An Interview with “Phoenix Rising” Co-Authors, Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris—Plus Book Giveaway
This week is NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week, and in the spirit of the week I am delighted to bring you an interview with (New Zealander) Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, co-authors of Phoenix Rising, the first novel in their “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences” steampunk series.
And Yes—There is A Giveaway!
Pip and Tee are giving away a signed copy of Phoenix Rising, to be drawn from those who comment on the interview before the close of NZ SpecFic Blogging Week on Sunday 25 September. But more giveaway details below the interview!
Now, without further ado, onward to—
Helen: Welcome, Pip & Tee! Firstly, congratulations on Phoenix Rising—A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel—being nominated for an Airship Award for a Written Work in the Steampunk genre. Is this the first time you’ve been nominated for a specifically steampunk award?
Tee: Yes, this is our first nomination for a steampunk-specific award; and when we saw that we had made the final cut and the company we were keeping with the category, Pip and I were thrilled.
Pip: We’re newcomers to the genre, and we are quite honored to be singled out as outstanding steampunk with all the terrific books that have come out in the past year.
Helen: Tell me a little bit about Phoenix Rising—what’s it all about?
Tee: Phoenix Rising is a steampunk adventure romp set in a late-Victorian London. In this version of England, amidst the gadgets and the goggles (all of which have practical applications, mind you!), Her Majesty’s Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences investigates the strange and the unexplained. Eliza D Braun is a New Zealand secret agent, who through a series of unfortunate explosions, has been demoted to said Archives. The Ministry’s chief (and sole) archivist, Wellington Thornhill Books, is most unhappy to have the rather spontaneous Agent Braun in his ordered world. He’s happy about being rescued by Agent Braun at the opening of the book, but looks at both her demotion and his new charges as punishment against them both. During her first week or so, Eliza uncovers an unsolved case in the Archives which involves her former partner, and drags Wellington along with her to help solve it—all while trying to hide it from the head of the Ministry.
Helen: Steampunk is speculative fiction, but one that draws on an alternate 19th century milieu, effectively imagining continuation of the mechanical age. What drew you both to the subgenre?
Pip: For me it was the chance to twist history, to include characters and places that existed in our world, and make them different—oh and to have a bit of fun!
Tee: For me, it is the subculture of steampunk. I’ve been fascinated by it ever since two dear friends, J.R. Blackwell and Jared Axelrod, turned me on to it. Steampunk is such a fertile ground for the imagination.
Helen: Did you have to do a lot of research to get the Victoriana, and Victorian world, right? And do you think historical accuracy matters in SFF with an historical setting, or it more a case of legitimately using history as a form of broadbrush scene painting?
Pip: I think there is a line where history must give way to the needs of the plot. Where exactly that line is, is up to the individual. We have considerably more wiggle room since what we are doing is set within steampunk, so the ripple effects of steampowered gadgetry and machines has altered a lot of the history. I dare say, when people get to read the sequel, Of Cogs and Corsets, they might find a prominent New Zealand suffragette changed from our reality.
Tee: The history is our basis, of course, but we are not bound by it. We can play within the boundaries of the era. In other words, if I’m doing a “steampunk iPad” I have to make it LOOK like it was built for the time. It’s not going to me minimal, but it’s going to have finesse, style, and elegance.
Helen: Phoenix Rising is a collaboration—what benefits did you find in writing as a team? Were there any difficulties?
Pip: The benefits were definitely more than the difficulties. Having someone to bounce ideas of, someone who might have inspiration when you do not, that constant bouncing back and forth, is delightful. The only challenge can be when you disagree, but sometimes in the process of defending why you want things a certain way you realize that you really don’t have a leg to stand on.
Tee: The difficulties are pretty much Pip’s doing. She just recently got me hooked on this game for the iPad, Crimson: Steam Pirates. It’s awesome … and now my productivity is taking a full broadside.
Seriously though, Pip and I found that writing together is full contact and back-and-forth collaboration. Like ballroom dancing. When I think I’m trying to keep up with Pip, she tells me it’s the other way around. We have a lot of fun working together.
Pip: Yeah, but like Ginger Rogers I have to do it backwards and in heels.
Helen: And I have to ask: did Tee write the Wellington sequences and Pip the Eliza sections of the book, or did you mix it up a bit?
Tee: That’s how it was at the beginning. Eliza was all Pip, and then I brought in Wellington’s point-of-view. We also traded off on first drafts of the Interludes. Then, during the editing process, we started to add in our own touches, smooth out transitions, add a few dimensions. The end style was a true hybrid of our individual styles.
Pip: It started off as as simple concept, but became a much more organic process than I was thinking.
Helen: Pip, Phoenix Rising’s heroine, Eliza D. Braun, is a New Zealander, as are you—how important is it to you to keep a NZ slant on your writing?
Pip: A lot of steampunk is set in either London or the West of America, however Victorian times happened everywhere. Broadening the understanding of the world is not only crucial—it also gives the genre more scope and interest. If we confine ourselves just to England then steampunk as a genre could easily wither on the vine. Tee and I have edited an anthology of Ministry short stories, which are available as digital shorts and podcasts, and many of those were set in places outside of England. Among this collection are two stories actually set in steampunk New Zealand, one by myself and one by Grant Stone, and I like to think we are helping spread awareness of our country.
Helen: Steampunk is a very popular form of SciFi-Fantasy (SFF) at present: why do you think that is?
Pip: I think people out there are looking for a sense of optimism, and in the Victorian era, despite all the imperialism and discrimination, there was definitely that. It was the age of the amateur explorer and inventor, and there was a sense that things could get better with technology. Right now, there is a sense of fear among some people about what technology will bring with it.
Tee: Many authors are dismissing steampunk as the flavor of the month. I tend to find those are the authors who are not paying attention to the genre as steampunk has been around since the 80’s. (Also, some of these nay-sayers saying this are writing urban fantasies about hot, sexy female demon-vampire-werewolf slayers who are all bad-ass until that one angel—no pun intended—comes along and rocks their world. But steampunk is trendy!) I think it’s appeal comes from its wild abandon into imagination. It can be delightfully fun. It can be dark. Steampunk can be so many things, but indulging your imagination is at its core.
And tea. Don’t forget the tea!
Helen: How could I possibly forget the tea?!
“But seriously,” Pip and Tee—thank you very much for doing this interview. Just like Phoenix Rising and steampunk itself, it’s been a lot of fun and a great feature for NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week. I am sure that ” … on Anything, Really” readers will enjoy the time with you both as much as I have—and like me, wish you all the very best for the Airship Award!
And to all those readers & steampunk afficionados who have not done so already, you can read the first 70 pages of Phoenix Rising, here.
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Philippa has always had her head in a book. For this she blames her father who thought The Lord of the Rings was suitable bedtime reading for an eight year old. At the age of thirteen she began writing fantasy stories for herself.
She first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Political Science and then a Bachelor of Applied Science in Library and Information Science. So soon enough she found herself working in the magical world of libraries where she stayed for over a decade.
Her first professional sale was in 1997, and since then she has gone on to produce mostly novel length fiction. In 2006 she became New Zealand’s first podcast novelist, and she has voiced and produced Weaver’s Web, Chasing the Bard, Weather Child and Digital Magic as podiobooks. Her podcasts have been short listed for the Parsec Awards, and won a Sir Julius Vogel award.
Philippa is the author of the Books of the Order series with Ace- the first of which Geist was released in October 2010. Spectyr (June 2011), Wrayth (2012) and Harbinger are to follow. She is also the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with Tee Morris (her soon-to-be husband). Phoenix Rising debuted in May 2011 and Of Cogs and Corsets will be out in 2012. She also has the Shifted World series with Pyr Books, with the first book Hunter and Fox coming in 2012.
When not writing or podcasting, Philippa loves reading, gardening, and whenever possible traveling. Her two Siberian cats, Sebastian and Viola make sure she and the family stay out of trouble.
Tee Morris began his writing career in 2002 with his historical epic fantasy, MOREVI: The Chronicles of Rafe & Askana. This Dragon Moon Press title went on to become the first novel to be podcast from cover-to-cover, and one of the founding titles of Podiobooks.com, the premier site for podcast literature.
Tee went on to co-write Podcasting for Dummies and All a Twitter and Sams Teach Yourself Twitter in Ten Minutes, establishing himself as an authority on Social Media matters. His podcasts and blogposts on Facebook, Twitter, Whrrl, and the Social Media movement can be found across the Internet; and have taken him to various speaking engagements around the world including Book Expo America, Te Papa Tongarewa: The Museum of New Zealand, CreateSouth, and LIANZA. He has also written editorial columns for BenBella Books’s Farscape Forever: Sex, Drugs, and Killer Muppets and So Say We All: Collected Thoughts and Opinions of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (co-edited by actor Richard Hatch).
In 2011, Tee returned to his first love—fiction—with Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel, written with Pip Ballantine. His first major fiction release in nearly three years, the book has already made an impact, being produced as an audiobook within six months of its release; selling rights into Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia; and short-listed for the 2011 Airship Awards for Best Steampunk Work in Literature.
To celebrate NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week and the publication of Phoenix Rising in New Zealand, Pip and Tee are giving away a signed copy of Phoenix Rising, to be drawn from those who comment on this interview before midnight, NZ time on Sunday 25 September (the close of NZ SpecFic Blogging Week.) The winner will be drawn by Random Number Generator and posted on Monday 26 at 6.30 am, NZ time.
Please don’t forget to check back after the closing date to see if you’ve won. If the prize has not been claimed by 6.30 am on Wednesday 28 (NZ time), I will re-draw.