Thursday 24 October 2019

Interview with Dawn Vogel

We’re very happy to chat again with an old friend of TFF, author Dawn Vogel. Dawn’s mythical pirate story “Salt in Our Veins” was in 2016’s Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, and her story of childhood monsters “I Believe” was in TFF #49 earlier this year. The third volume of her Brass and Glass steampunk trilogy, The Boiling Sea, is out this week from DefCon One Publishing. She came by to talk to us about her writing and some of where it comes from.

In the turbulent skies of the Republic, it's not always easy to outrace the storm…

With their destination determined, Captain Svetlana Tereshchenko and the crew of The Silent Monsoon are in pursuit of the Last Emperor's Hoard and the fabled Gem of the Seas. Or they will be, once they rescue their pilot, make a deal with a notorious scoundrel, and outfit themselves for their plunge into the Boiling Sea. When they realize what the Gem of the Seas is capable of, they must struggle with their loyalties, morality, and unforeseen complications to choose the right path. With alliances tested and rivalries resurfacing, Svetlana must lead her crew and associates on their most dangerous mission yet!

Dawn Vogel's academic background is in history, so it's not surprising that much of her fiction is set in earlier times. By day, she edits reports for historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, co-edits Mad Scientist Journal, and tries to find time for writing. Her steampunk adventure series, Brass and Glass, is available from DefCon One Publishing. She is a member of Broad Universe, SFWA, and Codex Writers. She lives in Seattle with her husband, author Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit her at

TFF: Was your interest in history fueled by your literary taste, or was it the other way round?

Dawn Vogel: The best answer I can give to this is that it’s a weird combination of the two. When I was a kid, our library had a robust section of probably slightly fictionalized biographies of historical figures written for children, and I devoured those. I also read fiction, but any time there was a new biography on that shelf, it was the first book I grabbed. There was something about reading books about long-dead folks that appealed to me, even as a child, and even if younger me would have said she didn’t really like history. It was inevitable that I would eventually realize I liked history enough to major in it in college and go on to get a master’s degree. I’m lucky enough to have found a job that is history-adjacent (I work with historians, and occasionally get to help them out with historical research), and when I started writing, it felt natural to me to write a lot of historical fiction of various stripes.

Do you see Steampunk as a progressive literary genre? What do you think about its idealisation of one of the most brutal times in colonial history?

DV: There are portions of the steampunk genre that I would say are not entirely progressive, but at the same time, there are also portions that can be. A lot of the divide comes from whether authors are focused on recreating the world as it was (or at least the world as it is portrayed in history books, which are written by the victors) or reimagining the historical world through the lens of modern ideologies. For me personally, I place the emphasis in steampunk on the “punk” portion of the word, and prefer my steampunk to be counter-cultural, multi-cultural, and against some of those horrible aspects of history including the oppression of women and minorities, widespread industrialization that led to wealth disparity and subjugation of the working classes, and brutality and paternalism toward colonial peoples. I won’t deny that the history of the time period in which most steampunk takes place is a nasty, brutal mess. The best I can do is illuminate some of that subject with characters acting against that status quo, like in my Brass and Glass series, particularly in the final book, Brass and Glass 3: The Boiling Sea. So my particular flavor of steampunk is much more resistance to the norms and fighting for people without privilege, placing it on the more progressive end of the spectrum.

Are the stories in your collection, Denizens of Distant Realms, carefully selected/written for the purpose, or are they just a selection of your most recent publications and new work?

DV: The stories for my collections are generally selected because they have a common theme or thread running through them. I’ve previously published collections of my historical fiction (with essays about the real history), dark urban fantasy, and unlikely superheroes. For Denizens of Distant Realms, I selected six stories that could theoretically all take place within the same fantasy world, one that has magic, mermaids, dragons, and more. Two of the stories, in particular, were written with the idea in mind that they took place in the same world, many centuries apart. The other stories fit in well enough that I could imagine them all being in the same world, even though they are not all at the same time.

Would you tell us about the monsters you befriended in your childhood? How are they doing nowadays?

DV: I can’t recall their name, but my mom tells me I had an imaginary friend who lived in a round pink house, with no corners. She says I was very insistent about the no corners thing, likely because one of my punishments as a child was to stand in the corner. I would like to think that this friend is still enjoying their corner free house, though I hope they’ve repainted—I imagine the color was roughly Pepto-Bismal pink. On the less imaginary friend side of things, but still in the realm of a big dose of imagination as a child, I used to pretend that when I had to take a nap, my older cousins would use the light in my room as a staircase to come and visit me, so we could play instead of napping. My naptime cousins are probably still playing somewhere (they had a lot of toys at their house).

Illustration from “I Believe” by Katharine A. Viola
Your story “Salt in Our Veins” (Fae Visions of the Mediterranean) is an exciting adventure with pirates and sea-creatures. But it is also about identity and acceptance. Could you tell us a bit about how you made the interplay between these two elements work?

DV: A good deal of what I write is young adult fiction, which often has themes of identity and acceptance. With the young adult protagonist of “Salt in Our Veins,” it seemed to fall naturally in a direction of a young woman trying to find her place in a group of friends, while knowing that she wasn’t exactly like them. This is a common theme in my stories, quite likely because of my own experiences of feeling different from my peers. I was younger than the other kids in my class after starting school a year early, which led to a perception of me being less mature than a lot of them, still wrapped up in imagination and play as opposed to more “serious” things like fashion and boys. As for the pirates and sea creatures and adventures, that’s just fun stuff that turns it from a typical story about the odd girl out into a fantasy story.

What are you writing now?

DV: I always have a lot of projects going at any given time, so I’m working on poems and short stories that change frequently as I finish one thing and move on to the next. In terms of longer work, though, I’m currently revising a young adult urban fantasy book about a fae exile trying to survive supernatural reform school while someone is out to get her. I’ve also got a 1950s superhero detective novella that’s drafted but not revised, and next on my plate to write is a middle grade wizard novel. My writing is all over the place in terms of genre and theme and reader level, and there’s always something new cooking in my brain!

Thanks for joining us, Dawn. Good luck with both the story collection and the new novel!

You can find out more about and purchase Brass and Glass 3: The Boiling Sea at DefCon One Publishing.

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