Cherie Priest is an American novelist and blogger living in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
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Hey everyone - I got my start in horror/southern gothic, took a big detour through steampunk, and now I'm diving back into the scary stuff with MAPLECROFT. High pitch is that it's a gothic epistolary novel, a love letter to DRACULA via Lovecraft; low pitch is that it's Lizzie Borden taking her axe to the elder gods. So...whichever you like best.
Learn more about MAPLECROFT at Roc
Who would you say is the most attractive British author to have shared a stage with you and George RR Martin?
ALL RIGHT, YOU...
...Let's reframe this question as, "Which British author looks most like a serial killer in his publicity photos but is actually a lovely human being in person?" So...that would be either you, or Warren Ellis :)
Did you have an outline for the entire Clockwork Century or did it come together with each book? Also, any truth the Boneshaker movie?
Well, Boneshaker was the last book I was under contract for at the time - so I kind of wrote it as a stand-alone; when it took off (rather unexpectedly, I confess), suddenly I was supposed to write more of them. Therefore, I tried to treat the Clockwork Century as less of a series, and more like a loosely affiliated set of stories, set in the same universe. Tackling it that way allowed me to write about other characters, and set the tales in other locations - and therefore give the readers a better idea of what the world looks like outside the walls of Seattle.
As for the movie, at this point I'd be surprised to see it happen. The option lapsed last year (I think), and I suspect that the moment has simply passed. Obviously, Hollywood is welcome to prove me wrong. I bought this lovely little Victorian house in 2012, and I'd love to finish restoring it and/or trick it out like mad.
Who is your favorite ghost or cryptid?
I love ghosts in general - which is good, what with me living on a Civil War battlefield in the south, and all. Do I have a single particular favorite? Not really...?
But I'm working on a ghost story for Tor next year, called The Family Plot - based loosely on some events that happened here in my neighborhood, back in the day. Real life is always a whole lot weirder than anything I could make up, anyway.
How is Spain the Cat doing today?
She is tiny and old, but full of piss and vinegar - I assure you. She's got the 90-pound mutt under one wee paw. He adores her...she tolerates him...you know how it goes.
Hi, Cherie! Thanks for doing another AMA!
Did you set out to do Maplecroft as an epistolary novel, or did that come after you'd started simmering the plot?
Oh yes - I definitely started out with the epistolary novel in mind. For one thing, it's very true to the period (1890s)...and for another, it gave me a lot of flexibility. I could add in Bonus! point-of-view characters for a broader picture of what's going on, while still keeping the story very personal and focused.
She works with me, Myke. IS THAT NOT SCARY ENOUGH FOR YOU?
I am so afraid of Delilah you don't even KNOW....
Really enjoyed boneshaker! If you could beat up any other author, who would it be and with what?
Thank you! And maybe I would take a Nerf bat to a few friends for giggles, but I have no great or juicy feuds to offer you. Alas!
So, Cherie, have you tried a sock bun yet? Lol.
I HAVE! I have hair that's plenty long enough for it, these days, but I just can't make it work. I fail the girlie test, when it comes to hair stuff; all I can do is pin it up and stab stuff into it. I have a sizeable collection of vintage (19th and early 20th century) hair combs, so that helps...
Hey, darling! What was the original story seed for MAPLECROFT? Which came first-- Lizzie or Cthulhu?
Hey baby! [:: waves ::] Lizzie came first. I stumbled upon her trial transcripts online, and was absolutely transfixed by how weird the case actually was. Most of it's been largely forgotten by pop culture, but trust me - it was far stranger than the nursery rhyme would have you to think.
Is it true you have a top hat with attached aviator goggles that you only wear on special occasions?
GUILTY AS CHARGED. Sort of. I haven't worn it in awhile, I confess - but it's a lovely wool number - and the goggles are vintage WWII ski patrol jobbies. In my defense, you know...
Hi Cherie! What were your favourite books as a kid/teenager?
Nancy Drew! Especially the first ones, where she's a gun-toting flapper who drinks.
But I wasn't allowed to have them in the house; my mom is a fundie who wouldn't let us own anything except christian fiction and/or literature...but my dad figured out a work-around. (Parents divorced when I was quite young, and Mom got custody.) My mom's definition of "literature" was essentially "the author is totally dead and stuff." So Dad hooked me up with a lot of Victorian stuff - Poe, LeFanu, Algernon Blackwood, Doyle, Stoker, F. Marion Crawford, Lovecraft, etc. etc. etc.
Your Wikipedia bibliography section lists this as the first book of the Borden Dispatches. Do you have a feel for how many books you'd like to set in this world? Or is it too early to say?
Honestly, I only wanted to do one. This is a stand-alone, but it was a 2-book deal, and they wanted a follow-up. So my plans are to do just the two...period.
The second one (Chapelwood) isn't a sequel so much as another story set thirty years later, featuring some of the same characters. That one's entirely self-contained as well.
I've heard its hard for male authors to write female characters, do you agree? I'm a girl and I weirdly like writing things from male's prospectives more! Maybe I'm just trying to create a "dream guy"?
And the opposite, where I REALLY don't actually know stuff: I recently had a thing where I had to describe the pain of getting hit in the balls and I had no idea how to deal with. Have you ever had to imagine or "make up" stuff in terms of other genders/ethnicities/etc? (I asked my bf about the kicked in the balls thing and he just said "yeah its really bad")
Anyone with the appropriate (a). level of empathy, (b). willingness to ask questions, and (c). comfort level with being wrong and/or taking feedback ... can write a character with a background that differs from their own.
But it's important to keep in mind that no single person (or character) can or should speak for an entire demographic. No two people, even within very narrow/specific boundaries, have the exact same life experiences; and it isn't fair to make a single person a spokesperson or authority for everyone who looks like them.
Don't just ask one dude how it feels to get kicked in the balls - ask as many dudes as you can get to answer the question. You'll get a wide spectrum of answers, but you'll get the gist you're looking for where those answers overlap.
But in a broader sense, if you want to write about people who aren't like you - then talk to people who aren't like you, and more importantly, listen to people who aren't like you. Respect their experiences without arguing. Respect their boundaries, and make note of where they lie. Basically, pay attention and try no to be a douchebag.
You probably won't get it perfectly right, and sometimes you'll take criticism; but it's absolutely worth doing, all the same.
Which book of the Clockwork Century was your favorite to write? Alternately, which part of the country (within the Century) is your favorite to write about?
Probably Dreadnought - because of the protagonist. I'm fascinated by (and enjoy writing about) people who are not well educated, but who are quite intelligent...like the nurse, Mercy Lynch. Besides that, my dad and stepmom (to whom the book is dedicated) were army nurses for years, and I had a good time combining what I knew of their experiences with research re: 19th century medicine.
Thanks for doing this AMA. Will there be a movie or cable tv series for the Clockwork Century Universe? I think HBO would do a wonderful job of bringing this to life.
I would love to see that - but I'd be a surprised. Steampunk had a big moment a few years ago...but it seems to be on the decline for now. (That said, it'll probably pop back up again before long; it's been on this sine curve pattern for decades.)
Of course, Hollywood is welcome to prove me wrong.
Nope. I don't know who this is, and I've had a number of roommates...so you'll have to be more specific.
Have you written other Cthulhu related fiction? And do you have any plans to write more after the Maplecroft books?
I have just started reading Maplecroft and am enjoying it.
Hey there, and thanks, of course.
I've done a bit of Lovecraftian/quasi-Lovecraftian material - some short stories, and most notably, my novel Fathom, though some say that my novella Those Who Went Remain There Still counts, too. (I wouldn't argue, but not everyone agrees.)
And since I'm on a Weird kick, I absolutely plan to do more. Next year's Chapelwood, for starters - and I'm toying with a Lovecraftian/southern gothic mashup for next year, called Godbothering. It's a bit True Detective times Justified plus The Mountains of Madness. But that one's still up in the air.
hi cherie! fellow tennessean here :) what novel are you currently reading?
Not reading any novel, right this moment - but I'm going through a couple of books I picked up in Albuquerque/Santa Fe last month. I have this bookshelf dedicated to regional ghost stories, and it's bursting to overflowing - because I travel a lot, and my collection is outpacing my reading time.
But I do love regional ghostly tales. I think of them as almost a historic meme - whereby places remember their most interesting characters by immortalizing them as spirits.
Or maybe that sounds nuts, I don't know. Anyway, there it is.
Why Lizzie Borden? Is your target buyers paranormal enthusiast?
I'm a paranormal enthusiast. And she was a fascinating woman, about whom very little is known - considering how famous she is.
Any chance of new stories starring our favorite vampire thief, Cheshire Red?
None planned at this time, I'm afraid. The books didn't sell well enough for the publisher to want any more of them - which is weird, because probably half a dozen people a week email me to ask about them.
I had a third one proposed - called SAWBONES, re: a haunted 19th century baseball that steals the luck of even the best-prepared person - but the publisher was all like, "Nah. We're done here." (Gently. It was a friendly parting of ways; I'm still fond of the editor, and think she's awesome - and my experience with that company was a good one.)
Is it just me or are there a lot of unnecessary commas in the book's overview?
You mean the flap copy? I don't know; I didn't write it.
If you mean the stuff above - well, I was on a conference call when I pulled it out of my ass...so if it's not pristine, well. I'll pick up the pieces of my shattered life and move on.
Whats the strangest dream you've ever had?
Something about Boyd Crowder and a snake-handling cult at a water park during some kind of natural disaster. Just the other night. I have no idea, man. It was right after DragonCon.
Somewhat related: if I send you a Bumpit, will you wear it?
No. No I will not, you FIEND.
Are you much into comics/graphic novels/pictures with words? Because I would love to see your work adapted, I think it would be fantastic.
I'd like to see that too - and we actually came close to a deal with [publisher redacted] to do a series of comics set in the Clockwork Century, but that fell through. I ended up re-working the proposal/storyline/etc. into Jacaranda - a novella coming later this year from Subterranean. (The same company that did Clementine.) That's the final piece of steampunk I have in the queue...kind of an epilogue to the Boneshaker universe, I suppose.
Do you have cool Paranormal Reference books to recommend?
See my response to someone asking what I was reading - I love regional ghost stories, and have a massive collection of these books (collected from all over the country). I always get the best ideas from those things.
Is there going to be a sequel??
There's a follow-up called Chapelwood coming, around this time next year. It's set 30 years after Maplecroft, and likewise is a stand-alone, really.
When you're working on a project for the first time, do you start with outlines?
Nah, I hate outlining. I usually start with an abstract - a few paragraphs that kind of keep the thing centered. As I go, sometimes I'll take a notebook and spend a few pages keeping myself on track - with regards to what comes next, which characters know what things, and so forth ... but no, never a proper outline.
I started following you on livejournal so so long ago and I'm a huge fan of your writing. I was never able to dig this from the catacombs and I'm curious to this day: How did Spain get her name?
Thanks for doing this AMA :)
Thank you! And she is named so, because everywhere she goes, she acts like she owns the place. The joke was that she behaves like she carries a bunch of little flags, as in, "I claim this land for Spain!"
[:: waves at Damian ::]
In one comment you said that you get the best ideas from your regional ghosty books, and in another you mention being inspired to write Maplecroft after coming across the Borden trial transcripts on the internet, which leads me to ask: Where do you draw your book ideas from? Do you normally come across things that inspire you, or do you have a brilliant idea and then go looking for material? -Capiz
Hey there, darling :) And you answered your own question, really - I tend to troll around the internet and/or nonfiction books, historic whatnot, and etc ... that's where I get all my best ideas.
Hey Cherie I've gotta say you're my favorite modern author. Not sure if you remember me from twitter, but I had asked you to be my NaNoWriMo buddy. Since you didn't have time last year, can you just yell at me right here to get writing this year? Question number two: has any progress been made on getting a third Cheshire Red Reports book out there or is it still in limbo? Finally, do you have any plans for Clockwork Century that you could tell us? Boneshaker was the book that really turned me on to the genre, and once I had read it, I couldn't wait for a sequel. Thanks for doing this AMA!
[:: yells ::] YOU SHOULD BE WRITING!
No book #3 on that one. I answered this below, somewhere; basically, they didn't sell well enough - and the publisher wasn't interested in pursuing the series any further.
The Clockwork Century is all but finished - Fiddlehead is the main arc (to use the term loosely) conclusion ... but there will be an epilogue of sorts. The novella Jacaranda will come out through Subterranean Press later this year, and that's officially The End.
If there won't be a number three, have you considered any other ways of wrapping it up? You kinda left us hanging there...:P
I do apologize, but I'm all booked up with contracted work - and don't have time to compose a wrap-up right now. If I get some downtime next year (or whenever), I'll try to do Sawbones as a novella and provide some closure.
That sounds incredibly high concept. Any interest in combining that with the steampunk you mentioned?
None at all.
Hello! What is your recipe for success?
Ass in chair.
Fingers on keyboard.
If I get a reply like that, I'm attaching screenshots of her comments saying they didn't want it.
Yeah, they turned down the proposal - and didn't ask for anything else, thereby effectively ending it.
And as for Kickstarter (as mentioned above) ... it works for some people, but I'm not really interested in going that route. Not yet, anyway. Besides, as I said elsewhere - I really don't have time, as I have a number of other contracted projects to work on right now. (And next year.)
Hey I loved Bloodshot so much! How did you decide on which vampire mythos to follow? Like garlic bad sunlight bad. Thanks :)
Thanks! And one day I just noticed that a number of vampire mythologies (around the world) included a weird element of OCD about them - for example, if you throw a handful of rice, the vampire has to stop and count them all before he/she can proceed; or they can't cross certain lines, or running water, etc. etc. etc.
So I thought it'd be interesting to overlay the modern understanding of OCD onto the old lore. I tried to treat Raylene's condition with respect, and not treat it as the butt of anyone's humor (except occasionally her own) - and even turn it into a source of strength.
Anyway, Sesame Street beat me to it.
(Remember the Count? ONE...ha ha ha...TWO...ha ha ha...)
What is your favorite dinosaur?
I dunno. One of them flying jobbies, I guess.
Hi, Cherie! For what it's worth, you were the writer who convinced me that steampunk was thrilling and fun. I had largely been resistant to it, pre-Boneshaker, and now I can't get enough, so thanks for that!
Anyway, I wonder what initially drew you to steampunk as a genre. Also, do you have any idea about why steampunk enjoyed such a widespread cultural moment in the past 5 years or so?
Thanks for doing this AMA!
Thanks, of course! And the truth is, I slid into it sideways as an old goth - via Tim Burton. I liked the challenge of doing something specifically American with the genre too; because everything seemed to be set in Victorian England. That's an awesome time/place for steampunk, no doubt - but it's not the only time/place, and I wanted to prove it.
Have you yourself ever seen a ghost or lived somewhere haunted?
I've definitely seen things I couldn't explain, and been in some very strange places...which I tend to work into my fiction. I'll just leave it at that :)
Just ordered Maplecroft (can't wait) from my local bookstore, and added Fiddlehead too (can't believe I let that go for so long) to complete my set. Love your work, and I recommend it to my friends whenever they ask for new books to read.
…And since I have to write a question here… Clockwork Pirates or Ghost Ninjas?
Many thanks! And as for me...I'll always put my money on the ghosts and/or ninjas.
Thanks for the answers Cherie! Great AMA :) if someone is looking to write would you suggest writing short stories till you get a name or just stick with big old novels? :) just in your professional opinion? You're the best you know that right??
Aw, thank you very much! But to answer your question - I'd say it depends. Do you enjoy writing short stories? Then sure, go for it. Start there, if it's something that works for you. But if you don't like doing them...I say skip it. Concentrate on the things that make you happy, and do that instead.
This is one reason I do so few short stories; with the occasional exception - I don't enjoy reading or writing them. I don't think I'm really very good at them; but I'm not interested in practicing to improve. If that sounds lazy...well...I'd prefer to think of it as being pragmatic :)
Oooh, I just downloaded the Kindle sample and I waas instantly hooked, I am just finishing up American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett and I will be on to yours next.
Though after I read the sample I also went to Wikipedia and read up on Lizzie Borden. I love when books make me curious about the world, thanks for that!
I have never let the gender of an author influence me in anyway when buying my books, but I have found that a lot of female authors, when writing female characters seem to always have the "I am pretty but awkward and gosh suddenly I am powerful and powerful men love me" storyline
However I got no sense of this from the sample and while it isn't essentially a bad thing (in male or female characters) it feels overused.
Is this type of storyline something you avoid or put your own spin on?
Yeah, I get bored with that particular dynamic real quick, and when I do include romantic angles, I try to make them more...not like that.
The truth is, I tend to skip romance-as-a-conflict-point in general - not because there's anything wrong with romance (far from it), but because it's not my strong suit. Other people do much better writing the romantic bits, so I'll leave them to it.
That is awesome to know. I am also stoked to discover a new author when they already have a few books out to devour (damn you patrick rothfuss)
I tend to buy solely through Kindle nowadays though, being in New Zealand we paid outrageous amounts for books and that is assuming they were ever in the country.
Have you found e-books allow you to reach a larger audience than traditional publishing?
Larger audience? Probably, I suppose; I'm all about the convenience of e-readers, if it makes the audience happy. I have one myself.
We have literally two book chains in New Zealand and both of them will have one tiny shelf dedicated to sci fi/fantasy and half of that is dedicated to whatever happened to be turned into a tv show/movie recently.
But yeah, thanks for not region locking your books :)
You're welcome...but that's not up to me - that's up to the publisher :)
Darling - when are you going to write a horror set in the Highlands so we can host a research trip?
One day! I hope!
I meant in the link you posted
Yeah, that's the flap copy - I didn't have a hand in that.