If through some celestial twist the future had not only arrived sooner but brought with it an airship full of technological gizmos and gadgets as well, the past would clearly reflect today’s popular genre called “steampunk.” The clever mash-up of science fiction, alternative history, romance and even a smattering of Victorian “penny dreadfuls” were certainly flirted with in the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne – two icons who’d find plenty to chat about – and applaud – with William J. Jackson, author of the Rail Legacy books. Set against a backdrop of 1886 Railroad City, Missouri, An Unsubstantiated Chamber finds two unlikely allies working together to track down a paranormal killer. Looking for a page-turner summer read? We recommend hopping Jackson’s fast train to a race against time. Just fasten your seat belt first…
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Congratulations on the debut of the launch title in a new steampunk series! Since you’ve indicated that the Rail Legacy books will appeal to audiences 14 years and older, we’re curious what the 14-year-old self of William Jackson might have had on his nightstand.
A: I was coming out of my Stephen King phase then. But comics, mainly DC and Marvel. LOTS of comics.
Q: What are you reading these days?
A: Indie! I gave up on ever changing Dc and Marvel – popular books just based on what’s hot and read indie. Try Kara Jorgensen, Jack Tyler, David Lee Summers and many more!
Q: Who (or what) inspired you to start penning your own books?
A: I always wanted to write but couldn’t find the words or the self-esteem. Both came gradually.
Q: Do you begin with a formal outline or do you allow your muse to guide you from one chapter to the next?
A: First the muse, then an outline. Slowly, the outline gives way to how the characters should naturally behave. Then back to the muse.
Q: So what attracted you to the popularity of steampunk fiction?
A: Childhood, long before it had a name, there was H.G Wells and Jules Verne. The rpg Space:1889 really got me back into it again.
Q: For readers unfamiliar with the rudiments of a steampunk story, give us a 101 primer on the types of characters, plots and settings one typically finds in this genre.
A: While many see goggles, top hats and airships (mine has those) steampunk is more of an archetype of advanced steam technology and the historical mess of imperialism to which any time period or other genre can be merged. It’s really quite open once you know those basics.
Q: When YA novels initially hit their stride in the 1970s, the majority of their themes revolved around the misfit experiences of high school and the pangs of unrequited crushes. YA titles today have dramatically left that suburban comfort zone and plunged readers into the midst of dark paranormal and dystopian worlds. Yet, in your view, have the teenage quests for love, acceptance and survival really changed that much?
A: Regardless of the type of world built, the emotional and maturity struggles remain. The only real difference is how hard said world makes life and growing up.
Q: A lot of these YA stories of escapism and empowerment appeal to adults just as much as they do to teenagers. Why is that?
A: Adults have the monster called Responsibility, and thus also crave escape! It’s more a human factor than one of age.
Q: What was the inspiration behind “An Unsubstantiated Chamber”?
A: My love of superhero tales, but wanting a deeper one about justice to go with the battles and splashy powers. My love of Victorian scientific romances, but hating the vapid racism/sexism of the era. Let’s combine the two, but add what I felt was missing.
Q: Which came first for you – the characters or the plot?
A: Plot. I dreamed of Railroad City back in 1993! Steam trains and a city of heroes really gave me a kick in my rpg days. Then it was a game, but I said back then that if I ever became a writer, the Rail, the Legacy Universe as a whole, would be first.
Q: Any special meaning behind the title?
A: It is very self-explanatory, but I wanted words that I wouldn’t find in another title. I’m anal that way.
Q: How is the series steampunk and how is it not?
A: Goggles, airships, top hats, imperial militant takeover, steam power…check! The basics are there, as well as the bad effects of the military rule. But add to it powers (talents) caused by an alien element. Oh, and there were aliens, too, at one point.
Q: Which character in the series do you most identify with?
A: Flag Epsom. He loves history, is a loner, and is very sarcastic. Sarcasm was how I got through being picked on in school. Now I’m trying to get rid of it and be more calm.
Q: What governed your decision to craft Rail Legacy as a series? (beyond the obvious reason that many of us simply hate to say goodbye to our characters by the final chapter!)
A: The story is a chase. But the things uncovered will unleash a cacophony of secrets, lies, and drama that most of the characters in the book and those to come will find hard to accept, and to handle. Thus, it would take more than one or even two books to tell it.
Q: One of the challenges of writing a series is the fact that readers might not read the books sequentially. How do you address this insofar as giving your new readers enough back-story to be brought up to speed while not boring your fans that are all ready for the next adventure and don’t need a recap?
A: Each book will remain its own, while connecting to the next one. So, it really shouldn’t hurt not to read in order.
Q: Any book(s) written over a long stretch necessitate great organizational and time management skills so as not to lose track of who’s doing what where and why? What’s your insider secret about this?
A: Lots of note paper! Truly, I write tons of little notes that look frantic on the table but help to organize my thinking. In one book I have the overall timeline, and reference that. All together, it works.
Q: What’s a typical day of writing like for you? (i.e., setting, time of day, music in the background, quirky habits)
A: Early morning, put out hopefully a thousand words in the quiet. If TV is on, I use headphones and listen to jazz/dubstep. Not exactly steampunk music, but it works!
Q: Are there any “rules” of writing that you steadfastly never break? Any that you always break?
A: I hate writing rules. No adverbs. No ending in a preposition. Bleh! If it’s in the English language, I use it. If it fits the story, I write it. There are the rules.
Q: As with many aspiring authors, you chose to exercise control over your intellectual property and go the self-publishing route. What do you know now that you didn’t know when this publishing journey began? Any advice to writers considering a similar path?
A: That KDP Select makes you unable to sell your ebook elsewhere for at least 90 days. If I had known, I would not have enrolled. I suggest trying Direct2Digital, Smashwords and more first. They are more lenient.
Q: What are you doing to promote the book?
A: Alerts on Facebook and Twitter. I have the ad program on Goodreads, tweets via BookWerm. I guess they’re helping.
Q: If Hollywood came calling for the Rail Legacy to make it a movie or television series, who would comprise your dream cast for it?
A: Wow. Flag Epsom – Christopher Eccleston. Aretha Astin – Gina Rodriquez. Sergeant Powell -Sam Neill. Madame Amberson – Meryl Streep. And I guess for the role of the elusive killer, Michael Keaton.
Q: And would you want a role in it yourself?
A: I want to be in the green suit, playing any of the oddest paranormals in the background!
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Finishing Book Two, writing a dieselpunk chapter every week on Wattpad,
Q: Where can readers learn more about your work (and buy your book)?
A: They can buy it at…http://www.amazon.com/Unsubstantiated-Chamber-Book-Rail-Legacy/dp/1502714353/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1433966474&sr=8-1&keywords=an+unsubstantiated+chamber&pebp=1433967675551&perid=80B0C8398D324B8E8D08
I also blog about my book and the genre at therailbaron.wordpress.com.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I’m excited to talk to steampunk and all punk fans online. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Facebook. Let’s come together and build up the indie scene!