MA: My very special guest today is the former host of Georgia Public Radio’s “Georgia Gazette,” Emilie P. Bush. Emilie has traded in writing the news for writing Steampunk. For those not familiar with this type of writing, it is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically takes place in the 19th Century, but features anachronistic technologies (like digital electronics during the industrial revolution).
Emilie’s debut novel, Chenda and the Airship Brofman, sends Chenda and her companions up in the air, across a desert, through a mountain and under the sea in a thrilling adventure. Emilie P. Bush lives and writes in Atlanta. Welcome to the Child Finder Trilogy!
Please tell us some more about your background.
EB: I started in radio, writing and reading the news. The first national story I sold was when I was 19 years old, working in the WOUB news room in Athens, Ohio. A chemical plant in Belpre, Ohio, had exploded and I broke the story to NPR news. I decided two things on that day: I wanted to cover the arts (as I really felt AWFUL for being happy when lives had been lost) and I was in love with public radio. I worked on and off in radio for the next dozen years, and finally ending up at Georgia Gazette. I left radio – perhaps for good, shortly after my daughter was born.
MA: Many journalists make the shift from covering news to writing, but most, it seems, write non-fiction. Why did you choose to write fiction?
EB: I got lost a bit after “retiring” from broadcasting. I started blogging, and everyone said, “You need to write a book!” About what, exactly? My life in babyland? Boring – even to me – and it was MY life! But after another year or so, I got this feeling that if I didn’t write a novel, I would die a horrible death or something, so I started to write. In no time at all, Chenda and the Airship Brofman was born.
MA: That is an interesting title. Tell us more about it.
EB: Chenda and the Airship Brofman, at its most basic, is a feminist Steampunk coming-of-age story cloaked in the classic hero’s epic. Like the best Steampunk out there, this story is a Vernian Adventure; new worlds are visited, science and technology trump might and cunning and the characters deal with many of the age old issues of loyalty, the heart, family and self identity.
MA: So just who is Chenda and what kind of transformation does she make in the story?
EB: Chenda starts out as the most isolated girl in the world – a spectator in her own life. She’s ALWAYS been taken care of – first by her father and then by her husband Edison. But when he’s murdered, Chenda is suddenly faced with the first major decision of her life: follow Edison’s instructions, or continue living as a pampered child. I make very few physical descriptions about Chenda as she is a blank slate in the beginning of the story. I wanted the readers to be able to see themselves in her, and be able to feel the loss and hollowness she feels. As the story goes on, the descriptions of her flesh out, mostly through marks the events of her life leave on her. Her disposition evolves. She looks, walks, talks and feels in a totally new way by the end of the book.
Chenda – never having much say in her own life until the story begins – is naive about a lot of things, but is fiercely loyal. She’s very trusting of the people Edison put in her life, and when she makes up her mind, she doesn’t easily change it. For as much as she trusts Edison, she doesn’t trust her own feelings. Or, more specifically, she has trouble identifying how she feels. Her commitment, I think, is her greatest strength.
MA: What kind of challenge or adversity does she face?
EB: The Antagonist is the Tugrulian Empire and everything it stands for. It’s the major obstacle that Chenda and her friends need to overcome – well – at least survive. We don’t meet the Emperor in this book, but we feel the ripples of his presence throughout. In the follow up to Chenda and the Airship Brofman, I plan to bring Chenda and her pals face to face with the Emperor. The Tugrulian Empire is a cruel place, and like so many of us who travel the world, Chenda is deeply affected by the suffering she sees. She goes into the Empire hoping to slip in and back out again unnoticed, but she’s drawn into the problems that hold the Empire’s people in pain and poverty.
MA: Many people believe we write what we know or experience. What about you?
EB: Many of the settings for Chenda and the Airship Brofman are tweaked places I have been and things I have seen, and many of the characters look an awful lot like my friends. In one scene, Chenda leaves the airship and encounters The Wanderers – the people who beg at the foot of the airship dock. It’s exactly the experience I had when stepped out of the airport in Ghana, West Africa.
Steampunk is a great genre in which you can take your own life experiences and, with a little nudge here and push there, shape them into elements of a really great story. This book has a lot of me in it: My travels in Africa and Eastern Europe, my mugging, several old jobs, and a good bit about my views on faith, friends, family and education.
MA: It sounds like you have so much in life to draw from. So, what’s next?
EB: More novels. I have two I am working on now. The first is a follow-up to Chenda – I’m calling it The Gospel According to Verdu, and it follows the companion of Chenda who gets left behind. We’ll see all the favorites from Chenda in The Gospel According to Verdu. The other book, called Cryptid, is a totally different animal from Chenda and the Airship Brofman. Not even Steampunk. It’s an expansion of a very short award-winning story I wrote called “The Heartbreak Cryptophiliac.” In this modern mythological fantasy, Elizabeth Monday accidentally cheeses off a Greek God, who curses her. Now she can see all of the imaginary creatures that live in New York City. It’s a fun little story.
MA: I’ve been to New York City, many times, and I’m not so sure all those creatures are imaginary…but perhaps I had too much to drink. I’m just joking with you! Thanks for stopping by and visiting with me today. I encourage my readers to visit Emilie’s website for more information about this fascinating author and her unique genre: http://www.site.coalcitysteam.com/