While Modo has spent a quiet winter recovering from his adventure in the dark deeps, talk of ancient Egyptian ruins in the midst of the Australian rainforest has been swirling around London. A temple bulges with riches, but also contains danger: the infamous God Face. No one knows what the God Face is or what it is made of, but it is rumoured to be a powerful weapon; anyone who looks upon it will be driven mad.
Modo’s next assignment? Go to Queensland in Australia and discover the truth behind the God Face. He won’t be alone: Octavia and even Mr. Socrates will be accompanying him, as well as Mrs. Finchley, Modo’s beloved caregiver from childhood days. But hot on their trail is the Clockwork Guild, with a brand-new weapon—mechanical birds, capable of transmitting signals as well as delivering poison.
With an airship battle, an escape from spear-waving natives and an astounding discovery—one that hinges on Modo’s true appearance—the Hunchback Assignments series continues to enthrall readers of all ages!
Lena: Congratulations on winning France’s most prestigious fantastical fiction award, Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, Roman jeunesse étranger (The Grand Prize of the Imagination, Youth Foreign category) for The Hunchback Assignments! Are you relieved that the French have embraced a series inspired by one of their iconic characters, the Hunchback of Notre Dame?
Art: Thank you for the congrats. I'm absolutely relieved and overjoyed that Modo is being accepted over there. When I was writing the series that was one of the questions that would rattle around in the back of my head: What will the French think of this? It's always a little worrying when you are playing with such a well known character. But the truth is that Modo is his own character, his own person. I'm having great fun bringing a character inspired by the original Hunchback to life. I was (and am) extremely honoured to receive the award. The French are big fantastical literature fans, so it's a very nice pat on the back.
Lena: Your series references many other Victorian novels as well, especially the wonderful adventure novels of the period. In The Dark Deeps, you give a nod to Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, while Empire of Ruins reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading She by H. Rider Haggard when I was fourteen. Are these books you enjoyed as a kid, and are there other classics you’ve used for inspiration?
Art: The first book in the series draws inspiration from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That's made even more obvious by me including a character called Dr. Hyde. The classic horror stories were enthralling to me as a kid (and still are) and I see the Victorian times as the period when Science Fiction and Horror were first being created and coming into their own. I, of course, read as much Dickens as possible (he deals with orphans a lot and so Modo and Octavia would fit nicely into his books). The fourth and final book in the series will draw both from Frankenstein and from The Island of Dr. Moreau. There sure were a lot of doctors back then!
Lena: I know you do a lot of research and that you even publish “Odd Victorian Factoids” on your website. What is it about the Victorian era that captivates you steampunk authors?
Art: For me, personally, it was that science and literature seemed to make amazing leaps ahead during the Victorian times. The Victorians wanted to know everything and learn about everything and believed that with hard work and application science could unlock the secrets of the universe. There was an intellectual energy to the time that was also paired with a desire to explore (and conquer). Darwin is a perfect example of an intellectual who needed to travel to discover the answers to his theories. There was a sense that an individual could truly change the course of history. There is something infectious about this for me. There were, of course, bad sides to the need to explore and conquer. But that too makes for interesting fodder for the imagination.
Lena: What made you decide to take your characters to Australia, the setting for Empire of Ruins?
Art: I wanted my characters to visit various parts of the British Empire and I also needed a country that had rain forests and native tribes and all those elements that make up the H.Rider Haggard novels (or the Indiana Jones movies). So Australia was the perfect fit for everything I needed. I had also read online an account of a stone discovered in an Australian field that had Egyptian hieroglyphics. I have no idea whether it was a hoax and it doesn't matter; it became the inspiration for the novel. Australia had that brilliant mix of a new colony being settled and native civilizations still existing there. The series had also been sold to an Australian publisher, so on the financial side it also made perfect sense to set a book there.
Lena: I love Modo and I think one of the great strengths of the series is the fact that it has this very strong, yet very vulnerable character at its heart. But he’s growing up! In Empire of Ruins he seriously defies his employer and father figure, Mr. Socrates, something he never could have done at the start of the series. Has it been difficult transitioning him to adulthood?
Art: It has in the sense that so much happens so quickly in these novels. The space between the first book in the series and the last is just over a year. And yet he grows up a tremendous amount in that time. I think that's natural because his growth was partly stunted by the isolation of Ravenscroft and now that he's out in the frightening, big and dangerous world he has to grow up and adapt. And cut his apron strings with Mr. Socrates, so to speak. He becomes more of a man of action as the books continue (though he's a reader, so he still slows down to have a few deep thoughts).
Lena: One of the sources of tension between Mr. Socrates and Modo is that Mr. Socrates doesn’t see a downside to British colonialism. I found it very interesting that you didn’t shy away from giving your Victorian characters—even your good characters—attitudes that might be considered politically incorrect. Why did you decide to do that?
Art: I see this series as being a fantastical story with realistic history as its backbone. And to keep it real I wanted to echo the actual beliefs of people at the time. It's important when you're creating something set in a certain period to not have your characters all walking around with 21st century attitudes. To me that takes the reader away from the story. Even Modo, at the beginning, has a stereotypical view of the aboriginal population. It changes as he actually comes in contact with them. For Mr. Socrates everything comes down to manipulating people and events to benefit the British Empire. And if that means that a few tribes get cast aside or a few wars are fought, so be it. I think he would argue that he's being a realist and Modo the dreamer.
Lena: In preparation for this interview, I read online that the next book in the series will be the last! Are we going to find out about Modo’s mysterious parentage? Are Octavia and Modo going to finally get together? Okay, I guess you can’t tell me that. But can we have a hint about the fourth book?
Art: Everyone dies in the end during a terrible boiler explosion that knocks out all of London. Oh wait, I just made that up. I will tell you that we do discover more (perhaps too much) about Modo's parentage and it becomes a very key part of the final novel. The book will take place in Canada, the U.S., France and an island in the middle of the Pacific. And characters from the previous novels will make appearances. And, as far as Octavia and Modo getting together, well, they get ____ and then he drops the ____ at the ceremony and an airship ____ into the church where it's all happening. ____is piloting it, of course. But don't worry Modo and Octavia live _____ ever after.
Lena: Modo and Octavia live _____ ever after? I'm so _____ to hear that!
And after that? Do you think you will write another steampunk novel or will you be moving to a whole new genre?
Art: I have two books planned. One is a novel called Flickers that is set in Hollywood during the 1920's. It will be a supernatural/horror story. The second book I intend to write is a direct to ebook book. Not sure what it will be about but I want to experiment with ebooks and a new book would be a great way to do that.
Lena: Ooh, I wanted to ask about your forays into epublishing. Can you talk a little more about that?
Art: Absolutely. In February I began releasing my out of print books (The Northern Frights series) as ebooks. I also put together a collection of my short stories. The wonderful thing about ebooks is that you can choose to release your books into any country that doesn't have the rights to the book yet. So, as an example, I released Dust and Tribes as ebooks in the U.S. and the rest of the world (but not Canada because those rights belong to my Canadian publisher). So I am able to continue to make money from those books. There are many stories of authors making huge sums of money but a far higher percentage are making a tiny amount. I'm in the second category right now, but I see it all as money I wouldn't have made otherwise. And I have control over the covers and the pricing, so I enjoy playing with that (in fact, if your readers want to try an ebook my novel, Draugr, is free on Amazon, Smashwords, and iBooks right now). I could actually talk about ebooks for far too long, so if people want more detail they can visit my blog at http://arthurslade.blogspot.com/
Lena: Thanks so much for visiting the Inkpot, Art!
Art: You're welcome!