Andrew P. Mayer‘s third steampunk superhero novel — a fantastic and fun read called Power Under Pressure — came out from PYR Books in January. It’s the third book of his Society of Steam trilogy, following The Falling Machine and Hearts of Smoke & Steam. These stories capture the feel of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells while being set in Victorian New York City, where Mayer was born. Mayer is a game designer who has also has written comic books and short stories. You can find Andrew online at societyofsteam.com, andrewpmayer.com/, and on Twitter as @AndrewMayer.
SFFWRTCHT: Andrew, congrats on the completion of your trilogy. What’s it like to have that complete cycle under your belt?
Andrew P. Mayer: I’m still breathing the same sigh of relief that I started when I handed in the book. It’s nice to have the completed story out in the world after six years of work.
SFFWRTCHT: In The Falling Machine, when one of the Paragons betrays them, their leader’s daughter Sarah, becomes wrapped up in uncovering the plot & befriends Tom, an automaton built by one of them. In book 2, Hearts Of Smoke & Steam, the Paragons are destroyed by their former member, Lord Eschaton and Sarah plays superhero. And in book 3, Power Under Pressure, she revives Tom and sets out to confront Eschaton. Where’d the idea for this series come from?
APM: It actually started out as pitch from when I was trying to break into comics in the mid-2000s. I haven’t actually been able to say this up until now, but the book really ended up being the “origin story” of that pitch. The trilogy is essentially the prequel for what I was pitching as a comic.
SFFWRTCHT: Origin story? Awesome. So that means there’s more?
APM: Well, we’ll see. I have ideas, but I’m taking a bit of time to work on something different before diving back in. I’d do a comic in a heartbeat if I could find the right publisher.
APM: The first one took the longest. The last two were about fourteen months each.
SFFWRTCHT: I describe it as a mix of Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne and Superman. Are any of those influences?
APM: Verne, and Doyle for sure. I’m more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy, so less Superman than Lee/Kirby 60s stuff.
SFFWRTCHT: Fair enough. Obviously, history plays a part as well as steam tech and science. How much research did you do to capture the historical period?
APM: Quite a bit. The goal for me is to feel like I can stick my head into that world and look around.
SFFWRTCHT: DO you research before you write, as you go, both?
APM: Both. I was in NYC a lot in 2011, and the city still has a lot of the late 1800s left in it. Plus some NYers love history…
SFFWRTCHT: Outliner or pantser? Has that changed at all over the course of the trilogy?
APM: Outliner. Obviously things change during the course of the writing, but I always work from an outline.
SFFWRTCHT: Okay, is it a sketchy outline or detailed? I’m just curious. Over the course of writing three books, how has your writing craft changed? In what areas have you noticed growth?
APM: I do a pretty detailed mind map. The goal is to get the plot and the character conflicts mapped out. Also the big set pieces. Becoming an expert at something means you can tackle bigger chunks with confidence. I couldn’t keep a whole novel in my head when I started. I was constantly referring to notes. Now that’s fairly easy. I ended up having to rewrite a major section last February. I realized I was looking at 180,000 words if I didn’t…
APM: I call that “novelitis”. At first you can’t imagine how people write so much. Suddenly you can’t fit it all in one book.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you do anything to train yourself in those areas or did it come out of trial and error?
APM: A combination of training and trial. I changed up my method for every book, although my book 2 method was the winner.
SFFWRTCHT: What was your book 2 method?
APM: Mind map and then Scrivener. I tried to use Scrivener as my outliner, and it was a disaster. Mind mapping is a visual outlining methodology. There are dozens of programs to do it… Currently I use MindNode. It’s chunks of text connected by lines. Here’s an example of the structure. It allows you to be very fluid, and add details as needed. Whole chunks get moved with a single drag and drop…
SFFWRTCHT: Okay, clearly that’s someone else’s mind. Looks like a jumbled mess to me.
SFFWRTCHT: I think I get the picture. Regardless, as long as it works for you, that’s great! What’s your writing time look like-specific block? Write `til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?
APM: Depends on my work load. But word count is always the better method for me. Time blocks are too easy to cheat on.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals? Do you write to music or silence?
APM: I started with music, but now I find it too distracting. Either silence or a clock tick is what I work to now.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about your path to publication. How’d you wind up at PYR Books?
APM: I broke the rules and talked to Lou directly. But I had been trying to find an agent, and had my elevator pitch down cold.
APM: This was in 2009. I think it’s gotten harder now. Agents are almost a partner in getting published. I saw him talk at Orycon, and I was like “I can talk to this guy.” As a consultant I know how to talk my way into work…
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
APM: The best is from McKee’s story: Find an emotion in every scene and send it from one extreme to the other. Worst? Someone recently said you should try not killing your darlings… Not good advice for new writers at all.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about comics/games. You’ve worked on Facebook games and more, written a comic. What else are you working on?
APM: I’m a consultant so it’s a lot of this and that. These days it’s mostly mobile, and I’m working on a book on user focused design.
SFFWRTCHT: Any plans to do a graphic novel or another comic?
APM: The problem is that comics are a mess right now. I’d like to self-publish, but a 100 page graphic novel costs $10K to produce.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you feel the storytelling skills practiced in gaming and comics have affected your novel writing?
APM: I think comics were helpful in getting me think of action as a metaphorical counterpoint. Games gave me lots of tools for process. Like mindmapping.
SFFWRTCHT: Given your success at PYR, what prompted your decision to switch to self-publishing?
APM: It’s not totally a “switch,” but I want to connect directly with my audience. Publishers sell to bookstores.
SFFWRTCHT: You released a short story in the universe of the Society Of Steam novels. Is your approach to writing them different from novels?
APM: That one was. I wanted to do something fast, furious, and fun. I’m thinking I’ll probably do a few of those as a bridge to whatever I do in the SOS universe next.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you still outline/Mind Map? Was the process the same?
APM: I did do an outline. At some point I need to write the prose onto the bones of a plot.
SFFWRTCHT: Society of Steam is written. What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
APM: I’m working on a new series called Mister Gates. It’ll be serialized and self-published.
SFFWRTCHT: Is it steampunk also? What genre? What can you tell us about it?
APM: Psychedelic urban fantasy. Doctor Who by way of Grant Morrison/Alan Moore. I’m going to let my 90s cyber-rave freak flag fly with this one…
A Previous SFFWRTCHT interview with Andrew P. Mayer can be found here.