Sunday, April 2, 2023

Q&A with J.R. Martin




J.R. Martin is the author of the new novel The Engineer's Apprentice, the first book in a new series. 


Q: What inspired you to write The Engineer's Apprentice, and how did you create your characters Annie Sakdavong and Issa Obasi?


A: Strangely enough, the story started out as a short that kept getting longer with each iteration. I wanted to create an amateur black detective that had to solve a mystery in a steampunk setting.


When I was thinking about his profession, I decided that what we hadn’t seen a lot of steam engineers doing tasks. I figured it would be cool to write someone who understood how steam technology worked. Because of the time frame, I decided it made more sense for him to be from a different country than the U.S.


I wanted Issa to have a sidekick but definitely wanted her to be female. I wanted to do something that seemed different, so I chose to make her Asian. After figuring out her name it actually added some depth to the character. In the story she comes from Siam. Since this is a series, it does play a part in future novels.


Also, having Issa be a foreigner allowed me to add more adventure aspects to this novel and future entries into the series.


I’m also a huge fan of characters like Geordi LaForge and Benjamin Sisko from Star Trek. I feel like there haven’t been a lot of those types of characters in sci-fi. Sisko was always a very cool character to me that was intelligent but tough.


It’s funny, there’s an episode where Q meets Sisko and they get into a boxing match. What’s funny is Sisko takes a different approach to dealing with Q than any other captains before or since, and he is the only captain that had to deal with Q once. Sisko was a personality Q didn’t want to mess with, and I wanted to create a character like that.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, was there anything that especially surprised you?


A: I did have to do some research. I learned a lot about horses. I also had to research Native Americans and learned a lot of interesting facts that didn’t make it into the story. Some did, but in this alternate history eastern tribes have moved west and integrated with tribes there. So that ends up creating a mix of cultures.


I also got a chance to learn more about Apache and Navajo culture, which is always interesting.


For Annie’s character I had to research Siam and get to understand more about where she came from during this time. I also found out that there were many different clans of warrior women throughout the ages. I borrow some of that ideology when thinking about the women training to become warriors.


Q: What did you see as the right blend between history and alternative history as you worked on the book?


A: So that was tough. I didn’t realize that police forces as a whole are a relatively new thing, historically speaking. There have been city guards who police streets and handle arrests, but fully commissioned officers is somewhat different and new. I had to bend things around like when police forces were created and when the game of baseball became professional.


What was really tough was adding the larger elements in, like splitting the U.S. in half and figuring out what a society would look like where Native Americans held control over the west. It changes the dynamics of things like slaves escaping for their freedom; once they got far enough west, they were basically safe.


I also had to change how society handled the end of slavery. Explaining a Civil War in this setting would have been a lot to handle and would be a series of its own. Instead, the slaves were freed for economic reasons. New technology brought about because of miniaturized steam engines made slavery obsolete and created a different set of problems within society.


Going back to the question on research, I had to figure out how other societies peacefully ended slavery and figure that out for the story. So in my mind I needed the right amount of history that gives all of us some level of understanding of the world before the changes that brought magic and steampunk together in an epic setting.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I want people to see the characters of Issa and Annie and understand that we are all individuals and that stereotypes are ridiculous. I want them to understand that despite the characters flaws they can do great things, and that the person reading it can too.


I also believe that we are all more than data points on a graph and that Issa, Annie, and the rest give realistic examples of different ways of thinking that are equally valid.


It frustrates me that for the sake of simplicity and categorization we are becoming a society that doesn’t want to deal with things that are messy and hard to digest. Life is messy and there are more than two ways of looking at things.


We are complex individuals with depth like the ocean and should embrace that and explore that within ourselves and each other. Be messy, be deep, allow yourself to explore and never stop learning. I know that’s a lot but I hope with this book, and the series as a whole, that is what people will take away.


Q: As you mentioned, this is the first in a series--can you tell us what’s next?


A: That’s tough and I don’t want to spoil too much. I will say each book builds on the one before it and this is just the start. This novel serves as an introduction to this version of Earth, and there are more places to explore in the Native Lands, Africa, Asia, and South America.


The seeds have been sown for an overarching threat that could bring the world to its knees by the end of the series. Issa and Annie will make new friends to guide them and enemies to defeat. The next in the series will also show off more of the world’s technology and magic as well. The setting will be mostly in South America, so that is going to be an interesting ride.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope this story leaves you curious and hungry for more. It’s a new take on steampunk that I hope resonates with fans and adds adventure elements and twists that bring people in who love exploration and magic in books.


Issa and Annie and the rest of the team are going to make you laugh, maybe make you cry, but I hope by the end of the journey you see them as people, just like you and me, who are trying to make the best out of the hand they were dealt.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment