When my fearless leader, Andy Burns of Biff Bam Pop, asked me if I would be interested in reviewing The Clockwork Detective, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, I am the Steampunk Granny, and it allowed me the chance to interview author R.A. McCandless.
Gilbert: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
R.A. McCandless: I’ve been a writer both professionally and creatively for over two decades. I was born under a wandering star that led to a degree in Communication and English with a focus on creative writing taught by none other than the Dean of Science Fiction, Jack Williamson. I’m the author of the urban fantasy, Tears of Heaven, winner of the 2014 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Preditors & Editors Reader’s Poll and a 2015 EPIC eBook finalist, Hell Becomes Her, and the final installment, Company of the Damned, (available 2019). My shorts have appeared in In Shambles (with Kevin J. Anderson), Nine Heroes, and Gears, Gadgets and Steam.
I continue to research and write steampunk and genre fiction, battle sprinklers, and play with my three boys.
Gilbert: What got you interested in writing?
R.A. McCandless: Basically, boredom. I would sit in elementary school classes and want nothing more than to read my latest Terry Brooks or Joel Rosenberg fantasy novel. Instead, while pretending to take notes, I would write stories. At first, I would try to make the books I’d read “better”. It’s a dumb thought to have, but it is a place to start. Riffing on the masters is a good way to get your feet wet and see what does and doesn’t work.
Friends and teachers started noticing that I had the stamina for writing short stories and longer forms, and I started working on some really big ideas that I couldn’t quite pull off. I’m infinitely glad that most of that work has never seen the light of day. If there’s any justice, those pages have been pulped and recycled to make more Patrick Rothfuss novels.
But any world that could include a dragon, even if a dragon never showed up, that was the world for me. I wanted to live and explore in those worlds of possibility. The fantastic has always excited me, and while I’ve grown more and more “realistic” in my writing, I still reach out for what’s just beyond possible to try to create a world of potential. That’s where the real magic lives.
Gilbert: Are any of your children interested in writing?
R.A. McCandless: Of the three, my youngest seems to be a natural storyteller, mostly to get himself out of trouble. A few years ago, he was playing and told a story about himself and his teddy bear. It wasn’t overly long, but he had a plot, rising conflict, obstacles, and a resolution that was adorable. I captured the entire story, enlisted an artist from Fiverr, and published “Xavi and Bear on Crabby Pond” through Amazon so that I could have and share copies of it with our friends and family. Maybe it won’t go anywhere for him, but it might end up being his first writing credit!
Gilbert: What inspired you to write your novel, The Clockwork Detective, as a Steampunk story?
R.A. McCandless: Blame it on Disney’s version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and George Pal’s The Time Machine. The Jules Verne and H.G. Well’s adaptations of these fantastical devices—a fully functional submarine and a literal time machine—sparked my imagination. It wasn’t only the anachronistic technology, but the sumptuous detail that I fell in love with. From the gorgeous pipe organ, to the extensive red velvet furniture and polished wood floors, to the brass and scrollwork found throughout each production. That aesthetic has always made me want to romp and play with timelines where pocket watches and gas lamps go hand-in-hand with skies dominated by airships and clockwork automatons strolling the cobblestone streets.
More than that, after watching similar movies and TV shows like The Wild, Wild West, I devoured the books. Not just Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, but also contemporary writers diving into the newly discovered “steampunk.” James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter showed us where the doors were, and newer writers like Cherie Priest and Scott Westerfield pointed toward more undiscovered lands with cross-genre titles. I loved all of that, and I desperately wanted to be part of it with a character who was worthy to wander around those worlds.
Gilbert: What makes Aubrey Hartmann, the protagonist in The Clockwork Detective, special?
R.A. McCandless: Aubrey’s DNA comes from the roguish charm and charisma of Miss Fisher, the strength and insight of The Bletchley Circle, and the shrewd intelligence of Miss Marple. She has a military background, serving in the fields during a particularly brutal war, and although she’s entered the Empire’s constabulary, she’s not a Jane Q. Law. Similar to Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe, Aubrey can be something of a loose cannon. A lot of the more colorful figures from the history of law enforcement straddled the line between upholding justice and being themselves criminals. Eugene Vidocq, who is known as the father of criminology, served time in prison for fraud and desertion.
Creating a flawed character who strays from the path from time to time for personal gain, but at the end of the day also sees the big picture and works for the interest of the people around her is how Aubrey came into being. She drinks too much and is willing to take bribes from time to time. Her moral compass doesn’t always point North, but she can see to the heart of a mystery and unmask a conspiracy that would bring about great harm.
Putting her in a world of airships, clockworks, and gas lighting seemed a natural fit. This is the same kind of environment that gave birth to Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin. Aubrey may not have quite the same insight and orderliness to her mind, but she’s easily in the league of the great detectives, and at the same time has the ability to toe-to-toe with any street thugs she finds lurking in a dark alley.
Gilbert: Tell us about your other books, Tears of Heaven, and Hell Becomes Her.
R.A. McCandless: Del is a sarcastic, fast-talking, dangerous, and sometimes unpredictable half-angel tasked to hunt down rogue demons and banish them back to Hell. It’s a tricky business, and not one that Del prefers, but the unique circumstances of her birth make her one of the few Nephilim in the world who can stand up to a demon and win. In Tears of Heaven, she and her partner Marrin, another half-angel, are assigned to hunt down three demons working together, something no Nephilim has done in recent history. To make matters worse, the demons have kidnapped children for some evil agenda.
In Hell Becomes Her, Del and Marrin return. She finds that banishing demons is only slightly more daunting than raising a pre-teen. She is still tasked with hunting rogue demons, but she goes home to kiss her daughter, Jordan, goodnight. But when Jordan is kidnapped by a mysterious group, Del learns the world is even more dangerous than she believed.
Tears of Heaven was my debut urban fantasy novel and was the winner of the 2014 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Preditors & Editors Reader’s Poll and a 2015 EPIC eBook finalist.
Gilbert: What do you enjoy about writing?
R.A. McCandless: Telling a good, solid story about strong-willed but flawed characters who overcome outrageous obstacles and define the term “hero.” I enjoy diving deep into someone who has real background, real history that the reader can sink their teeth into and chew on for days.
Mostly, what I really love about writing is the editing. After the story has come together, and the main plot is all tied up, I love working with a good editor to see all the errors and flaws and start to polish the story into a cohesive and worthwhile tale. It feels like when I did mechanic work with my dad, and after we’d put all the pieces together in the right order and in the right place, we’d hit the ignition and the engine would fire off with no problem.
I love when a story becomes a well-oiled, pristine machine firing on all cylinders.
Gilbert: What are you working on now?
R.A. McCandless: There are a couple of projects that I have in the works. The next installment of The Constable of Aqualinne will see Aubrey Hartmann facing new mysteries and danger as she attempts to unravel an on-going conspiracy hinted at in The Clockwork Detective. There’s also a stand-alone urban fantasy novel for fans of Del with Marrin’s girlfriend, Jane Ivey. She gets her own adventure all alone without the half-angels tagging along.
Gilbert: When can we expect The Clockwork Detective to be out?
R.A. McCandless: Pre-orders are available now at all fine ebook retailers, and the novel will release Tuesday, May 7th.
Aubrey Hartmann appears in two short story collections prior to this debut novel: In Shambles: A Scarlett Nightmare Vol II and Tinkered Tales Volume One: Gears, Gadgets & Steam. Both are currently available through ebook retailers.
Gilbert: Of your three books, which would you like to see as a film or TV series?
R.A. McCandless: Any of them? All of them? Is that an option? That’s like asking which of your children you love the most. I love each world I’ve created for different reasons. I’m partial to urban fantasy because it’s where I received my first start as an author. My heart, though, lives in the more fantasy-themed worlds, and seeing a solid steampunk story come to live in television would be superb. Having it sit alongside The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and The Murdoch Mysteries would be thrilling. Aubrey Hartmann deserves to be portrayed by someone witty and capable and her stories seem the most adaptable of any that I’ve told.
Gilbert: Thank you so very much for this interview, Mr. McCandless. As soon as I finish reading The Clockwork Detective, I will be doing a review on my blog Gilbert Speaks.