Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Interview with Emma Jane Holloway, author of The Baskerville Affair

Today, Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author Emma Jane Holloway to our little corner of the net to discuss her three part series, The Baskerville Affair.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Emma. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Baskerville Affair series? 
The Baskerville Affair combines steampunk, mystery, and adventure. It begins in 1888 London, which is dominated by an industrial cabal called the Steam Council. They have outlawed magic and stripped much of the power from the aristocracy, including the royal family. Our main characters include Evelina Cooper, who has the power of illegal magic as well as her uncle Sherlock Holmes’s taste for solving murders. Add a circus, mysterious automatons, a ne’er-do-well rake with a mechanical octopus, and a talking mouse, and you get the picture.

What inspired you to write the series? Where did the idea for it come from? 
Some time ago, I wanted to write a story about Sherlock’s niece. I was curious as to what a teenaged girl would make of her famous uncle. In the end, Evelina is an adult in this series, but their relationship is still key to who she is. She’s caught between the Victorian love of the fantastic and their equally strong love of science. Her journey is all about reconciling those two aspects of herself and facing the darker aspects of that combination.

Book one, A Study in Silks, blends your unique brand of steampunk with the classic works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Did you find it intimidating working with such revered material as the Sherlock Holmes canon and were you nervous at how your adaptation of it might be received?
I read the Conan Doyle stories when I was about ten and have reread them many times since. Obviously, I wanted to do him justice and went back to the source material for a lot of my detail. He’s such a strong character I didn’t have any trouble putting him on the page, but he’s not meant to be a main character—although he does steal a few scenes here and there. 

At the same time, this isn’t a classic Conan Doyle story. We have magic and flying airships. I had to make a credible Holmes who might not be a fan of sorcerers but would be fully prepared to deal with one—in a highly rational manner, of course—if such an individual knocked on his door. To an extent, I relied on the fact that Conan Doyle himself was very interested in the supernatural. Many Victorians treated spiritualism and psychic phenomena with a scientific lens, as they would any other subject of interest, so I approached it from that viewpoint.

Steampunk Paradise 2 by Anstellos
Used with Permission of the Artist
You up the ante in book two, A Study in Darkness, by adding a well-known historic element to the mix. How did you approach combining your story with the Whitechapel murders and the notorious Jack the Ripper?
I did a lot of research, went to London to see what was left of the locations, and I confess to a moment of utter trepidation. Not only is there a boatload of information out there to sort through—which is daunting enough—at some point an author is faced with the fact that they are writing about actual tragedies. Although I have my own perpetrator of the killings with a unique motive, in the end I treated the subject material as levelly as I could. The victims and the descriptions of the murder scenes are as they were reported, and so are the Ripper’s letters. I had to leave some detail out to keep the book under control, but I felt either glossing over or romanticizing the deaths wasn’t justified. I also kept the fact that the murders became a political hot potato. The East End was rife with social unrest, and the higher-ups had their own reasons for solving the case that had nothing to do with dead women.

The Black Kingdom remains shadowed in mystery until book three, A Study in Ashes. Why did you opt to wait so long before allowing readers into that corner of Evelina’s world? 
First, there was enough going on already. I wanted to allow readers to become familiar with what was already in play without introducing another element. Also, I thought it made sense to show the discovery of the mysterious underground as the characters realized exactly what was there. The underground is present throughout the stories but disguised. I lay the foundations very early in the first book with the first murder. There is a direct chain of events from that moment all the way through to the end of A Study in Ashes as the consequences of that death keep clicking over like dominoes until the guilty parties finally pay the price for their crimes—but in ways they never suspect.

The nature of the Black Kingdom is thematic to the series and the real core of book three. It’s the place—either literal or psychological—where the characters are remade. Each one has to face their dark side and accept it as a strength or a weakness. Most of them do it there or in connection to its presence. The Black Kingdom provides that journey into a shamanic unknown.

Image by Zyllan Fotografía
I'm sure you have many favorite moments, but was there one that was particularly fun to write? 
I loved the airship scenes. They swash and buckle! 

Was there any scene in the series that was particularly difficult to put to paper? 
Some parts were emotionally difficult, but some were also technically challenging. There is a series of battle scenes in book three that put me through my paces. By that point, a lot of players have to come together and the choreography had to be planned just right. It’s one of those things that should work well enough the reader doesn’t even notice it’s going on, although a lot of sweat went into it!

Evelina is courted by both Tobias and Niccolo over the course of the story. How do her suitors differ and what does each represent to your heroine?
A yes, the boys. Tobias is wealthy, handsome and heir to a viscount’s title, and that puts him above Evelina on the social ladder. If he had his way he would be an inventor, but gentlemen aren’t supposed to work with their hands. Essentially, he’s frustrated, ignored by his father, and has never been trained for any useful occupation. At the same time, he has an idealistic streak, and this is what draws him to Evelina. Tobias is by far the most complex character of the bunch. 

Nick is the opposite. He’s a practical man of action and goes for what he wants. He’s Evelina’s first love and is part of her wild, magical circus childhood. Although they love each other, they have to stay apart because the combination of their magical talents creates havoc that could end up getting everyone in the circus killed. It’s the great irony of Nick’s impoverished existence that he has an enormous amount of power he has no idea how to harness.

They are both amazing young men, but Evelina is planning to go to college. 

Steampunk by Harvanhait
Used with permission of the Artist
Dr. Magnus is easily one of the most complicated and charismatic antagonists I've come across. What inspired him and what makes him tick?
Magnus is a fun character, because his agenda is wholly his own. At first, he left me guessing along with everyone else. His past is mysterious, but we know he’s old and powerful and spent time in the Black Kingdom learning his art. He was very loosely inspired by the figure of Simon Magus, and part of that legend was his consort, Helen, the incarnation of wisdom in female form. My Magnus is trying to create that perfect companion, but with less success and for more nefarious reasons. He’s bonkers, but the question is always how much. I think what makes him interesting is never knowing what’s sincere, what’s evil, and what’s just madness.

Let's talk about Sherlock for a moment. Did you find it difficult getting into the head of a character you did not create? 
Conan Doyle does such a good job of creating Holmes and Watson, it’s not that hard to conjure them. I love the BBC version of the stories with Jeremy Brett, and I think some of his interpretation crept into my character. In my opinion, Brett had the nuances of the character down perfectly.

Speaking of Doyle’s characters, can you tell us a little bit about your approach to Professor James Moriarty?
Moriarty is interesting, because there are only a handful of facts about him in the original. That left the field wide open to the imagination. I present him as younger, putting him more at the start of his criminal career, but I kept everything else. He’s a sneaky character and he appears long before we know who he really is. Let me just say math teachers are indeed evil.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or element you wished you could have spent more time with?
I would have loved to research the Theosophists and the Victorian spiritualist movement more thoroughly, but I ran out of time. I hope I’ll have a chance to explore those in a future book.

Image by VaughnSaball
Assuming you could sit down with one of your characters, maybe go out and discuss things over drinks, who would you invite and why? 
Bucky Penner, because he is the level-headed observer. He’d know everything about everyone and still be kind about it.

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work? 
These books are purely entertainment. My hope for readers is always that they dive into the world and have a great time. If I can take a reader on an adventure—make them forget work or school or whatever it is they need a break from for a few hours—then I’ve done my job.

Finally, what is next for you? Any other projects waiting in the wings?
Absolutely. I need to find out what happens next!

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About the Author: Ever since childhood, Emma Jane Holloway refused to accept that history was nothing but facts prisoned behind the closed door of time. Why waste a perfectly good playground coloring within the timelines? Accordingly, her novels are filled with whimsical impossibilities and the occasional eye-blinking impertinence—but always in the service of grand adventure. Struggling between the practical and the artistic—a family tradition, along with ghosts and a belief in the curative powers of shortbread—Emma Jane has a degree in literature and job in finance. She lives in the Pacific Northwest in a house crammed with books, musical instruments, and half-finished sewing projects. In the meantime, she’s published articles, essays, short stories, and enough novels to build a fort for her stuffed hedgehog. 

About the Book ~ A Study in Silks: In a Victorian era ruled by a Council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out? But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask...

About the Book ~ A Study in Darkness: Before Evelina’s even unpacked her gowns for a country house party, an indiscretion puts her in the power of the ruthless Gold King, who recruits her as his spy. He knows her disreputable past and exiles her to the rank alleyways of Whitechapel with orders to unmask his foe. As danger mounts, Evelina struggles between hiding her illegal magic and succumbing to the darker aspects of her power. One path keeps her secure; the other keeps her alive. For rebellion is brewing, a sorcerer wants her soul, and no one can protect her in the hunting ground of Jack the Ripper.

About the Book ~ A Study in Ashes: Not even Niccolo, the dashing pirate captain, and his sentient airship can save her. But Evelina’s problems are only part of a larger war. The Baskerville Affair is finally coming to light, and the rebels are making their move to wrest power from the barons and restore it to Queen Victoria. Missing heirs and nightmare hounds are the order of the day — or at least that’s what Dr. Watson is telling the press. But their plans are doomed unless Evelina escapes to unite her magic with the rebels’ machines–and even then her powers aren’t what they used to be. A sorcerer has awakened a dark hunger in Evelina’s soul, and only he can keep her from endangering them all. The only problem is… he’s dead.

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