MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR NIED DARNELL/BETH HENDERSON!
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
Writing Steampunk and Dieselpunk currently as Nied Darnell, though I go by other names in other genres. Rather than get too confusing, we’ll stick with Nied today. 😊
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
As the Steampunk trilogy is still searching for a home (and waiting to be finished), in preparation I’m spinning shorter (nearly novella length, actually) prequel stories about the Covert Cogs in serialization posts on my blog at www.WritingSteampunk.com. The Cogs are agents for the Allegory Society. This is Weird West, the trilogy heading out into Dakota Territory in 1882, but the prequel stories follow various agents, some who show up in the trilogy and some who don’t, on cases in the 1870s, any many of those are set in Chicago. The Allegory Society is a rather secret group, not a government run one, but one of the guys in my fantasy writing group called them “sorta like Men in Black only without beings from other planets”. Personally, I was thinking more of a cross between Wild, Wild West and the historical Pinkertons. There are special gadgets, bad guys (and gals) with plans to rule the world…or their part of it, and lots of adventure. Even a touch of romance!
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
Under my romance pseudonym I write both romantic comedy and historical romance with adventure and/or mystery. Around 2009 no one wanted to look at historical romance set in the Old West, which is what I do. Got a degree in history and grew up watching westerns with my dad. When I moved to Las Vegas with my first husband, we went out to Death Valley and when we hit the Borax Museum, I went full throttle Old West (I’d been a Plantagenet girl, a member of the Richard III Society prior to that). Anyway, the only Old West stories romance publishers were interested in where Inspirational or Prairie style and those just weren’t my cup of tea. Then I read an article in Romantic Times about Steampunk. Went looking for what was available (and it wasn’t nearly the wealth we have today in the genre) and began deconstructing what went into a Steampunk tale. Ended up doing online workshops in the RWA universe and that spawned Geared Up Writing Steampunk, a non-fiction book about what I’d culled from all those deconstructions. Running all the workshops (there ended up being 8 varieties with different focuses), but being the 24/7 caregiver to my parents kept me from finishing my own Steampunk tale, so my Covert Cogs world has been years in the building. What I like most about Steampunk is being able to twist a few details in history, which I most certainly did with the Cog tales.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Well, my historical background with my degree was American History with a minor in British, is well suited to Steampunk on either side of the pond and I’d begun work on a masters that focused on the gold and silver rushes in the mid to late 19th century. My degree is from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, so I was in the right territory and had lived in Tucson, Arizona, for nearly 9 years before that and visited many ghost towns and the local historical sites and towns, one being Tombstone. What I needed was information about Chicago as that is where the Allegory Society headquarters is. Oddly enough, Chicago was considered a “western” city (as was Cincinnati) still in 1900, rather than a Midwestern one. It was deciding what historical elements to “corrupt” for my world that required a bit more knowledge about what was going on in the Gilded Era.
Can you tell me about your Series?
The Trilogy isn’t available yet, but the first of the serialized prequel tales is on the www.WritingSteampunk.com website. It’s called “The Case of the Shootist’s Finger”. I post a new episode once a month, at the end of the month. “Shootist” wraps up the end of August but then “The Case of the Repurposed Man” begins in September. I probably rattled on about what the series is about back when asked about the book (or in this case the novella prequels), so I won’t bore everyone with a repeat. 😊
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
At this point I’d have to say it is the first book of the trilogy, Regals, simply because it’s where most of the world building and character creation occurred. Regals is sitting on various editors’ desks, my agent tells me, so we just have to be patient.
Where did you get the inspiration/idea for your series?
Being a bit weird helps, but I think I’ll go back to the basics here: the American West was what I already know a lot about during this period, I loved all the Steampunk inventions, loved that 90% of the story kept what was happening, as well as the look, of the Age of Steam, particularly the costuming. One of the first Steampunk books I read was The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, and while it takes place in Britain, it illustrated various things that could be done in this genre. Will also admit to enjoying the Dr. Who episodes where the 21st century Doctors travel back in time. I don’t have a time machine, but in the trilogy there is a ghost from the 21st century catapulted back to the Gilded Era and has been living in my inventor hero’s head while looking for a new body. Yeah, weird probably suits me well. 😊
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Think this was asked already in a way because the research was the same for the book as it was for the trilogy and prequels as a whole.
Was it always meant to become a series?
Actually, it started out as a Steampunk romance novella but soon turned into a standalone book and then exploded into a trilogy and the prequels. The prequels aren’t backstory (well, a little for characters who then show up in the trilogy) but follow Cogs (agents/operatives) who aren’t in the trilogy more often. So it keeps growing. I’m not sure whether the current plan for books and novellas is set in concrete or will morph a bit more in the future. Will have to wait and see. In any event, while there is a romance element, it’s been bumped from a major element as adventure took over.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I’ve never been someone who writes every day, not even during NANO. I’ll have marathon days where 4,000+ words spill out and then the imagination goes into shutdown for a couple days to recharge the batteries. It is not uncommon to have a day where only 200 some words get written, or none are spun. Probably the only time I have a writing goal in word count is during a NANO though, I’ve written 50,000+ words more than once during the November marathon. However, I’ve found that I don’t do anything of a historical nature well for NANO because when I realize I need some information I didn’t realize I’d need ahead of time, I’m the sort who has to go searching for it immediately. I love dropping in the names and locations of businesses or events that really exited or of events that really happened, both in the historical romances and the Steampunk and Dieselpunk (working on some short stories set in the 1920s and that requires a lot of fun Twenties slang). On something in a contemporary setting (like the romantic comedies or urban fantasy I write) the research is much different, and I can pound out those stories without the stops for info collection. Regarding a “typical working day” for me as a writer, well, the imagination light bulb only lights up well after the sun goes down. Am frequently up all night when inspiration strikes and sleeping during the day. I can edit during daylight hours, but not create.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
Working on the 2nd book in the trilogy currently, Irregulars. Available much sooner will be “The Case of the Repurposed Man”, which incidentally is what an Irregular is…wounded soldiers restored with mechanical parts and sectioned into a new arm of the Army out on the frontier. Every man in the Irregular units is a repurposed fellow.
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
Names need to suit the character and be appropriate to the era…at least to my mind. In “Shootist”, Mick Tindale is the hero and Ariel Knapp is his partner and equal in the field. They bring in Langston Avery, Lang, who is both the guy who invents all their gadgets but is the hero in Regals. There is also a She Cog named Zephyr McCabe who will be showing up. Next to Mick Tindale, Zephyr is the top Cog at the Allegory Society. In the trilogy the villains are Hespersia Ramage and her father Gable Ramage. Yeah, character names need to be special to define the personality of the character.
Where do your ideas come from?
That’s what my mother always wanted to know. Honestly, I’ve no idea. They just spring to life and pester me to put them in print.
Is there a genre that you’ve been wanting to experiment with?
Actually, after 29 romances, Steampunk, Dieselpunk and urban fantasy are what I’m experimenting with. 😊
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Sometimes, coming up with what happens next. But I’ve been a professional novelist for 28 years now, and a non-published one for over a decade before that. I’ve got some ways to kick my muse into action. He’s damn lazy sometimes. And, yes, my muse is male. If I don’t fall in love with the hero in my stories, the stories don’t get written. I like hanging out with my heroes – a lot!
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I haven’t attempted a book trailer, but I think that’s because I picture one that looks more like a movie trailer and I lack the expertise to do one myself and the moolah to hire folks to do one as I picture it. Rock and hard place scenario. Have to admit, I don’t troll YouTube looking for books to read. I head to Amazon and feed in the genre. Mostly I follow favorite authors, so I hope something about my tales turns someone into a fan who follows me even without a trailer. Most of the writers I do follow don’t do trailers though. They have websites. So, do I.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment
Having slipped back into the publishing world more than once after life kicked me out of it. A divorce put me in a slump but then I got my foot in the door at Silhouette/Harlequin and did better than I had prior to that. The years of being a caregiver really put the kibosh on things but very recently a publisher asked for my entire Raven Tales urban fantasy series for publication. I don’t know many details yet so I’ll probably be back seeing if you’d like to do an interview with my J.B. Dane persona for these. 😊 Hopefully, entering the fantasy field will top the accomplishments of the Harlequin years.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
Having your own world to retreat to. I have two ex-husbands and a lot of ex-boyfriends and the reason why, I’ve decided is, men in the real world can’t hold a candle to my heroes. I’d run away with nearly all of them.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully at a point where I’m content with what I’ve produced in my writing career and am ready to rest on my laurels by retiring. I don’t want to be one of those writers who dies before finishing a story in progress. Besides, I’ll gain so much more READING time by retiring from the writing world.
Have you always liked to write?
I’ve always liked to read. Didn’t decide to write my own stories until I was in the 7th grade. Totally amazed friends who couldn’t get over the fact that I was writing anything when it wasn’t a required essay. Ran into an old elementary school friend who had become a teacher and she told me she talked about me writing those early stories to her 6th grade students. At a high school reunion someone came up to me and said, “I remember those stories you were writing back in school. I’m so happy that you’re published now!” And as an aside, my first book was published when I was 43, so I worked on my craft for a really long time and collected a heck of a lot of rejection letters. What kept me going was that those rejection letters both praised my writing style and suggested pointers on how to make the stories fit what the editors were looking for. I finally got the hang of that.
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Don’t get discouraged. Pay attention to feedback, even if you have a good cry over it first. Think about what was said, what was offered, reasons why something did or didn’t work, and then redo the story. My first historical was totally rewritten from scratch three times over a ten-year period, but it finally landed in a spot where a publisher went to contract on it. Rewrote the first book that went to contract, a romantic comedy/suspense tale, numerous times before it was picked up, too. This business is one that will try your patience. Lots of waiting and wondering when you sent a manuscript off to an editor or agent, lots of rewrites. If you want it, you should be getting better at it with all those revisions and rewrites though. Then it’s just landing on the right desk at the right time. My first historical, Bird of Paradise, was rejected in 1988 when I sent it in over the transom but was purchased by that same publisher at the end of 1989 when my agent submitted it. The same editor read it and said she remembered reading it but not why she’d passed on it the year before. I wasn’t about to tell her. I hadn’t changed a single word during that time, either. Right place, right time.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I’d probably have stuck with history and landed a PhD in it. I backed out on going to college straight out of high school (was tired of school and ready to grow up…had no idea that I’d never actually grow up since I frolicked in my fiction worlds), but headed back for my BA when I was 38. I graduated from college on Mother’s Day 1990 and Nikrova’s Passion was released the next day. But since I plunged into working on a masters that autumn, yeah, I’d have stuck with history if the first book hadn’t sold my senior year. I’d actually told myself that after ten years of submissions with no buys that I’d send out the three completed manuscripts I had the summer of 1989 to editors and agents and if no one bit, I’d shelve the whole idea of being a novelist. Fortunately, the bait was right that summer. Or I hit the correct pond.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
Depends on whether there is a place to respond to. But, yes, I do respond when someone lets me know via a message on social media that they’d posted one. Back before the Internet, there really was no way to respond to many of the reviewers. It wouldn’t matter if it was good or bad, I’d thank them for taking the trouble to write a review. Mentally, depending on what was said in a bad review, I might call the reviewer an idiot, but never say so verbally or in print. Some things you keep to yourself.
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
The waiting. Hands down. It’s being in limbo, not knowing how your children (the manuscripts/characters) are doing as they look for a home on a publisher’s list. I’ve tried Indie publishing and still like Traditional best, so planning to be a Hybrid author from here on in. I’ve got lots of backlist titles, if nothing else.
What are you working on now?
The second book of the Cogs trilogy and the next novella for serialization, as well as the urban fantasy serializations for the Raven Tales – the serializations are free…at least for now. 😊
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
I think I’ll just direct you to the serialization of “The Case of the Shootist’s Finger” which can be read at www.WritingSteampunk.com in the blog section.
Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
Even when I was writing romance, I did so in different niches: romantic comedy, historical romantic adventure/mystery, romantic comedy/suspense, and even YA romantic comedy on a work-for-hire contract with Aladdin Paperbacks where I wrote seven books in the classic Saved By the Bell series – the books based on the TV series, which weren’t novelizations of any of the TV episodes but original stories with Zack and the gang. Anyway, I suppose I get bored writing the same thing and thus look for other ways to write similar stories.
Where did your love of books come from?
My mother loved to read and said that, unlike my younger brothers, I was happiest with something I could draw with and pestered her to teach me to write (which meant cursive rather than print) when I started school. Trips to the library were high on my list.
Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
Currently my favorite authors all seem to write urban fantasy: Benedict Jacka, Jim Butcher, Jonathan Howard, Lisa Shearin, and Kate Griffith are just a few. However, I love Bernard Cornwall’s Saxon series and C.S. Harris’s Regency mystery series staring Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. Love Brent Weeks’ fantasy tales, too. Tend to have new releases pre-ordered the moment they surface on Amazon for these authors.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
Paul Montgomery, the hero in Superstar (which is currently unavailable as it gets a cover redo). The story covers 30 years and it took me nearly 30 years to write it because I kept putting it aside. Yet, throughout those 30 years, every time someone would say “who is your favorite character” I’d say “well, his story is still in progress, but his name is Paul Montgomery”. Pretty sure that if my mind starts slipping in old age, I’ll be talking about Paul as if he was a real person. Maybe even one of my old flames. Would definitely run away with him. The reason I finally sat down and finished the book – the longest one I ever wrote, at 152,000 words (it’s slimmed down in the new version to 148,000) — was that Paul kept calling me back. Years would go by before I listened to him though, which is why the story took so long to tell. It’s opens in 1964 and closes in 1994 (I started writing it in 1986 and finished it in 2014), so in a way, it’s partly a historical though it covers events in my lifetime. Does that mean I’m historical now, too? I confess that, despite all the other things I could be doing, I reread Superstar three or four times a year because I miss Paul. Yes, slightly insane author.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. When I have a marathon session where I turn out thousands of words at one sitting, it’s because the story won’t let me alone. I’m on a roller coaster with it. But those sessions leave me lethargic for days afterwards. Basically, the crash after the marathon is necessary to recharge the creative batteries.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Netflix marathons. They keep me away from the keyboard even though I tell myself to not click on “yes, I’m still watching” after four episodes so that I get a fifth and sixth… Addictive stuff.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Both. Even I don’t want to write the same story over and over again (or read authors who don’t give me something new). As a reader I have expectations that each successive story a writer spins will be better than last and hope that as a writer I fulfill that expectation for my own readers.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Romance writers Elizabeth Bevarly and Mary Jo Putney are both lovely ladies that I met early in their careers. Currently Letty James is my partner in crime for giving feedback and keeping my nose to the grindstone. We wrote a book together, actually: Loving Trixie Fine. Otherwise it’s the local writers in my fantasy writing group and the Derby Rotten Scoundrels chapter of Sisters in Crime here in Louisville who supply monthly feedback and simply lots of talk about writing. Liz Bevarly and I found we both love superhero movies, so occasionally we hit the theatre for a matinee…with lunch included for yet more talk about writing.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
The Book of Frogs. I’ve kissed a lot ‘em.
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
Jeez! Honestly, I haven’t a clue!
Where can your fans find you and follow??
Lots of places.
Beth Henderson (romances) and J.B. Dane (urban fantasy) share the www.RomanceAndMystery2.com website.
Nied Darnell has www.WritingSteampunk.com.
As Beth Daniels (my real name) I write non-fiction books about writing fiction and those are found at www.Muse2Ms.com.
I can also be found on Twitter: @BethDaniels1, @Beth__Henderson, @JBDaneWriter, and @NiedDarnell.
On Facebook it’s Beth Henderson with author pages for JB Dane and Nied Darnell.
Pinterest boards: Beth Henderson for Rory’s Closet, Steampunk Inspirations, the Well Inked Quill, and Writing Genre Fiction.
I also love to get e-mails: email@example.com, JBDaneWriter@gmail.com, NiedDarnell@gmail.com. (Just include something in the subject line to let me know you’re writing about one of the stories so it doesn’t look like spam, please.) Exhausted with the variety?
Thank you for taking your time to do this interview!
Thank you for inviting me! Hope you’ll ask me back again under one of my other names!