I got the chance this week to sit down with Phoebe Darqueling, author extraordinaire, and chat with her about her latest book. No Rest For the Wicked is a wonderful steampunk adventure blending the Wild West and ghost stories, all with that steampunk twist.
What should we know about you?
I had an interesting conversation this past weekend about the question, “Where are you from?” One person felt like it was a totally empty question and the worst kind of small talk. Another person told a story about a friend who gets deeply offended every time someone asks her that because she’s of Asian descent and believes it is some kind of racial slight. However, I think it has to potential to be a great question.
For one thing, it’s a low pressure question, which makes it a great opener. As someone born in Minnesota, I can basically count on Americans knowing at least one thing about my home state – the cold. This makes it a great segue for an anecdote about the Halloween blizzard of my childhood when I went out as Jasmine from Aladdin but with snow pants under her iconic bright blue puffy pants. Or the fact that it gets so cold it can’t snow for much of the winter, which means bright blue skies that can stretch on forever over the plains. I did also have a funny run in with a German waiter who said, “Oh, isn’t that the place everyone makes fun of?” when I told him about my origin. Apparently, MN is the butt of jokes on How I Met Your Mother, which I have so far only watched on the occasional flight across the Atlantic.
As someone who has also spent quite a lot of time living abroad, I also think “where are you from?” can also tell you something about a person. I’m in Germany right now, but I’ve also spent quite a lot of time in Greece and Bulgaria, and visited lots of other places along the way. This means I often have an “in” with people because I can talk about the time I visited, or ask them questions about their home country because there’s a good chance I’d travel there one day. If I know nothing about the place, I like to ask the follow up question, “What do people do for fun there?” It’s another great, low-pressure way to get people talking.
And if you couldn’t tell, I love talking to people and finding out about their experiences.
Music and writing, how does it work for you?
I definitely need something going on in the background when I write. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Psytrance, especially the playlists that are supposed to be good for workouts. I find that the driving beat propels me forward, and both the repetition and lack of words let me dip into flow more easily. (It really does live up to the “trance” part of its name!)
I also really enjoy electronic remixes of different world music and the amazing violin/dub step mashups of Lindsey Stirling. I put together a couple of Spotify playlists for my two novels that have both music I listened to while writing the books and the songs that I think of as the “soundtrack” of the books. You can find out more about the music behind Riftmaker and No Rest for the Wicked in other guest posts.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Neil Gaiman (absolutely everything of his), Garth Nix (The Abhorsen Trilogy), and Terry Pratchett are some of my all time favorite fantasy writers. Kurt Vonnegut and Isaac Asimov are high on the list for Sci Fi. I really like to learn new things, so I also read nonfiction. My faves there are writers are Bill Bryson (especially A Short History of Nearly Everything) and Mary Roach (Bonk and Spook).
What is the weirdest compliment you’ve ever been given?
I had an old man in Barcelona offer to have me come and live with him. I didn’t know it at the time, but the plaza where I liked to eat lunch was actually a hub of this kind of thing happening. As my internship mentor put it, it’s the place where the light-eyed Scandinavian women would go and look for “patrons.” Apparently, my green eyes and inability to speak Catalan (though I do speak Spanish) made him think I was one of these ladies on the lookout.
If you were stranded in the middle of nowhere with no hope of rescue for at least 2 weeks, what 3 things would you make sure to have with you?
Assuming I had food, water, and shelter already, and a good wi-fi connection was out of the question, I’d say I’d need someone to talk to more than anything else. Besides company, I’d make sure to have a notebook and some art supplies so I could write and draw.
Inspirations and ideas—where do you find them?
So far, the characters have come first. Once I come up with a person, I create the world for them to live in. For instance, Vi Thorne from No Rest for the Wicked grew out of a persona I created to be a tour guide for the Sacramento History Museum.
What’s your favorite part about writing? Least favorite?
There’s nothing in the world better than being in the “flow” state. That’s when the words come easily and the scenes fall together seemingly on their own. This is one reason I think having a great cast of characters is so important. For me, the easiest scenes to write are always the ones when my characters are talking to each other.
My other favorite is also my least favorite in a lot of ways. Revising is exhausting. Most people think of “editing” as taking things away. But in my experience, it also means a lot of adding and fleshing out. I added an entire character and subplot late in the process of writing No Rest for the Wicked, which meant pouring over the entire book again and figuring out where this person fit in. It was difficult, but it also resulted in a stronger book, so there’s also a very tangible upside to putting in the hard work.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done that you’re willing to share with us?
Crazy is a really subjective term. For most people, the idea of moving to Bulgaria is downright insane, but for me, it was the most natural thing in the world. My husband was offered a chance to do dissertation research there, so of course I was going to go with him. I also quit my steady paycheck in San Francisco to allow me to bounce around where the wind takes us, which again would feel like a totally bonkers move to other people. Then again, I was pretty miserable in my chosen profession, so dropping it and giving myself permission to pursue writing was also an easy choice once I embraced the uncertainty.
What is the one piece of advice you would want all aspiring authors to know?
I already talked about the power of a good revision, but that is definitely high on my list of tips. Don’t cut corners, make your book as good as it can possibly be. That means getting feedback from others (but don’t follow it all blindly) and being open to rejection. A while back I remember thinking to myself that my goal should be to submit so many things to so many places that I would become immune to the sting of rejection. After all, everything you write makes you a better writer whether or not it gets published. And the more chances you take, the more chances you have at succeeding.
Anything else you want to share with us?
In addition to writing fiction, I also make regular appearances at Steampunk conventions as a lecturer and I write articles for www.SteampunkJournal.org. I love the history of the steam era and never shy away from taking a deep dive into a subject. One great thing that came out of this is a collection of my articles on the Journal and as guest posts for other websites. I’m going to prepare it for its first appearance in print this summer, but people can get a free e-book copy of The Steampunk Handbook when they sign up for my e-mail list.
My short stories have appeared in the Chasing Magic and Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales so far, and I’ll have two more under my belt by the end of 2019. You can find out about all of my books on my Amazon page.
Here’s a few more places we can connect on the web:
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorPhoebeDarqueling/
Facebook fan group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PhoebeDarquelingFans/
Facebook Steampunk Journal page: https://www.facebook.com/steampunkjourno
Thanks for having me today, Stacy!