre. More than once, he’d respond to what I’d submitted to him by saying, ‘It needs to be steampunk-ier here’. He and others helped me balance the story and not overwhelm it until it became a gadgets manual.
I love that you cross genres and have not pidgeon-holed yourself as a storyteller. When did you first meet the world of Steampunk? Did you find the genre or did the genre find you? (Did you read something Steampunk that inspired Addleton or did Addleton birth itself in your brilliant brain that resulted in needing the Steampunk label post development?)
Years ago I was signing books at a science fiction convention with some other authors. We were sitting across from a friendly booth of steampunk ‘makers’. They were selling all of these fantastic clothes and enhancement components (cogs, gears, and whatnot). I asked fellow author, Leo King (www.foreverwhere.com) who was next to me ‘What this steampunk thing was all about?’ He proceeded to educate me in the ways of alternate Victorian history. It was such a fresh concept to me, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
As for the story of Addleton Heights? The concept that serves as the core mystery (finding the Jason character) was an idea that I when I was seventeen. I’ve carried the idea around with me all of that time until it found a home in this novel.
You write every sub-genre of the science fiction realm… are there dragons in our future? (I, for one, would love to see what you came up with involving dragons…)
Dragons, huh? Currently I’m hard at work on a kind of time travel hide and seek adventure called Drift Pattern, but I do have a rough draft for a story which involves dragons and people using them for transportation. The working title of this fantasy-ish tale is ‘Kern’. Maybe we’ll see that in a few years.
As a woman, I adore reading Janae. She’s bold and fierce, but not without flaws. She is not flat, but dynamic. She’s not all wonderful, nor is she a ninny. Tell me about her and your experience writing her.
I’m fortunate to have a number of strong women whom I admire in my life. I wanted to pay homage to these ladies by avoiding writing some messed up ‘damsel in distress’ trope.
Enter: Janae Nelson. She is a force of nature! She’s my favorite character that I’ve ever written. I spent a lot of time to achieve a balance within her of being strong without forfeiting her femininity. I was careful to make sure that no man ever rescues her in the story; that she would save herself. I attempted to turn the stereotype on its head by having the damsel do some saving of her own when the male lead gets tied to the metaphorical train tracks.
If Addleton Heights were to become a major motion picture tomorrow, who would your ideal cast be?
Oh this is a tricky one… When I write I do ‘cast’ the characters with actors from movie roles and people that I know (I even print out photos for reference as I’m writing about them).
The problem with sharing this type of thing with a reader is that it’s unlikely that we visualize the same exact ‘players’. If I envision a grisly Kurt Russell for an old sea captain character, but you imagine an unshaven Dustin Hoffman for the same part, then I reveal who I’ve chosen in the role, does it reduce or nullify your experience? As with painting, what’s on the canvas is a conversation between the artist and the person witnessing it. The viewer’s interpretation is neither ‘right’ nor ‘wrong’, but in the same vein, the creator of the art shouldn’t have exclusive say once the paint has dried. In that same spirit, I humbly must decline to answer here and leave that to the reader’s imagination.
You’re typically a one book storyteller, completing a story in its entirety at the first go. But I’m dying for more Addleton Heights – is there a continuing series in our futures?
Detective stories are typically based on a single event; if it’s a who-done-it the question is who the murderer is and possibly the ‘why’ of the mystery. One thing that’s nice about these types of novels is that once the case is solved there can be another one right behind it. So we may see Kipsey again someday.
How can readers order posters and prints of the book cover and map to go with their copies of the book?
Warmest thanks for your interest and support of Addleton Heights.
Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Books about books and bookstores… it’s my achilles heel. It’s the thing I cannot live without. It’s absurd how these things find me.
A.J. Fikry soothed my soul when I was too tired to appreciate much in the world of anything involving humans or words or life… yet, the book is all about humans living with words. It’s lovely. After a depressive hiatus that resulted in me binge watching The Flash, A.J. Fiery got me reading again.
The romance of reading is simply one of my all time favorite topics. I suppose because it’s the only romance I truly trust. The books will not abandon you. Books are sturdy. And more than anything, they are one sided and require little from you to continue to exist and offer you their best. A book does not cease giving you all it has to offer just because you are in a bad mood – or emotionally unavailable. A book loves you back no matter what. A book won’t surprise you when it ends, you can feel it coming as it becomes more weighted in your left than your right. You know on the last page that it will not speak to you again unless you start over. And you always have the option to start over.
A.J. Fikry’s island bookstore is just what the emotional doctor ordered, I plan to repeat the experience often.
Author: Regina O’Connell
Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy
Format: Kindle/ Ebook
One of the perks of being an indie author is that I encounter a lot of other indie authors. In doing so, I discover a lot of reading material that most people might not. With all this non-mainstream discovery, I get passed a lot of duds and a lot of gems.
Wren was neither for me. It was a good book among a lot of good books. It didn’t blow me away, but I didn’t feel like I wasted my time either. It was enjoyable and if the right person came along, I’d pass along a recommendation – not in a sing its praises from the rooftop sort of way, but in a there is an audience for everything sort of way.
Wren is a book for someone with an hour to kill who is in the mood for a fast-paced action/ dystopian fantasy. You are quickly dropped into the story and it’s easy to devour it. I read it in one sitting – so clearly it’s a fun way to pass time.
I’m not sure it will make a lasting impression, though. It’s not a story that will stay with me. It is a story that will compel me to read whatever O’Connell puts out next, when I have the time, just to see. She’s piqued my curiosity and I’m glad I had the opportunity to take a peek into her imaginary world and keep her writing career on my radar.
Author: S. Smith
Genre: Middle Grade/ Young Adult Dystopian Fiction
Length: 200 pages
Many moons ago, it seems like forever now, S. Smith sent me a copy of Seed Savers, the first of her young adult series set in an America where growing your own food has become illegal. Children were being taught about seeds and produce gardens in whispers; collecting, saving, and planting seeds a prison-worthy offense.
The story couldn’t have come at a better time for me. It was the summer of 2012, I had a small daughter at home, my husband was out of work, and I had just started spending more time and care actively growing more of our groceries. On top of that, I was beginning to learn how to forage and was focusing my daughter’s future education on as much regarding sustainability and self-sufficiency as possible. I wanted taking care of ourselves to come as naturally as literature does for me. I wanted finding edible grapes in the forest to be as simple as knowing that 2+2 = 4. Then Seed Savers happened and it felt like the stars had begun to align.
Several books later (Seed Savers, Heirloom, and Lily), we finally have the fourth installment of S. Smith’s world. The girls, Lily and Clare, have done a lot of growing up. Siblings Dante and Clare have received a lot more education during their stay in Canada. Rose is being indoctrinated… bad guys are getting closer and closer to turning everything upside down as rebels have begun starting riots in the street. Soon, all four kids find themselves in Portland, Oregon, where Seed Savers headquarters has been stationed under a forested park in the city for years.
More and more, the series is resembling the fast paced action political drama of the Divergent series – without the killing, and with the added fun of things like Dandelion syrup being discussed.
Although I was sent an advanced reader’s copy of Keeper, I still made a point to pre-order a final copy for my kindle. The book is a keeper in every format, and it’s just worth it to be as supportive as possible of this story, help it get told. I’m looking forward to the day Smith gets a movie or mini-series deal. Better yet, the homeschool mom in me votes for it to be a Netflix original.
Author: Peter Devine
My first Peter Devine book was True to the Code, a series of short stories that were as much historically educational as philosophically motivating. As much as I enjoyed my first taste of Devine’s prose, Havana Treatment was infinitely more riveting.
Peter Devine has an uncanny ability to put you in the middle of a character’s big moment only to take you right back out again. Each short story in Havana Treatment introduces you to a whole person in a just a few moments or hours, leaving you with a solid understanding of who they are, but wanting more of the story. Described as an exploration of the shelf life of a romance, Havana Treatment doesn’t disappoint, and each story is as compelling and oxymoronically uniquely typical as the next.
The human race is completely infatuated with the idea of love, and after spending time with Devine’s characters, it is easy to see why. A moment with someone can become a lifetime of dedication. A person’s soul can be boiled down to one momentous story that could have seemed so unimportant at the time, but because the encounter was so genuine it shapes someone forever.
Devine has such a strong grasp on these realities. His experience and all the people he has met in his life shape the wisdom in his tales; but in all his travels and worldliness, Devine still captures Americana and our ideas of romance like no other.
Author: Leif Enger
Genre: Fiction/ Literature
One of the few tragedies of working in a bookstore is seeing the popularity aftermath of a book. When there are fifty copies of something for $1 we clerks get in the mindset (if we haven’t read the book yet) that the title was a fad. Not just a fad, but it was clearly a book not worth keeping or re-reading.
Note to shoppers: just because a lot of people don’t keep their books and just because a book isn’t something people jump to re-read, does not mean it’s not worth reading in the first place.
For this very reason, it has taken me years to getting around to reading Peace Like a River. Not just that, but I was tentative and checked the book out – I didn’t even purchase it!
Next time I see a beautiful hardback, I will.
Peace Like a River is all soul filled and gorgeous with running themes concerning miracles, family, God, and consequence. It’s not what I would call a happy book, but it’s not a sad one either. I think it is one of the few in this world written truthfully about human experience, religious families, and the nature of people who function within the knowledge of an ever present God. People without the faith of Jeremiah Lands just don’t live lives like Jeremiah Lands. Some might think that would be a blessing – to go through life without such scruples. I mean, look where it got him. The fictional character finds himself in the precarious position of being a good and godly father to a fugitive, his other son – though revived from death at birth by a miracle – is a severe asthmatic. His daughter is an insanely intelligent poet, but becomes a target in their war with existence.
But Jeremiah Lands, even in pneumonia and illness, never seems exhausted. The guy is a far cry from energetic, but he is steady. He is solid. He is the kind of father I think many hope for, despite his oldest son’s resistance to him. That sort of resistance is natural, I think, when it comes to family and God. It happens. And it happens very much just like that. Davy is a good person with scruples of his own, he was raised right and chooses I think what many of us would choose in certain situations. But the consequences of his choices make faith hard, and the lack of faith makes each choice harder than the next.
I needed this book this year. And if you see a copy in a bookstore for a dollar, snatch it up quick.
Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
There’s no right way to love a book. For me, there are books I am in love with because of their story and there are books I am in love with because of the figurative and literal places in my life I ended up reading them. The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is brain-fluff wrapped up in too many truths about growing up. Because of that paradox, and the fact that I’m currently ignoring that I am technically an adult, I fell in love with it immediately.
The week I found it was one of the longest weeks of my new adult life. I worked 30 hours in closing shifts at work in six consecutive nights on top of going to school four days in a row and all the homework that comes with it. I was in no way looking for something to occupy my time. There was none to spare.
In between class and work, I walked into Book People in Austin just a couple blocks down from my campus. This two-story bookstore has become my new happy place in between responsibilities since it is large enough to wander and contains hundreds of books to leaf through. Usually I pick a book at random, read a couple chapters and put it back on the shelf when I leave. I haven’t wasted my time and a book gets to feel loved.
On my second day of work, I wanted something easy. I didn’t want to wander, I just wanted to hide. In this particular bookstore, Neil Gaiman’s works have their own shelf and almost every book, its own personal review by the booksellers. Without pausing to even read the synopsis of The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, I grabbed it and rushed to hide in the chair resting up against the classics section with a cup of coffee.
And I disappeared.
Gaiman has this magical simplicity to his writing where a 19-year-old college student can cancel out the constant foot traffic of a busy bookstore and be emotionally invested in the life of a 7-year-old boy who grew up suddenly and quickly after he met the strange Lettie Hempstock at the end of the lane with her ocean. The story is told in a flashback of a middle-aged man who you can tell never quite felt young. Innocent maybe, but he didn’t know that until he no longer was.
When I came back to reality an hour later, I decided this book was what I needed that week. I couldn’t have even told you why, but there wasn’t any way I could’ve left without it.
I didn’t pick it up again for several days. Work and school got the better of me and I might have gone insane a few times over the course of the weekend. Sunday night was night 6 of 6 of closing and after serving angry people their coffee, I had an insane craving for diner food. I wanted coffee and waffles and the kind of food coma that comes shortly after. And I wanted a place to read my magically simple book and not worry about having to leave.
So Magnolia’s it was. A 24 hour diner in the middle of Austin with omelets and giant pancakes sounded wonderful at 9 pm on a Sunday. Little did I know that the last day of the Austin City Limits music festival was just letting out.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I looked behind me and saw the multitudes waiting to cross the street and wait for hours for the same pancakes and omelets. My mission then changed from finding diner food to racing the masses for a table. They had won Magnolia’s, but there was the 24 Diner off of 6th Street that they wouldn’t have time to walk to. I raced to the heart of downtown Austin and beat the majority of the masses.
After saying it was just me, the hostess smiled at me and said there were several spots open on the bar if I wanted to eat immediately. I had beaten the swarm people. I had my spot. And I was not moving. Busy people behind the bar gave me menus and I told the waitress I just wanted a cup of black coffee and a waffle. 10 minutes later, I had a giant waffle in front of my face and the ACL crowd had begun to take over, yelling drink orders over my shoulder and squeezing in the 6 inches of air available at the bar. I did not care. I had my spot. I was not moving.
I opened my book and disappeared again. I met the villainous Ursula Monkton and her twisted desires and methods of making everyone happy. She was a Dolores Umbridge-like character that you hated simply because there are too many controlling, manipulative, and oppressive people like her in real life. I got to know the Hempstocks better and found out they were the family everyone wishes they had as friends growing up. The kind that just took care of things and knew enough to make you think they knew everything.
I was vaguely aware people being replaced with more people on my left and on my right, but I couldn’t tell you how many. The bartenders ignored me entirely, leaving my sticky plate as a marker that I deserved to sit there, only interrupting me to ask if I wanted more coffee. I looked up and it was 11:15. Neil Gaiman had done the impossible and canceled out a swarm of ACL attenders.
The next day, I had no brain function. I went to class and stumbled through the day just waiting for when I could disappear again. I made it to Mozart’s on Lake Austin and fought my way through the line of fellow Austinites to buy a bottomless cup of coffee and made my plan to disappear.
I discovered that oceans can be put in buckets, if you ask nicely enough, and that there are some people whose hearts just need more time to grow back. Different people remember events in different ways and some things are best forgotten.
And then it ended.
I felt like I had gotten pulled out of a dream by having a bucket of ice water dumped on my head. I had not planned on it ending and now that it had I was a little lost. The only thing I could think to do was write a thank you note to Neil Gaiman and share it with everyone. Whether he will ever see it is anyone’s guess, but anyone who can make a week like mine slightly less defeating deserves some recognition.
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult/ Teen Fiction
I loved it. It seems silly to enjoy teen fiction so much, right now, in my thirties. It feels like I should be chalking it up to a pre-mid life crisis of sorts – but I have an old soul, I already had my mid-life crisis, I think. If I didn’t, I’m screwed when the real one comes around. I’m not sure my brain can handle all that drama.
But it’s not a mid-life crisis. It’s just that despite the fact that people will roll their eyes at John Green because he seems like he’s probably that typical sappy teen coming of age crap that everyone is writing – there’s a reason he’s so popular and everyone else just isn’t.
John Green is an excellent writer.
He doesn’t just write snark – he embodies snark. He has the snark on lock-down. And though people think he only writes super confident teens that we all wish we had been, he doesn’t do that either. The main character of Paper Towns is not confident. He’s nerdy and very un-self assured. He’s in love with the self assured one, and you discover that no one is as self assured as they’d like to pretend to be.
I loved how Green pulled in Walt Whitman’s themes from Leaves of Grass. So much so, that I long to make a pile of Leaves of Grass paperbacks to display next to our piles of Paper Towns at the bookstore. But I haven’t. It’s not my job to do that anymore and I’m trying desperately to only do *my* job and not be the over achiever type A that I naturally am and work my ass off outside my pay grade. I’m not used to be a “regular” employee anymore. Between my previous management experience and writing a character who owns her own bookstore, my brain wants to run things and instead I’m just running the books. Which is definitely relaxing, until I have to keep my perfectionism in check – and then it’s stressful.
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar makes a sneak appearance as well. I’m always down for a good book that recommends other good books. Margo, though I disagree with half her sentiments, appeals to me. I understand her. I’ve been her. I’m just not her anymore. Though, often, I feel pieces of her tugging at my personality from time to time. Ultimately, I chose to be more like Q. People probably see me more like Q. Although, at that age, I don’t think people really saw me at all.
So now I’m re-reading Leaves of Grass. I couldn’t leave it lingering in my brain that way without tackling it again. I haven’t perused it since high school and it’s long overdue.
Have you read John Green? Do you find him oddly relatable?
And finally, do you plan to or have you seen the movie? I have not, yet.
Some books are great, the kind of books that you can’t live without and can’t understand how you ever lived without them. We’ve all read them, the books that leave you forgetting to eat and avoiding the restroom – or bathing – for as long as it takes to finish the book. You simply can’t tear away. And when a moment arrives that you have to set it down, you moan, weep, you begin to go through withdrawals and ache until the moment you can pick it up again.
And then, there are books that are really good, but you don’t feel that way about them. At all. Like that dude in college you friend zoned. Like that pie you ate, because after all it IS pie, but it doesn’t taste like your Grandma’s. Like that pretty song you’ll hum, but you won’t go out of your way to learn the lyrics or play on repeat…
So here’s to the good books I’ve read recently that I genuinely thought were good, but still found far too easy to put down.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Fun paranormal fantasy noir fiction – however, Dresden finds every female he encounters attractive. Either this guy is the most appreciative wizard ever, or he just doesn’t get out much. Felt like I was reading a sixteen year old living in his mama’s basement dream hero, which is all well and good and entertaining, but in between readings, I wasn’t exactly itching to get back to the story. Still read the book in a few days, but it’s the genre and length of something I’d usually devour in one sitting and… I just didn’t.
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
I checked this out from the library. Absolutely adored the first few chapters, but set it down for some reason or another and never felt compelled to get back to it. Due date came and I turned it in. One day I’ll finish, but it doesn’t seem like a pressing matter.
Which brings me to my next review…
Title: The Pharaoh’s Cat
Author: Maria Luisa Lang
Length: 178 pages
I got this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. It’s cute. I was actually pretty excited about it. It seemed like a fun cozy for an ancient Egypt nerd like myself. But, I discovered as I read that being narrated by the Cat isn’t as cute as I thought. Instead, it’s highly distracting and I find it hard to get caught up in the story because the cat brain is awkward.
Lang’s writing is good. The setting is fun, I always enjoy a good bit of ancient Egypt; and I love that the author considers herself an amateur Egyptologist, it shows in her writing. I’d even go so far as to say that I might read The Pharaoh’s Cat again some day – with my daughter, perhaps. But I wasn’t riveted and the character of the cat didn’t move me, like it moved the Pharaoh, I did not feel the bond that was formed throughout the novel. I didn’t really laugh…
Read a more glowing review of Lang’s novel here: http://ebookreviewgal.com/review-of-the-pharaohs-cat-by-maria-luisa-lang/