Author Katherine Addison, (the pen name of Sarah Monette), writer of The Goblin Emperor, was interviewed by Steampunk Journal contributor Gregory Rihn at Geneva Steam Con 2019.
Gregory: Sarah thanks very much. I just finished rereading The Goblin Emperor and I was reminded how impressed with that I was.
Sarah: Oh thank you.
I think it’s really fun and finely written. Would you consider The Goblin Emperor to be steampunk since there are there are dirigibles and steam powered bridges in it?
Yes it is. I think Steampunk is a very wide umbrella. Yes it definitely is.
It is kind of a departure from your previous writings.
And how did you happen to come up with the idea for The Goblin Emperor?
Well it was when the The Lord of the Rings movies were coming out and I was thinking about elves and the very tall very pale very beautiful people and thinking it seems very unfair to Goblins that they always have to be sort of dark and slimy and unpleasant. What if what if goblins too were a noble people? And then the other thing I thought I thought completely at random was why shouldn’t elves have airships?
Of course there they’re talking Tolkien himself being pretty much anti-technology.
His elves are not very technological people.
True, but I thought, you know there’s no reason that we have to stick with that.
Those two ideas came together and then because my mind works the way it does, I thought of the wreck of the Hindenburg and that was that was really where the novel started from.
That gave you a jumping off point for the lost heir plot.
How did you come up with the character of Maia? He’s kind of unusual even in the ranks of lost heirs.
Well, there again, I was thinking–which I do too much and I was thinking about all of this. All of the fantasy epics where the lost Heir, the scullery boy, turns out to be the king. But almost all of them stopped when he takes the throne. And they don’t talk about what it would be like for someone who wasn’t brought up to rule to try to deal with the kingdom. And then I was also thinking about Elizabeth the first, who came to the throne from house arrest.
Though she was in and out of court so she was much better off than poor Maia. But it was that I was thinking of that historical example.
And then just thinking about in fantasy what does happen? What does happen to this kid who’s never been taught any of the statecraft he needs?
He has definitely been thrown in the deep end and he doesn’t have a lot of support, either. I like the courier who becomes his private secretary. He is a great help of course, but in your structure there there’s nothing like a master of protocol or master of ceremonies or anything like that.
Did you kind of derive your social structure from any particular historical example?
Let’s see. I was thinking about the French Revolution.
Yeah, I was thinking is there a way to get from Louis the 14th to a relative a constitutional government without going through the revolution or the terror? Can you get there from here? And I think the book says yes you can. I’m not sure I think that’s true, but now it’s a fantasy world. There’s no reason to sort of limit myself by the fact that historically speaking.
Is that your overall arc for Maia to become a constitutional monarch instead of an absolute ruler?
Well, they have a constitution but the previous monarchs have been very corrupt. And so what I wanted was really to go from a bad government to a good government.
He does seem to be pretty much of an absolute ruler because he’s doing all of the day to day management and there don’t seem to be any ministers of public works or things like that.
Well, he has his cabinet.
They have areas of responsibility but they seem to be more of a Privy Council than a cabinet.
Yeah. Oh, there are lots and lots of things that don’t get to the Emperor. But there is always a way: that that path is technically supposed to always be open. Every citizen is supposed to have the right to put a petition before the emperor. Yes. That’s a historic precedent.
I understand you’re working on a sequel now?
I’m working on another book in the same milieu. It’s not going to be a direct sequel.
Do you have a title for it?
It’s called The Witness for the Dead.
Is it going to deal with the character from this book?
Celehar’s the main character.
He’s a very interesting character.
Yeah, when TOR said they wanted another book, he was one of the avenues where I thought I really would like to explore that further.
Very interesting. So how far away is that from completion?
I can’t estimate. I’m about halfway through the first draft. How long it takes me to get the rest of the way, it’s something I don’t really know. I do have another book coming out that will be coming out in 2020
That’s a completely different thing.
Tell me a bit about that.
Well it is also steampunk actually. It’s very much an alternate London. Sherlock Holmes, fallen angels, werewolves, vampires, and Jack the Ripper. It’s a kitchen sink novel. I just sort of said I want all of these things in there.
You started out writing more or less straight fantasy, I guess I’d say. And you’ve made the transition to steampunk. Why did you decide to do that?
Because I was frustrated with the part where fantasy always stops at the Industrial Revolution. That seems unrealistic to me: that if it’s a real world it’s going to keep going. People are going to make these discoveries. We are going to have technology eventually. And it just seems like such an interesting thing to talk about the way that technology and magic do or don’t go together.
In the world that you envisage the magicians are not all powerful that can just make all the gunpowder go boom at once or anything like that. So that does make it a lot more reasonable that the technological progress will continue.
Yeah. Very good. Really. Yes.
When you decided to go into Steampunk, did you look at other sources or do you have you had any influences or perhaps bad examples?
I really enjoyed Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker. That was part of what made me think well there’s room for this, that she’s got steampunk and zombies.
And the idea that you get the idea that you can take things you’re interested in and put them together is one of the things that I think fantasy ought to do. And Steampunk is a place where it’s very easy to do it. I mean Steampunk is built on the idea of let’s put all the things we think are really cool together right? Which I think is I think is a lot of fun and should be.
I agree. So what’s the Sherlock Holmes novel going to be called?
It’s called the Angel of the Crows.
OK. And that would be coming out from Tor?
Yep. It is from Tor.
How do you how do you like working with Tor?
I like Tor very much. They have been very good to me. My current editor, Beth Meacham is great. Oh yes I love her and I love working with her.
Good. And I understand that The Goblin Emperor is going to be reissued in paperback?
Yes, it is reissued as a trade paperback, with a new cover.
And it’s out now?
Yes, it is out.
Anything else you’d like to tell readers?
Tell your readers to be patient. I write slowly
You’ve got quite a lot of short fiction out there.
Any of them steampunk or steampunk-ish?
I have a little bit of alternate history but not really. I don’t think I have any finished stories that are steampunk. The alternate history is some the steampunk readers might be interested in.
Anything else you’d like me to ask you or any axes you want to grind?
Oh I don’t. I think I’m pretty much axe free.
The Goblin Emperor is available for just $1.99 as an ebook by following this link: The Goblin Emperor on Macmillan Books