Today I am interviewing Heather Albano, debut author of the new steampunk, time-travel novel, Timepiece, first book in the Keeping Time series.
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DJ: Hey Heather! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
Heather Albano: Hi, DJ, thanks for having me!
DJ: For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Heather: At the most basic level, I’m a storyteller. The medium isn’t important; in fact, the first thing I do with any new medium I encounter is figure out how to create narrative with it. Sometimes this happens without conscious choice on my part… This means I’ve told stories in live action roleplaying games; in text-based chooseable-path mobile games; in scripts for interactive audio dramas; in pen-and-paper roleplaying games; in ads, back when I was in advertising; and in traditional short and long fiction, i.e. short stories and novels. (Some other time, I’ll talk your ear off about the storytelling potential inherent in the recent developments in virtual and augmented reality tech.)
Which is to say, I’m a freelance game designer and novelist. Anyone who recognizes my name most likely knows me from my game design work, which most recently included A Study in Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight, released by the Choice of Games Hosted Games program, and contributions to Pelgrane Press’ Dracula Dossier and TimeWatch. I have assorted short fiction credits as well, but Timepiece is my first published non-interactive novel.
DJ: What is Timepiece about?
Heather: A girl, a time machine, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and giant clockwork robots taking over London.
The slightly more coherent version: In 1815, two young adults stumble upon a mysterious pocket watch that catapults them forward in time to a nightmare steampunk version of 1885, overrun by Frankenstein monsters and giant clockwork robots. This will be their future, unless they do something to stop it.
DJ: Where did you get the idea for Timepiece?
Heather: It started when a friend of mine told me about a dream she’d had, in which a package arrived in the mail for her then-infant son. Inside the package addressed to him was a package addressed to me (how odd, she thought) and inside that was a velvet bag containing a pocket watch. Opening the pocket watch, my friend discovered the period casing contained a futuristic-looking screen cycling through images of different historical times and places. “I think I had your dream, Heather.”
I tried to write a story about me and her son and the pocket watch, including a reason for the nested packages, but I couldn’t get it to gel. A pocket watch seemed to belong to an older era anyway…so maybe this wanted to be a Victorian time travel story. Maybe steampunk—huge mechanical monsters stomping down a gaslit street? Yeah. Stomping after what? What would mechanical Victorian monsters hunt? Something natural run amuck, of course. The Victorians would totally build monstrous scientific artificial things to constrain monstrous natural things.
Okay, so where did the run-amuck natural things come from? And when? It would have to be long enough before the Victorian era for the organic monsters to become a problem, for a solution to be generated, and for the solution to become its own problem. Seventy to eighty years, say? The “Victorian era” spanned a long time, of course, but I meant the Sherlock Holmes / Jack the Ripper / Dracula / H.G. Wells part of it—so call it 1880 to 1895. What was going on in England seventy to eighty years before, say, 1885?
Five seconds later, I was scrambling for Wikipedia to look up the dates of the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Five seconds after that, I knew exactly what the story was about.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Heather: Elizabeth Barton is a seventeen-year-old tomboy who has no patience with the restrictive conventions of Regency society. She would not be out of place in a Georgette Heyer novel, and might, if she learned to channel her impatience into wit, grow up to be like Elizabeth Bennet someday. (Or she might wind up with a reputation like Lydia Bennet’s; you never know.) She desperately wants to escape the drawing rooms and hedgerows that confine her, and go have an adventure.
William Carrington is a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, invalided home after being wounded and severely depressed in consequence. He needs a cause, or at least a reason to get out of bed in the morning. He chances to encounter Elizabeth experimenting with the pocket watch she does not yet know is a time travel device, and one thing leads to another.
In 1885, they meet Maxwell, a mysterious old man with a time travel device just like Elizabeth’s, who is working with two freedom fighters indigenous to the time period, Katarina and Trevelyan. Katarina is actress from the dubious part of town, alternately a femme fatale and a male impersonator, and an exceptional markswoman in both personas. Trevelyan is a genius inventor with a short temper, an inflated opinion of himself, and a dark secret.
DJ: I am a big fan of time-travel stories, and I have noticed that there basically two types of stories: those that focus heavy on science and go in-depth into the mechanics and teachnologoy behing it; and those that use it a plot piece/tool that is major to the story or used to enhance the story. Which of these does the Keeping Time series fall in to?
Heather: Oh, definitely the second one. The pocket watches are essentially magic, considering that they transport the user in space as well as time—more like a TARDIS than a DeLorean, a net, a stone circle, a slingshot around the sun, or the basement steps behind a diner. They have rules by which they work, of course—any decent magic system has rules by which it works, which cannot be violated or can be violated only at a price—but at no point do I explore how they do what they do. It’s just The Force, if you will, rather than midichlorians and Kyber crystals.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Timepiece?
Heather: My favorite part of writing time travel is the same as my favorite part of reading time travel: engaging with the same scene multiple times, whether that is from different perspectives or with key elements changed. Timepiece and Timekeeper between them have three versions of the Battle of Waterloo, and by the third time through, deciding on the right level of detail was an enjoyable challenge. It needs to be repetitive enough that the reader can easily see what is different, but not so repetitive as to be boring. I’m enjoying the same challenge now as I write Timebound, part of which re-treads some of the same ground as Timepiece and Timekeeper, from a different perspective.
DJ: Timepiece was actually released a few year back, but is now being released in paperback by Stillpoint/Prometheus! That is very exciting! How did this come to be?
Heather: In 2011, I electronically-self-published Timepiece largely to see what would happen (here’s a blog post I wrote for Greater Portland Scribists, explaining the thought process in more detail:). One thing that happened was that David Kudler of Stillpoint read it (and its likewise electronically-self-published sequel Timekeeper ) and approached me about putting out a print version of the first two and writing a third to round out the trilogy. Suffice it to say I was interested!
DJ: Normally I’d ask what you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it, but since Timepiece has already been released, you know! 😛 So tell us, what have readers been talking about?
Heather: In between the release of the first edition of Timepiece and the first edition of Timekeeper, there was a lot of speculation as to Maxwell’s identity, backstory, and relationship to the other main characters. These questions begin to be answered in Timekeeper, and are thoroughly explored in Timebound.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the Keeping Time series? Timepiece is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Heather: Honestly, I set out to write a rollicking time travel adventure, playing with some of the more fascinating near-chances of a real historical event (the Battle of Waterloo) and a scene near the end of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that makes absolutely no sense, none, seriously, the blocking doesn’t even work.
But there’s some serious stuff in it too. You can’t set a story in a dark-steampunk version of the Victorian age and not deal with, for instance, the horror of child labor. Or a fascist government bringing battlefield technology into its cities to control its own people.
As far as an overall theme goes—it’s a little hard to know how to phrase that without giving away a big part of book one. But I suggest readers in search of a theme pay attention to how the timeline is changed, by whom and using what methods. Let’s just say I’m a big fan of free will and individual choice.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Timepiece that you can share with us?
Heather: Amusingly, I have a character who also likes to quote things she has read, so here, have a quote within a quote:
[Katarina] went on with a deliberately theatrical wave of one hand, “I am the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come, and these are the shadows of things that may be, only. Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, but if those courses be departed from, the ends must change… But you have no idea what I am quoting, do you? That tale must not be quite as old as I thought it was…Never mind.”
“You think I can prevent this happening?” Elizabeth said, stopping. “You think I can? My—my life isn’t—You have no idea how different my life is from yours. I’m not even permitted to walk unaccompanied through—I’m not like you!”
“No,” Katarina said, “you’re not. I’m the natural daughter of an opera singer. I grew up in poverty and disgrace and I can’t do better than sing in a music hall. I’ve barely a coin to my name and no way to make anyone listen to me. You’re a gentleman’s daughter, you’ll be a gentleman’s wife, you live in a time when it hasn’t happened yet, and you have a pocket watch like Max’s—do you truly think you are powerless, compared to me?”
DJ: Now that Timepiece is released, what is next for you?
Heather: At the moment, I’m still working hard on Timebound. Once I have that under wraps…hm. I have a number of abandoned or fledgling ideas I might return to. They include an interactive dark fairytale, a non-interactive fantasy novel about a city that changes shape to grant wishes (also a dark fairytale of sorts, come to think of it), a non-interactive near future SF novel about virtual and augmented reality, a fourth book in the Keeping Time universe (this one focused on different characters, and exploring the fascinating historical and literary personas of the Marquess of Montrose ), and A Study In Steampunk prequel. I expect I’ll be working on one of those next, or some combination thereof.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/heatheralbano
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Heather: My pleasure!
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*** Timepiece is published by Stillpoint/Prometheus and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo | Publisher
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You only THINK you know what happened at Waterloo.
The real story involved more monsters. And a lot more time travel.
It’s 1815, and Wellington’s badly-outnumbered army stares across the field of Waterloo at Napoleon’s forces. Desperate to hold until reinforcements arrive, Wellington calls upon a race of monsters created by a mad Genevese scientist 25 years before.
It’s 1815, and a discontented young lady sitting in a rose garden receives a mysterious gift: a pocket watch that, when opened, displays scenes from all eras of history. Past…and future.
It’s 1885, and a small band of resistance fighters are resorting to increasingly extreme methods in their efforts to overthrow a steampunk Empire whose clockwork gears are slick with its subjects blood.
Are these events connected?
Oh, come now. That would be telling.
“Waterloo and time travel are made for each other and Heather Albano has done a wonderful job of giving us a delightful cast of characters, tasked with stitching together the proper nineteenth century while fending off several monstrous alternatives. Propulsive adventure with historical insight.” – Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars and 2312
“Heather Albano is a storyteller, history geek, and lover of both time-travel tropes and re-imaginings of older stories. In addition to novels, she writes interactive fiction. She finds the line between the two getting fuzzier all the time.
Heather lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two cats, a tankful of fish, and an excessive amount of tea. Learn more about her various projects at heatheralbano.com.