My COMPLETELY UNAUTHORIZED Interview with High Priestess of Steampunk, Cherie Priest

Yes, I met Cherie Priest, and yes, she was very kind.

And yes, I grew jealous of the long lines of people waiting to sign her books, Boneshaker, Dreadnought, Ganymede. And others. Yes, I bought more of her books because she is the high priestess of steampunk!


So I was at Mile-Hi Con, 2012, and Ms. Priest agreed to a COMPLETELY UNAUTHORIZED interview. I had reviewed Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, and yes, get this, she was happy to hear I said Boneshaker read like a first-person shooter vidya game. And get this, she worked for a while at EA, a gamemaker of awesome games. (EA Games, Electronic Arts)

She said video games were the new medium for storytelling, and unlike Roger Ebert, I agree.

I then asked her what I ask everyone, how do you survive the ups and downs of being an author?

And the answer? Perseverance. Everyone says it. If you want to become successful at writing, it takes walking the walk, daily, never giving up, having stupid amounts of perseverance.
As she talked, I was thinking that maybe that’s why writers are so unbalanced. Normal people with more wisdom give up. Successful writers don’t. The end.

Cherie Priest also suggested marrying rich. She had married well, just not rich, and she said that would really help in the writing game. Yeah, can’t argue with that logic, my friend.

I asked her about her first book, and she said she became a published author because an editor died. No, seriously. An editor liked her work, put her in his slush pile, then died. Years later (not sure it was years, but hey, it makes a good story), decades later, an assistant called saying she was going through the dead editor’s boxes, found Cherie’s work, loved it, and wanted to work with her.

Boom, Cherie Priest gets published.

Six books later, Cherie was frustrated with her career. Things were dark. The buzzards were circling. She wrote the seventh book, the last in the contract with the publisher, and suddenly a cavalry of readers appeared to buy Boneshaker and the rest is history. No more buzzards. At least for now.

Did she know Boneshaker was going to make her a high priestess in publishing? No. All she knew was that she adored steampunk, but most of the stories she read took place in Britain. She wanted to move the whole thing to the United States, Seattle.
It rains in Seattle, a lot.

the killing amc lindenThank you to Cherie Priest, who spent nine days with Mario Acevedo and several other crazy writers in a car, on a book tour, howling at the moon.

I expect that episode will play heavy in her memoir.

No, put on your goggles, grab your Arthoscupla gun, board your favorite Zeppelin (mine is the Moby Dick) and fly to a bookstore near you to check out her books.
French dirigible La Patrie
They are steampunky delicious.

Find out more about Cherie Priest and buy her steampunky books.

Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker: Steampunk Novel or First-Person Shooter?

Years ago, I made the mistake of giving Barry Eisler a critique of a book he wrote that was full-on published and out there. I said what I liked and what I didn’t. Now, Barry is a great guy, and so he took my critique of his first John Rain book, Rain Fall, with a grain of salt. Ha. If some yahoo did that to me, I’d punch him right in the kisser. I wouldn’t, but I’d think about it.

So here I am, trying to review books, and I don’t wanna get hit, and what’s my review going to do? I critique people’s unpublished books in an effort to make them better. But once the book is done, it’s been assigned an ISBN and published, well, it’s not gonna get any better ‘cause it’s done. The end. That’s why critiquing published books is a waste of time. That’s why reviewers have been called the demons who walk across the battlefield shooting the wounded. The battle has already happened.

So when people ask me what I thought of their published book, I say nice things, smile, and move on because I don’t want to shoot the wounded.

A long intro to say this: I’m going to critique published novels of people I don’t know and say what I liked and what I thought could use some work.

And that’s where I’m going with Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker. It’s a huge steampunk book in the steampunk genre which is so steampunky. And is it steampunk? Oh, yeah–alternate history Seattle during a sixteen-year-long civil war with zombies and ancient Seattle city monuments.

Basically, a mad scientist’s device unearths a poison gas that creates zombies. The good people of 19th century Seattle create a wall to keep the gas and zombies inside. Think Escape from New York with fewer convicts, more zombies. And like Escape from New York, there’s a society inside the walls for the rebellious, the indigent, and the independently-minded.

Boneshaker’s absolute glowing wonderfulness is in the setting, the details, the writing, the whole atmosphere and mood. Cheri Priest’s rain-sodden, gaseous Seattle is breathtaking. The characters are believable, and for the steampunkers, there are dirigibles, goggles, and cool anachronistic inventions. And guns. Lots of guns, tough guy.

Reading Boneshaker was the first time that I ever felt like I was reading a novelization for a video game. Seriously, it felt like I was playing Boneshaker rather than reading it. There are ever-evolving guns to use to kill the zombies, there are missions to go, time limits, and a slow walk through labyrinthine madness toward the minotaur at the center. Is the evil genius who lords over walled-in Seattle the same mad scientist who unleashed the gas? I won’t give nothin’ away.

But I’d totally buy and play Boneshaker the video game. You betcha’.

So that’s all the good stuff. The bad stuff? Well, video games have conflict but it’s generally one layer of conflict. Get this, kill zombies, get that, get out. In a first-person-shooter, there’s not a lot of internal conflict going on as you mouseclick along.

The characters in Boneshaker don’t feel one dimensional, but I wanted more conflict somewhere. I think why The Hunger Games grabbed me, because of the layers of conflict. The Hunger Games had the romantic stickiness of Peeta and Katniss. Is their love real or just a weapon? I would have liked to see something like that in Boneshaker, and yeah, I’d make it a romance and give it some level of discomfort. And the plotting. We meet the denizens of the walled-in Seattle, but it’s not until later in the game, and even then, the civil war inside seems forced. There’s only one real faction and I’m not sure why the Chinese laborers spend so much time pumping fresh air down into the guts of the city, but I might have missed that plot point.

Maybe I’ve become too Hollywood. Snake Plissken goes into New York to get the president out. In Boneshaker, the mom goes under the wall into Seattle to get her son out. But in movies, the P.O.V. is clear, the obstacles are clear, the story is tight. Boneshaker’s story isn’t as tight as I wanted it to be, but then, it’s a novel not a movie, so I’ll chalk that up to me being Hollywood and move on.

Would I recommend Boneshaker? Oh yeah. If you want a perfect example of Steampunk, this is it. And when the video game comes out, I am so there to buy it.

I just hope Kurt Russell does one of the voices.
Cherie Priest’s website, where you can buy her books.