I was surprised by Kate Milford's debut novel The Boneshaker a great deal and spent a lot of time telling other folks about this blend of fantasy, steampunk, carnival-horror and Americana was really worth taking a look at. While written for middle grade readers it carries a level of sophistication that reminded a bit of Ray Bradbury's child-protagonist novels and stories and because of that I think The Boneshaker and the literary world it inhabits will serious legs. Kate is back with a companion novel, a prequel, The Broken Lands which is due out this fall. She will also be releasing a self-published novella, The Kairos Mechanism, that returns to The Boneshaker setting.
I will confess that Kate's writing has awakened a curiosity in me for a specific aspect of Americana, that of the crossroads. One figures prominently in The Boneshaker (along with a healthy dose of Robert Johnson mythology) and in The Broken Lands it is an urban crossroads that the characters must contend with. While we certainly talk about quite a bit in this interview - the upcoming book, the Kickstarter factor, the wonders of "baking your own book", it is the crossroads exchange I found the most compelling. There has to be a reason why so many stories were written about them, and why so many legends call them home.
I love that Kate ponders those very same questions too.
CM: Can you give me an overview of THE BROKEN LANDS?
KM: It's set mostly in Coney Island, in 1877 (at that time, Coney Island was not yet part of Brooklyn, and Brooklyn was not yet part of New York City). Walker and Bones, two fixers in the employ of Jack, the drifter who appears in The Boneshaker, arrive in town with plans to take over the city of New York. Jack has been walking the earth with a coal of hellfire given to him by the Devil--who would not let him into Hell--in search of the right location to start his own place, and he's settled on New York City. So Walker and Bones are in town to start the process, which involves the city's great crossroads: the crossing of the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, which is currently under construction. They also need a conflagrationeer--someone with arcane knowledge of the arts of fire--to claim the city in Jack's name. And it just so happens that a legendary troupe of fireworkers is in Coney Island. It falls to Jin, the youngest member of the Fata Morgana Fireworks Company, and Sam, a Coney Island card sharp, to save New York from becoming Jack's personal Hell.
CM: Why did you decide to do a prequel for THE BONESHAKER rather than sequel?
KM: Well, my dream plan is to alternate prequels and sequels. I have a hard time with prequels when they come at the end of the story. I love history and backstory as much as any geek, but once the story is over--and this is just me--I stop being excited about what happened before. I always wish I had the information beforehand. So my idea was to create prequels that were interspersed with the forward-moving narrative. These prequels would inform the books that followed them, introducing characters and providing history relevant to the unfolding tale. The way I envision it, both The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands set up the "big" Natalie story to come, which is a trilogy in which Natalie has to save her hometown of Arcane from the same danger that falls on New York City in TBL.
CM: What made you think of the Brooklyn Bridge and East River as a crossroads? (Has anyone ever set the crossroads mythology in an urban setting before?)
KM: As for the urban setting...well, one of the great things about crossroads mythology is that it's so varied. For instance, when I talk to schools about crossroads tales, I like to emphasize that there's an almost endless number of variations from all around the world, so although no, I can't think of an example of an urban crossroads tale myself, I'd be shocked if a few didn't exist. On the other hand, the folklore does tend to focus on the crossroads either as a liminal place--a boundary, a means of entering town or leaving it--or as a remote place of peril, distant from society.
But you know, in Manhattan and in the part of Brooklyn where I live, you really do navigate by cross-streets in ways that you don't in other places. And although you're theoretically in one city, you can cross a street or turn a corner and find yourself in what feels like another town altogether. It's a city of smaller cities all stitched together by bridges and subways and ferries. This is particularly true of the different boroughs--there are people who just never leave Manhattan, for example. Staten Island is a perfect blank for lots of folks, except they know there's a ferry and they know there's an expressway. You can still have that liminality, that sense of crossing a boundary, within a city. I guess that's probably what got me thinking about the Brooklyn Bridge as part of a crossroads.
CM: What can you tell me about the novella's story?
KM: The Kairos Mechanism came out of that same wish to give readers extra material and backstory in a way that informs the unfolding story. I also wanted to make sure that readers could draw the connections between The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands. It takes place in Arcane, at the end of the summer following the events of The Boneshaker, and it begins when Natalie encounters two young men walking into Arcane and carrying a dead man between them--a dead man who appears to be in his twenties, but who has been missing from Arcane for fifty years. While the adults puzzle over this, Natalie discovers that the two boys who carried the body home have another reason for being in Arcane, which is to carry out a task set for them by a sinister peddler named Trigemine. Then Natalie comes to Trigemine's attention, and chaos ensues.
CM: How did you decide to self-publish the short story?
KM: Back when I originally had that idea of alternating prequels and sequels, I also had this idea that I'd pair a Natalie story with each prequel to tide readers over who wanted to return to Arcane sooner rather than later. But I couldn't imagine a publisher wanting to release two books at once, even if they liked the idea of publishing a short novel or novella. So I sort of figured if I was going to do it, I'd have to do it on my own. Then the bookstore where I work, McNally Jackson, got this amazing alien robot printer thing, the Espresso Book Machine, and suddenly the idea got even more exciting because I realized I could do print editions. I mean, I guess I knew there were options for that out there, but the idea of doing it myself, of being completely involved down to watching the books come out of the oven warm and smelling like glue--that idea was just irresistible. And once I'd gone that far in thinking about it, I started thinking about all the potential things I could do with this idea if I made it an ongoing project. Since basically all the projects I have in the pipeline--even the ones that seem unrelated, like the two books I have coming out in 2014--are set in the same world, there are connections between all of them. I can use these novellas to link them, to encourage readers who love Arcane to visit Nagspeake. I can link the two 2014 books, even though they're coming out from different publishers. And I can keep my readers engaged in 2013, even though I don't currently have any releases slated for next year.
So that's how I made the decision to give this a shot. It's going to be released in three editions: a digital book, a paperback edition with a cover illustration by Andrea Offermann, and a reader-illustrated special digital edition in which fourteen kids between the ages of 11 and 19 are each illustrating one chapter. That one will be pay-what-you-like on my website, www.clockworkfoundry.com. The regular digital and paperback editions will be released in September alongside The Broken Lands; the illustrated edition's release date is TBD because I wanted to pay the kids and I didn't want to start them working until I knew I could do it.
I raised the money to pay the artists and finance the print edition through Kickstarter*. My goal was $6500, which the campaign has successfully raised. Now I'm shooting for $7500, at which point I can bump up the kids' paychecks--or even better, $9500, at which point I can pretty confidently commit to at least a print edition of a second novella. My dream is to hit $13500, which will allow for a reader-illustrated edition of that second novella, too. There are really great rewards for backers, too, everything from digital editions of the book on up to school and library visits.
CM: How has your publisher reacted to the novella?
KM: They've been very supportive, although since it's not under contract, they haven't been directly involved in any way. I've encountered some surprise, mostly from folks with primarily self-pub backgrounds, that the publisher didn't object to the project; I guess there are horror stories out there of contracts with do-not-compete clauses or something. Obviously, I've never seen anything like that. In my (admittedly still limited) experience, publishers really like to see authors thinking outside the box about promotion, seeking new readers and keeping them engaged. I know Clarion has always encouraged me to be proactive and creative about promotion, and my editor immediately saw the merits of using extra content in this way to help drive sales of The Broken Lands.
See the Master Schedule with links & quotes to other Blog Blast interviews here. (I'll be updating this continuously all week!)
*Kate's Kickstarter was more than 100% funded! (And I am a very proud backer!)