If you’re a fan of the steampunk genre, Maureen L. Mills new book, Fires of Hell: The Alchemystic, is a thrilling adventure of Amelia Everly, airship engineer and rogue pyromancer, as she investigates the murder of her caption and the mysterious sabotages aboard her ship—or should we say Captain Rollins ship.
I recently had a chance to connect with Maureen and chat with her about her book, writing process, and advice for aspiring authors.
What’s one trait or skill Amelia Everley has that you wished you shared?
I wish I knew even one other language. Amelia can speak at least five; more, if all you’re counting is profanity. Not that I’d care about the profanity…
What’s your favorite line of dialogue from Fires of Hell?
My favorite line of dialogue? That’s a tough one! I had a great time coming up with Amelia’s lines, and some of Josiah’s, too. How about in chapter 27, when Amelia is confronting Mrs. Rollins. Amelia says, “By-blow I may be, madam, but not of your husband’s get. If he offered me any regard, it sprang from my own abilities as an engineer, not from a sense of obligation.” Or maybe in chapter twenty two where Josiah says, “Yes, your neckline is high. But that only brings to mind what I have seen of what lies beneath it.”
How did you decide on the title for your book?
I went with Fires of Hell to illustrate the common attitude toward pyromancers in this version of the world. It also plays into the four elements aspect of the magic system. The next book in the series will focus on air magic, and it will have air in the title. I think. Unless I come up with something better.
What did you edit out of this book?
I edited out a lot of back story, for one thing. I tried to have a chapter explaining how Amelia found out she was a pyromancer, then cut it. I had a chapter that showed how Amelia ended up on the Winged Mercury, but it didn’t really belong in this book. By the way, I cleaned up that story and put it on my website as an exclusive reward for signing up for my (as yet theoretical) newsletter. And I edited out a riot scene that I’d held on to for far too long. It showed very effectively what people’s attitudes were toward phlogs, but it distracted from the main story line. So it had to go.
What was your hardest scene to write?
There are two kinds of “hard” in writing. One kind is technical: how to write a scene and make it good. That scene was after the first time the Mercury takes off with Josiah in charge, and Amelia reviews the evidence she has and makes a plan of action. It had to be in the book somewhere, but it’s all just sitting and thinking. Boring! I still think I pretty much turfed that one. The other kind of “hard” in writing is emotional difficulty. It’s said that if there are no tears in the writer, then there’ll be no tears in the reader. *Spoiler alert* I hate arguing and conflict in real life, so writing the confrontation with Mrs. Rollins, at the end of the book, tore me up. That, and Captain Rollins’ funeral.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both, at times. If the writing is going well and the ideas are flowing, I can get very “up”. But those heavy, emotional scenes can also take it right out of me. My poor hubby never knows what he’s coming home to after work. I could be near-manically excited, or grumpy and tired because my imaginary friends had a fight.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Most beginning writers tend to over-explain, jamming as much back story into the front end of their book as they can. Readers don’t need all that. YOU, as a writer, need all that info, but your reader will pick up what he needs from context, usually, or you can drop in the proper information just at the moment it’s needed in the story.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My spirit animal would probably be a cat. I write because it’s fun to chase down ideas, but I’m constitutionally lazy. I really identify with the line attributed to various authors: I hate to write, but I love having written.
How many hours a day do you write?
I write fewer hours than I should, that’s for sure! I try to get in at least a thousand words a day—that’s the goal, anyway. It usually takes a couple hours. Been having trouble getting it in, lately, due to learning how to promote my new book. I have a book out, did you know? I think it’s pretty good.
How much research do you do?
Ah, research! Can you ever do enough? Well, yes, you can. I tend to delve too far into the particulars of a subject, and then I’ll want to include all the interesting factoids in my writing. Most don’t belong! I’m trying to find a good balance where I can write intelligently on a subject or a place, but not waste too much time on research that will not make a difference in the story.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I have come so far since my first completed novel a few years ago! Now I sort of understand things like pacing and description and conflict and try/fail cycles, and writerly things like that. My style has settled down considerably, as well. I still have a lot to learn–but that goes for about every writer I’ve ever talked to! If you aren’t improving, you are doing something wrong.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
My writing Kryptonite has got to be the stuff that comes after getting the book done. I’m terrible at writing quips and query letters, and social media? Forget about it! It’s hard! Also, I have a very hard time writing to order. If someone tells me what to write, my brain rebels and tries its best to sabotage the whole project. I have to negotiate terms with my imagination every single time. Which, honestly, can result in some pretty great stories. Maybe the extra thought I have to put into it improves the my writing. Hmmm. I’ll have to consider this approach further…