Friday, May 31, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: Cherie Priest Spotlight Panel

Hi guys! More Phoenix Comicon coming your way. I’m proceeding in chronological order, so the next booksy-authory panel I attended was for the lovely Cherie Priest!

This is Cherie Priest:

Here are some books she has written:

I first heard of her because of the popularity of her Clockwork Century series (that’d be the first four pictured above), and I think she is probably most famous for these steampunk/alternate history books. She had her very own spotlight panel at Phoenix Comicon on Friday morning, and I was there to record, take notes, and have fun (she’s a very funny person, so lots of laughter).

The panel was pretty much Q&A for an hour, with lots of digression (the good kind!) in between Qs—as Cherie herself said, “I can ramble about anything for like an hour…just point me in a direction, I’m like a bottle rocket of nonsense!” Here were some of the highlights of the panel, in eyeball-friendly bulleted format.

• An audience member asked, why zombies in Boneshaker? To which she replied, “I really like zombies.” She continued on to talk about the inspiration behind the gas that turns people into zombies in the book, which she explains as Mt. Rainier being right there (the book is set in Seattle), and it’s a volcano, so the idea of the underground gas came from that.

• Another author, Charles Stross, made a post online about how steampunk shouldn’t be categorized as science fiction because it isn’t really scientific, and said, “I’m looking at you, Cherie Priest, with your gas-powered zombies” (she assured us that he is a lovely man, and the way she was telling the story it was clear that she didn’t take any offense). She told us how she had made a response post stating that it had been called to her attention that her zombies were unscientific, and said “Charlie’s right, and I am so embarrassed. If only I had consulted more zombie scientists! I need your help, then. I need for you people to buy my books and read my books and tell me what I’ve done wrong so that I can fix it in the future.” She said most of the commenters on the post saw the humor in it, but a few did leap to her defense. :)

• She talked about how steampunk, as a genre, has been searching for its tropes. “If a movie poster is black with red lettering, blood dripping—that’s horror. If there’s a wizard with a white beard and an elf with an ax or whatever—oh, that’s fantasy. Steampunk has really been searching for those tropes.” It has a few, such as gasmasks and goggles, and in regards to that she said, “I wanted to create this microcosm where it made sense, and these things were symptomatic of the circumstances and not window dressing. I wanted a reason why people would need these things. And if the reason is gas-powered zombies…it just kind of built out from that.”

• She needed an excuse for advanced technology in the 1880s (when Boneshaker is set), and war drives the development technology. Relatedly, she got the idea to extend the Civil War from reading about patents for airships and war machines that were never built—in the book, she needed a credible reason for the Confederacy to be in the war another 15 or so years, so she gave them this technology (otherwise it just wouldn’t make sense for them to last that long, since they were so outmatched by the Union).

• She says if you ever get a chance to see Gail Carriger (who wrote this book), she is lots of fun and they are not the same person! There was apparently an internet rumor for awhile that they were…

Fiddlehead is coming out later this year (11/12/2013, Amazon says) and it’s going to be the last of the major books in the Clockwork Century series for awhile, “maybe ever, we’ll see.”

• She’s doing a side project in the Clockwork Century universe (like Clementine) with Subterranean Press again, called Jacaranda. It will be about a haunted hotel in southwest Texas called…The Jacaranda!

• Ghost stories are her one true love!

• Random House and Penguin just merged, so she’s calling it the House of the Random Penguin for now

• Next year she has a project coming out through Ace, about Lizzie Borden fighting Cthulhu with an ax, “basically an homage to Dracula via Lovecraft”

• She’s writing a young adult book for Scholastic—it’s called I Am Princess X for now, and she did not come up with the title. “It’s going to be very strange and dark and weird and a lot of fun, kind of a modern…did any of you guys see Brick? The noir high school-esque sort of thing? Throw an element of fantasy into that slightly. It’s going to be a modern mystery noir sort of, with a little bit of fantasy to it.” YA projects have quite a bit of lead time, so it might be out 2015.

• She had some not-so-great experiences working on Deadspace 3 for EA Games. “I worked for them about 10 months, and they were like, ‘You have to re-up your contract now for post-production,’ and I said, ‘No. No, actually, I don’t.’ And they were like, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well, there isn’t enough money.’ And they said, ‘In the contract? Because we can renegotiate that.’ And I said, ‘In the world.’” XD

Boneshaker was the last book she had contracted through Tor at the time. She thought it was going to be the last book she ever did with them—her prior book with Tor, Fathom, had not sold very well and things seemed to be going downhill. The next book in the queue was supposed to be a vampire noir, and she knew she was going to have to do something else after it, so she started fiddling around with Boneshaker. She explained, “I wanted to do an American steampunk story, specifically American, specifically steampunk, where there was a reason for all of this tech, and I started playing with it on the side.” She only had 3 or 4 chapters when her editor asked to see it, and they ended up swapping it in instead of the vampire noir story. However, they kept the deadline that was set for the vampire book, and she ended up writing Boneshaker in only 4 months! It ended up being very popular, and the Clockwork Century series took off from there.

• “I subscribe to the John Scalzi school of alternate history, which is not the butterfly’s wing, but like a handful of things seeded will kind of urge something in the right direction,” she said with regards to setting up the alternate history framework that would allow the South to still be in the Civil War, since the war itself is actually a part of the next book in the series, Dreadnought.

• Lots of amusing anecdotes about angry emails from Seattleites who are upset about historical inaccuracies, such as Pike Place Market existing in the book before it actually did in real life, the Smith Tower doing the same, etc., even though there is an afterword in the book acknowledging the inaccuracies

• She says if you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, these are probably not the books for you, but at the same time there are lots of easter-egg-type hidden surprises in the book about real people and real things that happened that history nerds can appreciate

• She needs a break from steampunk for a bit, but if they do more with the Clockwork Century franchise later, she would like to tackle steampunk Reconstruction. The follow-up to Maplecroft (that’s the Lizzie-Borden-fighting-Cthulhu-with-an-ax book) might end up having something to do with steampunk spiritualist technology.

• She got the character name “Jeremiah Swackhammer” from an announcement on TV in Seattle about shutting down interstate lanes and urging people to take other forms of transportation—she watched this announcement with some big burly guy explaining when the buses would be running, etc., and the banner underneath him said Jedediah Swackhammer, Washington Department of Transportation. She changed it to Jeremiah, because she thought Jedediah was a little too “consonant-clenchy.” :)

• She said she finds it difficult to bounce back and forth between projects, which is why she doesn’t do a lot of short stuff. She said, “George R.R. Martin is really the only person who can make me do short stuff, because it’s hard to tell him no. If he’s like, ‘I really want you to write for this!’ ‘Eh…okay.’ It’s hard to say no to King George! He is lovely, and has been so supportive, so enthusiastic, and I want to do him proud, so I’ll write for George once in a while. ”

• About the movie version of Boneshaker: It was optioned by Hammer Productions, and they are partnered with Cross Creek (the people who did Black Swan). The script is by John Hilary Shepherd, who writes Nurse Jackie for Showtime. Cherie hasn’t read it, hasn’t seen it…once it’s optioned, it’s out of her hands. (“Which is fine, as long as the check clears!” she joked.) They reupped the option last year. They apparently have the money and the script, but no director attached to it. Beyond that, not much news on if it’s going to be developed or not.

• She saved baby birds on her porch from the roofers!

• She loves moon pies—she recommends putting them in the microwave for 15 seconds and eating with a fork.

• You want a different creative writing program? Add in a few business courses! “Because right now creative writing programs all throughout the country churn out people who are told they should not get paid for what they do, and they should do it for the love…and they don’t know how to get a job, and they don’t know how to sell their work, and they don’t know how to do anything that they need to know how to do.” To contextualize a bit, this was part of a drunken online conversation she had with a friend, but it’s definitely a valid and interesting point about creative writing programs (and other courses of study, too).

• Someone asked if she was at all concerned about how the Boneshaker movie will turn out if they do make it, giving the example of how the World War Z movie looks “horrible.” She gave probably the best response ever: “Nope. They make a shitty movie, I don’t care. I wrote a good book.” Everyone laughed, and then she added, “Well, I hope I did. It’ll be a 90 minute commercial for my franchise, and it’s okay. And seriously, Shep, the guy who’s doing the screenplay is a wonderful writer who does a very good job with lady characters of a certain age. I think he’s going to do a fantastic job…I trust him as the writer, but I do not know how much pull he’s going to have.”

• “Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown”—often attributed to Cherie, but actually said by her friend Jess Nevins, librarian/archivist at a university in Texas (who Alan Moore “namechecks, quotes, and says thank you to,” apparently!). She explained, “He said it, and I laughed and repeated it, and Cory Doctorow at the ALA in DC said that I said it. And so now everybody thinks that was mine.”

It was a fun, wide-ranging panel, with a good dose of comedy. If you ever get the chance to meet her/hear her speak, I would definitely recommend it! Oh, also, she signed my book:

 photo photo2_zps1d2e82f9.jpg

Yay! :D

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