Hello and welcome to another interview with a great author. Phoebe Darqueling has a couple new books releasing and is here today to talk with us about Riftmaker. So without further ado, let’s get started!
Hello and welcome! I know you from OWS Ink, but why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
I often refer to myself as a vagabond because I live a very unsettled life. I currently live on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany, but over the past six years or so, I’ve also lived in Bulgaria, Greece, California, Minnesota, and Michigan. Though I love seeing new places, I admit that it does get very tiring learning everything over again. Each new place means different foods, different languages, different friends. When I first heard this song it actually hit me a little too close for comfort… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUdyuKaGQd4
Luckily for me, being a writer is a completely mobile job and the internet means I get to connect with people no matter where they happen to be sitting at the time.
My background is in Anthropology, Art History, and Museum Studies. I credit Anthropology especially for helping to hone and explore my love sci-fi and fantasy world-building.
Now, you write a lot in the steampunk genre, can you tell us a little about what steampunk is? What do you enjoy so much about it?
Steampunk got its name in 1987 as a tongue in cheek reference to another literary genre, Cyberpunk. In both cases, the “punk” part of the words referred to taking the status quo and turning it on it’s head. For Cyberpunk, this involved problematizing our growing reliance on computers and how it could shape our society. In Steampunk, it’s the same exercise, only the focus is on the Industrial Revolution and surrounding decades (roughly Queen Victoria’s reign). Steampunk looks to the early sci-fi writers such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for inspiration. After all, they were in the era “punking” it themselves by introducing cutting edge technologies and exploring issues like poverty in their own time. Steampunk continues that tradition, but with the benefit of hindsight.
In the intervening decades, Steampunk has moved off of the pages of books and into lots of different media. Costumes that combine both a modern and Victorian aesthetic are a mainstay of and Steampunk convention. People also build props and gadgets using a mixture of era-appropriate materials, such as wood, glass, and brass, but include battery powered elements and other contemporary tech to achieve the desired effects. You can also go see Steampunk in action on the stage, both as plays and the many different bands that combine the aesthetic and musical styling of the era into their compositions.
And it’s this very complexity that interests me. The history is complex and mired in social issues we have yet to resolve, but then there’s also the fun of creating physical objects and outfits. I love arts and crafts, so the maker side of things is just as exciting to me as the literature. There’s a community aspect to attending conventions, and an effusive positive energy that crackles through the crowd all weekend.
Do you like to write anything other than steampunk?
If you want to split hairs, my second novel, No Rest for the Wicked, is technically “Gaslamp Fantasy” instead. It doesn’t involve punked tech, and is a bit more like historical fiction with a paranormal twist. I did a ton of research on dialect, train travel, etc. in order to be as accurate as possible. Riftmaker, on the other hand, is total fantasy but does include complicated steam-powered and clockwork machines. So, it fits more firmly in Steampunk.
In general, I am a huge fan of lots of different kinds of science fiction and fantasy, but especially fractured fairy tales. (There’s that “punk” streak again! haha) Later this year, I plan to write a book about a horror movie crew who accidentally awaken some of Grimm’s lesser known fairy tale beasts when they are shooting on location in the Black Forest.
I’m sure I’ll meander between lots of different genres as I go, because I enjoy consuming so many different ones. I’ve got a Dieselpunk art detective on the back burner, and a girl who tames a griffin rattling around in the old noggin, too.
How long have you been writing? When did you get started?
I definitely enjoyed writing from an early age, but I drifted away from it as a creative outlet sometime during high school. I dabbled in songwriting because I love to sing, but it never went anywhere. I started doing more crafting and things like welding, so I didn’t feel as much of a drive to express myself creatively through storytelling. I also was doing a lot of theater and sports at the time. Writing was something I did for school, not for entertainment.
Then in college, my body started falling apart. I was in a drawing class and permanently wrecked my right hand and wrist. Later, my biceps tendon tore and I lost complete use of the right arm for a while. Luckily for me, I could type very fast even with my left hand, and during my recovery from the surgery I started to think about writing again.
Who is your favorite author? Who influenced your writing the most, and how?
Neil Gaiman is my favorite author, no question. However, I have to give a shoutout to Kurt Vonnegut as well because I remember discovering his books and quickly reading his whole canon within a year. In terms of influence, I think I’d have to actually say Joss Whedon, at least when it comes to how characters interact. He has this wonderful ability to create dark situations and diffuse the tension at exactly the right moment to make even the direst of situations still feel fun and whimsical.
What’s your best advice for other writers?
Get off the internet and embrace rewriting.
You live abroad and have travelled a lot. How does this affect your writing?
Some of the buildings in Riftmaker were basically piggy-backed from the architectural design of Barcelona. I have never seen buildings that are also so organic as the ones designed by Antoni Gaudi. Between traveling to new settings and my love of art museums, I have been exposed to so many different settings, and taught me that no matter how small, places have stories to tell.
Do you have a writing routine or ritual?
Oh man, I wish I did! Because of being uprooted about once a year and everything that goes into moving and learning new places, it’s nearly impossible for me to stick to a routine for more than a couple months at a time.
However, some rituals do follow me. If I am having trouble getting focused, I often go for a walk and listen to electronic music. I walk the same route every time and choose a corner or other landmark. When I cross that threshold, I am not allowed to think about anything else except for the next scene I am going to write.
What is your favorite part of writing?
Epiphany. It can come at any stage of the process, but when things suddenly click together, there is no greater feeling. I do mixed media art, so to use an analogy, it’s like having a blank space on the canvas, thumbing through the materials I have at hand, and finding the exact thing to balance the composition.
Tell us about Riftmaker. And what’s the blurb?
On the surface, it’s the story of a dog and his boy. But digging deeper, the central themes are prejudice/acceptance, both of yourself and other people. I use my “Travelers” as a way to explore racism and the social structures that perpetuate it. And all of that is sort of woven in to an adventure story with monsters, unlikely heroes, and unexpected friendships.
Here’s the blurb:
Save his boy, uncover a conspiracy, and master opposable thumbs—a dog’s work is never done.
Buddy’s favorite thing is curling up for a nap at the foot of Ethan’s bed. Then he stumbles through a portal to a clockwork city plagued by chimeras, and everything changes… Well, not everything. Sure, his new human body comes with magic powers, but he’d still rather nap than face the people of Excelsior, who harbor both desire and fear when it comes to “the other side.”
He discovers Ethan followed him through the portal and underwent his own transformation, and it becomes Buddy’s doggone duty to save him. Buddy finds unlikely allies in an aristocrat with everything on the line, a mechanic with something to hide, and a musician willing to do anything to protect her. Using a ramshackle flying machine, the group follows the chimeras deep into the forest and uncovers a plot that could reshape the worlds on both sides of the rift.
Where did you get your inspiration for Riftmaker?
The actual moment of “a dog goes through a rift in time in space” part of the story came from walking my pooch, Gadget. There was this box blowing around in the wind and it seemed almost alive. Then a thought drifted into my head, and I wondered “If he went inside and disappeared, where would he go?”
In terms of the themes, I would say that studying cultural anthropology has really called my attention to the fact that there are so many different ways to be human, and none of them is “correct.” They just exist. And we are as much a product of where we were born as the bodies that we inhabit, probably moreso.
Now, let us know where we can find you online and grab a copy of Riftmaker.
We’re right in the middle of my digital book tour, so you can get more behind the scenes action by visiting my website and checking out the character spotlights, excerpts, reviews, and more.
For people who want to learn more about Steampunk as a genre and stay up to date on my author news, they can sign up for my email list and receive a free copy of The Steampunk Handbook. It’s based on articles I’ve written for SteampunkJournal.org and lectures I’ve given at conventions and has a ton of info about the cultural underpinnings of the genre, plus book and movie recommendations to get your gears going.
Thanks for joining us, Phoebe! Be sure to check her out and preorder Riftmaker today! It goes live February 14th!