Interview with James Baylock
Last week we were lucky enough to review the new James Baylock novel The Aylesford Skull - a rip-roaring steampunk adventure that hit all the right notes.
This week we have been honored with an interview from the author himself, who happened to be good friends with one of my favourite authors.
Ant What made you choose to once again enter the world of steampunk and continue the Narbondo series?
James Mainly I was nostalgic to write more Victorian adventures involving my long-time cast of characters. What actually triggered my re-entry, so to speak, was reading a collection of stories by James Norman Hall titled Dr. Dogbody’s Leg, which is a particularly wonderful book set during the Napoleonic Wars – tall tales told to old friends in an inn called The Cheerful Tortoise. In each tale, Dogbody explains how he lost his leg in the war, always a different story, which perplexes his friends, particularly because there’s always evidence that the story is true. Reading that book re-inspired me. I found that I slipped back into Steampunk like meeting an old friend. I effortlessly picked up where I’d left off (although the writing itself took some effort, of course).
Ant Along with KW Jeter and Tim Powers, it's been said you were tutored by the late Philip K Dick, what influence has PKD had on your writing?
James Actually, Phil didn’t do any mentoring or tutoring. He was simply a friend. We talked about anything and everything, as friends do: cats, cars, cognac, music, beef pies, the KGB, family, whatever. We talked about books, of course, but never about the craft. Phil read and recommended my first novel, The Elfin Ship, but only after it was finished and submitted to Del Rey Books. Judy-Lynn del Rey was Phil’s editor, also, and also Tim Powers’s editor. Phil himself, however, was influential in some sense of the word. He was vastly interesting, had seen a lot, done a lot, knew a lot, and he was a great friend to me and my family. He had a box of toys that he hauled out of the closet when Viki and I brought my son John over – John being two, at that time, Viki being my wife. John’s 32 now and Viki and I celebrated our 40th anniversary last summer. Phil passed away a long time ago, but my memories of our friendship are still clear in my mind. In short, I admired him. I also admired his books, which I read and re-read. I’m not certain that they changed much about my writing, but they certainly reinforced some of my literary notions. Phil exercised his eccentricities when he wrote, and he made it seem right, natural, and even necessary to do so. I’ve never hesitated to follow suit.
Ant People keep saying that Steampunk as an active genre is dead, as one of the founders of the genre do you think there is still plenty of life left in Victorian era alt-history?
James Rumors of its death are premature, I think. Steampunk is selling better than ever, in fact. Publishers are buying it. It’s still growing as a cultural phenomenon, perhaps accelerating. Nothing lasts forever, though. I’ll keep writing it in any event. My interest in the era with all its colorful trappings and sensibilities hasn’t diminished. I read Jules Verne when I was 11 years old and loved the books. I still do. Nothing’s changed for me in that regard, and I don’t clock fashions and fads. For the writer, paying attention to them is a distraction or worse. Meanwhile, I’m very happy that there’s a market for my Steampunk stories and novels.
Ant In my review of the Aylesford Skull I likened the character of St Ives to Sherlock Holmes, has Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work had any influence on the Narbondo series?
James Yes, it has. The Return of Sherlock Holmes was one of the first adult books that I read (when I was 10). I had no idea that Holmes had been away, since I’d never heard of Conan Doyle or Holmes when I grabbed the book out of my mother’s library. I was immensely affected by books at that age, and I’ve never lost my affection for Holmes. St. Ives is equally inspired by Prince Florizel of Bohemia, however, the hero of Robert Louis Stevenson’s New Arabian Nights. I’ve never seen this suggested, and I might be wrong, but I’d bet that Conan Doyle was moderately familiar with Prince Florizel.
Ant The Aylesford Skull mixes Steampunk with an occult edge creating something that feels quite different from most modern Steampunk novels I've encountered. What made you choose to include elements of the preternatural?
James I’m a big fan of the paranormal. I’m a skeptical believer, in fact. I’m fascinated by that era’s interest in the paranormal and in all the colorful fraud that went along with it. (Charles Fort is one of my favorite science writers, by the way. That reveals something about myself, I suppose.) As a writer, of course, I can easily imagine that some of it wasn’t fraudulent at all. I’m working up the plot of another St. Ives novel right now, and it seems to me that I see Ceasare Lombroso on the horizon, heading toward me in coach and four. He was a paranormal investigator of the first water. In The Aylesford Skull, I was forced to leave the environs of Hereafter Farm, my paranormal community, the day after we’re introduced to it. I regretted that, because it seemed to me to warrant more attention. Could be that it gets that attention in the next book.
Ant Do you plan on returning to the Narbondo series in the future?
James Just as soon as I can. In fact, I just turned in a new book-length Steampunk novella to Subterranean Press. Up until today it was titled The Pagan God (or Goddess, depending); but as of an hour ago the actual title became The Adventure of the Ring of Stones.
Ant What have you got planned next?
James I’ve mapped out a sequel to my recent novel, Zeuglodon, and, as I said, I’m messing with another St. Ives novel. Those two should keep me busy for the better part of a couple of years.
Thanks to you and your readers! Cheers, Jim Blaylock