The first thing I noted about Nick Valentino was that his email address was a reference to Watership Down. I always figure that anybody with a love for an epic about bunnies would dream big, and Nick Valentino does.
He’s a quiet fellow, Nick Valentino, and like most first-time authours, eager to talk about his first book. Sir Thomas Riley will be released by Echelon Press, October 23rd. Unlike most amateur authors waiting to be discovered, he understands that he can’t sit back and just wait to be discovered, nor is he about to just move on to another project without trying to reach out to people first. It’s refreshing. Except for the plan to take over the world.
It’s always the quiet ones.
So, tell me about your book!
Thomas Riley is a weapons designer in the country of West Canvia. He is assisted by Cynthia Basset who’s a bit more spirited than Thomas. West Canvia is in the middle of a twenty year war with their neighboring country of Lemuria. While working on a serum for a battlefield illness, Thomas and Cynthia are interrupted by a medical emergency in which Thomas is forced to perform a risky alchemic procedure that leaves the soul of the victim embedded in Cynthia. Their only hope to separate the soul from Cynthia is to sneak into Lemuria incognito amongst shifty sky pirates and enemy soldiers to kidnap the only man that knows how to undo the alchemy, their arch enemy and Lemurian weapon maker Isaac Maier.
Was there any real-life inspiration for the setting / characters? Or did you just cook it all up?
The story actually does have some real life influences. West Canvia is modeled after The Netherlands and Lemuria is modeled after Germany. Everything from the architecture, to the social attitudes, to the way they conduct warfare, even down to what they drink is all very Munich-esque. West Canvia is very Dutch, even down to what they drink. In the story, Cynthia has an affinity for Jenever, which is a Dutch “digestive” beverage very reminiscent of Gin. All of this came from a very memorable trip I took to Amsterdam and Munich where both cities completely won my heart. Originally I didn’t mean to put the cities in the story, but they kind of forced their way in which actually gives it a nice European flair.
It’ll be good to see a story that’s not necessarily centered in Victorian England. Are these elements drawn from today’s modern period? Or are there some remnants from the Victorian period thrown in?
Absolutely there are elements from the Victorian period mixed in. I imagined this to be of the same time period but instead of England I used the countries across the channel. So the story could be happening side by side with whatever was happening in England. The fun part is I’ve left it up to the reader to determine the time frame and where these countries actually are. I like letting the reader use their imagination and therefore making the story more personal. The slight deviation I inserted was that the women characters are very strong and independent. Probably much more so than the actual time frame but I think it’s important to give the women a big role in the story. So the reader sees a lot of equal rights where there wasn’t any for common people. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of situations where the women are aware of the social order, and fashion but these women do not put up with much harassment.
So there is some soul metaphysical stuff going on here. Are you nearing fantasy territory here, or are you going to keep it as scientific as possible with alchemy and other such scifi tropes?
For the most part, I’ve kept this pretty realistic and scientific. There are two aspects of the story that veer from that. One is the tangible existence of a human soul and how that can be extracted via alchemy, then there is a hint of the paranormal later in the story but I’ve left it as a question mark, again for the reader to decide or possibly something I could bring back later down the road. I’ve always been fascinated by the unknown and I think this genre in particular is free to explore some of those mysteries. It seems to me that the nature of steampunk is about discovery, pioneering and the limitless possibilities of what the world could be, so I feel comfortable mixing in things that are unknown even today.
Did you set out to make this book a specifically steampunk adventure? Or did it just grow that way?
From the get go, I wanted to write a steampunk novel. From page one, the story just seemed to write itself. There is so much available to the genre that I ended up having a lot of fun with the freedom of the subject matter and the boundless world that it provides. I wasn’t sure how strict I was going to be with the story, but instead of writing what would have looked like a text book of scientific procedures, I took liberties with some of the weaponry, mechanics and science which to me makes everything a little more fun. I was a bit obsessed for a while about say, what kind of acid will eat through metal fastest, but after a while I broke free and concentrated on a healthy mix of real science, exaggerated science and pure thrills and adventure.
Is this your first work of fiction?
Thomas Riley is my first work of fiction to get published. I have two other manuscripts and about five short stories that I worked on for quite some time in the horror genre. Like most first manuscripts, they are huge, bulky and need a lot of work before I can actually show them to someone. Thomas Riley came as sort of a response to those books. While I loved writing the horror novels, in the end they became sort of a chore. The steampunk book was a blast to write and seemed to flow off the keyboard. I had fun writing again and had to step away from the other books for a while.
Nice! A wise man once wrote, if you have fun in your writing, it shows. What hopes do you have for your book, placing it as you did within the steampunk subgenre?
The ultimate goal is that readers enjoy it. The story is packed full of thrills and adventure and I think people will have fun with it. I’m not seeking fame or fortune, I’m simply expressing the need to tell stories and have a good time doing so. I understand by writing a steampunk novel that I’ve got a niche audience, but that’s great with me. Sure, I want the book to do well and sell, but I’m really gunning for giving people a good story and a good experience instead a watered down read for the sake of selling books. By experience, I’m referring to the things that come along with this book. I have a host of plans that will make Thomas Riley more of an interactive experience. The first wave of this is the Sky Pirate enlistment program I have on the website. Readers, fans, or curiosity seekers can go, sign up and immediately get hand made and stained enlistment papers, flight credentials and their own number that will be used later down the road at Cons and such for exclusive contests, giveaways and tons of fun and free material.
Sounds epic! Are these secret plans for taking over the world?!
Of course there are plans to take over the world. Actually, I’ll let Dr. Steel do that work as he seems to have a foot in the door on the old taking over the world business. This is just about having fun and getting a story with some extras to make said story more fun. So technically, sure, this could be part of a grand propaganda scheme by Toy Soldiers… But of course, I couldn’t ever tell you that on record.
Very good. So when you’re not being all take-over-the-world and writerly, what do you do?
Lately, the only thing I do is write and promote. Most of my spare time since last February has been consumed with this book or other projects. I’m writing a series of Young Adult short steampunk stories called “The Young Alchemists” that will come out on Echelon Press Shorts division in conjunction with Thomas Riley. Life sounds a bit boring right? It’s really not, I try to spend time with friends as much as possible and I write beer reviews for the “Proletariat Beer Review” (Yes the acronym for that is unintentionally PBR) website that I’m determined to make very soon.
There we go. Secret plans for taking over the world. And, beer! This evil villainess will have to sit back and watch! For more information, check out www.sirthomasriley.com
When Jha is not busy nosing into other people’s business, she spends her time, uh, reading about other people’s business.