The first book in Jarvis’ Steampunk series is our giveaway of the day on April 5
Phoebe Darqueling: How did you first find out about Steampunk? What do you like about it?
E.C. Jarvis: Have you seen the awesome stuff Steampunk Aficionados come up with? What’s not to like? I admire the aesthetic- beautiful bustles, gorgeous gears, amazing machines, men dressed up in smart suits with top hats. The style gives so much potential for great adventure stories. I’m not much of a crafter, but I do love to write, so writing was really the only outlet I had to explore the endless possibilities of the world.
I didn’t know very much about it until the start of 2015 when I came across a short story prompt on Writing.com. They wanted a steampunk story with the idea being that something has to happen before the onset of winter. I rarely get inspired by such prompts but this one set something off which snowballed. The story grew and took on a life of its own as a few of my close friends encouraged me to keep going. Here we are, four books later and I guess it was just the right time for me to take writing seriously.
PD: Tell us a little about the world you have created for your series.
ECJ: It is initially set Sallarium city in the Republic of Daltonia. The city is very loosely based on Victorian London but with a steampunk twist. There is a central Hub which houses a secret Machine and our female lead, Larissa, is nothing more than a store clerk with an unusual necklace. There is a lot of travel across the books. We go from one end of the world to the other and back again, so lots of airships and sailing ships and trains. The characters grow and change as the landscape grows and changes.
PD: Did you research anything interesting to make these books happen, or is it all from your imagination?
ECJ: The majority of it is from my imagination, but I did have to do some specific research in parts. I’m no engineer or scientist, but I knew that the machine in the book should be a steampunk equivalent of a nuclear fission reactor. As much as I would have liked to go and grab a doctorate in nuclear fission, it turns out you can’t just go pick one of those up on a whim. So I had to resort to some basic research on Wikipedia articles and other useful places that google sent me to. I just hoped the police would take “I’m a writer” as a good reason for my internet search history. I had to make the dialogue for the characters when discussing the machine as fluid and “realistic” as possible. It would have been easy to just have them say “it’s like a big boiler but more complicated,” but that would have been lazy work.
In book two there is an “incident” with a volcano. In the first draft I had written that someone had set off a bunch of explosives which caused an eruption. Upon doing a little bit of research I found that such a scenario simply wouldn’t work. Volcanic eruptions are caused by a buildup of pressure that suddenly releases. So I rewrote that section to that effect. I’m sure most readers would neither know nor care about such things, but once I’d found that the real physics of my world were wrong, I knew I had to do something about it.
Similarly, I gave myself a crash course in airship design and handling, steam train operation, nautical terminology, military protocol, regal protocol, and a few other elements that I’ve forgotten about.
PD: Were there any cool tidbits or “deleted scenes” that didn’t make it into the books?
ECJ: There is an antagonist throughout the series that you don’t really discover as an antagonist until book two. In book four I started writing chapters from his point of view to try and give some insight into his character, but they weren’t really working, so had to be cut. Other than that I tend to write a fairly clean first draft, meaning that not a lot of altering goes on in the editing.
That said, the character of the Cleric wasn’t included in book one until I was almost at the end of writing it. Once he popped into the world I knew I wanted to make much more of him so I went back over the book and inserted him into a lot of scenes, including the very first pages. It added a dimension to the story that I never knew was missing.
PD: What is your main character like? Did you make her up from scratch or is she based on a real person?
ECJ: Larissa is so many things. She’s smart, determined, romantic, strong, and witty. Sadly though, she is very naïve, to her serious detriment. I put her through an awful lot of pain and suffering, but she still comes out the other side hopeful and strong. She’s probably a composite of a lot of people. I wanted more than anything to avoid the trap that some writers fall into when writing a female lead. It’s very easy to write a strong woman who is a complete bitch that readers end up disliking. I wanted people to feel for Larissa, to sympathize when she felt pain and to cheer when she did something awesome, and ultimately to root for her to win the day. I wouldn’t say she is based on me – the character of Cid is much more like me… is it odd that I identify with a surly old man more than a heroic young woman? In fact, don’t answer that.
PD: If you could give your younger self one piece of wisdom about writing or publishing, what would you tell her?
ECJ: You’re better than you give yourself credit for.
PD: This is your fourth and final release in this series. Obviously the work of promotion never ends, but how does it feel to get the last installment “done?”
ECJ: Odd. For a long time I just wanted to be done with the stories. They felt like a bit of a burden in the end, but now they’re gone I feel lost. It’s like some weird relationship that I really miss now it’s over. I did – rather unintentionally- leave a little wiggle room for maybe a fifth book, but despite missing the daily visit to the world in my head, I’m in no rush to go back there. Maybe one day.
PD: What’s next for you as a writer?
ECJ: I have my other series to finish, one third and final book which is about fifteen percent written already. After that I have a few other projects in mind. I’ll never stop writing, it’s like a lung, I can’t cut it out without causing serious detriment to my health. Whether I’ll pursue agents and publishers in the future depends on how my other works go. Self-publishing is very rewarding, but the marketing and promotions are a lot of hard work. It’s a commitment and a vocation and the thrill of it is wearing off a bit. Maybe I’ll feel differently after a break. Who knows?