Being a fan of steampunk novels, I am always glad to meet other writers of the genre. I am pleased to welcome Emma Jane Holloway, a published author under the Del Rey label, here on No Wasted Ink.
I’m Emma Jane Holloway, recovering shortbread addict and dedicated scribbler. I have an honors degree in English literature and a job in finance. I live in the Pacific Northwest in a 1911 house crammed with books, musical instruments, half-finished sewing projects, and a very bossy cat. When I’m not working or writing, I enjoy researching historical recipes and trying to recreate them for the modern kitchen. Results have been known to vary, but no test subjects have perished yet.
When and why did you begin writing?
Writers write—I’m not sure there is a why. I’ve always made up stories, but began to think about publication long after I’d finished quite a few novels. I sent my work out without seriously thinking anyone would want to publish it. When I got the call from an editor wanting to buy my book, I was flummoxed. Happy, but vaguely confused. I knew nothing about the industry or what I was supposed to do next. (Answer: write a lot more.)
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
A Study in Ashes is the third book and finale of the mystery/adventure Baskerville Affair Series. The main character is Evelina Cooper, the niece of Sherlock Holmes, and she is caught between a world of magic and a taste for rational detection. What is the Baskerville Affair? It is a Victorian-set steampunk fantasy that involves magic, a prince, automatons, sorcerers, sundry pirates, talking mice, a large mechanical caterpillar, castles, ballrooms and murder. And, yes, Holmes and Watson. There is some romance and a talking airship, though the two are not necessarily related.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was writing a short story about my main character—I wanted to tell a Holmes story from a young woman’s perspective—and it grew and became more complex. I put it away for a while and when I came back to it, it had grown tentacles and was roaring about my brain in airships. Some characters can’t be trusted on their own—they get unruly and start writing the book when I’m not looking!
Do you have a specific writing style?
I adapt somewhat to the material I’m working on. A Study in Ashes is written more or less in my natural style, but without modern slang. I don’t deliberately try to sound old-fashioned even though it’s set in the Victorian era.
I do use multiple points of view and a number of subplots and character arcs, so the stories are very layered. I’ve tried to create a well-rounded steampunk world with enough detail to sink into, although I’ve been careful that the characters stay front and center rather than the technology. Although some machines in these novels have speaking parts, I refuse to let a discussion of gears and springs take over the proceedings.
I do note with some irony that a few of the mechanical characters have received more comments than the rest. The comic relief always wins!
How did you come up with the title of this book?
All three titles in the series are a play on the Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. My titles were invented over dinner and beer at a friend’s house. Beer and food play a significant role in my artistic flow, as does hanging around with friends talking about writing. It’s much more fun than actually putting my backside in a chair and working.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
My main character is caught between the fabulous and magical world of her father’s circus family and the rational, genteel world of her mother’s people—the Holmes family. Evelina’s character arc is about combining the two. Along the way she discovers her inherited magical powers, and she has to decide how she means to use them.
Like reflections in a mirror, each of the other players in the story faces his or her own dark side at different points in the tale—and this might happen literally, metaphorically, or magically. Some pass the test. Some stumble and redeem themselves. Some fail—with interesting consequences. While the outer conflict of political upheaval moves in lock step with the main character’s inner struggle, the other character arcs weave within the larger story of revolution and war. Add steampunk armies, magic and things that go boom and splat. Mayhem all around.
If there is a message, I guess it is something about the need to confront that dark part of ourselves, and to be fearless about it. It might just be our greatest strength.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Honestly, I think anything an author encounters goes into the primordial soup of our imagination. I don’t deliberately recreate people or events. I wish I did though—the sequence with the mechanical squid destroying a Wager opera would have rocked. Sadly, that was just wishful thinking from my years as a classical music reviewer.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
I’ve always read widely and fantasy has been my go-to when reading strictly for myself. Growing up, I read Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper and all the other wonderful writers who explored myth and heroism. I spent more time in those stories than the so-called real world. I think writing for me is an extension of that deep need to escape math class (which doesn’t explain why my day job is in finance).
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
My book is published by Del Rey and they designed the covers for the series. They asked for a lot of input to get the feel of them right—and they did a fabulous job! I especially like the way the covers get darker as the situation of the characters becomes more precarious.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
There’s a huge rush to get published, and I think that hurts a lot of beginning writers. Be patient with yourself. No one expects a pianist to play a concerto three weeks after sitting down at the keys for the first time. Novelists take time to develop their chops, too.
I think I was lucky in my lack of ambition early on. That is, I wasn’t in a rush to get into print, so I had the leisure to finish a story and then come back to it later. Often my reaction was “ye gods, what drivel!” I was still learning, and that’s totally okay. Time, practice, and learning to self-critique are incredibly important. So is having a critique group, if you can find good people. Do what you need to do for however long it takes to get confident in your skills and enjoy that learning process. Don’t let other people’s timetables get in the way.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
My aim in life is to keep you up all night turning pages. I refuse to bypass any cheap trick or tawdry device to achieve that end.
Emma Jane Holloway
Pacific Northwest, USA