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[INTERVIEW] Cherie Priest on CHAPELWOOD, Future Projects, and More

Cherie Priestcherie priest is the author of 17 books and novellas, most recently the Philip K. Dick Award nominee Maplecroft; but she is perhaps best known for the steampunk pulp adventures of the Clockwork Century, beginning with Boneshaker. Her works have been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards for science fiction, and have won the Locus Award (among others) – and over the years, they’ve been translated into nine languages in eleven countries. Cherie lives in Chattanooga, TN, with her husband, a big fluffy dog, and a cranky old cat.

Connect with her on twitter @cmpriest.

Cherie kindly answered a few of my questions about her newest release, Chapelwood.

Anthony Vicino: Cherie, first let me do a quick fan-boy squee. I AM PRINCESS X rocked my world, which I’m sure not too many 31 year old dudes can, or would, admit.

Cherie Priest: Aw, thank you so much! <3

AV: Anyways, now that I got that out of my system, let’s chat. Currently there’s a copy of your new book, CHAPELWOOD, staring me down from across the desk. It’s the follow-up to your Lovecraftian horror meets Lizzy Borden classic, MAPLECROFT, but it’s not necessarily a sequel, right?

CP: Chapelwood is the other half of my take on Lovecraft – while Maplecroft is all about the briny deeps, Chapelwood is more about the cosmic horrors beyond. This one is set thirty years later, in the midst of a series of real life ax murders in Birmingham, Alabama, and I’ve been calling it my “witchy art-deco supernatural horror project.” You’ll catch up with some old characters, meet some new ones, and get a few answers about what’s happened in the universe since Fall River.

AV: One of the fascinating things about your work is how you seamlessly weave alternative takes on historical events into your stories. What was your research process like for CHAPELWOOD?

CP: A lot of time on the internet (there’s actually a great Alabama wiki that I found quite helpful), a bit of chatting with local history nerds, and a couple of nonfiction books.

AV: What sorts of events re-imagined did you come up with for CHAPELWOOD? I recall from your blog that there would be “space-worshiping murder cult hiding behind the KKK.”

CP: There is, in fact, a space-worshiping murder cult behind the KKK in Chapelwood. There was one in real life, too – at least, there was a nasty fringe arm of that nefarious organization called the True Americans, and they were a vicious bunch…if not actual space-worshipers. They undid decades of social progress when they bought an election and tried to run all non-protestant/non-white/etc. etc. etc. people out of the city. The truth is, the historic situation (including the ax murders and the anti-Catholic conspiracy nuts) was so crazypants that I had to streamline the facts a bit to keep it from getting too narratively bulky. Adding some eldergods to the mix actually made the situation less bananas because it gave the nightmare scenario a background framework that made sense.

AV: I got to admit, the more I look at that gorgeous cover, the more I want to abandon this interview and dive right in. Did you have much say in the design process of MAPLECROFT or CHAPELWOOD?

CP: None, really – though the publisher took a little bit of feedback about Chapelwood and incorporated it in the final product. The Chapelwood cover is quite striking, but it doesn’t bear much relation to the book’s contents. Chapelwood takes place in late summer in the Deep South, in the 1920s…so…yeah. I might’ve gone a different direction, myself. But it makes a nice matched set with Maplecroft.

AV: You’re one of those amazingly skilled authors who can write in pretty much any genre. Whether it’s steampunk/dark fantasy (BONESHAKER), YA (I AM PRINCESS X), or Lovecraftian horror (MAPLECROFT, CHAPELWOOD) you do it all, and you do it well. But what’s your favorite? Do you think you’ll branch out further?

CP: Once again, thank you! You’re gonna make me blush. But to answer your question, my favorite is definitely horror – gothic, Lovecraftian, what have you. Even so, sometimes I enjoy taking a break from it and branching out.

AV: From a day-to-day perspective, how do you juggle so many diverse projects?

CP: One at a time. I can’t really work on more than one thing at once – I find it too confusing and difficult, though I know plenty of writers have no trouble with it. I wish I was one of them! But I have to compartmentalize, and just do one draft of one thing at a time. Often those drafts are interrupted by production work on other projects, but that’s not quite the same thing. I can do production (edits, revisions, proof checks, etc.) on several things without too much trouble. It’s just the drafting that I have to keep separate.

AV: You’ve had three releases thus far in 2015. What’s next?

CP: Depending on production schedules, I believe my next project on the shelves will be a southern gothic ghost story from Tor, called The Family Plot (April, 2016). Then – I think? – another YA project from Scholastic that fall, called Drawing Fire. Following that, another spooky deco piece from Roc called Brimstone (perhaps early winter?). Finally, the last thing I have under contract is another horror project with Tor called The Toll, but I have no idea what that one’s scheduled for. Probably spring of 2017.

And then…? Who knows. I do try to stay busy, though.

AV: Before I let you go, quick tell us about the one show and/or book you’ve been watching/reading that the world absolutely must know about.

CP: If you’re going to make me pick just one, I have to say Penny Dreadful. It’s divine, and gorgeous, and gothic, and transgressive, and everything a classic monster fiend like yours truly could ask for in a TV show. It’s only two seasons deep! (With a third to come!) Get out there and catch up!

If you’d let me offer a second recommendation, I would add the Netflix exclusive SENSE8. It’s a slow burn for the first couple of episodes (a glorious, exquisite, compelling slow burn)…but when it really gets its footing, the story becomes nothing short of phenomenal. You’ll be torn between savoring it an episode at a time, and rocketing through the season as quickly as possible. Go check it out!

About Anthony Vicino (12 Articles)
Anthony Vicino has erected a word-fortress in the cyber-slum over at where he writes about anything and everything SFF related. Stop over and see what he's scribbling on the wall.
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