Learn more about Andrea Cremer here.
Learn more about THE INVENTOR'S SECRET here.
Author Interview with Andrea Cremer
You chose an entirely different direction for the Inventor's Secret from the Nightshade series. What attracted you to the steampunk universe?
Prior to becoming a full-time author I was a professor of history at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. My research specialization focused on gender, religion, and violence in the American colonies and I've always been fascinated by the way societies are formed, justified, defended, and dissolved. The narrative of American colonies to United States is often described as exceptional – the story of American identity remains intimately tied to the aims of the Revolutionary War and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence.
With Inventor's Secret I imagined what early nineteenth-century North America would look like if the British had quashed the colonial rebellion. What would happen to the ideals and identities that we so closely associate with the War for Independence and the Early Republic? Would there still be something uniquely "American" in this new scenario.
The idea set this alternate history in a steampunk universe sparked, oddly enough, during an eye exam. An optometrist's instruments retain a bizarre, antique style that reminded me of mad scientists like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As the eye specialist peered at me through a metal contraptions covered with levers and cranks. It made me feel as though I'd stepped into another world.
Fantasy has always been my favorite genre and steampunk presented the perfect means to bring history and the surreal together. It became an irresistible project!
How did the writing process differ?
Even though the time period of Inventor's Secret falls within the purview of my historical work because I was writing an alternate history I ended up doing a lot more research than I'd anticipated. Most of that work involved educating myself about the Napoleonic Wars and competing European imperial powers. Then I had to pull apart the known narrative, replacing answers with questions.
If France remained neutral during the Revolutionary War, how would their global power and interests change? How would territorial claims and settlement patterns alter when the Louisiana Purchase never took place? Since Great Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, would the history of slavery itself change with the British in control of slavery in the colonies?
Did you draw from your early modern history expertise to create this new novel?
Absolutely. In order to rewrite history you must be well versed in the history you're changing. To be negligent about research will lead to shaky world-building. I always hope my readers can believe in the worlds I'm writing, that the places seem tangible no matter how strange or fantastic.
Both Nightshade and the Inventor's Secret have strong female protagonists. What are some of the differences between the characters?
Calla and Charlotte are very different and it's been fascinating to think about how they compare as protagonists. Calla's deepest loyalty is to her packmates. She wants to be stoic even in the most harrowing situations. She doesn't give a lot away, but prefers to let people in when they've proven themselves worth of her trust. She's also the elder sister to Ansel, her brother.
By contrast, Charlotte is the younger sibling to Ashley - her brother who is also the leader of exiled children of the Resistance (Americans who continue to fight the Empire). Where Calla is reserved, Charlotte is a tempest of emotion. She wants to be seen as independent and a fighter, but feels like she's always in her brother's shadow. She has a tendency to be impulsive, but she has so much heart that even when her actions seem reckless you want to cheer her on.
Librarians can use your guidance in how to introduce your novel. What's your advice?
The Inventor's Secret is an adventure that brings together history and fantasy. When I meet with readers, I hope to engage with them by asking what their perceptions of the American Revolution are and then ask them to speculate about how they think history would change by altering a major event. I would like them to understand the ways in which history isn't facts, nor is it inevitable, but a story that can change drastically with the absence of a person, an army, an alliance.
Steampunk is another way to approach history from a creative angle. Steampunk culture emphasizes the transformation of the harsh and grimy – industry, machinery – into the beautiful and wondrous. Why is this change startling, unusual, or beautiful in contrast to the imagery of the industrial revolution we're used to seeing? Does steampunk's practice of altering historical aesthetics have any value beyond entertainment?
Steampunk reinvents important technological innovations that drastically changed society from the 18th – 20th centuries; thus, it provides the opportunity for a discussion about the transportation and communication revolutions.
What insights do you hope your readers will glean from the reading experience?
I hope readers feel like they're accompanying Charlotte and her friends on an incredible adventure to places that are familiar and yet different – New York, known in Charlotte's world as The Floating City. While they take this journey I hope they're inspired to look at the study of history with new curiosity, to know that the past is much more than facts and dates.
Librarians from all over the world will read this interview. Is there something that you would like to tell them?
Thank you, thank you, thank you! My first job, when I was a sophomore in high school, was working as library page at the Vaughn Public Library in Ashland, WI. We still used card catalogs and stamped books when they were checked out. My work-study jobs through college were always at libraries. I have spent more hours sitting between the stacks encircled by books. Libraries have always felt like home and I am forever grateful that you've made them such wonderful places.
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