Chat With an Author

Steampunk! Blog Tour: A Chat With Kelly Link & Gavin Grant

Today we are thrilled to be a stop on the Steampunk! anthology blog tour. The anthology includes authors the likes of Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, M.T. Anderson, Cory Doctorow, and Holly Black, spinning strange stories of science fiction and fantasy in the brass and gears steampunk aesthetic. In honor of the book’s release, we are thrilled to have anthology editors Kelly Link and Gavin Grant over for a chat about Steampunk!

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Kelly and Gavin!

The Book Smugglers: Steampunk! features a range of stories from authors the likes of of M.T. Anderson to Cassandra Clare. How did you select the stories for this anthology? Were there any specific criteria you had in mind for Steampunk!?

Kelly: We invited contributors we thought would take the idea of steampunk and do something that was both personal and extraordinary. The only criteria we had was that we had to love the stories to include them.

Gavin: We basically put a dream team of authors and asked them if they’d be interested in writing a steampunk story. As fans of M. T. Anderson, Cassandra Clare, Ysabeau Wilce, etc., it was a total thrill to be able to go to them and ask for a new story which we’d be able to read as soon as they wrote it.

As for criteria, we really wanted it to be as open as possible. Some of them asked us what the rules were and we really tried to be as vague as possible. One of my favorite stories (in a book full of favorites) is Christopher Rowe’s “Nowhere Fast” which is set in a near-future Kentucky where most technology is banned. The maker ethos of steampunk is readily apparent, though, so it fit the book to a T.

The Book Smugglers: Be honest – which of the stories is your personal favorite?

Kelly: Honestly, I love all of them. I’ve read each of them a number of times, and they are all favorites. Here’s the answer to a question you didn’t ask, but maybe it will do — the one that surprised me the most was M. T. Anderson’s Oracle Engine.

Gavin: Depends on the day. Not sure. Since you don’t have a Reality Gun pointed at my head (see Dylan Horrocks’s story) I’m going to pass!

The Book Smugglers: Steampunk has experienced a huge resurgence of interest in literature and pop culture in the past few years. Is steampunk something that is close to your hearts? What was your first exposure to steampunk, and what do you like the most about the subgenre?

Kelly: I love the culture of steampunk – that people make things, clothing, mechanical devices, clockwork bugs, laptop cases, etc. That’s probably my first serious engagement with steampunk, stemming from posts on, etc. The first steampunk book that I really loved was Ysabeau Wilce’s Flora Segunda. (Is it steampunk? I think so!)

Gavin: My first exposure was probably Bruce Sterling and William Gibson’s novel The Difference Engine. At that time I’d read anything either of them wrote — pretty much still true, although there’s more in my to-be-read stack now. I followed the genre a little — enjoying the casemods and so on on BoingBoing and so on—and at some point a few years ago it just seemed everywhere. I really enjoyed Mary Robinette Kowal’s turning her laptop into a steampunk machine — albeit with stickers, not actual brass. What I love about steampunk is that it’s such a wide genre it can include everyone: it’s like a magic potion that makes people act out their desires, whether it’s to dress up or make things or take on new identities, or, of course, write.

The Kowal Portable Typewriter and Adding Machine

The Book Smugglers: It seems that while steampunk is becoming increasingly popular, there is some dispute over what constitutes a true “steampunk” work (versus, say, gaslamp). Do you have your own definition steampunk?

Kelly: Putting together an anthology was a way of assembling a definition of steampunk. I’m much less interested in my own definition, much more interested in what these stories suggest steampunk, as a genre, might become.

But, I’ll go on to say one more thing. Steampunk as a genre, feels to me a bit like science fiction used to feel — that sense of wonder you get from reading work which is character-driven, has a strong narrative engine, and is also crammed with really cool ideas. I have this hope that steampunk will be the introduction to science fiction for a lot of new readers, and I also very much like that it’s already a community of people who make bizarre, lovely objects that may or may not be functional.

Gavin: We’ve spent quite a lot of time avoiding any real definition — beyond the standard “I know it when I see it.” Definitions, limitations, defined texts, and literary rules aren’t that interesting to me. Although they do seem to work as an impetus to some writers to break rules. Steampunk’s increased popularity, as with any small culture which gains popularity, means that some people will be unhappy with all these newcomers. I’d prefer to welcome people aboard and see what happens. I love that steampunk encourages creativity in so many different forms. Who cares about canons?

The Book Smugglers: Who are your favorite steampunk authors, and what are your top five recommended steampunk works?


Joan Aiken, Dido Twite series
Ysabeau Wilce, Flora Segunda
Mike Mignola, Hellboy, (and Guillermo del Toro’s movies, too!)
Hayao Miyazaki, Laputa: Castle in the Sky
Matthew Forsythe, Ojingogo

I love Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, too, but that would be six, and I really hope that everyone’s already read that anyway.

The Book Smugglers: In addition to co-editing this anthology, you also run an independent publishing house, have founded a zine, have edited a number other anthologies and works, and have authored your own collections. How does editing an anthology compare to being an author? Do you prefer one to the other?

Kelly: I’m a terribly slow writer, and some of the time it’s miserable. I hate having to start stories.

The zine (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet) is such a pleasure to put together. We’ve met — and gotten to publish so many writers we would never have come across otherwise. I love working on Small Beer too, but the thing about LCRW and Small Beer is that Gavin and I do all of the work ourselves from cover design to editing to publicity. So: it was an enormous pleasure to work with Candlewick and Deborah Wayshak on Steampunk! They did all the heavy lifting. What did we have to do? Sit and read the stories as they came in. It’s a dream job.

Gavin: Maybe it’s easier than writing? With writing there’s no one else to blame and no one else who will do the work for you whereas with editing someone else is going to do the bum-on-seat hard work of writing! I can’t say running our publishing house is a piece of cake at the moment, either, though. But, hey, we’re our own bosses and we only have to publish books we love, so how hard can it be?

Editing Steampunk! was much more fun than I had even hoped when we pitched the book and I definitely hope we do more of this type of book. We’re both huge fans of single author short story collections and anthologies and it was pretty great to try getting stories from some of our favorite authors. Which mostly worked out—we’ll get the rest of them next time!

The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ’smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have either of you ever had to smuggle books?

Kelly: We have too many books, and there’s never enough money or time. Right? Gavin is far too noble to smuggle a book home, unless it’s a present for me. I, on the other hand, am not a noble soul. I am an acquisitive type, and yes, a terrible sneak.

Gavin: At many times in my life and in many different circumstances. We recently moved back into our own house after two years away. Our house was already near-capacity with books (other people, who do not mind stacks of books in front of shelves or rooms filled only books would disagree) and we brought back all these new books. So we’re trying to trim back the books we have and yet! There are still all these interesting new books coming out, dammit! So there’s been a little smuggling by both of us recently but things have been so upside down that there’s an unofficial detente which says something like as long as it’s not more than a book here or there but don’t think about starting some huge and exciting new series, ok? Which as far as I’m concerned is completely ok. Especially if I can get in the front door without being spotted.

About the Authors:

Kelly Link is the author of three collections of short stories, Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. Her short stories have won three Nebulas, a Hugo, and a World Fantasy Award. She was born in Miami, Florida, and once won a free trip around the world by answering the question “Why do you want to go around the world?” (”Because you can’t go through it.”)

Link and her family live in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband, Gavin J. Grant, run Small Beer Press, and play ping-pong. In 1996 they started the occasional zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Gavin J. Grant is the publisher of Small Beer Press, an independent press based in Massachusetts, whose books have been awarded the Philip K. Dick, Shirley Jackson, Hugo, and Locus Awards, as well as selected as the best of the year by Time Magazine, Salon, Booklist, Village Voice, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. About half of Small Beer’s list is available as ebooks and five titles have been released online under the Creative Commons license.

About the Book:

In the first major YA steampunk anthology, fourteen top storytellers push the genre’s mix of sci-fi, fantasy, history, and adventure in fascinating new directions.

Imagine an alternate universe where romance and technology reign. Where tinkerers and dreamers craft and re-craft a world of automatons, clockworks, calculating machines, and other marvels that never were. Where scientists and schoolgirls, fair folk and Romans, intergalactic bandits, utopian revolutionaries, and intrepid orphans solve crimes, escape from monstrous predicaments, consult oracles, and hover over volcanoes in steam-powered airships. Here, fourteen masters of speculative fiction, including two graphic storytellers, embrace the genre’s established themes and refashion them in surprising ways and settings as diverse as Appalachia, ancient Rome, future Australia, and alternate California. Visionaries Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have invited all-new explorations and expansions, taking a genre already rich, strange, and inventive in the extreme and challenging contributors to remake it from the ground up. The result is an anthology that defies its genre even as it defines it.

Thank you, Kelly and Gavin! Make sure to check out Steampunk!, on sale October 11.


  • We smuggle | Steampunk!
    October 5, 2011 at 8:49 am

    […] another story should be available on There’s an interview with Kelly and me on the Book Smugglers. Yes, we smuggle. And, turning the tables, Kelly just interviewed Kate Beaton (author of the […]

  • Holly Black
    October 5, 2011 at 10:23 am

    That was such a great interview. It really made me smile.

  • Lori Strongin
    October 5, 2011 at 10:56 am

    REALLY great interview. I was especially taken with the line, ” Steampunk as a genre, feels to me a bit like science fiction used to feel — that sense of wonder you get from reading work which is character-driven, has a strong narrative engine, and is also crammed with really cool ideas.”

    I wonder if part of that is because the scifi of the 60s and 70s has come to pass–rockets powerful enough to reach stars and planets, communication devices able to cross continents, nanotechnology, cryogenics…itunes. 😉

    So, perhaps since those once-imagined technologies are here, people are looking for that throwback to the classics; i.e., steampunk technologies. Familiar, yet not. Charmingly antique, but modern. Rooted in the whimsical, yet also quite possible.

    Again, GREAT interview. Can’t wait to read this one!


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