Today we interview T.E. MacArthur, author of the paranormal Steampunk novel, The Yankee Must Die. But first, a blurb from The Yankee Must Die:
August of 1883, the volcano Krakatoa erupted with terrifying violence and caused a catastrophe few survived –lucky Tom Turner was one of those few. A Civil War veteran, intelligencer, and former first mate aboard Robur the Conqueror’s magnificent airship, the Albatross, Turner was a reluctant Devil. Having escaped the destruction of Krakatoa should have been enough adventure. But not for Turner. Now he’ll have to confront the consequences of his past and those who want the secrets he alone holds. Murderous pirates, ruthless French scientists, erupting Hawaiian volcanoes, and the deadly Huaka’i po (the Nightmarchers) all stand between Turner and home. No man can be that lucky? The Volcano Lady, Volumes I and II, told only part of Tom Turner’s story. Now The Yankee Must Die – Gaslight Adventures of Tom Turner (in three novellas) reveals the rest of his adventures. Can he escape his past or will he die at the hands of bio-mechanical assassins? Turner dreams of the day he might be reunited with the only woman to captivate his heart – Victorian volcanologist Lettie Gantry – if only he can survive again and again, against all chances. But this is lucky Tom Turner. This is T.E. MacArthur’s latest installment from the Volcano Lady universe: an exciting blend of historical fact and steam-powered fiction – plus a healthy dose of Jules Verne himself.
PYN: What prompted you to write this book or series?
T.E.: If you must know, my motivation for starting my books can be attributed to the same question every one of us gets asked: “why don’t you write it yourself?” I had only just learned that there was a genre called Steampunk that touched on every subject I love – history, Jules Verne, technology, fantasy, and in some cases the paranormal. So, off I went to find a book to enjoy and I couldn’t find anything that did it for me. There are wonderful novels out there, but I was looking for something quite distinct. I complained, of course, to my friend Jay Davis (aka Professor Flockmocker) who asked that all important question.
I’ve been writing all of my life – you should see the partially filled notebooks cluttering my living room. You can call it my soul’s purpose; I certainly do. Getting a case of writer’s block is downright painful, physically and mentally, so as you can imagine, I don’t ever want to NOT be writing.
No kidding, there I was, an amateur volcanologist, amateur author, Victorian fashionista, and historian … Steampunk just called to me. I started with the Volcano Lady. After the first 200,000 words I got the impression I was typing up my own version of War and Peace. I decided to break up the book into two volumes with a cliffhanger, hooked up with TreasureLine Books in Oklahoma, and finally saw my first novel in print. I cried. No, really, I’m sentimental that way. I just stood there with my proof copy sobbing and giggling at the same time. It wasn’t pretty, but it was satisfying. My covers were, and still are, being created by S.N. Jacobson (www.snjacobson.com,) which I consider a huge honor. He is an extraordinary artist and photographer.
After the two Volcano Lady novels were released, I wanted to find a way to give something back to the folks who took a chance on a new author. The Gaslight Adventures of Tom Turner was the result. They are a three-part series of dime novels, or penny dreadfuls if you’re UK based, written to salute the old serials that were so popular in the late 1800s. Why did The Yankee Must Die: The Huaka’i Po (the Nightmarchers) take a paranormal turn? Because Clockwork Alchemy, my local Steampunk convention, picked the theme in 2013 of Ghost Stories & Gothic Fairytales. That, and I wanted to put my hand to a little scary storytelling. So … tada! The Yankee Must Die has not only Hawaiian ghosts and Gods, but pirates and mechanical monsters.
PYN: What genre does your book fall into – paranormal mystery, paranormal erotica, para-romance, urban fantasy, YA?
T.E.: How about, Steampunk with a ghostly twist? I’m not sure – while Volcano Lady and Yankee are definitely Steampunk, I think there’s more to it than that. I have to wonder if the whole idea of “the genre” is misleading. There’s romance in my books, paranormal fantasy, science, historical fact and historical fiction. How does one narrow it down? I think today’s successful books need to tap newer combinations of traditional book writing flavors. Call it Nouveaux Literary Cuisine. Enough with the Cheese or Pepperoni Pizza, we want Thick Crust Storytelling with Spicy Sauces and Portabella Mushrooms.
PYN: Do you plot ahead of time, or let the plot emerge as you write?
T.E.: A little of both: I often start with a scene I simply must write, with characters that in my head are begging to do something. Then I write a general plot outline. Then I write, which always means that outline gets huge adjustments. As I’m working through each scene, and I don’t write chronologically or linearly, I discover something I hadn’t thought about. Sometimes it’s an aspect of the story I just hadn’t paid enough attention to, and often it’s a continuity error that forces me to give up a plot direction that can’t be justified. The story grows as it’s written.
PYN: How did you develop the names for your characters?
T.E.: Names are tricky things. If you are writing in a particular setting, you have to understand how names reflect the time and place. Ever see one of those jousting tournaments or read a medieval story and out comes Sir Ryan, Sir Steve, and Squire Terry? Yeah … no. No, even if you aren’t an expert on medieval history you just know there’s something wrong with that. Medieval men should have names such as Robert, William, and Audric.
For Steampunk, it tends to be set in the Victorian or Alternate Victorian age. Upper class Victorians had convoluted and rich sounding names, such as Adelaide, Lillian, Clarence and Cyril. Lower class folks tended to stick to the basics like John or Charles, but nearly everyone had nicknames. My own aunt Charlotte gave me the idea for my lead character. Aunt Charlotte always went by Lottie. Lettie is short for Letiticia. For Tom, well, he’s a well bred, middle class man for whom Thomas would be too formal and Tommy too low (as we found out in Volcano Lady: Volume 2.)
PYN: How did you decide on the setting?
T.E.: Purely out of love. I started with Victorian Europe and expanded into Indonesia (the Dutch East Indies at the time.) I enjoyed the research as well as the chance not to leave my Steampunk story stuck in England. Yankee was a chance for me to write about Hawai’i, and the Big Island. I adore the Big Island and the town of Hilo. I even miss Ken’s House of Pancakes and watching plates of Loco Moco go by (probably out of shock and awe – we’re talking about a pile of rice, with a hamburger patty, fried eggs, fried Spam, and brown gravy. I never had the courage to try it but it was astonishing to see.) I spent my birthday on the rim of Kilauea. To bring Tom to a place I love just seemed like a bright idea.
Steampunk started as a “what if” for the Victorian world, which means Great Britain most of the time. Yet there are so many cultures that existed simultaneously that are not written about. I could be wrong, but I believe Yankee is the only Steampunk novel set in Victorian Hawaii; if not the only book then one of a very small number. Steampunk is stretching out to be more multicultural.
PYN: Can you tell us one fun/interesting paranormal fact you learned in your book research?
T.E.: I learned about the Huaka’i Po – the Nightmarchers. These are the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors who march across various battlefields or sacred places. They are not evil, but they are not to be disrespected. The belief is that anyone they see or who sees them will die – unless that person is lucky enough to have a deceased relative amongst their ranks. Drums are what you hear first, followed by an indescribable odor. Sometimes a conch shell is blown, which combined with the howl of the coastal wind would be terrifying. Then the stomping of feet. Nothing stops them. They march right through buildings in their path. Even the Gods will join in the marches. They are something we don’t quite wrap our heads around in the modern world: we want everything to be black and white – good and evil. We want to clearly understand and master the rules of dealing with these ghosts so that we can always beat them. The Huaka’I Po are different from our Western paranormal experiences and that makes them scarier.
As with all paranormal stories, there are variations based on who is retelling it or when/where it happened. But the idea of an unstoppable army that is neither evil nor good, who have strict rules about how to show respect, and one Victorian-era man from New England thrown in … it was very intriguing.
PYN: Why did you decide to write paranormal?
T.E.: I had my own profound, spiritual experience at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (the Place of Refuge) and on the rim of Kilauea, so I was not about to miss an opportunity to send Tom Turner there. The Clockwork Alchemy theme for 2013 was my excuse, but I’m fascinated by the spiritual world. I’ll confess; I watch Ghost Hunters.
When I was growing up in Colorado, we lived for a while on the side of a mesa, in a ranch style house that sat partially underground due to the slope of the hill. The underground basement always scared me. I told my mother I didn’t want to go into the laundry room because there was something in there. She thought I just didn’t want to fold the laundry. Right under those stairs, lurking, trying to sleep with an almost demonic do not disturb sign – I couldn’t go there. We stored boxes under the steps and there wasn’t enough money or candy to make me go dig one of those boxes out. It was a feeling that was incredibly primal – this wasn’t fight or flight, this was run like hell. To this day I believe there was a spirit of something ensconced under the stairs that didn’t want us to bother him. The whole house had issues. I remember one night waking up to see the closet doors breathing. Lucid dream and childhood imagination – I’ll buy that – but I’m not one to automatically dismiss an experience. Especially a child’s experience: we adults are too quick to wave off what really might have been an unadulterated observation of something real. I’ll never know: the place belongs to someone else now and has been changed over the years.
That feeling of excitement and terror has lingered in my head and it is my goal to provoke that feeling in a reader by way of description and narrative. That sort of writing has to come from deep inside an author, from experience, from knowing how awful it can feel. There’s no faking it. Stephen King is probably the best at taking those items of common life and making them scary. Of course, he tried making clowns scary, but that wasn’t necessary – I’ve always found clowns more than a little creepy.
PYN: What’s your writing schedule? Do you have a favorite place to write?
T.E.: Oh, you’re going to hate this, but I’m a morning person. I love to write in the wee hours. Give me a cup of coffee and a quiet place, and I’m proverbially off to the races. But I’ve found that some hours throughout the day are good: 6-8am, 10am-1pm, 3-5pm, 7-10pm. Note the gaps that are perfect for taking naps! The only way I learned was by doing, and often only on the weekends. Rainy weather with a blustery wind is ideal – don’t ask me why, that one I haven’t figured out yet. But one thing that is essential is the coffee house. Living in a college town has afforded me plenty of good coffee places to write, but only a couple that don’t mind my camping out for a few hours (and that is because I know this is their business and I buy every two hours even if I don’t need to. Fair is fair.) I suspect because of all of the above, my life will probably move north: to Seattle or Victoria. Still, I love San Francisco.
PYN: What’s next?
T.E.: I have tons of things on my schedule; perhaps too many. A trip to Bath in 2014, a return trip to Iceland in 2015. A stay in Tombstone, AZ with friends in their 1880s house, for New Years? Writing-wise: Tom’s Gaslight Adventures’ first two volumes are out. The Yankee Must Die: Huaka’i Po and Death and the Barbary Coast were released on Amazon, Kindle, and Smashwords (which means they are in Mobi, Nook, and other eBook formats as well as paperback) earlier this year. I’m almost done with the working draft of the third dime novel, tentatively named A Wild Weird West and tentatively scheduled for an October release. Oh, who knows, I might take that title and say, “meh! I have a better title.” But, we’ll go with that one for now. I’ll post the release with links on my blog page and on my Facebook page.
In June I spent some time in Iceland exploring around the base of Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that stopped air traffic in Europe in 2010. The Volcano Lady: Volume 3 will be set in Iceland, America, and the UK. The working title here is The Great Earthquake Machine, with a probable release date in May 2014, but we’ll see.
And because I just can’t help myself, I dug out a paranormal thriller I wrote in the 1990s, called Odigan. It is the tale of a modern woman discovering her Shamanic past and future, and fulfilling an ancient prophecy which not everyone would like to have fulfilled. Wow, the technology I described is out of date – a factor with the remarkable changes in the computer and telecommunications industries. Shamanism, however, isn’t changing as drastically or quickly. It’s a blending of many worlds filled with angry spirits, greedy treasure seekers, and desperate people. Oh, and romance, did I forget to mention a little romance?
Thank you so much for allowing me time on your blog. I look forward to reading your posts and to having tea again in the near future.
T. E. MacArthur is a San Francisco Bay Area author, artist, and historian. She is the author behind The Volcano Lady: Volumes I & II: Steampunk novels following the adventures of a Victorian lady scientist, Lettie Gantry. Her novellas in the The Yankee Must Die series continue with thrilling adventures of Tom Turner, following the time honored cliffhangers of Victorian dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and weekly serials. She has written for several local and specialized publications and was even an accidental sports reporter for Reuters International News. Her blog can be found at http://www.volcanolady1.wordpress.com.