Interview with Steampunk Author Sarah E. Seeley

Shovel the coal and stoke the boilers as nine Steampunk authors explore islands of mystery and adventure across the seven seas.

steel and boneThe Clockwork Seer by Katherine Cowley: On an island of oddities, a young clairvoyant struggles for normalcy, but deadly automatons have other plans.

Sindisiwe by Scott E. Tarbet: A slave girl in Zanzibar escapes a beating when a stranger in the marketplace proves her past is more than just a fairy tale.

Stand and Deliver by TC Phillips: Neither shackles, slave labor, nor the island’s deadliest inhabitants will prevent these brothers from meting out justice to their father’s murderers.

Island Walker by C. R. Simper: Kit digs her treasures out of trash heaps, but the theft of her invention leads to discoveries money can’t buy.

A Mind Prone to Wander by Danielle E. Shipley: Beyond a locked door lies Rowan Charles’ death or his sanity, and the survival or extinction of his people.

Curio Cay by Sarah E. Seeley: The future of humanity rests in the hands of three time-traveling scientists battling biomechanical creatures in the Jurassic past.

The Mysterious Island of Chester Morrison by Kin Law: Dodging her chaperone, a debutante stumbles into adventure and romance at the World’s Fair.

Revolutionary by John M. Olsen: A dirigible captain goes down with his ship, and wakes to find himself a captive of a sky-dwelling civilization.

The Steel Inside by Gail B. Williams: Darkness lurks in Sarah’s forgotten past, kept hidden by those who claim to be her devoted husband and loyal servants.


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sarah e seeley

Author Sarah E. Seeley

1. Please share how you came up with the concept for your book / story?

I came up with the basic concept of making Marry Anning and Dr. Moreu a couple for another Xchyler contest last summer themed “Mr. and Mrs. Myth,” which eventually turned into the anthology Legends and Lore. My story was too long and not quite what I wanted it to be at that time, so I wrote another story called “Peradventure” that was accepted into Legends and Lore. When the “Strange Island of…” theme appeared for Xchyler’s steampunk short story contest at the end of 2014, I knew I had the right combination of genre and thematic focus to make an interesting story.

I knew a little about the historical background of the real Mary Anning from my undergraduate geology courses. After doing more research on this genuine Regency Era paleontologist, I realized she not only made excellent steampunk fodder all by herself, in a genre esteemed for its fantasy technology and twisting of historical themes. The real scientist’s self-taught background in anatomy and fossil identification struck me as an excellent foil when paired creatively with H.G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau.

2. Please name some of your other published works?

“Peradventure” in Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions

“Driveless” in Leading Edge Magazine, Issue 66

Blood Oath: An Orc Love Story is an independently published novelette

Maladaptive Bind is an independently published novel

3. What is your preferred writing genre?

Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror

4. And preferred reading genre?

Non-fiction on science topics

Post-apocalyptic fiction

5. What are your top 3 favorite books?

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Silas Marner by George Elliot

6. Do you have any particular writing habits?

Sometimes I work on edits in my car. I like doing this when the weather isn’t too extreme. I can get out of my house, park in a fresh location, and take breaks to go for a walk around outside every once in a while. But I still have a relatively quiet bubble of privacy to retreat to where no one is likely to bother me while I’m working. It’s also convenient if I want to read my manuscripts out loud and I don’t want anyone to ask me what the heck is going on with that weird scary story… Mwahaha!

I also like to write at home late at night when the TV in the living room is off and everyone in my family has gone to bed. It’s a good time to work when everything is quiet. Staying up late so that I’m a little tired helps me write more freely at times when I’m working on a new story and I’m inclined to feel my writing isn’t very good. When I’m tired, I don’t care if my writing is bad or things don’t quite make sense up front. If I can get words on the page, I’ll have something to work with later.

7. Do you have a playlist that you created while writing your story?

Favorite tracks I listened to while working on this story were “Shatter Me” and “Master of Tides” by Lindsey Stirling.

8. Panster or plotter?

I’m definitely a pantser. I like to play with an opening scene or chapter for a while to figure out story dynamics that interest me, then I brainstorm potential main conflicts and try-fail cycles. This is the bulk of any “plotting” that I do, creating simple guidelines to keep tabs on the core conflict and flow of the story. I then “seed” the openings of several scenes or chapters, fleshing them out as much as I can as I go while making notes on what needs more detail or adjustments when I come back. Overall, I enjoy immersing myself in the emotions and imagery of building a scene in story and thus spend as little time as possible mapping things out.

9. Advice for writers?I’m a slow writer, a “pantser,” and I like to take my time to feel a story out at the beginning, to play and experiment until I discover something I like and can run with it. Some days I write quite a lot. Other days, nothing really comes to me except a few sentences or a hard-fought paragraph. Keep plowing. Your skills will improve with each story you write, and ideas will come if you keep chipping away. Don’t quit! Keep writing!

10. What’s up next for you?

I’m developing a novel version of my short story “Curio Cay.”

I’m also working on other story projects, both long and short.

11. Please provide some insight, a secret or two about your book / story.

The personality of Ebenezer Moreau, one of the main characters in “Curio Cay,” is modeled after Charles Darwin. Darwin was known for his sensitive nature and deep reluctance to stir controversy. He found his father intimidating because of the man’s physical stature and strict personality, and he dropped out of medical school in part because he couldn’t stand watching the traumatic, anesthetic-free surgeries of the day.

Similarly, and in contrast to the original H. G. Wells character, the fictional Ebenezer Moreau loves rehabilitating animals, is highly sensitive to pain and suffering, and wishes to use his scientific ingenuity for healing, growth, and understanding. His father, Robert Erasmus Moreau (whom I named after Charles Darwin’s father and grandfather respectively) is closest to the classic character in that he uses his own medical and mechanical skills to torment living things, reducing them to a mere assemblage of parts upon which he foists his own desires for perfection and control.

12. If you had 3 wishes, what would they be?

Right now? Well, that’s easy enough…

Get married

Have a family

Get a Ph.D. in a paleontology related field

13. Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

A quiet place I own myself, with a nice view of nature looking out a really big window. Preferably located on Mars.

14. Where do you actually write?

At home, in my car, or at the library.

15. How long does it normally take you to write a novel short story?

Novelettes like Curio Cay usually take me a month or two.

16. What inspires you to write?

My desire to understand better what makes people tick, and to create meaningful connections through fiction inspires me to write.

17. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to write and publish stories since I was little kid. It’s fun, now that I’m all grown up, to see that dream become a reality.

18. What was the hardest part of writing your book short story, and how did you overcome it?

I originally entered the first act of a novel to Xchyler’s contest. When my story made the cut, I was confronted with the difficult task of bending the much longer story I intended into a short story with a complete and satisfying arc. For several agonizing weeks I worked and re-worked different opening scenes, trying to decide on one simple major theme that rang true to the heart of the story I wanted to tell. I also sought a lot of advice from the wonderful, patient editing staff at Xchyler until I finally settled on a main conflict that streamlined the story elements in a way that felt satisfying. This has been the most challenging re-writing experience I have attempted so far.

19. What is your writing drive? The power that keeps you going when your writing gets difficult?

They say the best way to eat an elephant is to take one bite at a time.

One of my college professors presented this analogy as advice for succeeding in his class. Breaking down a daunting task into small, reasonable, manageable chunks day by day is a strategy that has gotten me through many a test, paper, and life challenge. This has proven a valuable mindset for me when I’m faced with challenges in my writing as well.

20. How did you come up with the title?

I was trying to think of something that would work with Xchyler’s contest theme “The Strange Island of…” and decided that “Curio Cay” was a great fit. First, it’s a nice steampunk twist on the title The Island of Dr. Moreau, where I drew my inspiration for this story. Second, it gives hints about the story’s setting and main conflicts because the prehistoric creatures found on this island are referred to as “antiques” or “living curios” (the word “dinosaur” had not yet been coined during the contemporary period from which the time travelers appear).

21. Name one entity that you feel supported your writing, outside of family members?

I have found amazing support in a network of local writers and authors whom I have made connections with over the past several years through writing groups and conventions. Many of these authors have done well in self-publishing, or are hybrid authors (authors who have a healthy mix of self-published and publisher-produced works). They have shown me the ropes, answering my marketing questions, helping me find freelance editors for my manuscripts and artists for my covers. These people have also put me in touch with various convention organizers so I can find ways to participate on panels. They offer me table space to sell my independent works, and lend their ears on occasion when I need someone to vent to. These people have buoyed me up through direct feedback on my writing, and indirect encouragement to follow my dreams and never to quit. All I can say to these amazing authors is thank you for being who you are, and thank you for believing in me!

22. What is your favorite snack while writing? 

Jamba Juice! (Bright Eyed and Blueberry/Vibrant Blueberry is my favorite flavor).

23. What was the most surprising part of writing this book short story?

When I succeeded at condensing the heart of a novel-length story into a short story. This was a huge challenge, and it felt amazing when I actually did it!

24. Anything else you’d like to share with other writers about the process?

I love creating fiction because it challenges me to do things I’ve never done before. Every story is a new experiment that stretches my mind and builds upon things I’ve learned and accomplished in previous endeavors. Writing is hard, but finishing a story and having it accepted for publication feels amazing.

25. Anything else you’d like your readers to know about you or your books?

A little about me. I have a bachelor’s degree in geology and a minor in music from Brigham Young University. My dream in life is to pursue graduate studies in a paleontology related field and conduct research on the history and processes of life on our planet. I tend to write scary stories. I’m not sure why, other than scary stuff really stretches me creatively by taking me out of my comfort zone. I like to write science fiction, fantasy, and horror. “Curio Cay” is my first foray into steampunk fantasy.

26. Top 3 bucket list items.Get a Ph.D.

Take a ride into space.

Visit every continent in the world at least once.

27. Is there any book that really inspired you as a writer (fiction, craft, etc.)?

I love the Maze Runner series by James Dashner. A few years ago when I was searching for resources that would help me learn how to write fiction, a college professor who generously provided some feedback on my writing after I graduated suggested that I go to a bookstore, crack open the books that caught my eye, and read the first few lines or pages to see what appealed to me. (I didn’t read a lot of fiction at the time). I found The Scorch Trials at a local book fair, loved the creepy, intriguing mystery of things that I read in the opening of that book, and bought a copy along with the first book, The Maze Runner. This series clicked with me. It gave me an idea of what I wanted to strive for in my own fiction, and I like to think it opened up my enjoyment of exploring new fiction as well.

28. Do you write on a schedule?

I try to write everyday, but when I’m working on a first draft I find it difficult to get particulars done on particular days. Some days, a story will flow easily and I can seed several new scenes in a sitting. Other days I spend a lot of time brainstorming to figure out why something doesn’t feel like it’s working, or I stare at a blank page in frustration before giving up for the day and going to bed. Developmental edits pose similar challenges as I strategize major changes, scenes to add, things to cut, and keeping track of the story overall as it is reshaped.

29. How do you handle the editing process?

Whenever I get edits or feedback, particularly developmental feedback rather than grammar and typo corrections, I know I’m going to be frustrated the first time I look at it. Once I do look through all the suggested edits I’ve been asked to perform, I close my document and distance myself for a few hours or a day to give myself space to process defensive feelings and assure myself that I still hold creative control over my work. When I return to the manuscript, I often discover that the suggestions are less gutting and more helpful than I first thought, and I usually feel good making most of the changes.

I approach the developmental phase much like taking a test that consists of a whole suite of multiple choice/short answer/essay questions: I tackle the easy stuff that I know how to “answer” first, to get through that list of edits as quickly as possible. Usually the “easier” material consists of cutting unnecessary description or repetitive interactions, rephrasing sentences to make them concise and as awesome as they can be, etc. Then I bounce between the more challenging edits, brainstorming, strategizing, and wildling them down until everything feels solid, fleshed out, leaned down, and well said.

30. How does writing impact other parts of your life?

Writing fiction has helped me grow to understand people around me better in so many ways. Why do people act they way they do? Why do they fear what they fear, or like what they like, or think what they think about various things? How can I articulate those things in a way that feels realistic, in a way that resonates and commiserates and offers something hopeful? What I write also tells people things about my personality or opinions on life that I don’t always get to share, and it’s fun to surprise people with what I can do, to express myself. Writing is hard work, but it’s a lot of fun.

Through two wonderful mentored research experiences, Sarah E. Seeley had the opportunity to work with dead sauropods and ancient odonates while acquiring her undergraduate degree in geology from Brigham Young University. She hopes to study more dead things in the future and contribute to scientific discussions about what makes life on Earth so amazing. In the meantime, she explores the bright side of being human by writing dark fiction.

Sarah’s independently published works include Maladaptive Bind (Novel Edition) and “Blood Oath: An Orc Love Story.” Sarah’s short story “Driveless” appears in Leading Edge Magazine Issue #66. “Peradventure” appears in Xchyler Publishing’s paranormal anthology Legends and Lore.


One thought on “Interview with Steampunk Author Sarah E. Seeley

  1. Pingback: Steel and Bone Blog Tour Continues with Loving the Books | Slithers of Thought

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