In Steam Me Up, Rawley, the first book in her “Mint Julep and Monocle Chronicles” series, Angela Quarles combines steampunk and romance to create an alternate Deep South. Here the author discusses the story’s unique setting, her choice to self-publish, and personal sf favorites. This title is a 2015 LJ Self-Published Ebook Award winner and currently available to read on the SELF-e platform.
A self-described hobby historian, you write with the voice of a natural storyteller. What has influenced your strong narrative?
Several possibilities come to mind. I grew up visiting my grandparents every summer in Mobile, AL, and both my grandmother and great-grandmother (the same ones to whom I dedicated the book) were born storytellers. I loved listening to them share such wonderful tales pulled from their own lives, so perhaps that rhythm rubbed off on me. The other possibility is that I am first and foremost a reader and have been ever since I can remember. When we were children, my brother used to hide my books to get me to play with him.
How is worldbuilding for an alternative history different from creating other stories?
Writing an alternative universe is fun because I get to play “what if” with history. It allows me a little more freedom than a genre such as historical fiction. For instance, with Steam Me Up, Rawley, there were two big “what ifs.” One happened in my debut novel, Must Love Breeches: What if Charles Babbage had completed the Analytical Engine? Steam was originally intended to be a sequel to Breeches as a result of that question. The other: What if Lincoln hadn’t been shot and served three terms as president? How different would race relations be in the South? How would industry and economics have been affected? And then I zeroed in on Mobile, AL, specifically and brainstormed how it would be different. I imagined that Lincoln would have found strengths in major cities and ports and bolstered those strengths to encourage economic growth. So, for Mobile, since we built the submarine CSS Hunley, I created a world in which the city was a major manufacturer of submarines for the federal government, and thus that the industrial progress we experienced in shipbuilding in World War II came about earlier. I also considered the impact to Mobile’s unique society. Of course, since this was a lighthearted romance, much of this [history] was subtext or only touched upon. Still, I felt it was essential to provide the story with a realistic backdrop.
What influenced your decision to self-publish?
I turned down two offers from small presses that wanted to publish my first novel. I felt that with my social media presence, these publishers wouldn’t have a greater audience reach to justify the cut they’d take. Plus I felt I would be taking more risks, that I wouldn’t like the cover, or that their editing process wasn’t up to par. To be honest, I wanted the control, and since I’ve made the decision I haven’t looked back. I prefer making my own production schedule and evaluating and hiring my own team of editors and cover designers.
How important is it for you to be actively involved in a writing community?
Hugely important! I’d say being a part of a writing community greatly reduced my learning curve. That’s how I also met my team of beta readers. Because of my involvement online, I had a strong launch of Must Love Breeches.
As a romance writer, do you enjoy writing more the happily ever after, or putting obstacles in the way of the couple’s happiness?
I enjoy writing the tension the most, finding that perfect moment to show the touch of knees, or the brush of a hand, or a long look. I find crafting the happily ever after the hardest, because it’s so difficult to capture raw, honest emotion without crossing into clichés or schmaltzy land.
How do you write witty fiction? Are you funny in real life?
You know, I’m probably not very witty or funny in real life, though sometimes I luck out. I love laughing and enjoying the quick wit of my friends, but I always seem to think of the great line to add to the conversation after the moment has passed. My father and my brother are much quicker on the draw. Perhaps that’s why I like writing, as it gives me time to be funny.
What are your top sf worlds in books or movies?
Some of my favorites are Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series, the movie Blade Runner, the TV show Firefly, David Brin’s “Uplift Trilogy,” Jack McDevitt’s “The Academy” series, and J. Gregory Keyes’s “The Age of Unreason” books.
When can we expect the next “Mint Julep and Monocle Chronicles” story?
I’m not sure when the next installment will be released; at least a year, I’d guess. It will feature Adele’s brother and Rawley’s sister, and while I have a general premise, I haven’t started drafting. Right now I’m concentrating on my time-travel romance series as that has a more avid readership.