Three Flavours of Binge-Worthy SFF Podcasts

Three Flavours of Binge-Worthy SFF Podcasts


Firefly – The Big Damn Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel

Firefly – The Big Damn Cookbook

Cookbook Review

6th Annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: An Introduction to the SPFBO

6th Annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off

An Introduction to the SPFBO


Liesel Schwarz Interview

Liesel Schwarz is the author of the recently published Edwardian steampunk novel A Conspiracy of Alchemists, first book in the Chronicles of Light and Shadow series. She was gracious enough to take time to talk with us here at Fantasy-Faction. So without further ado, on to the interview!

To get started, who is Liesel Schwarz and what is she all about? If it’s a Tuesday in September—what’s she doing? Sweet or salty? Half-empty or half-full? What makes her tick?

Liesel SchwarzIt depends entirely on the Tuesday and which September you are referring to. So I cannot confirm or deny this and you can’t prove anything!

Sweet or Salty? Bit of both, depending on the circumstances. Life would be so boring if you only did the same thing over and over.

Half-full for sure. I believe that if you put positivity out into the world good things will come back to you.

What makes me tick? Well, that would be way too complicated to explain. You’d bore people half to death.

One peek at your website tells that you’re big on steampunk: what’s the allure of the genre/aesthetic? What about steampunk inspires you?

I’ve always been a fan of Nineteenth Century literature and so I was comfortable writing in the genre. I also love the aesthetic of the time – especially steampunk fashion. It has richness and a quality to it that you can’t get in modern clothing.

As a writer, I have a broad range and I am not planning to stick to steampunk forever. There are lots of interesting things brewing in my head.

A Conspiracy of Alchemists (which I reviewed) is the first book of the Chronicles of Light and Shadow, an utterly fantastic steampunk, period urban fantasy that excites and thrills and left me definitely wanting more—but what does it mean to you? What’s the story behind the story; how did it come to be?

Thank you, that’s very kind of you! The story came to me one Tuesday afternoon (in September) while I was travelling home on the London Underground. I take the Metropolitan Line and I was passing through Baker Street Station (the birthplace of steam) when Elle and Marsh just popped into my head. They were having a row and I just had to write it down. The story sort of tumbled out from there.

A Conspiracy of Alchemists (cover 2)I’ve called A Conspiracy of Alchemists “period urban fantasy”, much like others such as Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman and the upcoming The Falconer by Elizabeth May, due to its nods towards the genre with mystery and supernatural/otherworldly creatures: how do you feel about that tag being added alongside “steampunk”?

I think that “genre” is simply a tag booksellers place onto books to make them easier to sell. For me it’s nothing more than that. I see no reason for being puritanical about specific subgenres. So I don’t really mind which category the books are placed in. As long as readers can find the stories and enjoy them, I’m happy.

But thank you for placing me in such illustrious company. Both Emma Newman and Elizabeth May are excellent writers.

Eleanor Chance and Hugh Marsh make for a fantastic pair, really bringing the story to life, yet never relinquishing that gorgeously-written early 1900s sense of propriety and decorum: what do you think readers will most love and hate about them? What do you love and hate about them?

One of the greatest challenges I faced in writing A Conspiracy of Alchemists was finding the balance between the authenticity, mores and social norms of the early 20th century and marrying them up in a way that was accessible for modern readers.

The problem is that men and women thought very differently about life and things in 1903 to the way we think in today’s egalitarian, post third-wave feminist society and so I think that a lot of readers might not appreciate the complexity of Elle. They may think that she is weak, indecisive or stupid when she is simply behaving like a woman of her age would. Similarly, Marsh is condescending, manipulative and rather sexist at times, but that was the way men behaved.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as character development and I think that is one of the most interesting things in this series.

Of course I am completely biased, as I love all my characters to bits. Even the bad ones!

That’s a really interesting point: sometimes readers complain about the attitudes of both men and women (as you’ve suggested may happen with Elle and Marsh) when it comes to historical perspective, especially regarding feminism and sexism. Surely there’s a difference between writing sexist characters and writing a realistic representation of any particular gender in any given real historical period? And of course, character development allows for any particular character to change his/her perspective on things so that in the end, there’s always the chance for a character to become far more rounded in their views. As such I would have thought that instead of offering a sexist character, this sort of representation offers honest development and natural, interesting personality conflict—is this the sort of idea you had in mind with your protagonists?

That’s a very astute observation, but I think that characters are a little more organic than that. As a writer, they either work or they don’t. My characters tend to develop as I write, but I like the fact that they are slightly imperfect.

What do you think makes a “steampunk” novel? What elements must it have to fall under the tag? As with any genre or sub-genre there are several interpretations of what it means—but what, to you, must a story have to really be steampunk? Is it the date, the technology, the way of life or fashion—or something else?

I think the secret lies in the –punk moniker. At the centre of punk lies a profound subversiveness. Steampunk takes Victorian and Edwardian mores or aesthetics and subverts them by means of technology or fashion or fantasy or a mixture of it all.

Steampunk is also very self-aware. It’s one of the few genres where the genre can poke fun of itself; where it’s OK for the antagonist to twirl his magnificent moustache and laugh mwah-ha-ha as he ties the maiden to the train tracks. I think if you take steampunk too seriously then it tends to implode.

A Conspiracy of Alchemists (cover 1)Steampunk is a genre I’ve personally not plumbed for its full worth: as things stand, A Conspiracy of Alchemists was my first steampunk novel. Educate us: what steampunk books should we be reading? What’s good for entry-level and what will excite and surprise veterans who already dabble and read steampunk?

Personally, I am a big fan of authors like Mark Hodder, George Mann, and Kim Larkin-Smith. I suppose it’s perhaps a good idea to start with the inventors of the genre: Jeter, Blaylock, Moorcock and Powers then work your way through the second wave: Scott Westerfield, China Mieville to the third wave – Priest, Carriger and so on. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is also a fabulous graphic novel series.

You said Elle and Marsh popped into your head (arguing, no less); does this happen often with stories? Do snippets or flashes of a world and life that’s not your own just ‘pop!’ into your head and give you the insight you need to craft a story from there? And what happens for you after the point of initial inspiration? Are you a studious planner, or do you prefer to water and grow an idea and let it take shape as it will?

I can’t really explain the process, it’s something that just happens and I am afraid that if I were to stop and analyse it too closely, I might kill it. But in answer to your question of whether I am a plotter of a pantser, I would say a bit of both. I think you need an outline or a framework, but with enough space to be creative as well.

What can readers expect from A Conspiracy of Alchemists?

I wrote Alchemists because it was fun. It is a story with a whole lot of adventure, a touch of romance and indeed, a villain who goes mwah-ha-ha. And I hope that readers will see it as just that.

For you, what elements made up the journey to publication? How did A Conspiracy of Alchemists come to be a book sitting in a bookshop? Publishing can sometimes appear a strange and mysterious process…so how did it all happen?

I was very fortunate in that I have a really great agent, so the process was surprisingly fast. In fact, I think I had a book deal within a few weeks of the manuscript going to market.

If A Conspiracy of Alchemists was a movie (and an excellent one it would make, too) who would play the leads and the evil villain?

I couldn’t really say, as the characters are so totally unique in my head. I think Eric Bana would make a great Abercrombie.

What can readers expect—without giving too much away—from the trilogy as a whole?

A great action packed adventure.

Returning to an earlier point: Imperfect characters are easily the most interesting characters to read about (and write about). Do you think yours develop further on the page as you write each chapter or scene or is a measure of the work done when you’re not writing, and instead, just thinking about writing and the novel away from the computer?

Writing is an ongoing process and a lot of it is on a subconscious level. I think you have to give your characters space to grow and develop.

A Clockwork Heart (cover)It’s great to see a writer talk about the process not as though it’s something scientific, but something entirely creative. Given that you work in this way, what advice would you give to other writers who work in a similar way? Just how do you outline a novel/scene/chapter and how do you built a framework?

Although writing is a very rewarding and creative process, it takes a lot of discipline and commitment. The life of a writer is hard on both a physical and an intellectual level. Outlining is basically just you telling yourself the story without the frills of prose and dialogue. Every writer has their own way of doing this and finding that way is the basis of finding narrative and your voice.

Once this trilogy is wrapped up, what plans do you (tentatively) have for the future?

I am not entirely sure the story of Elle will fit into three books and I am currently considering further episodes in the story. I also have a few standalone novels up my sleeve, but it’s too soon to be sharing these ideas.

We’d like to thank Ms. Schwarz for taking the time to speak with us. A Conspiracy of Alchemists was released this month and the next book, A Clockwork Heart, is due out in July/August 2013. You can read more about the Chronicles of Light and Shadow series on her website or follow her on Twitter.


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