H. Leighton Dickson - Engineering Fantastical Worlds
Award-winning Indie author Heather Dickson has always been steampunk before she even knew it was ‘a thing!’ A great fan of the original fathers of Victorian steampunk, HG Wells and Jules Verne, and also a scientist by training, Dickson loves to think of imaginative ways machines can work differently. As our Author of the Day, Dickson talks about her latest novel, Cold Stone & Ivy, and reveals how she has managed to publish 8 books while still working a day job.
Please give us a short introduction to what Cold Stone & Ivy is about.
Cold Stone & Ivy is a genre-blending gothic thriller that blurs the lines between historical and fictional characters in equal measure. It’s a big book, but literally ‘took on a life of its own’, and was a heck of a lot of fun to write!
Why did you pick a 1888 sanitarium as the backdrop for your story?
1888 was the year of the Ripper murders, so that was non-negotiable, but the sanitarium grew out of the plot. Once established, it quickly became the focus for macabre and hilarious things to happen. I love the art of Edward Gorey, so Lonsdale became a fictional ‘Gorey painting!’ The imagination, whimsy, and slight creep factor seemed a perfect fit.
Tell us more about the cover design. Why did you pick this style?
Actually, I am responsible for all of my covers, as I was primarily an artist before picking up the trade of writer. In fact, I penciled for DC Comics when I was in university, so it was a natural that I’d produce my own covers as well. I wanted the cover to focus on Ivy – her intensity, her sense of wonder, etc, but also to have a bit of steampunk tension in the setting. Naturally, the locket is front and center, mysterious and sweet…
What fascinates you about Jack the Ripper?
It was really more what fascinates me about the time period. The Ripper murders occurred in 1888 during a remarkable, conflicted period of history. Great wealth and great poverty, huge scientific discoveries steeped in religious revival, new freedoms and old restrictions. Plus, it was the dawn of forensics and profiling – applying the scientific method and psychological principles to solve crime was altogether new and untried.
What drew you to the steampunk genre?
I’ve always been steampunk before I even knew it was ‘a thing!’ I’m a fan of HG Wells and Jules Verne, who might be considered the original fathers of Victorian steampunk. I’m also a scientist by training, and I love to think of imaginative ways things can work (automatons, steam cars, airships, etc). Steampunk just lets that imagination run wild with technology and world building, and I really enjoy the darker aesthetic.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a zoologist, so I suppose you could add ‘animal whisperer’ to my list of traits! I love to travel and enjoy researching actual places for my novels. I also created a comic con that has grown by leaps and bounds, purely as a celebration for geeks in my city. And yes, book covers. I adore doing book covers for myself and others.
The book contains a couple of twists - did you plan it all out before you started writing?
This novel was inspired by an award-winning piece of fanfiction I’d written years back, so the plot was pretty much laid out in that short story. That said, the world was entirely different (modern day California vs Steampunk Victorian England), so once I’d decided to change the setting, everything sort of fell into place. That said, the novel changed a lot from the story while I was writing. Sometimes the twists came out of nowhere but were so good that I had to follow them to find out where they led!
Tell us more about Ivy - why did you pick her to be your main character? What makes her tick?
I’ve always liked the plucky heroines in stories (Evie from The Mummy is a good example). I’m a short, smart, stubborn, naive woman, who was a short, smart, stubborn, naive girl growing up. I wanted to focus on Ivy’s hard and bloody journey from house-bound and ‘indulged’ to free and strong. She relies on her brains and her persistence, and does not sacrifice her principles or idealism along the way.
Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
Oh, that’s a hard one to narrow down! Um, top of the list would be Guy Gavriel Kay, celebrated Canadian speculative fiction author. His novel, Lions of al-Rassan, changed my life. I love the works of Doyle, Christie, Verne and Tolkien. I also like the writing styles of Stephen King, John Grisham and Michael Crichton. My university days were filled with McCaffery, Niven and Zelazny. I love writers who write with imagination, intelligence and heart.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What does a typical writing day look like to you?
I still work full time at my ‘day job’ so I usually write late at night, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night and slipping off to another room to write a scene or two. With now eight novels under my belt, I’m working on ‘the discipline of writing’, learning to outline, etc, but still, I think I follow the muse and steal the time when she calls…
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
Hmm, good question. I’d say, ‘do you write for yourself or for your readers?’ That’s a question I haven’t answered to my satisfaction yet. There are so many new stories I want to write, but I have readers who are invested in my previous works and who want more. If only I had the time to do both! I frequently feel torn.
How do you force yourself to finish what you're doing before starting the next project when the new idea is nagging at you?
Yes, 100%. I have a list of new projects on my desktop, but I refuse to let them stop me from finishing any work I’m actively committed to. The thing that makes you a writer is writing. The thing that makes you an author is writing ‘The End!’
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished and released the 5th novel in my Upper Kingdom series, so I’m currently choosing between 2 projects – a second dragon novel or a standalone magic fantasy. I still have 2 novels in the Upper Kingdom series to finish, plus the conclusion to Cold Stone and Ivy as well. As I said, so many books, so little time!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I’m active on Facebook so if readers want to chat, they can find me at facebook.com/HLeightonDickson. I’m on twitter and dipping a toe in instagram, but they don’t come as naturally to me. I also have a website – www.hleightondickson.com where readers can find more of my books. Currently, most of my books are Amazon only, but I’m experimenting with going wide (as in Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc). We’ll see where that goes!