Hi Kaleigh! Thanks so much for having me.
KC: I loved both The Dark Unwinding and A Spark Unseen. Steampunk seems an unusual genre for a debut author, particularly in the Y.A. context. What attracted you to the genre?
SC: Actually, I don’t think I thought about “genre” at all when I was writing the story! At least not when I started. I was following my bliss, writing what spoke to me, and I have always found Victorian-era science super evocative and interesting. I really consider The Dark Unwinding as “steampunk-esque” rather than a full out steampunk novel. Even though Uncle Tully is using scientific concepts that were still many years away, all the machines in The Dark Unwinding –as fantastical as they feel– could have been real.
KC: It’s unusual to see two-book series launched by a debut author. Typically, new authors seem to write either stand-alone books or trilogies. Did you always plan this as a duology?
SC: No, I didn’t know at all. All the way through the first draft I thought I was writing a standalone book, up until the last chapter. Then the concept for A Spark Unseen leapt right into my head. Surprise! Duology! I had to go back and revise the sequel into the second draft. I was so lucky to have Scholastic buy both stories!
KC: I love the relationships between the characters in these books, particularly the gentle romance between Katherine and Lane. What did you find were the biggest challenges not only in writing a romantic relationship for a younger audience, but also writing a romantic relationship in a manner true to the time period?
SC: Where the romance was concerned, I think being true to the time period and adhering to a certain content (or lack of it!) was actually the easy part. For me, the bigger challenge was creating a relationship based on growing respect rather than instant connection. Unless something amazingly life-changing is happening, a person just doesn’t naturally gain true respect for someone else the first time they see them. A deep relationship takes time, and that’s what I wanted to reflect in the books.
KC: Undoubtedly one of the most fun and original aspects of these books is the character of Uncle Tully and his crazy inventions. What was your inspiration for the character, and how did you come up with some of the inventions? Do you have a favorite invention of Uncle Tully's?
SC: I am fascinated by people whose brains work differently from my own. I love to try and understand how they think. Autistic savants are particularly amazing, and in a time like Katharine’s, tragically undervalued. I watched many hours of unedited film, documentaries and studies on savants. And I drew inspiration from inventors like Nikola Tesla and Oliver Heaviside, both geniuses and yet…just a bit different.
But the inventions were pure FUN. Some of them, like the girl playing the pianoforte, are based on real automatons (see examples here), others are my own ideas, then designed by my husband, to make sure they would really work. The schematic drawing of the mechanical fish and the drawing of the lightning machine in the front pages of the books are both by him. You can check out an example of the lightning machine he built here. Hoping someone will decide to build the fish someday!
KC: You set the first book in England and the second book in Paris. Your eye for detail is amazing in creating these settings, particularly within their historical context. How did you go about researching the settings?
SC: You know, I think I could answer this question in one word, or with a ten page essay. I’ll take pity on you and give you the word: Exhaustively! Especially in A Spark Unseen. The only scene setting that was completely fictionalized in that book was the secret crypt beneath the crypt. Even Katharine’s street was real (though it has since been demolished), the house plans and furnishings based on personal letters and auction lists of the time. This kind of research is fiddly, but addictively fun.
SC: Hmmm. Do I really have to choose? I adore Ruta Sepetys, and I just finished Faking Normal by Courtney Stevens, which I thought was great (so cool when your some of your favorites are also your friends!). I’m also a huge fan of Megan Whalen Turner and her Eugenides series.
KC: What are you working on now?
SC: Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on my new novel Rook, which will publish from Scholastic Press in 2015. It’s a story of repeating history, set in a distant future where society has reformed but making all the same mistakes of the past. But really it’s all about corsets, swords, decapitations and a female spy, and is a huge homage to The Scarlet Pimpernel. Having a ton of fun with it!