Today’s author is another wonderful gentleman I met on Twitter last summer. Todd Edwards has mostly published children’s books but is here today to talk about his new fantasy novel, A Clockwork Murder.
Please give Todd a warm welcome.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, A Clockwork Murder?
A Clockwork Murder is a classic murder mystery story, but it’s set in a fantasy universe. I burned out on fantasy plots a while back, so I switched to reading mysteries and thrillers. I still love fantasy worlds, so when it came time for me to write my second novel, A Clockwork Murder is what emerged. Zook Terpin, the main character, gets recruited by his friend to figure out how her husband died. The authorities have ruled it an accident, but she’s sure there’s foul play. Zook was a typical fantasy adventurer before he retired to open an alchemist shop, so he has the skills and knowhow to tackle the job.
2. Your main character, Zook Terpin, is a gnome alchemist. What drove this choice?
Part of what burned me out on fantasy was all the stereotypical elves, dwarves, etc. Elves especially. I poke fun at elves in the book whenever I can. I’m an engineer, so gnomes and their technological inventions have always intrigued me. Also, many heroes are so powerful, that they are untouchable in fights, or the enemies wind up having to be mythically powerful too. I wanted a hero who was physically weak, so that he would have to use his brain more than his brawn. Zook is a scrapper though, so dismiss him at your own peril.
As for alchemy, I wanted my world to show technology on the rise. That’s a big source of the tension in the world. My hero had to have a foot in both science and magic, so he could see both sides of the looming trouble.
3. Did you set out to write a steampunk story or is that just how your world ended up?
I never really thought of it as steampunk until recently. You know how many fantasy stories feature worlds that have been pretty much the same for thousands of years? I took a typical fantasy world and let it evolve. What would happen if technology was allowed to progress? What if all the races moved into one big city and stopped acting on premises such as “we must fight because I’m a dwarf and you’re a goblin”? At the heart of my world, technology is getting better and bringing power to those with no special skill. Magic wielders don’t like anything encroaching on their dominant status. So that’s where I started. I didn’t want the tech to be too advanced, because then magic would be pushed too far aside. I wanted a story set where tech was just starting to threaten magic. Also, I’m a robotics engineer, so “write what you know”. Much later on, when I had to categorize the novel, I realized it had come out as steampunk.
4. You’ve written primarily kids books before. How different was writing a fantasy novel?
Actually I wrote novels first. A Clockwork Murder was my second. I had five others in various rough draft states, and then I had kids. They had me make up stories every night for a few years, and I eventually wrote them down, drew pictures, and printed them up for the kids. To my surprise, other people bought the Nerni and Friends stories. I had some success with the children’s stories, so I went back, polished up A Clockwork Murder, and then published it.
Structure and character building are very similar. World building too. Your world needs to be consistent in novels and children’s books. The characters have to have interesting hooks to draw in the readers. The plot has to start with a problem and then the characters drive the story until they resolve it. Children’s books have shorter length and lower stakes (we don’t want to traumatize the kids), but the big difference is that you only tell part of the story with the words. The pictures tell the rest. Learning to leave some story out when writing was tough, but some things work better in pictures.
5. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?
I like to spend some time world building, coming up with characters (especially their faults and limitations), and the initial problem. Next, I figure out what I want for the resolution. I make a one page plot outline with the major conflict points. After that, I power through writing the whole story in really rough draft form. The outline keeps me moving towards my resolution, but it isn’t so detailed that it prevents me from exploring ideas that come up while I write. After that I do a pass to fill in any holes in the plot. Another draft to expand parts that need to be fleshed out, trim parts that drag, etc. I do a “pacing” edit to make sure there are fast and slow sections, and that the pace generally ramps up to the ending. Then polish, polish, polish.
6. What was the hardest part of writing A Clockwork Murder and how did you get through it?
Editing. It’s hard to see your own work with a critical eye, so I asked around and formed a critique group with 3 other writers. Getting feedback on each draft helped a ton, but I also found that critiquing others improved my writing. Once you notice particular problems in your friend’s story, you can spot them in your own.
7. In your publishing experience, what have you found to be the most effective form of marketing?
I haven’t figured out marketing yet. I think it boils down to having multiple books for sale and new ones coming out regularly. Most of my sales are from me talking to people directly, but I have started to see sales through distribution channels lately. I know that when I’m buying books, I tend to look at how many books the author has published.
8. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?
Do National Novel Writing Month at least once. You’ll learn how to turn off your editor brain when you write, and that’s one of the key skills that you can only learn through trial and error.
9. What are you reading right now?
The Lonely Silver Rain (A Travis McGee Novel) by John D. Macdonald. This series had a huge influence on many authors that I enjoy. In fact, A Clockwork Murder is directly influenced by the series.
10. What are you working on right now that readers can look forward to?
I’m currently editing the sequel to A Clockwork Murder. It takes place shortly after, but is a standalone story. You’ll get more out of it if you’ve read the first, but I didn’t want to require it.
I’ve also begun writing up a series of science experiments and background materials for a new website I’m making. The goal is to give parents who maybe don’t have a science background a set of projects and the information they need to get their kids interested in science. My kids are really into science right now, so I’m doing it with (and for) them. That’s pretty much how the kids books came about as well. The site doesn’t have anything up yet, but eventually you’ll be able to find it at http://sciencewithyourkid.com/
Reading and playing games have been two of my main passions. Along the way, I decided to create my own. I started with writing novels, and then added short stories. Once I had children, I wrote and illustrated the Nerni books for them. At the same time, I coded simple video games, built environments for more complex video games, and ultimately created my own. As I expanded my playing into board games, I’ve also expanded my game designs. In the end, I love to tell stories with words, pictures, and game mechanics. When I’m not writing or designing, I’m a father, a Ph.D. Bioengineer, and traveling robot repair guy.