Kate Milford (katemilford) wrote in enchantedinkpot,
Kate Milford

Talking 1950's Steampunk Awesomeness with Caitlin Kittredge

Two days a week I get to go to my favorite bookstore and hang out selling books. When Iron Thorn came in, I got very excited. Very. Then a week or so after that, I got to hear the author, Caitlin Kittredge, read at Books of Wonder. By then, I'd already lost a substantial amount of sleep because I'd started reading Iron Thorn before bed, which is just a prescription for getting no sleep at all (and I mean that in a good way). 
Iron Thorn is the story of how Aoife, a young student at the school of engines in Lovecraft (a city where, if you turn down the wrong street you're likely to run into horrific creatures like nightjars (NIGHTJARS, PEOPLE), shoggoths, or ghouls), becomes embroiled in the tenuous peace between the world she knows, and the world she discovers her insane mother has been warning her about for her entire life. It's a symphony of wondrous machinery and barely imaginable horrors, and I loved it. Actually (because last week I was counseled not to rein myself in when I was tempted to capitalize) I LOVED IT. So today I get to ask Caitlin some questions, and I dare you not to want this book when we're done.  

First of all, for those who don't know, how is “Aoife” pronounced? When you and I met I specifically waited to comment on how much I was enjoying her as a protagonist until after I heard you say her name, because I had no idea. 
Sure! It's an Irish name pronounced "Ee-FAH". Tricky, I know!
She's a great heroine. Between her studies at the engineering school, her interactions with her mother, Cal, and Dean, and of course, her "weird"--well, I don't want it to spoil it for readers, but READERS TAKE NOTE: this is a girl you want to read about. 

Next: Iron Thorn is set in an alternate 1950's. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to choose that particular era? 

I'm a big WWII buff, but there's a LOT of alternate history centered around that era, so I wanted to try something different. I've always been really interested in the Red Scare as well, so I decided to take the McCarthy era, an era that's traditionally idealized by fiction and film but in reality was a time of strife and change (the beginning of the Cold War, the birth of the civil rights movement, fights for women's equality and gay rights) and inject a steampunk setting, imagining that the atomic age was replaced with something much more sinister, and that the totalitarian future McCarthy imagined actually came to pass.

It really does result in a place that's almost unrecognizable as the US--it almost feels like reading about totalitarian city-states. 
Now let's talk about the world a bit. Iron Thorn is mostly set in a wildly different United States than the one we know, and ventures into, shall we say, other places, too. How did the world take shape for you? 

Once I'd determined that steampunk devices had taken the place of atomic developments, it was pretty easy to extrapolate how the world would be--full of dissension, poverty and ruled with an iron fist by those lucky enough to profit from the aftermath of a magic-powered world war. And knowing that in THIS version of the world, there were other, supernatural worlds sitting side by side opened up vast possibilities for alternate paths history might have taken.

Thank you for the perfect segue. Speaking of the supernatural world sitting side by side with ours, talk to me about H.P. Lovecraft and how he came to be so much a part of this world. For readers who aren't up on their Lovecraft but who might be inspired to give him a try, would you make some recommendations?

I've always really enjoyed Lovecraft's stories. They're bleak and horrifying but at the same time very human, with powerful insight into the nature of humanity and sanity. For those beginning with his work, I'd suggest At the Mountains of Madness, Dagon, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Herbert West: Re-Animator, Pickman's Model and of course, The Call of Cthulhu.

I always particularly liked The Shadow Over Innsmouth. It's probably time I re-read more of them. 
Now, I loved how this book stepped outside of the usual era in which steampunk tales are most frequently set, and I loved the way the mechanical elements were so deeply woven into the story and the lives of the characters rather than seeming like set dressing. There are both sci-fi and fantasy elements in the story—well, basically it feels like Iron Thorn takes the steampunk genre and basically does whatever the heck it wants with it, to awesome effect. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to steampunk? There's so much of it out there, and Iron Thorn is wonderfully different. How did this come about?

I think steampunk has vast possibilities as a genre, possibilities a lot of authors don't exploit for whatever reason. Personally, I see no reason why steampunk and fantasy can't mesh, why you can't have a steam-powered clockwork city also inhabited by the Fae or a heroine with uncanny powers to control the machines that make up her world. I don't think there's a "right" or "wrong" way to tell stories in the genre--obviously, if you take it too far, it's no longer steampunk, but I don't think you need to be an obsessive purist to tell wonderful stories. Mixing fantasy and SF in Iron Thorn worked for me, and was the story I wanted to tell, and I think that's the most important thing.
I agree with you one hundred percent. I think sometimes writers are worried that if they cross what are perceived to be the boundaries of whatever genre they're writing in, they somehow will get it wrong, as if such a thing were possible. I think it's easy for anybody to fall into that trap, but there'd be no point of writing if you can't write the story you want, in the way you want. Anyhow. 
This is your first venture into the world of young adult lit, after two adult fantasy series. What inspired you to make the switch? How much of a switch was it, really? 

I'd been thinking about writing YA for a while, and this was the idea that grabbed me. Aoife really spoke to me, and I knew I had to tell her story. It's a vastly different experience from writing adult, but I really loved it and I'm so glad I tried it.

What's next up for you, and when do we get to return to Aoife's story? 

Next up for Aoife is The Nightmare Garden, which is coming February 14, 2012. We get to see the aftermath of the events in The Iron Thorn, find out more about Aoife's father and the secrets he's been keeping, more about Aoife's abilities, and of course, we spend a lot more time with Dean, which I hope will make readers happy--it sure made me happy!

Yeah, I restrained myself from talking about Dean because I didn't want to sound like a girl with a crush. It is VERY hard not to read this book and not develop a mad crush on Dean. Anything else you'd like to talk about? 

Thanks for having me, and thanks for reading the books. And thanks to Kate for these great questions!
Thanks for writing an awesome book that got me all excited to ask questions! And, you know, thanks for inspiring me to revisit Lovecraft (and, you know, for adding a new boy to my list of Fictional Characters I'd Like to Make Out With).
Tags: caitlin kittredge, h.p. lovecraft, iron thorn, steampunk

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