Please welcome Dennis O’Flaherty, author of King of the Cracksmen, to the blog. He kindly stopped by to talk about the new book, and courtesy of Night Shade Books, we also have a copy to give away to one lucky US winner (fill out the widget at the bottom of the post and I’ll pick a winner on or around 3/11.
What inspired you to write King of the Cracksmen?
I had been bashing my head on a wall for some months with what seemed like the perfect theme for a historical mystery novel, about a safecracker (“cracksman,” back in the day) in 1870’s New York. The thing just would not light up, if I’d had a novel-pistol I would have shot it to put it out of its misery. Then one day at my local library I saw a book called Infernal Devices on the express shelf, by a guy named K. W. Jeter, and it looked intriguing so I took it home. It was a trip and a half. Jeter is a brilliant fantasy writer, with a wacky sense of humor right on my wavelength, and he was having fun with history! Fun, do you hear? It was like that thing where the heavens open up and rays of light shine into your head. This was what I could do with my poor old beat-up Cracksman. So I did …
Well, Jeter opened the door to Steampunk for me and I was thrilled by the things that had been and were being written in this field. I had spent many years in heavy academic history, and the creative opportunities that were revealed by alternative history were amazing. And the steampunk take on alternative history encouraged using the tools of literary fantasy and science fiction as well, the one cardinal rule was simply to keep your setting within the boundaries of the Victorian Period. Any of you readers who haven’t tried this genre yet owe it to yourselves to take a sampling, I bet you’ll be delighted by the amount of sheer imagination and lively writing you encounter.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
I’ve spent so many years doing historical research in books and archives that I was able to focus my research questions very narrowly: e.g., what was a real cracksman of the period like, how did the private and municipal police of the period work, etc. This saved a lot of waste motion and spared me from burying my brain in details that would never have gotten used
You’ve got quite a bit of TV and film writing credits under your belt, but have you always wanted to write a novel? Will you tell us a bit about that progression?
The one absolutely basic fact of entertainment-biz writing is that it’s a “biz.” You have clients, you have assignments and deadlines, you have endless (paying) collaborators and potchkeyers. A repeated experience for me was the sensation that I was being rented as a writing machine by someone who couldn’t write but needed x number of words for x purpose. Although it is a living, sometimes a good one, it does get very old if you’re a writer, and you dream of being free to write a novel – even the Crappy American Novel, let alone the Great one, without potchkeyers..So … I finally just had to try it!
What’s one of the first things you remember writing?
Interesting question. I have scribbled something or other endlessly as long as I can remember. The first serious attempt at “writing” in my memory is the not-very-good but very impassioned poetry I wrote in high school. I had just read e. e. cummings’ Collected Poems and I wrote him a fan letter. I almost fell down when he wrote back inviting me to tea!!! I lived on Long Island, so he was only an LIRR ride and a subway ride away, and believe me, I went. He was the first writer I ever met, and what a writer, I’ve never forgotten him. And incredibly kind and patient to an awful but sincere young poet. Thank you again, Mr. Cummings!
What is your writing process like?
I try to sit down as early in the day as I can manage and sit there one way or another for something like three hours at least, as much more as I can go if it’s rolling, not less if it’s not. Did you ever read about the “Person from Porlock” who came calling on Samuel Taylor Coleridge when he was trying to write Kubla Khan, so that it was never actually completed? Well, your own head can supply as many of these Persons from Porlock as the urge to embrace distractions can supply, unfortunately. You just gotta be really stubborn.
What are a few of your favorite authors?
Wow. That’s like the joke about the old lady who loved pancakes so much she had a closetful of them. How about a father-son team? John le Carré, who has probably written some of the best English novels since Dickens, and his son Nick Harkaway (both these guys are really named Cornwell) who is a brilliant new fantasy talent (if you haven’t read Angelmaker, run don’t walk and get a copy). Wait! Wait! Then there’s Mark Twain, and Georges Simenon, and Neal Stephenson and … and … (sorry, guys, just had a total snowcrash trying to do this one).
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
War and Peace. I’ve experienced it for the first time twice, once in English and once in Russian, and it was fabulous in both languages and each one felt different from the other.
What’s next for you?
A sequel to King of the Cracksmen called The Calorium Wars: A Steampunk Romance. Stay tuned!
About King of the Cracksmen:
The year is 1877. Automatons and steam-powered dirigible gunships have transformed the nation in the aftermath of the Civil War. Everything on the other side of the Mississippi has been claimed for Russia. Lincoln is still president, having never been assassinated, but the former secretary of war Edwin Stanton is now the head of the Department of Public Safety, ruling with an iron fist as head of the country’s military.
Liam McCool is a bad man, one of the best Irish cracksmen there is when it comes to robbery, cracking safes, and other sundry actives—until he was caught red-handed by Stanton. Those in the South who don’t fit into Stanton’s plans for the Reconstruction, and Stanton realizes Liam McCool is more useful doing his dirty work than sitting in a jail cell. But when his sweetheart, Maggie, turns up murdered, Liam McCool realizes he’ll do anything, even if it means getting way over his head with bloodthirsty Russians, to solve the crime.
The King of the Cracksmen is an explosive, action-packed look at a Victorian empire that never was, part To Catch a Thief, part Little Big Man. It’s steampunk like you’ve never seen it before, a murder mystery in a foreign world where no one is who they seem to be and danger lurks around every corner.