My good friend Kate Milford is embarking up a fascinating journey — using self-publishing to accompany her traditionally-published novels, The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands (Clarion, September 2012). She is one of the most talented writers I know, and I love all the things she writes. Plus, she’s always up to something. Most recently she has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her latest book (which is wonderful and imaginative and everything I love in a good book).
We caught up with her about her latest endeavor.
Here’s the big idea in her own words describing what she’s up to:
I’m publishing a novella companion to release this fall with my second book, The Broken Lands (Clarion, September 2012). I want to experiment with self-publishing as a way to promote and enhance traditional releases by providing extra content to readers in the form of complete, related tales. I also want to use resources that support independent bookstores. It’s my hope to release a self-published novella alongside as many of my forthcoming hardcover releases as possible in an ongoing effort called the Arcana Project, which is why it has the optimistic subtitle.
The novella is called The Kairos Mechanism (Arcana #1), and it’s a story about characters from my first book, The Boneshaker (Clarion, 2010). It’s also related to the events of The Broken Lands.
September, 1913. The crossroads town of Arcane, Missouri, is a place where strange things happen, and lately those strange things have a habit of happening to thirteen year-old Natalie Minks. It’s Natalie who first encounters the two boys who arrive in town seemingly out of nowhere, carrying a dead man between them. Odder still, a few of her older neighbors immediately recognize the dead man as a fellow citizen who’s been missing for fifty years–and who doesn’t appear to have aged in all that time. When another newcomer, a peddler called Trigemine, arrives in town, Natalie learns why the two boys and the peddler have really come to Arcane. And, of course, she realizes she has to stop them.
Like The Boneshakerand The Broken Lands, The Kairos Mechanism is a moderately frightening folklore-based fantasy. If you have read The Boneshaker, you’ll find the novella full of clues as to what’s coming and bits of history about characters you’ve already met. If you haven’t read it, don’t worry. You’ll fall in love with Natalie and Arcane right away.
I caught up with her to ask a few more questions about her project and how she creates as a writer.
1. How did you come up with the whole idea for having this novella? Are companion novels and novellas something you’ve always wanted to create as a writer?
I guess it started with the Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture website. I love cities and towns, and I love the idea of exploring a fictional city the way you’d explore a real one, by poking your nose into different streets and alleys and shops at random to see where your wandering takes you. So I started building a fictional city, Nagspeake, online. I’ve sort of always been interested in the ephemera that are hidden around a place or a story, just waiting to be discovered.
Ultimately this is why I started thinking about writing some companion pieces to my books. It was an idea I’ve been kicking around since the year after The Boneshaker sold. At that point, I had the idea for the project that would become The Broken Lands—it was just the tiniest bit of an idea, but I was thinking about what Jack the Drifter might’ve been up to before he wandered through Arcane. At the same time, I was beginning to think about a bigger story, something that would pit Natalie Minks against Jack. I thought it would make for a neat bit of backstory, something that might tide readers over until I began the big Natalie/Jack series. Fortunately, my publisher thought The Broken Lands would make a better full-length novel, and she was right. But I never stopped thinking about what I could do with all the extra little ideas I had floating around, and how I could use them to provide extra content for readers to explore the world of The Boneshaker.
Also I had about a year where I wasn’t sure what my next contract was going to be, and a girl’s gotta stay busy. At least, I do. Otherwise I go a bit crazy, and my husband likes it when I’m not crazy.
2. When you created the world of The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands, did you know you had several more stories within the world to tell? Did you always plan for this? Give us a little insight into your world-building.
Originally, I had envisioned The Boneshaker as a stand-alone novel, but once I added Jack, I started thinking about it differently, and by the time I was done, I knew I wanted to bring Jack back to Arcane. And I started wondering about what he might’ve been up to. Jack is an extraordinarily powerful creature looking for a place to make his own, and for this purpose he needs a place with a powerful crossroads. It occurred to me that before he settled on a small crossroads town like Arcane, he might’ve tried for someplace big first. From there, I started tracing his efforts backward, so now I know of several places he turned up before Arcane.
What happens with me is once I get really immersed in a place or time, I keep getting ideas. I fall in love with my characters (even—maybe especially—the villains), and I know where they all come from and where they all were at different times. And since the world of The Boneshaker is populated by a number of ancient wanderers and a number of powerful crossroads, I started thinking about those, and about their histories and about how the roamers might’ve crossed paths and where, and when…and things evolve from there. Plus, I’m an obsessive researcher, so as I get to know an era better and better, I start thinking things like, you know, Liao (a character in The Broken Lands) would’ve been a boy right about then. What might he have been up to? And Jake Limberleg (the villain of The Boneshaker) would’ve been youngish then, too…I wonder under what circumstances they might have crossed paths? This is where most of the ideas I have stockpiled away for the Arcana came from. It’s also where most of the ideas for the full-length projects I’m working on right now come from, to
I did seed certain things into The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands that I knew I wanted to come back to. Two characters in The Broken Lands spring to mind, for instance: there is a nameless woman with a violin, and a girl with silver eyes. They are not physically present in the book the way the protagonists are, but they are mentioned in a crucial story that one of the characters tells, and they’re characters in future books. But that’s often as far as my planning goes. I know I’m coming back to them, and why, and I usually have a vague (but sometimes only the vaguest) idea as to what their untold backstories are. But I don’t always know the specifics.
3. Without spoiling the wonderful plot of The Kairos Mechanism, can tell us how this book is a bridge between The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands? Or how do you intend it to function?
The Boneshaker takes place in Arcane, Missouri, in 1913, and it’s about a girl named Natalie Minks. The Broken Lands takes place in New York City in 1877, and although two characters from The Boneshaker turn up, the cast is otherwise entirely different. It’s a bit of a prequel, in that the events that take place in The Broken Lands relate to The Boneshaker, but it’s basically a stand-alone story. So The Kairos Mechanism is meant to do two things. Firstly, it’s a Natalie story, to tide me (and any Natalie-fans who are out there) over until I get to come back to her and to Arcane. Secondly, it provides some extra clues as to how the two books are related, some clues to what’s coming for Natalie, and some history for readers who, like me, want to know more about the world and the characters. And it’s a self-contained story in its own right.
Like I mentioned, I really love when, as a reader, I get to explore a world in more depth and really get to know it. But I want to be able to explore it while I’m reading the story it relates to, and I particularly love when I find extra content that isn’t just extra content, but something that actually changes the way I read the story. Obviously this is a fine line—if it’s not in the book, it almost can’t be critical to the story (unless that’s the point, I guess). And the extra content can’t be spoilery—for instance, I don’t know in what order people are going to read The Kairos Mechanism and The Broken Lands, and there are probably going to be people who read one of those two before they even read The Boneshaker. So I’m having to be very careful about what’s fair game to include, or refer to, or reveal. It’s very tricky.
4. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, which we know it will be, what are your plans for the rest of the Arcana? Can you give us a little insider information? Or a sneak peek of your vision for them?
My pie-in-the-sky dream is to release an Arcanum novella alongside every hardcover release. I have a list of projects I’m saving up for them—basically for every full-length proposal I’ve written in the last year, I have a plan for a novella to accompany it. And one of the coolest things I’ve planned for the project (if I do say so myself) is that each one will be available in a digital version illustrated by young artists, one artist per chapter. The group that’s assembling right now is so diverse in terms of styles, I think it’s going to make for an amazing collection of illustrations. (And for what it’s worth, as of 1pm EST on Wednesday, I am still in need of one or two more artists.)
The Kairos Mechanism Kickstarter campaign’s off to a great start, but it still needs backers in a big way. Plus, if we exceed our goal, I’ll be able to bump up the artists’ compensation. Plus plus, if we REALLY exceed our goal—and it can happen, there’s still time—I may be able to finance the second Arcanum on this campaign. That would be amazing. I’d like the project ultimately not to require crowd-sourcing the funds, but that’s a long-term goal, obviously. It won’t happen on the first few installments.