Please welcome Brooke Johnson to The Qwillery! The Guild Conspiracy, the 2nd Chroniker City Story, was published on August 9th by Harper Voyager Impulse.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Brooke: I started writing stories for my friends at a very young age, my first book being a six page illustrated novel about an undead boy, titled The Living Dead—so retitled after I found out that The Night of the Living Dead was taken. But it wasn’t until I was about eleven or twelve years old, after I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, that I realized that I could write books for a living. For some reason, it never really crossed my mind that writing made up things could be my job. But once I realized that, I never wanted to do anything else.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Brooke: I want to say that I’m a plotter, but the truth is that it depends on the book. I currently have two separate projects going that have no outline whatsoever, though they’re coming together much slower than the books that I meticulously outline from start to finish. There is no in between for me. Either I spend a month on an outline before I ever put pen to paper, or I just write without one at all.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Brooke: Characters. Dialogue. Subtext. Specifically, emotional interactions between characters. I’ll spend days agonizing over a heated exchange between two characters because I want to get everything just so. And those are the same scenes that undergo the most revisions during edits, as I try to layer more and more subtext and meaning into what’s not said, trying to plant the truth somewhere in between the words. Stubborn, secretive characters are the worst. Two of them together is a nightmare. I don’t know why I insist on writing them all the time.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Brooke: A lot of things, really. Daily life. My current emotional disposition. The latest movie I’ve watched, or book I’ve read, or game I’ve played. I get inspired by almost everything, especially the good stuff, because I want more of it—and when more of it doesn’t exist, I want to write something like it.
TQ: Describe The Guild Conspiracy in 140 characters or less.
Brooke: A dangerous conspiracy. A desperate plan. War is on the horizon. Can one girl stop a madman's schemes before he rips the modern world apart?
TQ: Tell us something about The Guild Conspiracy that is not found in the book description.
Brooke: Two words: MECH FIGHTS. Think Real Steel meets the bot fights of Big Hero 6, except instead of futuristic, computer-controlled robots, skilled teenage engineers fight with grungy metal fighters built with the technology of the Victorian age. In order to prove herself in the male-controlled University, Petra enters an underground tournament, pitting the best engineers of the future against one another in mechanical combat. Little do they know that she already has experience building a war machine. They have no idea what she’s really capable of.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Guild Conspiracy? What appeals to you about writing Steampunk? Are the Chroniker City Stories set in a traditional Steampunk setting - Victorian London?
Brooke: When I realized that The Brass Giant was not going to be a one-and-done standalone novel, I had to start thinking about what would happen next. At the time, in a lot of the series I was reading, each book ended with a mostly happy ending, or at least, with a victory for the main characters. The protagonist was victorious, sometimes at a cost, but ultimately they triumphed.
That is not the case with The Brass Giant.
Petra fails. And I wanted to write a story that followed up on the consequences of her failure, that drew its conflict from all of the mistakes and choices she (and others) made in the first book. I hate those neat, happy endings, especially in a lot of young adult books, where as soon as the corrupt organization or dictator or whathaveyou is defeated by a ragtag group of teenagers, the rebellion is suddenly over and won and everyone lives happily after. Hooray. That’s just not realistic to me, and it’s not the kind of story I’m interested in telling. So my teenage protagonists don’t win. They fail. Horribly. It’s the villain who wins.
So The Guild Conspiracy is about that failure. It’s about starting all over again, in a worse place than before, struggling to keep fighting an uphill battle. It’s about recognizing when you are wrong, recognizing your own weaknesses and mistakes, and trying to overcome them. Petra quickly learns that she has to change her strategy, and change a little bit herself, if she ever wants to stop the conspiracy she uncovered in the first book.
As for what appeals to me about writing steampunk, I love the science—the grit and raw power of physical machinery, all the moving parts, the smells, the sounds. There’s something about clockwork and steam that has this tangible realness. You can see how things work, the literal nuts and bolts of it, which is so different from modern computers and electronics. It holds a sort of romantic quality for me. And I think that is apparent in this particular series, which is not set in Victorian London, but in a fictional city off the coast of Wales. The city itself is a sort of love letter to Victorian science and a machine in its own right. I wanted a setting that reflected my love of clockwork and steam engines, and making up my own city gave me the freedom to do that.
TQ: In your opinion why is Steampunk so popular?
Brooke: I think a lot of it has to do with how malleable the genre is. There’s something for everyone—murder mysteries, paranormal romance, historical legends, hardcore science fiction, even space travel. But, at least for me, I think there’s a sort of romantic, escapist quality to it. The commonly Victorian setting is far enough in the past to feel like a completely different world, but at the same time, it’s near enough to be familiar. And steampunk itself tends to have a more optimistic outlook on the future, something I think we all desperately crave, especially right now, with the state of the world as it is.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Guild Conspiracy and the Chroniker City Stories?
Brooke: I had to do a lot of mechanical research to get a good grasp of the concepts and terminology involved in Victorian science. I wanted to make sure that my descriptions were believable and felt authentic, if not wholly accurate. A lot of the machines built in the book are just not possible without the benefit of modern computing, but it was fun to think of ways to create advanced machinery with what we would consider rudimentary technology. There was other, general research I had to do, mostly into the Victorians themselves, their society and etiquette, their economy, trade relations, military organization, international relationships and conflicts, and various other historical tidbits. I looked a lot of old maps and photos, and used the crap out of Google Earth to help me visualize the real-world settings described in the book.
TQ: In The Guild Conspiracy who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Brooke: The easiest was Rupert, the best friend character introduced in The Guild Conspiracy. He’s just this honest, steadfast kind of person who would stand by Petra no matter what. He loves and admires her, and his loyalty to her made him very easy to write. We all need a friend like Rupert.
The hardest was Braith, the Royal Forces soldier also introduced for the first time in this book. I don’t know why exactly, but he was the most difficult character to pin down—who he was, why he acted that way, his goals, his motivations, literally everything but what he looked like. I went through several versions of him before finally settling on the Braith that is in the book. I think I had this idea in my head how he should have been, to fit the outline, but he just didn’t fit that box. So I ended up rewriting his first full scene probably a dozen times before finally figuring him out. After that, it was easier, but man did he fight me for a long time.
TQ: Which question about The Guild Conspiracy or the Chroniker City Stories do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Brooke: How long did it take to write The Guild Conspiracy?
After several false starts and half-finished drafts attempted as early as 2012, I started working on this version of The Guild Conspiracy in early 2015. It took me six tedious months to write the first draft, ending up more than 50,000 words over contract, and every single word of it an agonizing battle from brain to page. It sucked. It really really sucked. I spent two months more editing it down another 25,000 words, and then turned the second draft over to my editor, more than six months after my initial deadline.
A few months later, thanks to more bad timing, my editor ultimately ended up leaving the publisher, and so I got shuffled around to a new editor, who had a full schedule already. I knew that the book was probably garbage, so I asked if I could edit it one more time before my new editor got to it, and my request was thankfully granted.
I thought it would take me three or four weeks to edit the book to a reasonable quality. It took me four months. I did a complete overhaul before finally sending it to my editor at 4:00am on the day of my absolutely-must-turn-it-in-no-later-than-this-date deadline. Apparently, I did the job well, because she sent it back just two days later with her edit letter and gave me another three weeks to revise the book to her suggestions. Add in another week for copy edits, and I spent a grand total of 13 months writing and editing the book.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Guild Conspiracy.
“We might fail,” she said.
“And they’ll hang you right next to me, you realize.”
A smile twitched across his lips. “They’ll try.”
“You would be so willing to trust me?” she asked. “After everything you’ve been told?”
“You said you weren’t what they claimed.”
“Then prove it.”
TQ: Since your bio mentions that you are a tea lover, which teas go best with the Chroniker City Stories?
Brooke: I buy my tea from a local place, so their names for teas probably vary from other tea specialty shops, but I pretty much survived on Queen’s Garden (a mild Chinese black tea with lavender and jasmine) and Paris Morning (stronger black tea with vanilla, caramel, and bergamot) while writing and editing this book. I’m especially susceptible to caffeine, so in the afternoons and evenings, I tend to drink herbal teas—anything fruity or flowery is good. I also love rooibos teas, and there’s a rooibos-based, spiced chai that I make in the winter that trumps hot chocolate any day.
TQ: What's next?
Brooke: After spending so long writing and editing The Guild Conspiracy, I’m currently taking a bit of a break from writing in order to recharge my creative batteries, but I do have plans for what comes next, as soon as I’m ready to get back in the writing chair. There is a traditional fantasy novel I want to revisit soon, The Wizard’s Heart, set in a world based on Ancient Persian roots. I also have Dark Lord in Training, a middle-grade fantasy that’s currently in progress on Wattpad. I’m hoping to wrap up at least one of those by the end of the year. And then sometime early next year, I’ll start on the next story in the Chroniker City series, a novella (or short novel) that takes place at the same time as The Guild Conspiracy, but set in Paris, with Emmerich (a secondary character from The Brass Giant) as the lead character.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Brooke: Thanks for having me!
The Guild Conspiracy
A Chroniker City Story 2
Harper Voyager Impulse, August 9, 2016
eBook, 301 pages
Harper Voyager Impulse, September 20, 2016
Mass Market Paperback, 432 pages
In the face of impossible odds, can one girl stem the tides of war?
It has been six months since clockwork engineer Petra Wade destroyed an automaton designed for battle, narrowly escaping with her life. But her troubles are far from over. Her partner on the project, Emmerich Goss, has been sent away to France, and his father, Julian, is still determined that a war machine will be built. Forced to create a new device, Petra subtly sabotages the design in the hopes of delaying the war, but sabotage like this isn’t just risky: it’s treason. And with a soldier, Braith, assigned to watch her every move, it may not be long before Julian finds out what she’s done.
Now she just has to survive long enough to find another way to stop the war before her sabotage is discovered and she’s sentenced to hang for crimes against the empire. But Julian’s plans go far deeper than she ever realized . . . war is on the horizon, and it will take everything Petra has to stop it in this fast-paced, thrilling sequel to The Brass Giant.
The Brass Giant
A Chroniker City Story 1
Harper Voyager Impulse, May 5, 2016
eBook, 352 pages
Harper Voyager Impulse, June 23, 2015
Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
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 and tinkers 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 will 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.
The Mechanical Theater
A Chroniker City Novella
Harper Voyager Impulse, June 9, 2015
eBook, 112 pages
Petra Wade's older brother, Solomon, has always dreamed of being an actor. Instead, he works grueling shifts in the clockwork city's boiler rooms to help support his large adopted family. When Le Theatre Mecanique holds an open call for their upcoming performance, he decides to audition. However, the only role he is suitable to fill is that of the theater's custodian.
Leaving the well-paying boiler job behind him, Solomon immerses himself in the theater—watching rehearsals, studying the performances, and working with an emerging young actress to improve his skills. But back at home, his family feels the sting of their reduced income when his younger sister Emily develops pneumonia and the only treatment is too expensive.
Solomon will be forced to make a difficult choice: fulfill his dreams of stardom, or help save his younger sister.
BROOKE JOHNSON is a stay-at-home mom and tea-loving writer. As the jack-of-all-trades bard of the family, she journeys through life with her husband, daughter, and dog. She currently resides in Northwest Arkansas but hopes to one day live somewhere more mountainous.