What I dearly love about the writing community is that I get to meet some truly fascinating individuals. With me today is author Phoebe Darqueling, editor for Our Write Side, author, and steampunk expert extraordinaire here to discuss her latest book, Riftmaker. I’m super-excited to conduct this interview, so without further ado, I have to ask…
How did you come up with the concept of Riftmaker? What is the story behind the story?
I was walking my dog, Gadget, in the garden area of my apartment building complex. There was a cardboard box lying around, but I didn’t think anything of it at first. Gadget and I went around one of the buildings, and when we re-entered the garden, the box had moved. We went around the next building and when I saw the box again, it had moved another few feet and tipped on its side. It looked like it was beckoning for someone to look inside of it. So, it got me thinking, what’s so special about this box, and if Gadget got too close, what would happen to him? Being the science fiction and fantasy fan that I am, my brain went to portals and parallel universes. And voila! The concept for Riftmaker fell into place.
Tell me a little about Buddy. What is he like? Is he based off of anyone in real life or inspired by any characters from fiction?
Buddy is the person I believe Gadget would be if he were suddenly to find himself in a human body with a human mind. He’s got a lot to learn about being human, but he’s an unwavering optimist. I had so much fun writing him because he is so sweet and naive, which sometimes leads to unexpected insights.
Travelers, which is another word for otherworlders, sometimes manifest special abilities in their new shape. I believe that dogs have a way of sensing things about people, so I gave that trait to Buddy as well. Except in his case, it manifests in being able to sense a person’s “true name” when he sees them. My dog also has a way of making himself as tiny and unobtrusive as possible, especially if he knows you’re mad at him. So, Buddy also can disappear when he’s afraid and people hardly remember he was ever there.
Do you have a dog? Any other pets?
I’ve already told you a little about Gadget, who is a toy poodle. (Get it? Toy, Gadget? Badum-ching) At the time I wrote Riftmaker, I was in a pretty low point in my life. I was recovering from an extremely painful surgery and my career choice turned out to be far less than it was cracked up to be. My husband spends some time abroad each year as part of his job, so Gadget was who I could always count on coming home to. He and I formed a really close bond.
My little furry friend is currently living with my parents back in the United States, and even though a lot of things have changed since that dark time, it breaks my heart to be without him. I know that he’d be right there, curled up on my feet while I’m doing this interview if he could be. But bringing him over to Germany, and into our tiny apartment without any access to a yard, seemed cruel. My parents have a much better setup for dogs, and the moment I move back to the States, I will definitely be finding a way to get him back to me.
How long have you been writing? What made you decide to write?
As with many a pensmith, I was interested in writing from a young age. I wrote my first “novel” when I was ten. It was about a cheetah cub that was captured by poachers and even included full color illustrations. My tweens were filled with some awful poetry, which morphed into some mediocre songs in high school. But once I got into late high school and college, I was doing so much writing for my classes and spending a lot of time doing studio art that I drifted away from writing for a while. Then, when the aforementioned excrement all hit the fan in the my 20’s and I needed an outlet, writing acted as a life raft.
Now, I’m guessing you love steampunk. You even wrote The Steampunk Handbook. How did you get into steampunk?
My first sojourn into Steampunk was at a friend’s burlesque show. Now, that may sound strange, but burlesque as distinctive form of theater emerged in the 1860’s, and I have actually seen burlesque at various Steampunk events since. But at the time, I had never seen burlesque or heard of Steampunk. My friend told me a little bit about the genre and aesthetic and cited one of my favorite movies, Wild Wild West, as being part of it. Then she decked me out in some goggles and a corset (that it turns out I was wearing upside down!), and I sat down to enjoy the show. After that, I was completely hooked and started to devour all of the books and movies I could, followed by starting my first Steampunk blog to review them. Now, I have annual engagements in Ohio and Wisconsin where I give lectures on various topics about the steam era. I’ll also be a featured author at Steampunk book fair in Connecticut in November.
What are some of your favorite books and movies?
This might sound weird to someone who didn’t grow up in the Midwest, but I spent much of my childhood watching a show called Mystery Science Theater 3000. The premise is that a regular guy was shot into space by mad scientists, and they make him watch terrible old movies and monitor the effects on his brain. He’s got robot sidekicks, and they snark their way from start to finish. This instilled a love of both cheesy old science fiction movies and keeping up a running commentary. I admit, this makes it very difficult for me to enjoy dramas much of the time, though I recently watched both The Arrival and Annihilation. They were dramas and too good to snark about.
As far as non-MST3K movie experiences go, I’d say it’s probably a dead heat between The Princess Bride and The Fifth Element for all-time favorite film.
Do you have a favorite author, someone you consider an inspiration?
Neil Gaiman is my absolute favorite author. I often say that if some day he read something I wrote and didn’t hate it, I could die happy. Terry Pratchett and his knack for hiding social commentary in a fantasy world is also outstanding, and I was reading a lot his books at the time I wrote the first draft of Riftmaker. The original manuscript was much more in his style than the current version, but I hope readers will also enjoy my own attempt at allegory.
What is the most difficult part of writing for you?
In general, I’m an organized person. Not in an iron-my-underwear type of way, mind you, but I hate to feel like I am doing something in an inefficient way. However, writing and rewriting is messy. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get things like plot points and pacing right the first time, which can sometimes make me stop in my tracks when what I really need to do is work it out on the page.
Do you have any favorite scenes from Riftmaker that you’d like to share?
One of my favorite scenes to write was the first time I got my four major players into the same place for the first time. It goes a little something like this…
When he saw Adelaide, Buddy waved enthusiastically and wiggled free of Grace’s grasp. “Oh hello, hello my friend!” he crowed. He bounded over and embraced her with gusto.
His sincere joy bubbled over and engulfed her, loosening the lump in her gullet and putting a tired smile on her face. “You seem to be feeling better,” she replied, reaching for an apple.
“Yes, I feel quite well. Grace has been telling me about ‘jokes.’ I did not know any, you see, so she has taught me one.” He cleared his throat dramatically and continued, “There are some muffins in an oven. Er, I think there are two…” He looked to Grace for reassurance, and she nodded her encouragement. “Yes, there are two muffins in an oven—”
“Oh Goddess,” Adelaide interrupted. “You taught him the muffin joke?” This was directed at Grace, who stood by, looking bemused.
“It seemed like a good place to start.” She shrugged. “Besides, it was your favorite when you were a kid.”
Adelaide rolled her eyes and chomped into the golden fruit she held. Her next words were muddled by the sound of her crunching away at her breakfast.
“Well, I was a stupid kid, and it is an even stupider joke.”
Grace wagged her finger, the consummate caregiver. “Chew your food, then speak,” she said with a smirk. “Is that any way for a lady to behave?”
Adelaide nearly choked at the oddness. After a lifetime of never having the word applied to her, this was the second time it and her ability to live up to it had been challenged in less than a day. She stuck out her tongue at Grace before defiantly taking another bite.
“You mean you know it already?” Buddy asked, crestfallen.
Adelaide finished chewing, then swallowed dramatically and showed her empty mouth to Grace before answering. “Yes, I know the muffin joke,” she said. His shoulders sank, tugging at her heartstrings. “But you can still tell it to me if you want.”
“Okay!” he replied. “So, there are two muffins in an oven. One turns to the other and says, ‘Wow, it is so hot in here—”
“Oh no,” Jeremy said as he and Olivia approached. “It tells jokes now?”
Adelaide cringed, but Buddy did not seem to notice his choice of words.
“Yes, I was just getting to the ‘punch-line’” Buddy replied happily, drawing quotation marks in the air as he spoke. Jeremy snorted derisively and headed for the barrel of apples, his shoulder clipping Buddy’s as he passed. The Traveler flinched at the contact, but cleared his throat and tried again. “So, one muffin turns to the other and says, ‘Wow, it is so hot in here! —”
“You know,” Jeremy interjected. “I have never understood something about this joke.” His words and eyes were directed at Olivia only. Adelaide chided herself for how much this bothered her, but she couldn’t help but crave his attention even now. He tossed Olivia an apple which she barely caught and continued. “Why are there only two muffins in the oven anyway? They always get made in batches of twelves,” he crunched into his own apple and smacked his lips loudly, “or maybe six. But there would never be just two muffins in an oven, would there?”
Grace threw her hands up dramatically at the lack of etiquette shown by her wards and walked away to see to the other injured people.
Jeremy looked pointedly at Olivia, who just shrugged. “I’ve never made muffins.”
“No,” he said thoughtfully, “I suppose you haven’t.”
“I have not made muffins, either,” Buddy added helpfully.
“Until a few days ago you didn’t even have opposable thumbs,” Jeremy sneered, still trying to get a rise out of the flaxen-haired interloper.
“That is correct. They are wonderful!” Buddy looked down at his hands and studied his fingers.
Jeremy let out an exasperated sigh. “Are you sure you want to help this idiot?” he asked Olivia.
“He’s not an idiot,” Adelaide retorted. “He’s just…” she struggled for a moment before choosing her next word. “New. He’s new, that’s all.”
And how can fans stay connected with you?
You can find Riftmaker and all of my other books on my Amazon author page or Goodreads. Riftmaker is currently available for $1.99 from Amazon and a variety of other e-book retailers until Feb 14. Print price is $18.99 from Amazon and the Our Write Side store.
You can find more character spotlights, book reviews, guest posts, and interviews with Phoebe Darqueling during the Riftmaker blog tour, Jan 24 – Mar 6.
Do you like free books? Sure you do! Sign up for Phoebe’s monthly newsletter and get a FREE COPY of The Steampunk Handbook right now.
Awesome! Thanks so much for this interview, Phoebe.
Thanks so much for having me, Rebecca!
Phoebe Darqueling is the pen name of a globe trotting vagabond who currently hangs her hat in Freiburg, Germany. In her “real life” she writes curriculum for a creativity competition for kids in MN and edits academic texts for non-native English speakers. She loves all things Steampunk and writes about her obsession on SteampunkJournal.org. During 2017, she coordinated a Steampunk novel through the Collaborative Writing Challenge called Army of Brass, and also loves working with authors as an editor. You can also find her short stories in the Chasing Magic and The Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales anthologies so far, and her next novel, No Rest for the Wicked is coming Spring 2019. She’s an equal opportunity Star Trek, Star Wars, and Firefly fan, but her favorite pastime is riffing on terrible old movies a la Mystery Science Theater 3000.