Monday, June 7, 2010

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

Hi everyone! It's me Summer (Oldest) and I have another interview for you today. It is with Kate Milford who is the author of a really cool book with a really cool title called The Boneshaker.

Summer - Thanks Ms. Milford for sending me the ARC for your fantastic book! I really enjoyed reading it. My Mom called your book Americana fantasy with some elements of steampunk. I just call it an amazing read. And I loved the creepy traveling medicine show. Your main character, Natalie is a wonderful character. How did you create her? Is she like you or anybody else you know?

Kate Milford - I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the book came out, and I think I’ve decided I think she’s a little like I am now. I didn’t really get into automata and bicycles until right about the time I started writing this story. On the other hand, I did grow up with a mom who loved to tell stories and a dad who was always puttering around in a workshop, and I was definitely like Natalie in that I liked learning things and I did sort of hate to look like I didn’t know what I was talking about. I’m not sure I ever outgrew that, actually…

Summer - You have a lot of great characters in your book. Like Old Tom, Dr. Limberleg, the four Paragons, Annie Minks, and even Miranda. How did you come up with all of them? How did you make them so different? Can you relate to them? And how do you relate to them?

Kate Milford - I have to admit, I love creating the secondary characters. They can be so honest about who they are—you don’t have to worry about them the same way you have to worry about the protagonist or the villain. You can’t screw up the protagonist or the villain, if you know what I mean--you have to get those two right: they have to have their motivations and their arcs and they have to be relatable and they have to change…otherwise in some way or another they just don’t work. But I feel like there’s so much more freedom with the secondary characters. They can be as weird as they want to be, as long as they serve a purpose. I love the Paragons particularly, because they just don’t care what anyone thinks. They care so little, Nervine doesn’t even bother to put on his whole costume half the time. They’re evil, but in some ways I envy them. I worry way too much about what other people think, but with a character like Alpheus Nervine, I can live a little. In an evil kind of way. Does that make sense?

Also, in this book most of the characters (with the exception of the Paragons) have a little bit of someone I know in them. Ryan and Alfred, for instance, are based on my husband and his friend (also named Alfred), who are both huge film guys (Ryan’s total lack of patience for anyone who annoys him, for instance, comes directly from my husband). Mr. Minks is a bit of a blend of my father, my grandfathers, and my father-in-law. Oddly, Old Tom has a little bit of both of my brothers mixed into him (although they’re both in their twenties). I don’t know if they would both agree with me, but I always think of both of them finding music at a crossroads. And of course, Mrs. Minks is based a little bit on the women in my family.

Summer - Your story has such an original concept. Small towns, crossroads, traveling medicine shows, mechanical automatons, the devil, and bicycles. What made you put all these things together? How did you choose this topic and setting?

Kate Milford - I am absolutely in love with small towns. I grew up on the East coast (I’m from Annapolis, Maryland, originally), and my family used to take road trips on weekends and we’d just pick a direction and drive. We’d happily drive two hours just to get to this one place on the Virginia border that had good hot chocolate, for example. We’d stop at flea markets and antique stores, dive restaurants and marinas. We’d find little towns and detour through them; we’d stop if we saw an old boat for sale or a car that might be neat to fix up. After I moved to NYC I met my husband, who’s from Missouri, and all of a sudden I had this whole new group of people who’d drive me around looking for cool stuff, and trust me when I tell you, small towns in the Midwest are awesome if you like driving around looking for interesting things. So that’s how I wound up writing about a small town. They are so cool and so weird.

As far as the rest of it…the crossroads, automata, bicycles…I hoard up stuff I think is cool until it comes together. Back when I started writing this book, I had just gotten a book on automata from a used book store, and a few months before I had done a bunch of research on Victorian medicine for a totally different project, and then I found some reference to medicine shows and started reading about that. I don’t know what the thing was that brought it all together, but it was like a puzzle and all of a sudden I knew where the pieces went, and I started writing.

Summer - We live in Maryland too! And I've been to Annapolis a few times. It is very nice. So what made you include the devil and demons in your story?

Kate Milford - I think the devil is a great character, mainly! There’s a great anecdote that the editor of a recent edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost tells in the introduction. He says he heard that once an old country squire who had never before heard the story was listening to that great epic poem being read aloud by his fireside. The squire gets carried away by the tale and announces suddenly, “By God! I know not what the outcome may be, but this Lucifer is a damned fine fellow, and I hope he may win!” Well, he doesn’t, of course, and I’m not quoting this to suggest I agree…but it’s just an example of how great a character the devil is. All you have to do is invoke him and you’re able to invoke a whole mythology, everything he symbolizes, without doing all that much extra work! If I tell you Natalie has to find a way to look the Devil in the eye, you may not know right away what’s going to happen or what her particular struggle is, but you understand that she’s going up against something intensely strong, fearsome, deeply powerful, deeply evil, deeply persuasive. You know that without my even having to do anything. The great thing about the devil as a character is that he exists in different forms, in different mythologies and different religions, and although he changes slightly to accommodate each one, he’s always recognizable.

Having said that, I realize now that I answered an interview at the Enchanted Inkpot last week and said something very similar about a different character…which is interesting and which I didn’t realize until just now. Huh. Must investigate this further.

Summer - Natalie loves bicycles and mechanical things. Why those things in particular? Does it connect to you in some way?

Kate Milford - A little bit. I just think there’s such elegance to mechanical devices, to the logic that makes them work, and the forces that have to be in balance for them to work. I guess the more I find myself surrounded by and dependent on electronics, the more compelling I find mechanical devices. Plus, they’re just pretty. Or maybe that’s just me?

Summer - No, I think they are cool too. Natalie is also really brave. I know I would be terrified to face the devil. But she is able to look the devil in the eye like Old Tom told her to do. Is that what helps her be brave? Is that something you believe in too?

Kate Milford - Tough question. On some level, I hope I’d be brave enough to look the devil in the eye, but the truth is, I mainly hope I’d be able to identify the evil I had to stare down if I ran into it. That’s kind of the toughest part of the equation, I think. I don’t believe the world is usually as black-and-white as it is for Natalie, who knows that’s who she has to face. I have to be honest, I’m not sure I have a great answer for you here, Summer. I think it’s important to stand up for what you believe in, and I think it’s important to always work toward the good, but I don’t think it’s always easy to verbalize what “the things you believe in” or “the good” really means, especially in a real-world situation when you have to make a difficult choice.

I thought when I was writing this that some people might object to the fact that Natalie has to use Tom’s favor from the Devil to save Arcane, actually, but so far, nobody seems to have been bothered by it.

Summer - But why would they object? I love that part of it. It made perfect sense for me. In the book, there is a story about the photographer who takes pictures of all the dead people. Why did he take pictures of them? Was Dr. Bellinspire right to think the illness and the photographer was connected? Was the photographer really a demon?

Kate Milford - There was a time when photographers rode circuits like doctors and judges. Taking a picture back then was a very complex process, so it wasn’t something all that many people were doing. Because a visit from a photographer was so rare, if someone, particularly a child, died before the photographer got there, the family might actually wait to bury the deceased, in order to have a picture of them—any picture, even if it was a picture of a corpse. When I was younger, I went to New Orleans with my family and we took a tour that started at a place called the Dead Mozell CafĂ©, which was named after a child named Mozell whose parents had a photograph of her taken a few days after she died, because that’s when the photographer passed through their town. I did a quick search for the link, but I had no luck finding it. My recollection is that little Mozell had to have a hand amputated in the course of her illness—it must’ve been gangrene or something—but in the picture, one of her siblings is posed holding the empty space where the dead child’s hand should’ve been. The only alternative for Mozell’s parents was to have no picture to remember her by, at all. What a horrible choice to make, right?

As for whether the photographer was really a demon—I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Summer - What did Jack the drifter mean when he told Dr. Limberleg that he could give him a haven? And what did Limberleg’s choice mean?

Kate Milford - I think I’ll plead the fifth on this one, too, because I don’t want to give anything away. Think about the part where Natalie figures out who Jack really is, and think about why he might say, as he says to her, that Arcane is the kind of place a fellow might consider making his home. Why might Jack decide to stay in Arcane, and why might he want to convince someone like Jake Limberleg to stay there, too?

Summer - I'll go and read it again and figure out what you mean. So will you write a sequel? I hope so.

Kate Milford - I’m planning to. I actually have three books planned for Arcane, and in fact, the “big” story is the story of Natalie and Jack. Once you know who Jack is and what he’s searching for, you can figure out why he and Natalie might find themselves at cross-purposes.

Summer - Sounds cool! When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Kate Milford - I think I was in first grade, although I think at that point I was also considering pursuing a career as a doctor or a zookeeper (a zookeeper??). There was a while when I was more focused on plays and a while when I thought I might wind up writing screenplays, but I didn’t turn out to be very good at either. On the other hand, I think trying to teach myself how to write good plays and good screenplays really helped me to become a better fiction writer.

Summer - What advice would you give to me and my friends about writing?

Kate Milford - Read lots. When you read something you love, stop and think about what you like and what you don’t. Do the same when you read something you don’t particularly like. If you can get your friends talking about it with you, even better. Also (and this is the deep, dark secret your parents and teachers don’t want you to know), tv and movies can help you learn to write. I’m sorry to say I’m sadly out of touch with what teens are watching on tv, but I feel like some of the best dialogue I’ve ever encountered was from the tv shows The West Wing and Arrested Development—and also some of the best and most consistent character building. Screenplays are great for helping you learn to write visually—you may have heard the rule, “show, don’t tell.” When you write for film, that’s what you’re supposed to do: you’re supposed to show the action, with a minimum of explanation. That’s why silent films worked so well for so long—the writers and actors had to find ways to show the audience the story, rather than telling it.

Summer - Awesome, thanks! And lastly, when will your next book be out? I want to read it!

I’m finishing a book set in a contemporary city called Nagspeake, in which a girl named Charlotte discovers that her home is hiding another city underground. Hopefully I’ll finish that soon and be able to announce a release date! After that, it’s back to Arcane to continue Natalie’s story, and then on to another story set on a forgotten highway. I don’t have release dates yet, but hopefully I’ll have more information soon!

Summer - That is so cool! I can't wait to read more!

So that's the interview. Hope you enjoyed it! Better yet, hope you run out and buy a copy of The Boneshaker!


Kimbra Kasch said...

Thanks to Summer for doing a great job!

The Boneshaker sounds like a scary book right from the title. And using the Devil as a character - what fun.

Kiki Hamilton said...

Great interview Summer and Kate! I'm reading THE BONESHAKER right now and I love it! It's like going back in time / but like being inside an old movie at the same time.

Kate Milford said...

Summer, thank you so much for interviewing me, and for coming up with such good questions. I'm so glad you (and Kiki!) enjoyed (/are enjoying) the book.

Anonymous said...

Great interview - when I hit it big I'm gonna hire Summer to be my publicist. And EVERYONE should run out the front door right this very minute, buy this book, and stand there at the cash register reading it all the way through because it's just too good to wait even a nanosecond longer.

Tom M Franklin said...

i'd like to put in a quick plug for another "Boneshaker", the steampunk book by Cherie Priest ( that was nominated for both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award. (it was also a PNBA Award winner, and a Locus Award finalist)

it's another great read!


Barrie said...

Great interview! Both Kate and Summer are very talented!

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