It’s been a month of firsts, here. A love-fest giveaway, and now our first guest blogger! We’re thrilled to have author Emilie P. Bush in the 2.0 Factory. She has written two Steampunk novels and a brand new children’s book, HER MAJESTY’S EXPLORER: A STEAMPUNK BEDTIME STORY, which she’s here to talk about, and you can see the book trailer over at Coal City Press’s blog. In a genre flooded with all manner of tales for grown-ups and young adults, graphic novel readers and even poetry lovers, this gentle tale is one of the first of its kind – a picture book for the small children. The book is about a young automaton that marches and explores for country, cause and queen [my synapses have always fired for a bot in uniform]. His travels make him tired and very dirty. Upon returning to his home base, he prepares himself for the adventure of going to bed.
Also in this book is a bonus story, “Three Cheers for Steamduck,” the tale of St.John Murphy Alexander’s plucky bathtub duckie who ventures out into the wider world. You can see reviews of the book here and here:
But S. J. asked Emilie to call on us today to tell us another story, the story behind Her Majesty’s Explorer, in which collaboration with illustrator William Kevin Petty was born and raised through the wonders of community and its modern-convenient accessibility via social networking. Thanks to Emilie for being here.
Thanks to S.J. for having me as a guest blogger. A little back-story for your readers is that she and I met some time ago on the Steampunk convention circuit, and we sat side-by-side at a group book signing. We’ve been in several “same place at the same time” situations since then, but there’s rarely time to talk. So it’s really wonderful to be able to take my time and tell my tale here on her blog.
As most of us can guess, there’s more to making books than writing and printing. Especially with picture books, which usually require collaboration between writer and illustrator, and doubly so in the 21st century, where one has the benefit of technology, making things faster, more worldly and, sadly sometimes, even more impersonal.
And to tell the truth, if you’d asked me a year ago about me having a children’s book, I would have laughed. But then came Facebook. This project started back in May of 2012 when I got a bit of fan art inspired by my first Steampunk novel – CHENDA AND THE AIRSHIP BROFMAN. What came was the drawing of an airship with a note asking me if I thought it looked like the Brofman as I pictured it in my mind. It was close, so I replied with what was right with the image, and what was missing. The next day – a new drawing arrived – all of this through Facebook. The speed at which a second drawing came impressed me, and I gave more feedback. One more day went by and a third drawing turned up, and it was bang on.
This was my introduction to William Kevin Petty. MORE remarkable than the drawings themselves was that he sent them from Kuwait – where he was deployed.
Shortly after he sent the Brofman sketches, I started the summer book tour (I went out to publicize book two of the Brofman series: The Gospel According to Verdu). As I am a soldier’s daughter myself and was flattered by Kevin’s lovely drawings, I showed them off to a few comic designers when I was doing signings in Portland. They looked at his work and said, “Not only is he good, he’s VERY good. If he wants to do a project – you should probably do one.” And no one needed to tell me twice. I looked through his Allied Aethernautics images and found one that caught my imagination, the picture of a soldier in the REGEMENTAL MECHANICA. I wrote the story of Her Majesty’s Explorer based on this guy, and emailed it to Kevin.
He loved it, and started adapting his original drawing. He softened the look of the automaton, took away his vent-like mouth, enlarged the eyes and swapped the giant gun for a hobo bag and a telescope and we started story boarding. Then, we set some goal dates.
Keep in mind –this has been totally arranged in the most tedious way possible – through Facebook and email. It felt like we were very good friends – just friends that lived inside the computer.
The storyboards started well, then Kevin got sent from Kuwait to Baghdad. That slowed the project down a bit. Infrastructure – like internet and access to pencils and a quiet place to draw – are hard to come by in Iraq.
I started to feel like a pest at that point. Just to make conversation I would send a message like, “So, how’s the drawing coming?” and get a reply that went, “I’m still deployed.” (which I translated into, “Don’t nag me, woman.”) Over time and many texts back and forth, I came to really know what that meant. His time in Baghdad really was the worst. His emails hinted that getting the job done sucked out loud: little sleep, rotten working conditions, co-workers who are armed AND on edge AND living right on top of one another. There was no place for him to work on what he loves – drawing. It is a testament to his talent and his character that, even when he couldn’t put pencil to paper, he could still be thinking of delightful, happy and childlike things of beauty in what was the ultimate in ugliness. I would ask him sometimes – “How has your day been?” and get an answer that went, “It’s a war: the height of man’s inhumanity to man. You?” Even when I had a crappy day, it never compared.
Furthermore, the time zone issue gummed things a little – we were 8 hours off. So I would wake up and get working, at the time he would be finishing up the “day -job” portion of his day, and he would be on his way to dinner and his cot. Sometimes at midnight here – I would be saying good morning and sharing ideas that I’d had during the day when he hadn’t gotten his coffee going yet. Strange way to work.
But sending messages at odd times was better than NOT hearing. Kevin’s job involved being at the tail end of the US pull-out of Iraq. A few weeks into his time there, I got a message that read: “Hey – I may be totally out of contact for a while – just a heads up.” I replied (knowing he was not allowed to give me any details), “You must be going to a place less civilized than Baghdad. Should I worry?” He said, “It won’t help,” and I didn’t hear from him for a week.
I took up checking Facebook for Kevin sightings. I felt like a kid looking for Easter eggs under the same leaf over and over again. There comes a point where it seems ridiculous. “Back in Kuwait,” was the best message ever.
In short order, he was back to the U.S., where we were back in business, if just a little rushed. In the end – we hit our deadlines. We cut it fine getting the book to the layout designer and onto the printer – but we are on schedule to launch on the 28th.
Remarkably, we did so much and became very good friends, without any “real” contact. Other than a couple hours in the Atlanta airport (where Kevin was in uniform and really still on the job taking care of the folks in his unit traveling with him) the first time we spent real face time was at the end of January when we went to Chattacon in Chattanooga, TN. He drove into Atlanta on the way to the event, and we sat down to dinner. He looked at me across the table and said, “Can you believe we’re sitting here?” It really was a little weird.
If you want to know about me – read my books, and the kind of person I am is in there. You want to know about Kevin – look at his drawings. They are quintessentially HIM. We’d spent months exchanging ideas, working strange hours, and creating something – we think – is really something new. Then meeting face to face, well, it was odd. We knew all about the other and then met for the first time. Backwards, no?
BUT – face to face or inside the computer – we work well together. We have a shared folder called “the idea bin” and it’s overflowing. We have a lot of Coal City Stories planned, and we will continue to work in the Aether, as Kevin will be deployed to Germany in a few weeks, and we will start the avalanche of idea e-mails all over again.
Meh, it works for us.
The Launch Page: http://www.facebook.com/events/347525985265865/
The Her Majesty’s Explorer Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/HerMajestysExplorer
The blog: http://coalcitysteam.wordpress.com/
The Video Book trailer: http://youtu.be/kHb3Wpe3F2o
The Tease Read by Captain Robert of Abney Park: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=2931604900935