Anthony Francis: Putting It All In

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We’ve got another special guest today! Anthony Francis, author of the Dakota Frost series. Today he announces his new book, Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine! Welcome, Anthony!

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One of the most important pieces of writing advice I’ve received is “put it all in.” If you’ve got a great idea, don’t save it for a great story: put it in the story you’re working on now. I can’t tell you how many times in the past I had a great idea that I felt I “wasn’t ready to tell,” but I can tell you that those stories almost never get told.

When I started writing a steampunk novel, I questioned what to put in it. I knew my protagonist was a young female soldier from the Victorian era, but what else should go in the story? Some things seemed obvious. Brass and buttons? Sure. Devices powered by steam? Sure! Slap some gears on it and call it steampunk? Why not!

But wait a moment. If they had advanced mechanical devices, and our Victorians were already working on gear-driven computers and clockwork automata, wouldn’t that mean my steampunks should have clockwork robots? Um, sure. Let’s call them Mechanicals – but how would that affect military operations?

But perhaps computers in their world were human – after all, that’s where the word came from. And what if those human computers had vacuum tubes embedded in their brains? Neat! But wait another moment. Wouldn’t that mean their medical science would also be advanced – so would there be gear-and-tube prosthetics?

Next, I started to turn to the villains. I’d already done stories about traditional monsters powered by magic in the Dakota Frost series, so I thought to change it up I’d give aliens a go – War of the Worlds was written in the Victorian era, after all. But again, wait: I cut my teeth as a writer on Larry Niven-style hard science fiction, filled with elaborate aliens. I knew space travel was harder than it looks. Put that in too?

And if we’re going for War of the Worlds, why stop there? Isn’t perhaps the most quintessential science fiction novel of the Victorian era a story about something near and dear to my heart: The Time Machine. I couldn’t possibly make this story about both time travel and aliens, now could I?

You know the answer: put it all in.

Now the story really started to take off. Yes, the villains of the story were working with aliens, and yes, they escaped from my protagonist, Jeremiah Willstone, by hitching a ride on the eponymous Clockwork Time Machine. But I didn’t stop there. I stole wholesale the fantastic future science framework of my “Stranded” novella, creating a universe in which it was easier to travel sideways in time than between the stars in space, making alternate empires to spread from world to world. I stole the real science of our galaxy, in which habitable worlds appear to be few and far between, leading aliens to bum-rush the Earth once it was discovered, hoping to use it as a foothold not just to colonize it, but all its nearby worlds. And, going one step further, since I had a time machine, I made alternate worlds, time travel, and time loops not just a side frill, but an integral part of the plot.

The result is Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine: a story with more than brass and buttons, a story which explores the implication of a world that got women soldiers over a century earlier than our time, played out against a backdrop of Mechanical soldiers, gear-driven 3D printers, aliens falling to Earth, and a struggle for the control of time itself … even as a time loop threatens to spin out of control.

I hope you enjoy it!

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