Today’s author is something of a steampunk supreme. With quite a few short stories published in fantastic speculative fiction magazines and an ongoing steampunk serial called Spire City, Daniel Ausema has clearly been one busy writer.
But sticking with short fiction isn’t the easiest way to go, and sometimes the bug bites you with a bigger story. The Electro-Addictive Moth Flame is Daniel’s contribution to The Darkside Codex, a series of stand alone books in a shared world called Southwatch.
Today Daniel’s come to share how he’s gotten to this point in his career and where he’d like to go–oh, and Daniel and the other Darkside Codex authors have put together a giveaway for you, so don’t forget to enter before you leave!
Before Daniel gets started, take a moment to watch this amazing trailer for The Electro-Addictive Moth Flame, created by our very own Chris Pavesic:
1. Can you tell us a bit about The Electro-Addictive Moth Flame?
It’s a story of addiction and unscrupulous scientific experimentation. As a child, Mellia’s body was modified to make her immune to most electricity, but as a result she craves ever higher voltages that push the edge of her immunity and will probably one day kill her.
It’s also the story of Southwatch beneath the Dark Cloud, a dark and dirty city where only the ghostly memories of plants exist and where suspicion and crime are constant.
And despite that, it’s a story of hope, as Professor Thurston and his students work to breed plants that will not only survive beneath the Cloud but even clean the air around them.
2. When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
It always felt like more than just a hobby…but until about ten years ago, it was a much lesser part of my life. That’s when I began staying home with my then-infant son (now oldest of three kids), and I started paying a lot more attention to what was out there, the markets and the discussions and debates all around.
3. If you could attribute your writing success to one turning point in your life, what would it be and why?
It’s difficult to narrow it down to one point. There have been many significant events that have shaped my approach to writing. But I guess one thing stands out, from just a few months after the time in my last answer. There was one critiquing friend I’d made who always impressed me with her ability to see down deep into a story and pick out both what was working and what wasn’t. At one point she sent me a link to the names of the winners for some award—I forget now if it was World Fantasy, Hugo, or Nebula, but one of those—and she said to read over them, get familiar with what they were writing, because she expected to see my name on that list someday. That was a big prodding for me to really work on my craft even more.
4. The Darkside Codex books are written in a shared world. Do you find it more difficult to work in a shared world or in one you’ve created alone?
I don’t know about more or less difficult, but different, certainly. One of my favorite things about writing is to create a wildly imaginative setting for the stories to take place. A shared world takes that away from me—though I can certainly still aim to evoke a place I didn’t invent with visceral images and scenes of wonder—but that just means I need to push myself in other ways. Sometimes something you’ve done in other stories, even something that was good in those other stories, can become a crutch you rely on too heavily in new writing. So I like to force myself to tackle new things and take new approaches to make sure I don’t fall into bad habits in my other writing.
5. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?
It can vary quite a bit. But generally I let ideas just simmer in my head for a while before I ever start writing. I’ll jot down character and story ideas on the notecards I always carry with me. When I do get writing, I wouldn’t say I’m terribly fast, but I keep a steady pace and usually manage to push on through despite any doubts or second guesses. Usually… Since I’m always watching my kids, that means trying to find little snippets of time here and there, not being afraid to get as little as a single sentence or a single word when I do have that time. Recently I do most of my writing in Google docs so I can work on it no matter if I’m at the computer, elsewhere with my tablet, or even just on my phone somewhere (though that’s not really ideal). The Electro-Addictive Moth-Flame was actually the first thing I wrote that way, doing most of it on the tablet when my youngest, then a newborn, was napping in my arms.
Once a draft is done, I’ll give it some time and try not to think about it. Sometimes that’s just for a few weeks, sometimes for months. Then I’ll go back and address any revisions that jump out at me and usually share it with some beta readers. Then go through that process all over again a few months later and try to get it all polished up and pretty for submission.
6. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?
Probably keeping myself focused on revisions. There are always so many things I want to write, and I tend to get a bit antsy if I’m not writing something new. So I used to struggle a lot with forcing myself to really dig in and address the necessary revisions. That’s especially the case when I recognize that a scene or story has some real deep, structural problems that I need to address, rather than just some tweaking on the surface.
I have no advice on making it any easier. It’s just one of those things I have to make myself jump in and get over with. Once I’m in the process of revisions, it becomes a lot easier to keep at it.
7. Steampunk is a relatively new genre to a lot of people. Can you recommend some good places for people interested in the genre to get started?
The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers and The Steampunk User’s Manual by Jeff VanderMeer and Desirina Boskovich are both great overviews of the whole steampunk movement, looking at everything from art to costumes to DIY construction to music. And otherwise just search around online, and you’ll discover so much. Whether it’s one area or another that draws you in, I don’t think there’s really any one best way.
8. Have you done any writing outside of the steampunk genre?
Definitely. I’ve written all sorts of things, from mainstream realism to high fantasy, horror to space opera. Often what draws me into a story I want to write is an imaginative setting, so a lot of what I write is set in a secondary, fantasy world. But…I generally shy away from the castles and knights and such, preferring to imagine other time periods. I’ve been inspired by ancient, Bronze Age societies and more recent peoples, as well as futuristic and dystopian ideas. So I have stories that might fall into a variety of other genres while all being fantasy in one way or another. But one of my favorites is the Industrial Revolution time period. For a variety of reasons that just seems like an especially rich era to draw from.
9. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?
Read a lot. Don’t limit yourself to a certain sub-genre or even a particular genre. Read widely and with an open mind toward enjoying whatever you’re reading. It’s not always easy to do, but as much as possible read as if you’re two people at once, one reading for enjoyment and one reading to understand why the writer chose this way to write it and why it appeals to its fans…but not the third person, the one reading to pick apart everything you think is wrong. There’s definitely a time for that person, but especially for aspiring writers, you need to keep that voice subordinate to the other two for now. And then write. Just get the words down on (imaginary) paper. You’ll be plagued by doubts and tempted by other things to occupy your time. But write anyway.
10. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?
My ongoing serial fiction project, Spire City, is in its second season. Every three weeks, Musa publishes another episode of the story. There will be three seasons by the time the story is done. It’s another steampunk, secondary-world fantasy, so I think it should have a lot of cross appeal for The Darkside Codex fans. I’m also working on a new Darkside Codex novella. It had stalled out for a while in that letting-it-lie-fallow stage between first draft and first revisions, but now I’m working on it again. I also have various short stories and poems that will be published in the coming months.
Daniel Ausema’s short stories and poems have appeared in Penumbra, Daily Science Fiction, The Journal of Unlikely Stories, and many other places. He has worked as a journalist and educator and is currently a stay-at-home dad. He lives in Colorado, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
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