Several years ago, a bunch of my writer friends and I were captivated by the work in progress being shared by one of our group. We raced to be the first to read the chapters as he posted them for critiques and had a great time reading the story. I’m thrilled that W. E. Larson is now releasing the book, Cog: and the Steel Tower. I had a chance this weekend to ask him a few questions about it.
Thanks for joining us here at Steampunk Cavaliers! Without simply repeating the book’s blurb, tell us about Cog: and the Steel Tower. What will stand out for steampunk fans?
But repeating the blurb is so much easier!
Well here goes… It’s a story about a mechanically-gifted young girl nicknamed ‘Cog’ who is forced to strike out on her own in order to live the life she wants to live. She becomes a stowaway on an airship, assuming a false identity and stumbles across a plot that threatens the whole country. Once the airship arrives at the Steel Tower, the seat of power for the nation, she has to maintain her secret while at the same time unraveling the mystery of the plot. There’s a lot she learns along the way involving friendship, trust, and the dangers of trying to take on everything yourself.
Steampunk fans will find a rich world of alternative technologies and 19th century ideas of psychic abilities and mysticism. Since Cog is an aspiring engineer, the steampunk elements are very much an integral part of the story. The Steel Tower itself is a playground for mad science where all sorts of inventing and experimentation takes place.
Cog is such a great character, clever and caring and unafraid to challenge the way things are. Tell us more about her. What led you to write about her? Did she surprise you as you wrote the story?
I started off the book wanting to make something my daughter might enjoy reading which led me to a female protagonist. Since I wanted to create a steampunk-style world, it felt natural to make this girl mechanically gifted with a bit of mad scientist thrown in. With the Victorian influences of steampunk and the modern challenges girls face in STEM fields, there was a natural story about having her challenge gender roles so it sort of all flowed together to create this young girl who is an almost unstoppable force of determination and MacGyver-like ingenuity.
What surprised me was how confident she ended up being. I think there is a strong temptation with a young girl as a protagonist to have her gain her confidence and discover her strength as the story progresses, but that just isn’t who Cog is. I had to go in a different direction with her development.
What about Cog’s world? It has an interesting mix of the fantastical with the industrial changes of a steampunk world. What do you think will draw readers into her world?
Part of the fun of steampunk is that ‘what-if’ quality of imagining a world in which technology developed in a different way. Cog’s world has that element and throws in alchemy, psychic ability, and abandoned scientific theories to add a little fantasy. It’s a book for kids, after all, and I think a little of the fantastical helps add to the fun. However, because the fantastical is wrapped up in things that people really believed in and isn’t just ‘magic’, I think it maintains the steampunk feel. I’m hoping the reader will find that an engaging combination.
Are there other prominent steampunk works in middle-grade novels right now? I always felt books like His Dark Materials and The Series of Unfortunate Events have a steampunk feel without it being an overt part of how they’re marketed. Any other works stand out? And what aspects of steampunk do you think middle-grade readers will be drawn to?
I did feel that with His Dark Materials and I suspect that Lyra Belacqua had an influence on my development of Cog. The steampunk series that comes to mind for me right now is the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, though I haven’t read it. I think in steampunk young readers can find the wonder of fantasy in a setting that’s very different and fresh from traditional fantasy worlds. Maybe the characters can be easier to relate to as well since it’s still a technological and urban world even if it is very different from our own.
What will be next for you? Will Cog have more books to test her mechanical abilities? Will you be branching out into other works, other subgenres?
There is a lot more to explore with Cog, her friends, and her world so I have plans for more books. I’ve already started a sequel called ‘Cog and the Copper Dragon’. I have a more traditional fantasy book in the same age-range which I’ve finished writing and has been through some rounds of revisions, but isn’t quite ready yet. There’s also a science fiction YA book I have outlined that I’d like to write for an older audience that will dive into some deeper issues, but that’s on the backburner for now.
Great, I’m looking forward to hearing more about the sequel when that comes around, too. Thanks so much for your time. For more about W. E. Larson, visit his website: http://www.welarson.com/. And to order your own copy, in print or digital format, check it out on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01F6MD1AC.