Q&A with Meljean Brook: Strong women, hot pirates and zombies

Meljean Brook

Meljean Brook, author of The Iron Seas and The Guardians series

We fell in love with the world Meljean Brook created in The Iron Duke. Read our review and you’ll see we loved the world, the characters and the romance. We loved the merger of steampunk (think: machines, etc.) and more traditional romance.

Meljean was kind enough to answer our questions about the strong women in her book (you’ll love Lady Corsair), the pirate, the zombies and what makes a steampunk-romance blend work. Read on for her answers.

Vampire Book Club: Steampunk is just now on the rise, and the concept of merging it with romance is very new. What elements of the two genres did you see as easy to merge?

Meljean Brook: I think the first element is the sense of adventure that often permeates steampunk – adventure and discovery. Obviously, the adventure part translates well to a romantic plot, but in this case, the discovery does, as well: The excitement of meeting someone new, the danger and the risk involved as you explore the possibilities. On both literal and symbolic levels, it simply works in both steampunk and romance.

Then there is the gritty, physical component of steampunk – the industrial part of it. This lends itself to so many issues of class and social change, and also to conflict between the romantic leads. Falling in love is never going to be easy for someone in the Iron Seas. Everyone has a painful history, everyone has seen terrible things … and yet they are in the midst of a world-wide transformation, culturally and technologically. Whether that transformation is a positive thing or not depends upon the characters who shape that world – and the adventures that our heroes and heroines take will tell the stories of those characters, and the results of their actions.

Vampire Book Club: How did you develop the ideas for all the machines and technology — Mina’s mom’s eyes for example — because with technology it all has to be plausible.

Meljean Brook: Obviously the nanotechnology described in the novel is beyond our capabilities today, but while researching for the novel, I discovered that it’s not too far beyond our capabilities. Scientists are working on some amazing stuff, and although much of it is theoretical or speculative, it exists in the realm of possibility … so I felt comfortable using it.

As for the other machines, the steam-based engines and vehicles, I based those on real historical technology. It’s been tweaked and changed, and it all works a little better than the real technology truly did, but the ideas for them are rooted in either sketches or working inventions by Victorian (or earlier) scientists.

The Iron Duke by Meljean BrookVampire Book Club: Rhys is an epitome of an alpha hero, but really Mina does more rescuing. Is it just the best of both worlds or was it purposeful to have our heroine be the one saving the day?

Meljean Brook: It’s a bit of both – I love to write about strong women who use their brains and their guts, women that I can really cheer for and admire. And, let’s face it – Rhys didn’t need to prove himself in the “I can be a big man who beats up the bad guy” department. We know that he’s a badass, that he will shoot when he needs to, that he’ll take care of the problems in front of him. But what kind of a woman is Mina? We don’t know that, and so I liked showing exactly the type of woman she is (and that Rhys will fall in love with.)

But it’s also purposeful. Not to give away too many spoilers, but Mina faces a particular problem – and the only way it can be solved is by showing a LOT of people exactly the type of woman she is. So for that particular rescue, she had to be the one doing the saving … and to make it believable to the readers, we had to see her doing similar stuff all through the novel. To have her suddenly be this kick-ass heroine – after she spent the rest of the book being rescued by Rhys – wouldn’t make any sense.

Vampire Book Club: Mina doesn’t bat an eye at being called sir, but it’s just as clear Lady Corsair is just as respected without the ‘sir’ title. Does this say more about the women or the society within The Iron Seas series?

Meljean Brook: Again, it’s a little of both. As laborers, women in England don’t have to fight as much to be seen on equal terms with men – thanks, oddly enough, to the Horde occupation. It’s not perfectly equal, but gender doesn’t matter as much in the workplace as it would have in real history.

That doesn’t hold true for Manhattan City or much of the New World, however. And so when Mina’s superior – a woman – came from Manhattan City after being denied a job in law enforcement due to her gender, she insisted on being called sir, to emphasize that she possessed the same authority as a male. Mina followed her superior’s example when she joined the force – not because Mina felt the same gender inequality, but because the precedent had been set. Otherwise, she’d have been called “ma’am,” and that would have been sufficient deference to her rank. No one outside of the job would call either woman “sir” – only other police officers do.

So in the police force, it’s simply that a woman felt that she had to take on a man’s title to garner equal treatment (although, if she’d lived in London longer, she’d have realized it wasn’t as necessary as she believed.)

Demon Blood (Guardians #6) by Meljean Brook

Demon Blood is the latest release in Meljean Brook's Guardians series.

Lady Corsair’s case is slightly different – although she hails from a society in which gender-inequality is still rampant, no one is going to be stupid enough to think that her sex makes her any weaker, especially after they’ve seen her in action. Someone might call her ‘sir’ out of respect (especially if they are the type to believe that a male title is naturally superior), but they are just as likely to “ma’am” or “captain” her.

And as long as they don’t underestimate her, try to cheat her, or order her about, Lady Corsair doesn’t really care one way or another.

Vampire Book Club: Will we see what the horde is up to now? They aren’t in England, but will that last?

Meljean Brook: I don’t have plans for the Horde to come to England. Basically, the empire is slowly falling apart (which is not a surprise – every powerful empire falls apart eventually.) We will see more of what exactly is happening to the Horde in the next book and why – even through they are still a formidable power – England doesn’t have to worry about occupation anymore.

Vampire Book Club: Why pirates? (Is it just because they’re ruggedly sexy?)

Meljean Brook: There is the sexy part, but there are a few other reasons that come before that. One is that pirates are mobile – and in an adventure series, mobility is important. Whether by airship or by sea, my heroes need to get around the world, and, let’s face it: a pirate or mercenary ship is more fun than a passenger ship (usually.)

But the primary reason for pirates is so that I can really look at the laws and rules (both written and unwritten) that govern the Iron Seas world. Pirates are criminals, no doubt – but what does that mean when the governments/merchants they are stealing from are worse? If piracy is an act of rebellion against a corrupt system, is that justifiable?

In the real world, in today’s world, I’d say no. Never. But this is fiction, and I like exploring characters and shades of gray, especially in a world where loyalties are shifting, where nations are desperately trying to hold onto their power, where people have been oppressed for hundreds of years and are trying to change the world in whatever manner they can. This is a world where the law often is: Be the strongest, be the fastest, and survival trumps everything else … but does it trump morality?

Those are questions that interest me, and pirates (and police detectives) are a fantastic way to explore both sides of it.

Vampire Book Club: Zombies are a threat in most of Europe — there’s a sentence I never saw myself writing — in the book. How did they come to be? Do the organic undead balance out the mechanical threats?

Meljean Brook: Basically, the Horde is using Europe as a bread basket after running off most of the population. But they knew that unless they salted the earth (so to speak), all of those people in the New World would just be waiting to come back and take their lands again. The zombies were the Horde’s way of ensuring that those people who fled to the New World wouldn’t bother with coming back.

I’m not sure I quite understand the second part of the question, but if it is: does the threat of the undead outweigh the threat of the war machines, the answer is easily “yes.”

Zombies are a morale-killer. People can (and will) fight against guns and bombs and giant shredding machines or robots … but imagine doing that, and then turning around and putting a bullet into your BFF’s head because he was bitten. Imagine seeing people who’d once been vibrant and alive and now nothing more than hungry, disgusting animals … and knowing that zombie would be you unless you happened to be lucky enough to be killed by a bomb or a robot. And remember – in the time that the Horde originally invaded Europe, this was a deeply religious population. Seeing people die and then get up wouldn’t have just been terrifying, but would have destroyed and challenged many people’s faith. They would have assumed they were being punished by God (and the Horde.)

So there are far worse things than dying in front of a war machine, and becoming a zombie is one of them. The people in the New World would have continued fighting against machines. But against zombies? Even Europe wasn’t worth that soul-deep destruction.

Vampire Book Club: With all the strong, vivid characters it is hard to pick a favorite, so we’ll let you do it: Which do you feel closest to?

All of them. That sounds like a cheat answer, but it’s not, I swear – I have to get into each character’s head to write him or her. I have to get as close as I can to all of them.

That said, at any given time I’m the closest to the characters whose book I am writing. So right now, that would be Lady Corsair.

Vampire Book Club: With Rhys and Mina’s story wrapped up in The Iron Duke, where will the series take us and any idea when we’ll get book 2?

Meljean Brook: Next is Lady Corsair’s book, HEART OF STEEL, which will be available in November of 2011. I plan to explore a new part of the world with each book, and next up is a closer look at Europe and North Africa.

Vampire Book Club: Any chance we’ll get more of the Blacksmith? I’m very curious about him!

I hope so! It mostly depends on whether I get more contracts. We won’t see much of him in Lady Corsair’s book, but he would feature prominently in a few other stories I have swimming around in my brain.

Vampire Book Club: Thanks so much to Meljean for indulging our questions. Her blog is a great read, and highly suggested. We, of course, suggest you pick up The Iron Duke. But if you have already read it and want a bit more of The Iron Seas world, there is a story included in the Burning Up anthology.

You can find all of Meljean’s books — including those from both her Guardians and Iron Seas series — on her Amazon author page.

One Response to “Q&A with Meljean Brook: Strong women, hot pirates and zombies”

  1. Spinecracker says:

    Fantastic interview. Thanks for having one of my favorite new-to-me authors answer some of the questions I’ve been wondering


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