For the penultimate interview of this year we’re back in the USA with epic fantasy & steampunkist Jeffrey Bardwell.
Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?
My name is Jeffrey Bardwell and I write under that name. I was born in Virginia, but have bounced around the USA in the last decade or so. I write speculative fiction.
Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.
My most recent project is developing my own secondary fantasy world: geography, cultures, history, the works. I call it the ‘Metal vs. Magic Universe’ and primarily focus on the conflicts between those who cast steel and those who cast spells. The latest book in one of the current ongoing series set in this universe is Hidden Revolt.
In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?
I mostly write epic fantasy steampunk. I love the wide breath of options, from the brimstone dragon reek to the shrill whistle of science.
I was in a discussion recently about what “steampunk” really means as a genre – what does it mean to you? What’s the difference between steampunk and fantasy (or even alternate history) set in a late 19th-century type environment?
Steampunk probably means something different to me than most authors. The genre classically hearkens to the Victorian Era, but my fictional evil steampunk empire is more Late Medieval Era. It’s second world fantasy, but a good analogue from our own history would be to ask what if the Dark Ages never happened and Rome just kept going and innovating machines and technology? There’s also a strong whiff of magic in the world in other countries, so gas lamp fantasy might be more accurate to denote a story that combines magic and metal. However, each element is championed by separate societies: the one character who combines an affinity for both in one person is condemned and outcast.
Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.
First, I file the idea away for later. I typically have a backlog portfolio overflowing with ideas and after I select one, I try and get a feel for the main characters’ interweaving arcs. This builds into an outline ranging from minor notes to entire scenes. Then I write the first draft, intently micro revising the previous day’s work as I go.
Soon, latent themes begin to emerge. Often inspiration strikes at random and new, minor developments push off the beaten path as I’m writing. Despite all the exploration and improvisation, the overall map and the destination remain the same.
Once the initial draft is done, I send it to an editor and/or several beta readers. Editing is a two pass system: first, the story is examined for large-scale flaws such as narrative flow, character motivation, internal consistency, and tone. Once every scene is polished and every characterization nailed down, the second pass examines small-scale issues like spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?
My favorite character is Styx, a tall automaton made from wood with brass fittings. His life truly begins when a young wizard finds his puppet body abandoned in the woods and accidentally-on-purpose gives him a soul. Styx has the innocent wonder of a child, but the down-to-earth nature of a wise, old man. He’s seen it all . . . he just wasn’t cognizant at the time.
First, is Styx named after the band or the river? Second, was he one of those ideas around which other things were built or was he a “minor note” that grew into something larger?
Styx is certainly undergoing a rite of passage throughout the series, so the allusion to the river from Greek mythology is appropriate. However, the true root of his name is just a childish misspelling of “Sticks,” the epithet after which the large wooden automaton names himself when he learns to think and speak. He is definitely a minor note whose gentle leitmotif is slowly rising with a strong crescendo.
What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?
The weirdest subject was looking up the original programmable clockwork automata build by Heron of Alexandria, Jacques de Vaucanson, and Henri Maillardet. This research helped me to ground Styx’s designs and the hypothesize the functionality of mechanized armor. Though, to be fair, I would have looked in them eventually regardless. Clockwork robots are cool.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?
Don’t neglect the actual time for writing among all the other trappings of a modern indie career. Outsource what you can when you can however often you can.
If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?
I would use some of that money to buy ads for my series loss leaders and boxed sets, run those ads, and then take a vacation overseas, which would use up more of the money. Then, when I got home, I’d use a little more to hire a personal assistant. The rest I would invest in mutual funds, bonds, and real estate.
What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?
Anything by Terry Pratchett.
What do you think you’re next project will be?
My next project will be taking my epic fantasy steampunk universe into space after fast forwarding the clock a millennium or two.