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: Babylonian Life and History
Author: E. A. Wallis Budge
Genre: History/ Archeology
So, I want to be Indiana Jones when I grow up. Who doesn’t? Although a friend advised me that to be Andi “Tex” Klemm would be far cooler, and I have suggested that I just might have to embroider this onto a fedora.
In the meantime, I study as much history as I can. I also subscribe to the Archeology magazine. And the way I go all fan-girl at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, well, it’s part of what makes me awesome… right?
So my “grown-up reading time” during my 5 year old’s ancient history year was Babylonian Life and History by E. Wallis Budge. It was neat teaching her the bare bones of the Babylonians and Assyrians out of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World, and memorizing tidbits from the Classical Conversations curriculum, while getting a deeper dose for myself. I’ll continue this effort of furthering my education while I begin hers as long as I can. If you don’t have time for that, I understand completely; but if you do, this is a worthy book to select.
E.A. Wallis Budge never ceases to amaze me. Every time I think I have everything he ever wrote I think I find 3 new titles. He’s so prolific and seems to be the end all be all on Ancient History. Found some tidbit of from the ancient world you’d like to investigate? – there’s probably a Budge book for that. His prose is nothing special, and at times even a little boring, but I love reading his work and hope to read it all before I die.
Title: Archimedes and the Door of Science
Author: Jeanne Bendick
Publisher: Bethlehem Books
Genre: Children’s Biography
I love these Living History Library books and Jeanne Bendick has a wonderful way of introducing great people in history and what they did/discovered on a child’s level without truly “dumbing” anything down. These books should be a part of any child’s library, and for sure any homeschoolers’ library. My kid’s eyes have been opened to so many ideas because of this book. At age 5, she’s already been checking out levers and experimenting with density while playing in the bathtub, she showed me how her ball has a pattern of concentric circles on it and informed me that it was three dimensional… These aren’t things that would be in her vocabulary without me reading this book out loud to her this month.
I’ve never felt like a bigger idiot than when trying to read Ptolemy’s The Almagest. First of all, I inevitably always pronounce the P when speaking about it. And constantly get corrected, but can’t stop doing it. Secondly, I switch the m and the g of “almagest” in my head so often that in my deepest heart I’m not reading The Almagest, I’m reading The Algamest. Third, it’s a lot of information that I’ll never remember. I hate knowing that what I’m reading is not going to sink in… it’s all just a passing whimsy and I’ll be able to tell you nothing of value about it when I’m done with it.
Nevertheless, I’m enjoying reading it. Mostly because I’m a glutton for punishment, I think. Also, it’s included in The Great Books, it’s fat (roughly 600 pages), and it’s part of our ancient history – which I’m a huge sucker for.
Reading stuff like this is kind of like watching certain sports for me. I can follow the games, I know what’s going on, and I thoroughly enjoy them – but I don’t have sports lingo dripping from my lips and I rarely will discuss them with people because I know I’ll just sound like a moron. I like the ambiance of the game and the thrill of hard work and athleticism paying off. Just like I love the exertion it takes to read things slightly outside my knowledge base. They are similar experiences for me. Dropping me into a martial arts ring is more like breezing through fiction – I know it so well I can function there with my eyes closed.
It sounds completely absurd, even as I type it – but Ptolemy is like watching The Rockets play. I’m there. I get it. I’m enjoying. I love it. I will devour it – with chips, salsa, and beer. I will not, however, scream and shout with the other fans or talk about it tomorrow; and if you try to talk to me about it, I’ll clam up. Mention apogees in anything other than reciting a chant from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and you’ll see the same blank expression on my face when people shout “Wet!” I read that, I heard that… I internally absorbed it somewhere in my brain. But please, please, don’t quiz me. That’s recipe for an anxiety attack right there.
There are some things in life we should be allowed to simply enjoy without analyzation. Therefore, just like I will never be any good at fantasy leagues, I will also never be able to give an intelligent lecture on Ptolemy and his great work. But I’ll have fun being a half hearted amateur/ closet fan of both.
Author: Keith Devlin, PhD
Publisher: Walker & Company
Genre: Math History
Length: 183 pages
Swirl by Swirl – a child’s picture book – is where it started. We checked it out from the library once, then twice, and finally again and again. It’s about the Fibonacci sequence found in so many spirals in our natural world. We love it. Of course, it has a bit in the back about the Fibonacci sequence and the math involved, and that’s cool too, something to instill in young minds so that there is familiarity with the topic before they begin Algebra in their tweens.
Of course, at some point I picked up The Pythagorean Theorem, and there Posamatier mentions Ptolemy and his great work The Algamest as well as Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci. Naturally, I requested these at my local library. “There’s a book about Fibonacci called The Man of Numbers that’s here if you want to read that while you wait for the others to come in,” she told me. Yes, yes, I would like to read that while I wait for the others.
I checked it out.
I ended up starting and finishing it, however, in one sitting while my kiddo made use of the sixty minute literacy computer session I allow her if she’s been good prior to coming to the library that day. It was good. Quick. Informative. And of course, just made me want Liber Abaci even more.
Devlin gives you all the necessary history in the concise nature of a mathematician. He even laments how most mathematicians are concerned about the math and the theorems and not necessarily who originally came up with them or their history, causing much of the history surrounding mathematical ideas to be lost or misconstrued. Who cares? It’s about the numbers.
I care. Historians care. We don’t care as much about the numbers as we do about the theory, the philosophy… we care about math’s heritage more than the practice of being all mathy. At least that’s how I feel. I’ll leave number crunching to my husband and daughter – I’ll just be able to tell them who came up with that particular way to crunch.
With all this caring comes the discovery that Fibonacci’s name wasn’t even Fibonacci. Devlin recounts the fact that the man’s name was Leonardo and he hailed from Pisa. Leonardo Pisano, as the people of that time and culture would say. But he referred to himself as fillies Boracic, “son of Bonacci.” Yet, his father’s name wasn’t Bonacci, so people assumed he meant that he was of the family Bonacci… the Bonacci family evolved and later historian Guillaume Libri coined the name Fibonacci. Hundreds of years later. Leonardo was renamed Fibonacci in 1838.
Fibonacci also referred himself as Leonardo Bigolli… a named once translated would be “Leonardo Blockhead.” Though, Devlin asserts, it’s doubtful that Fibonacci was calling himself a blockhead.
That brings us to our latest picture book selection… Blockhead: the life of Fibonacci. This delightful picture book was written by Joseph D’Agnese and was illustrated by John O’Brien. Even though there’s a lot we don’t know about Fibonacci’s real life or how he came to discover his mathematical findings the way he did – it’s fun to imagine what his life was like and where he might have come up with his self-proclaimed nickname “Bigolli.”
For good measure, we re-read Swirl by Swirl afterward and are looking forward to memorizing a few things in the upcoming months.
The first is from Brahmagupta (quoted in Devlin’s book):
“A debt minus zero is a debt.
A fortune minus zero is a fortune.
Zero minus zero is a zero.
A debt subtracted from zero is a fortune.
A fortune subtracted from zero is a debt.
The product of zero multiplied by a debt or fortune is zero.”
The second are the first ten numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55.
Title: Pythagorean Theorem: the Story of Its Power and Beauty
Author: Alfred S. Posamentier
Genre: Mathematic History
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Length: 320 pages
I’m not sure why I picked it up. I didn’t even particularly care for math in school. Geometry was not my strongest suit – but it was fairly easy math that I slithered through with the least possible amount of effort of any of my math courses. But I was at the library one day and this geometric tree design was staring at me – I’d been collecting everything I could on trees because I am determined to become a certified arborist by the time I turn 40 – and upon impulse I through it in my “shopping” bag.
It might have been because I saw that it was about the Pythagorean theorem, and just a few years ago I attended a MENSA meeting where Andy Tang spoke on the topic. The lecture was riveting, the discussion entertaining, and the wine pretty great for free stuff. The event coordinator in me wanted to host his art exhibit at one of the bookstores I work with. This didn’t happen, but there was such an exhibit led by him in Austin:
The community art exhibition “Pythagoras (and Austinites) Discovering the Musical Intervals” invites you to discover the story of what Pythagoras heard at the blacksmiths’ workshop. Continuing the tradition of passing down this ancient tale, this art show showcases Austin-area artwork through interactive, musical, and visual interpretations. (https://www.facebook.com/events/308042019293116/)
Whatever it was that possessed me, I picked up the book. I read the book. I enjoyed the book – a lot. More than I could have thought I would enjoy a math book.
Although, let’s be honest, I enjoyed it for the philosophy and history, not so much for the endless diagrams and presentations on how the theorem works. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I took that math class, I get it, and it’s cool, but I was really into the book for the tidbits about Fibonacci and then later, Bosman. Bosman, by the way, is the guy that came up with the Pythagorean tree featured on the front cover.
I read this book for the whole chapter on music – that ties into that Andy Tang lecture I loved so much. I read this book because I was a “Choir Queer” in high school and loved chamber music and found it completely fascinating how much math and music were so intertwined. And of course, any one who does math and attempts music theory ends up asking the same questions:
“[…] do we simiply measure the distances between pitches or do we seek some measurable property of the pitches themselves that allows us to determine their relationships to other pitches […]”
Pythagoras had an answer. And he’s an old, dead dude, and I love reading ancient history and things on or by old, dead dudes. Except, naturally, Pythagoras was a top secret kind of guy and left no writings of his own behind and everything we know about him is second hand at best.)
Which leaves me diving into Philolaus, Plato, and Aristotle, and itching to get into Xenophon and see if anything is mentioned there because Herodotus didn’t spend nearly enough time on him.
I read this book thinking about Alyssa Martin’s Pythagoras cake bust. She owns The Martin Epicurean – and cake that looks like a face – how cool is that?
I read this book because I will pretty much read anything, but especially because I love science more than my student transcripts could possibly portray – mostly because I avoided science courses like the plague. I like the philosophies of science and concepts… I don’t care for the formulas and the math, but I’ll learn them ok if there isn’t any testing. Oh God, my test taking anxiety is insane… but reading up on it all, I love that. After all, it suits my passions:
“Science is the discipline that attempts to describe the reality of the world around us, including the nature of living organisms, by rational means.” – Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman, Nobel Laureate
This one is a keeper. I checked it out from the library, but I plan to purchase it when it comes time for kiddo to read it. It’s an educational must-have.
Title: Thomas Jefferson
Author/Illustrator: Maira Kalman
If you want to teach about the founders of America via biographical picture books, Maira Kalman is a great place to start. With spunky pictures and fonts, Kalman introduces children to Jefferson (and in another book she tackles Lincoln), his love for books, language, and gardening.
Kids can discover in Thomas Jefferson quirky details about how Jefferson got out of bed in the morning, his obsession for peas, and learn the quote he told his wife:
“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.”
There’s a few pages dedicated to Jefferson’s friends: John Adam, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and the ideals the team struggled for.
Kalman doesn’t pull any punches. She talks about slavery and addresses the truth of Sally Hemings. Jefferson had so many wise quotes that adults praise and sharing them with a four year old is especially wise:
“When you are angry, count TEN before you speak; if very angry, to ONE HUNDRED.”
The book ends with a visit to his burial grounds and notes regarding his epitaph.
As a whole it’s lovely and educational. When I told kiddo I was finally posting the review and asked her what she wanted to say about it, she said, “I think we should read it again.”
President’s Day is fast approaching. This one is worth having in your hands on that day.
Title:The Death of Woman Wang
Author: Jonathan D. Spence
When picking up books at bookstores, there’s always the lovely predicament of what to do during lunch hour. As if any bookworm wouldn’t know what to do during lunch. I like to pluck books that I would otherwise not read, things that probably wouldn’t make the cut when selecting reading material at home, but are intriguing nonetheless.
Chinese history and social commentary via anecdotes and tales from a specific region are fit the bill exactly.
Though Jonathan D. Spence’s The Death of Woman Wang is fairly short, and probably something I’d be able to get through over two cups of coffee at home, at work – with the distractions of barbecue sauce, walking (because I must always do a bit of walking), and a number of other lunch break occurrences – it took me a number of weeks to get through it. (I only work on Saturdays, mind you.)
I have decided that even though I’m not keeping The Death of Woman Wang (I’m in purge mode and not keeping as many books as I have been inclined to in the past), I will read more of Spence’s work in the future. Treason By the Book looks especially fascinating.
[Unrelated note to the book review: I just googled his name to see what else there might be and stumbled across his face. He’s endearingly handsome for an old fellow.]
Spence is a British-born Chinese historian (what an interesting description for a person). He retired from Yale in 2008 – my childhood bestie attended Yale from 2002-2006, I wonder if she ever met him…
He has a warm way of relaying history. He tells stories in a fashion that you’d think perhaps you were sitting around a fire listening to a beloved professor while on some sort of educational retreat. He manages to do this without feeling novelized or ill researched.
I’ve been enjoying my Chinese History lunches, and I’m a little sad that they’re over.
Author: Umberto Eco
Eco never fails me. Except once… I didn’t care for Baudolino. But even after that epic let down, the work stayed with me – if only to prove that even a genius can manage to disappoint from time to time, because reading is a two way street.
The author must deliver, but the reader must be receptive.
Sometimes capturing the magic of that relationship is consistent, sometimes it isn’t…
Nevertheless, Eco never fails to resonate. I remember his name always. His words always mean something. His thoughts and opinions are ones I value and take into great consideration. He moves me.
He speaks of language and sounds, ideas that arbitrary and ones that are not. He writes about the things that speak to my soul every time. Eco and I, though of course he doesn’t know it, have a trust relationship. I trust him to deliver something that will mean something to me, and I suppose that he trusts that what he has to say needs to be said – what he writes is meant to be written.
Authors and books have a way of being there when you need them most. That comfort stays with me always.