“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.
Today, we are thrilled to have Caitlin Kittredge, author of adult Urban Fantasy and YA speculative fiction. The second book in her Steampunk/adventure YA Iron Codex series, The Nightmare Garden was released on Valentine’s Day.
Here to talk about her books, please give a warm welcome to Caitlin, everyone!
It starts with a strange look—I’ll be describing my young adult trilogy, the Iron Codex, and I’ll utter the words “Lovecraftian steampunk fantasy”. And I’ll get the look. The I’m not sure what you’re about look. I get it, I do—these influences aren’t the most common basis for a YA novel. Honestly, when I started writing the books, I wasn’t sure it was going to work.
My inspiration for the first book, The Iron Thorn, was pretty simple — I wanted to write steampunk but I wasn’t finding a great deal of connection to the traditional steampunk tropes. I didn’t connect to gentle stories of manners and dirigibles, nor rip-roaring tales of rogue difference engines. I loved to read them, but every time I tried to write them I’d run of of steam (hah) within the first few chapters.
And then, one morning, the first line of Iron Thorn fell into my head. There are seventeen madhouses in the city of Lovecraft. I’ve visited all of them. Spoken in the voice of my narrator, Aoife Grayson, I wrote and wrote, trying to figure out why there was a city called Lovecraft and what manner of world it inhabited.
I’ve always been influenced by H.P. Lovecraft — I find his personal views and politics both despicable and sadly indicative of the time he lived in, but as for his fiction, in my opinion he has few peers when it comes to horror writing. His sentences aren’t always perfect and he does tend to ramble, but I haven’t met many other writers who can grab you by the throat and not let go, forcing you to watch the unceasing terror and tension folded into their stories play out.
So I had a steampunk story with a decidedly Lovecraftian twist — many of his monsters existed in the world of The Iron Thorn, and the horror of the unknown, the red thread that connects all of Lovecraft’s work, is also strong. I quickly decided that magic was outlawed in the world of the Iron Codex, seen as the ultimate blasphemy against science and reality. What would happen, I wondered, if Aoife Grayson discovered that magic was real, and not only real, but a part of her the same as her blood and skin?
She’d be in a tight spot, and I wrote The Iron Thorn to get her out of it. The sequel, The Nightmare Garden, is a lot more steampunk that Lovecraftian, if I do say. I had a fantastic time creating the gadgets, the locales, and the new characters for Nightmare Garden, and I could feel my childhood love of other pulps, such as the Conan stories, The Shadow (who’s extremely steampunk, if you read many of his adventures) and Victorian penny dreadfuls influencing what I wrote.
But it always came back to that strange combination, that twist on tradition that shouldn’t quite work. Monsters — unimaginably cosmic and horrifyingly real both — and technology, the solidness of iron and the hiss of steam — exisiting side by side. I don’t think the Iron Codex would have come about if I hadn’t been such a dedicated Lovecraft reader, but I don’t think it would have been nearly as much fun without the inspiration of giving the story a steampunk twist, eschewing tradition, gender roles, authority and cultural norms in a way that probably would have made old Howard Philips head for the hills. And I’m happy about that, because I love the world I was inspired to create by his stories, even if he wouldn’t.
Both The Iron Thorn and The Nightmare Garden are combinations of, I’d guess, most of my influences throughout my writing career and my life. There’s a lot in there—my love of pulps, old fairy tales my parents would read to me, my love of bizarre and forgotten folklore, and a strong dash of alternate history, the go-to spice of any steampunk author. And I think it’s because the inspiration for the books was so simple, but the influences so complex, that I love this trilogy as much as I do. I hope you feel the same way when you read it.
Two lucky winners will receive copies of The Iron Thorn and The Nightmare Garden, courtesy of the lovely Ms. Kittredge. The contest is open to ALL and will run until Saturday February 25 at 11:59PM (PST). In order to enter, simply leave a comment here telling us what YOUR favorite Steampunk adventure novel is. Only one entry per person, please! Multiple entries will be disqualified. Good luck!