An interview with Brooke Johnson, author of The Brass Giant

brookeThe Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson will be out next week, and today she answered a few of my questions about the book, and more!
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Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a little bit about The Brass Giant?
Thank you! The Brass Giant is a science-based steampunk novel that follows the story of Petra Wade, a young clockwork engineer who has her sights set on joining the Guild, the engineering elite of the late 19th century. Unfortunately, the Guild refuses entry to women, many of the governing council believing that women aren’t suitable for the engineering field. But when Petra meets Emmerich Goss and he offers her a job working on a top-secret automaton, she sees an opportunity to bypass the Guild’s antiquated position and earn her right to be an engineer by proving herself up to the task. But as she and Emmerich build the clockwork machine, she discovers a conspiracy from within the Guild, and their automaton is right in the middle of it.

Tell us more about Petra and Emmerich. Why do you think readers will root for them?
Petra is fierce and ambitious, determined to achieve her goals no matter the cost, and I think that’s an admirable trait, even if it does get her into trouble. Orphaned and abandoned at a young age, she was lucky enough to be taken in by a kind nurse who gave her a home, but she grew up in poverty, struggling to help provide for her adopted family with what little work she could find. Everything she has, she’s earned, and it’s hard not to respect her for never giving up on her dreams, despite all the obstacles in her way.

Emmerich, on the other hand, grew up wealthy, with everything he could ever need provided for him, but he would much rather spend his days in a workshop than rubbing noses with high society. He and his father have an uneasy relationship, and their individual goals are often in conflict with each other, especially when it comes to his father’s plans for his future within the Guild. Yet, he’s devoted to his work, and to Petra, as the story progresses—even if his devotion to her is ultimately flawed and often problematic.

Together, they are a formidable engineering team, and it’s hard not to want to see them succeed as they build their clockwork automaton and face down the conspiracy within the Guild.

Why steampunk?
I’ve always been drawn toward history, even at a young age. Old things fascinate me, and I love wandering through flea markets on the hunt for antique and vintage treasures. But more than the historical aspect, what really drew me to the Victorian era and steampunk specifically was my fascination with old machines. I think that growing up in an age of computers and ever-advancing technology, something about the ornate designs of Victorian technology, the tangible tick of clockwork and the hiss of steam, held this sort of romantic, old-fashioned quality for me that was missing from the cold, hard silence of modern technology. That was a world I wanted to explore, a world I wanted to know, so that was the world I chose to write in.

What kind of research did you do for the book?
I remember spending over a month researching Victorian technologies before I ever started writing the book. I read dozens of Wikipedia articles and checked out a number of hardcopy encyclopedias from the library to try to get a better understanding of historic mechanical science. But my best source of knowledge has been a four-volume series titled How Things Work that I stole from my dad. This science encyclopedia details in layman’s terms how most modern technology operates, from something as simple as a ball point pen to a jet engine. I have read, highlighted, and bookmarked nearly every entry involving science that was prevalent in the late 19th century, including steam boilers, clocks, welding, linkages, electromagnets, and even some items that were invented in the early 20th century. I wanted to make sure that I understood how the machines in my book worked, down to the mathematical formulae involved, so that when I wrote about them, I wrote them realistically.

Another big point of research was for a bit of clockwork engineering that was central to the plot of the book. In the story, Petra gets the idea to create a clockwork power source for the titular automaton by joining two mainsprings together to power the machine in tandem. Now, knowing only what I had read in my science encyclopedias, I wasn’t sure whether or not this was something that could actually work. So I took to the internet and researched double-mainsprings. Interestingly enough, I found a modern watchmaker who had created a watch with a double-mainspring, so I emailed him to find out more about how the watch worked and if my idea was mechanically plausible. The mainsprings in his design powered the watch in sync instead of alternating between the two like my design, but his explanations for his design were invaluable in my understand of watch mechanics. In addition to his help, his interest in my double-mainspring concept gave me the courage to write my idea with confidence and not shy away from the technical aspects of my story.

Which secondary characters did you particularly enjoy writing?
One of my favorite minor characters in the book is Norris Holland. He gets very little page time in the novel, but I just love his sly, uncouth manner. He’s inappropriate and bawdy and infuses every conversation with sexual innuendo, but underneath it all, he’s a kind-hearted, loyal friend—a good ally for Petra to have.
And then there’s Tolly Monfore, the character I love to hate. He’s possessive, abusive, caustic, and horribly tragic, and he causes a lot of problems for Petra throughout the course of the novel, all because of his misguided affections toward her.

Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
I’ve always told stories—I was a chronic liar as a kid, convincing my third grade class that I had a roller coaster in my front yard and my dad was a rocket scientist—and I would write up adventures for myself and my friends sometimes, but it wasn’t until I was about thirteen years old that I decided to dedicate myself to writing. I wrote a lot of short stories during my high school years and started my first novel—25,000 words of pure derivative crap by the time I finally gave up on it—and took every writing course I could, trying to get better.

Then I went on to college, aiming for a degree in creative writing, wrote more short stories, started another novel. I graduated, got married, and finished that novel, and it was the first time I ever wrote THE END on something longer than 5,000 words. The book was 50,000 words of wanderlust, magic, and plot holes, but I was proud of it. I even tried querying that one, but ultimately, it just wasn’t ready for publication yet.

After that, I moved on to a new novel, a bright sparkly new idea that had nested itself in my head and wouldn’t go away, and that idea was what would eventually become The Brass Giant.

What are a few of your favorite authors?
Rae Carson, Robin LaFevers, Merrie Haskell, Rick Riordan—I will read anything these authors write because they are fabulous—and the late Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, who both wrote so many novels, I’ll be lucky if I read them all before I die.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Oh, that’s a really tough one. The first book that comes to mind is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I can’t think of another book that sucked me into another world so completely, and it is the long-standing champion for my favorite book ever. A close second would be Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the book that first inspired me to write a novel. I would love to experience the magic of Hogwarts for the first time again. But to be honest, I’m one of those people who loves rereading old novels years later, and the best books never fail to wow me over and over again.

What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m busy working on the sequel to The Brass Giant, which should come out sometime later this year, and then I’ll start on the third and final novel in the series.

Apart from my steampunk novels, I’m working on a middle-grade fantasy titled Dark Lord in Training that I’ve slowly been posting to Wattpad since last August, and I have two other historical fantasy novels in different stages of production: The Wizard’s Heart, a Persian-esque traditional fantasy I hope to have ready for querying or self-publishing sometime next year, and an untitled grimdark political fantasy with an assassin lead character that I’m currently drafting.

Keep up with Brooke: Website | Twitter

About The Brass Giant:
Sometimes, even the most unlikely person can change the world
 
Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.
 
When Emmerich Goss–handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild–needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.
 
Working together in secret, they build the clockwork giant, but as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra discovers a sinister conspiracy from within the Guild council … and their automaton is just the beginning.

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