Meljean Brook, author of The Guardian Series and the highly anticipated novel The Iron Duke was gracious enough to answer a few of my burning questions! Check out her answers below!
And don’t forget to enter in the Halloween Contest to win an advance readers copy of her new book!
OUAC: Meljean, thank you so much for joining us here at Once Upon A Chapter. I want to start off by saying how much I loved reading your latest novel The Iron Duke. Perhaps what I love best about The Iron Duke is that not only are you leaping into a currently hot genre known as Steam Punk, but it seems to allow you to break all the rules of a traditional historical and have creative fun with your stories. What is the appeal of steam punk for you?
MELJEAN: It appeals to me on multiple levels. I love worldbuilding, and alternate history in particular (combined with the historical setting) is just ridiculously fun and challenging. I love the conflicts that stem from the worldbuilding, and the issues that can be addressed in both obvious and subtle ways. I love the clothes, and the gadgets, and the sense of adventure and wonder. I love how much freedom I have when I’m creating characters and settings – everything is so over-the-top, and yet at the same time, fits so perfectly into the world.
…I think the harder question would be: What about steampunk doesn’t appeal to me? I’d have a difficult time answering that.
OUAC: Steam punk has been commonly known for a while, but just recently making an appearance in romance novels. Did you think there would be any risk in The Iron Duke when you first started working on it?
MELJEAN: Oh, yes, because the market simply wasn’t there. Emma Holly’s THE DEMON’S DAUGHTER, for example, came out in 2004, but it was marketed as a paranormal. And although there had been steampunk romances coming from the e-publishers, those presses are better known for taking risks on an untried genre – and the e-market is different than the print market (although that gap is closing as the popularity of the e-book format increases.)
So my editor and I had discussions about whether to even include “steampunk” as part of the description. We knew that it would draw some readers in … but there was also the concern that it would turn more readers away, because they simply didn’t know what steampunk was. So the question was: Should we market it as a paranormal?
We did decide to go the steampunk romance way – and luckily for us, steampunk had steadily become more and more popular in the mainstream. Priest, Carriger, and Westerfeld were reaching wide audiences (including romance readers). And in the beginning of the year, Katie Macalister’s STEAMED was released and was explicitly marketed as a steampunk romance. All of that made my road much smoother, quite frankly. There was still some risk, but it wasn’t as enormous as it seemed when I first sold the books a few years ago.
OUAC: Let’s talk about your heroine, Mina. She wears pants, she’s an inspector and she is acknowledged as ‘sir.’ She is the exact opposite of the commonly known lady of the Victorian Era! What inspired or influenced you to shape Mina’s character in such a way? Did the fact that it was steam punk novel allow you more liberties with her character?
MELJEAN: Absolutely, yes. I could never have gotten away with a character like Mina in a historical novel – even though there have always been exceptions to the rules in history, too many readers would have been going “WTF?” – and perhaps rightly so.
It’s difficult to say what inspired me to shape her character in that manner – in a very real way, the worldbuilding demanded that Mina would be exactly like she is (and that she couldn’t have been anything else.) There were choices that I made, of course, such as who her parents were (and what happened to her mother), and what her profession would be … but given each of those elements, they combine to form a Mina, and if they’d formed anyone else it would have been a big fat lie.
I also just like to write strong, complex women. And women like that need a strong, complex world – I’d have been a very poor writer to give her anything else.
OUAC: Rhys was a very fascinating hero to read. I adored his overbearing protectiveness and the fact that he was ultimately a quiet reluctant hero of the people. What are some of your favorites aspects about his character?
MELJEAN: Oh, I like that he’s a complete and utter clod. He’s also not a good guy, not really – but he does have a very strong sense of what should be and what shouldn’t be.
I will say, there are things that he does in this book that are simply awful and destructive (and a few scenes I was uncomfortable writing, but that fit the characters, so…? They had to stay.) He learns, though. He’s not inflexible. And love truly does change his view of the world, simply because he needs to realize that he’ll have to change the world in order to be with Mina.
And I think that is what I like best about him: He’s willing to change the world to be with Mina on terms that she can accept. Of course, that also means he has enough arrogance and will to believe that he can do it … but when that will and arrogance are applied in the right direction, they aren’t quite so destructive.
OUAC: So basically, your novel changes history as we know it or tweaks it slightly. What made you decide on the historical changes you used?
MELJEAN: It’s something that I’ve mentally played around with for years and years and years (truly — I first considered the “What if…?” aspects of the Mongol Horde taking over the Europe after reading Ben Bova’s ORION when I was eight years old.) The details, of course, developed over time: the nanoagents, the zombies, the sea monsters, the bit with Marco Polo … but the little tweak that started it has been festering in my head for a long time.
And, you know, I like the way it flips history around a little bit. Instead of England being the great colonial power, suddenly they’ve been colonized – it’s just fun to play with the implications and consequences of that change.
OUAC: Even though the subject matter was at most times serious, I was thoroughly entertained by the touches of humor in your novel. Whether it was through the characters dialogue and banter or the situations themselves. As an author, do you feel it’s important to add humor to the darker stories?
MELJEAN: When she’s writing a darker novel like this, I think that it’s the most important thing that an author can do. Joss Whedon has this great quote – let me find it: Ah-ha!
“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”
All that I can say is: Yes! A thousand times, yes – and for several reasons. One is that you don’t want to depress your readers. This is a romance! And it doesn’t have to be happy happy dancing-through-the-flowers all the time, but what is the point of a happy ending if nothing good came before it?
But there’s something more, and that is: How can you really, really feel the lows unless you’ve gotten the highs, too? Someone who lives in the dark doesn’t know that they are missing out on the light, and so if you make a book constantly dark and dreary … well, why fight for that? So you give the char
acters the fun times, you give them some love, you give them some happiness – and that makes holding onto it and fighting for it SO MUCH more important.
OUAC: What is coming up next in the Iron Seas Series?
MELJEAN: Next is Lady Corsair’s story, HEART OF STEEL. That will be out in November of 2011.
OUAC: Can we expect to any of the secondary characters from the Iron Duke in future novels?
MELJEAN: They will pop up here and there, but only if they are needed by the plot. I’m trying to make these books stand alone as much as possible, so that if someone picks up book #3, they won’t be scratching their heads and wondering … “Who is the Iron Duke again?”
OUAC: When you are not writing, what is your favorite pastime?
MELJEAN: Reading and movies (I couldn’t choose just one.) Oh, and eating! Mmmm, I love eating.
OUAC: You are known for your paranormal work…would you ever think of branching out into another sub genre of romance or will your love always be for paranormal?
MELJEAN: I might branch out, but I don’t think I could lose the weirdness. I’ve tried writing romances that don’t have any SF or fantasy elements … and they were sucky beyond belief. It’s just not for me.
OUAC: Most of us have a sweet tooth for chocolate or a favorite reality show we can’t get enough of (or both!)…can you tell us about one of your guilty pleasures?
MELJEAN: If it’s chocolate, it’s gotta be super-dark chocolate. But my real weakness is mango with sticky rice, oh yum.
And I don’t watch much TV, but the past few seasons I’ve been sucked into Project Runway. I just can’t get enough of the drama (and the clothes, and Tim Gunn!) Love it.
OUAC: Say you are going to be left on a deserted island and can only bring three possessions with you. What would they be? (If one or more is a book, please list the book title. Or if you say an ereader, list one book that would have to be on it.)
MELJEAN: An infinite supply of sunblock. Seriously – I’m a redhead, and I burn in seconds on a cloudy day. I shudder to think what a desert island would do to me.
A toothbrush. I saw CAST AWAY, you guys. No way am I going to knock out my own tooth with an ice skate and a rock.
Birth control. Because *of course* there’s going to be a hot guy on the island with me, right? And if I’m not going to knock out my own tooth with an ice skate, no way in freaking Hades am I going to go into labor on a pile of banana leaves.
OUAC: Since you’ve started writing, tell us about one significant moment or milestone that stands out in your mind.
MELJEAN: That first phone call with my editor after I turned in my first manuscript. If you can imagine a dorky girl gripped with gut-churning, belly-sweating terror, that was me. And yet, it was awesome. We were talking about my work, and she’d read it and loved it, and it wasn’t perfect … but it was something that I’d created, and it was going to be published, and for the first time the whole process felt real.
That, and when I held DEMON ANGEL in my hands for the first time. I teared up. A lot.
OUAC: Anything else you want to share? News, info or your next upcoming release?
MELJEAN: Just generally – I want to say that the response to THE IRON DUKE has simply blown me away. And so to everyone who has given it a chance, or mentioned it to another reader, or invited me to talk about it, I can only offer a very heartfelt, Thank you! If you haven’t read the book, I hope you love it! And if you’ve read it and are looking forward to the next, I promise that I will write the hell out of it, and that I hope it will be worth the wait.
Dying to know more about Meljean Brook? Just click HERE
Want to read the review of Brook’s novel The Iron Duke? Click HERE
Again, thank you Meljean for your hilarious and thoughtful answers!