Featured Author Interview: Cherie Priest

We’d like to thank our September Featured Author, Cherie Priest, for being so accommodating and generous this month. We hope that you will take the time to read Priest’s Clockwork Century series and the many other great novels Priest has written. To end the Queen of Steampunk’s Featured Author month, we sat down with Priest and asked her about her writing process, the CC series and how setting is impacted in her writing.

Enjoy and thanks again, Cherie, for supporting LitStack!

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What came first–the zombie-infested world of Seattle (plot) or the dynamic characters? In short, how was the Clockwork Century series born?

The Clockwork Century began as a vague idea that I’d like to write some steampunk; it actually started as a second-world setting, the name of which eludes me now. But then I realized there were people who thought there was no such thing as American steampunk – that it simply couldn’t be done – and I began to refine my notion of what I wanted my foray into the genre to look like.  I settled on the real-world setting of Seattle (albeit a very different Seattle) for a number of reasons, not least of all that I live here. Also, it has some truly wacky local history, and I thought it’d be fun to work in some of the 19th century’s facts to go alongside the zombies.

If we were to get all Lit Criticy, one could say that the women you write, particularly Briar, Mercy and even Raylene Pendle, can be seen as feminist paradigms. Do you intentionally set out to write strong women or does it happen organically?

I try to write strong people (or at least strong characters), period.

You set your Eden Moore series in Tennessee whilst living there and the Clockwork Century series is set in your current city, Seattle. Do you think your environment influences your writing and why?

Oh yes – I find it terribly difficult to write about places I’ve never been; though it’s not quite the problem it could be, given that I’ve traveled quite extensively.  And sometimes I’m just inspired by wherever I’m spending the most time, at any given moment.

You’d written around six books when Boneshaker was released, yet critics hailed you as an ‘overnight success.’ How did the slow rise of your success affect you? What lessons did you learn from it?

Six books and nearly a decade in the business, yes – so I’m always amused to hear the “overnight” bit. But I’ll take what success I can get, and be grateful for it. As for what I’ve learned from the experience  … I scarcely know where to begin. I’ve had to level up in a number of ways – as a writer, as a promoter, as a professional … because with breakthrough success comes breakthrough responsibility. I am acutely aware that this could go away tomorrow, and that I can’t sit back and coast.

It’s said “fiction, not life, has to make sense” and in your books, particularly the Clockwork Century series, that’s certainly the case. Was there a lot of exhaustive research on the history of the civil war and that era’s warfare involved prior to writing Boneshaker ? What do you say to those who complain about the supposed “historical inaccuracies” in your books? 

Exhaustive research, sure – but I enjoy history. It’s so much weirder than anything I could make up, you know? So a general interest in local history (in particular) plus a solid familiarity with the Civil War (I am from the southeast, after all) led to the collision of facts and fancy.  As for what I say to the complainers: I always say, “Zombies.”  Anytime someone nitpicks an incorrect date, or an anachronistic device, I just say, “Zombies.”  If people are going to be sticklers for perfect historical accuracy, then perhaps these aren’t the books for them.

What made you choose to focus on characters outside of those “featured” in Boneshaker to continue the series as books that are technically “stand alone” rather than having, say, Briar and Zeke’s Continued Adventures?

Simple contract issues, actually. I only knew for certain that one more book was coming; therefore, I could either risk having an aborted series, or I could have a couple of related books standing alone in the same universe. I went with the latter.

 Do you have a preference: steampunk or urban fantasy? Which is more challenging to write?

Apples to oranges, really. Each genre is both easy and challenging in its own respects.

You recently worked on Fort Freak with George R. R. Martin. What was that experience like and what did you learn from him?

It was phenomenal – really, the opportunity of my career. It was tough as hell, but worth every minute of it. He taught me nothing less than how to write a proper mystery.

What’s upcoming for you and what can your readers look forward to? 

Next up is Ganymede, another steampunk book – and Inexplicables, sometime next year. Beyond that, who knows? Sky’s the limit, and all that jazz…

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