Nick Valentino is an author that has gone full steam ahead, logging one of the most impressive travel itineries while becoming one of the hottest authors within the growing steampunk genre. His own story is that of someone who believes fiercely in his work, and has walked the walk in pursuing his dream.
His novel Thomas Riley flies off of his table in droves at conventions. I know this because I've watched him go through stacks and stacks of copies in person, on more than one occassion. Dressed in his steampunk garb, and armed with a passport stamp, he maintains an infectious energy from the opening of the day to the close.
Yet despite the great progress and success, Nick remains one of the most engaging and approachable personalities out on the Con Circuit, garnering him strong popularity amongst his peers, not always an easy thing to achieve in artistic realms. The future is indeed bright with Nick, with new writing projects looming and an equally impressive touring and event schedule for 2011.
While Nick has become one of the bright lights of the genre, it is important to always recognize the great sacrfice that Nick puts in supporting his publishers and writing. You will not find authors on the New York Times best-seller lists that match Nick's event and appearance schedule from 2010 across the USA and Canada, and he did it on his own. Matching that kind of dedication with the talent and quality of writing that he brings to the table, and you have a force to be reckoned with.
He is definitely an author to watch, and an author to root for.
-Stephen Zimmer for the Seventh Star Press Blog, January 20, 2011
SZ: What inspired you to become a writer, and when did you realize that you were ready to take the next step in terms of being a published author?
NV: I’d been writing for a long time but it was all lyrics for the band I was in. I’d amassed huge binders full of lyrics and from that I ended up getting ideas for longer stories. One day I just blurted it out. “I’m going to write a book.” From there I spent the next two years still playing in the band but I was also spending the late nights writing a horror novel. When I was done with it, I did what everyone that completes their first manuscript does. I thought, “Hey, I’ll shop this and see what happens.”
SZ: Share some of your writing influences with us.
NV: My first love is Clive Barker. I devour everything he writes. My first manuscript was a horror novel and obviously inspired by Mr. Barker. I have a big thing for Weaveworld. I also have a big obsession for Richard Adams and Watership Down. I went through a huge rabbit phase that seemed to connect with my childhood. I loved the cartoon as a kid and I was intensely frightened of The Black Rabbit of Inle from the book. It still kind of creeps me out really. I’m also a big fan of A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess. I actually named my rogue sky pirate, Sam Burgess in honor of him. It’s sort of shameful, but before I wrote Thomas Riley, I’d not read a single steampunk book so I can’t claim those as influences but now I read tons of the genre. Cherie Priest, Scott Westerfeld, Elizabeth Darvill, O.M. Grey, Emilie P. Bush, and dozens of other wonderful authors have now definitely made their mark on me.
SZ: How did your novel Thomas Riley come about, in terms of the idea conception to the writing of it, and what was your path to getting it published?
NV: After getting the usual 35762368 rejection slips from agents and publishers, I thought I should go to a writers conference and learn more, meet some other authors and get a sneak peek into the the publishing world in person. So what did I do? Yeah I just picked the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego, booked a plane and off I went with manuscripts in hand. It was seriously that quick. Of course who wouldn’t want to go to San Diego every chance they got? I ended up meeting with a few agents and publishers there and finally I met Karen Syed from Echelon Press who told me these exact scary words, “If the rest of this doesn’t suck, I want it.” The rest is history. Thomas Riley came about 11 months later. It was much like winning a game show. While I sent query letters to everyone I could find I missed the writing process so I started writing a niche book (Well, I thought it was going to be just a niche book.) in the steampunk genre. Steampunk was something that I’d always had been into but I never knew there was a moniker for it. I always knew it as stories and movies from Hayao Miyazaki, who’s one of my favorite directors, producer, and story tellers of all time.
SZ: What have been your biggest surprises since Thomas Riley was released? (in terms of what you did not expect about the world of being a professional author).
NV: There are infinite paths of being an author. Many people just want to write while others have a flair for promotion and human interaction. Cutting my teeth on being in a touring band, I have an inner need to be with people and to interact with those of the same ilk. So I took off and traveled the country in support of the book. 57 events in 365 days. From Victoria, BC, to San Diego, CA, to Baltimore, MD to New Orleans, LA and so many places in between. I guess I didn’t expect that I would meet so many amazing people. That has been one of the biggest things about all of this. Fans, readers, steamunks, authors, editors, publishers... It’s really been so great meeting some of the best people in the world. I guess I always thought there would be much more adversity and that it would be much more of a painful experience marketing a book. While it isn’t easy, happily I was met with great readers, great fans, great friends and support from everywhere.
SZ: Are there any surprises about your reader base, in terms of the kinds of readers that have embraced your work?
NV: That’s actually a really great thing about writing steampunk. The genre is ageless and without boundaries. Anyone that likes adventure can get into steampunk. Now, with other genre’s coming into steampunk, literally everyone can get into it. I’ve sold the book to eight year olds and eighty eight year olds. So yeah, it’s a huge surprise that so many people embrace it. You always hear, “So what age group is this for?” My response is always, “Everyone.” Because so many different kinds of people enjoy it.
SZ: Will there be more Thomas Riley novels?
NV: Yep, there are at least two more Thomas Riley books in the works right now. Number two and three are contracted by ZOVA Books.
SZ: What drew you to steampunk, as opposed to other genres?
NV: Originally, I loved and still love everything that Hayao Miyazaki has done. Almost all of his stories have some kind of retro futuristic element in them and many of them have blatant steampunk elements. When he started this, most of the world was very unaware of the term steampunk at all. So basically I loved the technology and the ingenuity that went into Miyazaki’s movies but I had no idea that there was a term for it. It was at Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA about three years ago that I first heard the term and saw people dressed “steampunk”. At the time, I seriously thought they were dressed as Miyazaki-esque characters. I had no clue that there was a culture, literary genre and fashion movement going on. I remember leaving thinking “I’m going to write a steampunk book and that’s all there is to it. Four months later, I had the first draft of Thomas Riley done.
SZ: What are some of the trends occurring now in the steampunk world? Are there any directions that steampunk is taking that surprise you?
NV: There are wonderful themes that seem to sweep through steampunk culture. Last year it tended to take on a Wild West theme. This year it is nautical or underwater themes that seem to be talked about a lot. (Hm, does this have a correlation with Cherie Priest books?)Actually none of the trends in steampunk shock me or really surprise me at all. I’m a big fan of the genre going in a million different directions. I love that steampunk can be just about anything and that there are no limits besides what your imagination can conceive. Another really fun theme or exploration I’m seeing with the genre is multicultural and multi-national. You are seeing more and more Asian, Middle Eastern, Australian, Eastern European and well, just about any place you can think of pop up in steampunk more and more. I love Victorian England as much as the next person, but I love that we’re seeing what steampunk would be globally now. I’m actually writing a Japanese steampunk story for an anthology due out in May called, HER MAJESTY’S MYSTERIOUS CONVEYANCE which I’m quite excited about.
SZ: You are a writer who has been a part of the rise of steampunk in terms of popularity, as you have been working incredibly hard in support of Thomas Riley since its release in 2009. You don’t need to name any names, but is there a bit of a bandwagon occurring now that steampunk is now so popular at the onset of 2011? Will this help or hurt the genre, or is it a mix of both?
NV: Well, sure. Anytime you hear that every literary agent is desperate for good steampunk, every author in the world is going to start writing it. Really, it’s not a bad thing at all. It’s simply what happens when something gets popular. Personally, I’m very interested in how people write it because everyone is going to have a plethora of awesome ideas. Sure, not all of them are gold, but I’d like to see the genre as a household word. Does it sound like I’m selling out? Well, the popularity is already undeniable and it’s going to get big no matter what I say so why not enjoy everyone’s take on it? Why not bask in the culture and have fun writing books, making costumes and gadgets, gathering with good people and celebrating good times and good people? That’s what life is really about isn’t it? Will it hurt the genre? You know, it’s destined to get really popular, so if it hurts it, the popularity might make it burn out but again, that’s how everything is. Even if it does damage the scene, genre or fashion, it will always be there much like goth.
SZ: Are there any other genres that you would like to write in? If so, is there anything on the horizon in this regard?
NV: My first love as horror and my first manuscript was horror, which is my baby. It’s a trilogy of urban horror that revolves around a little girl, witches and demons. So yeah, I definitely see myself revisiting that in the future but it needs a lot of work and that may not be for several more years before I’m really able to give it the attention it needs. As of right now, Thomas Riley seems to be on the ocket for quite some time.
SZ: Give us a little peek into the kind of touring schedule that you
maintain, from your bookstore appearances to conventions and fairs.
NV: I think when it was all said and done, I was home (with no events) for only 9weekends out of the year. I did 58 events ranging from Victoria, BC, to New Orleans, to Baltimore, to San Diego and tons of places in between. It's crazy. I've never had a year like this in my life. It's a hard life and it's full of big time risk but it really paid off. Basically it's about putting fears aside and believing in your work and going out and siezing opportunity. There are things out there for everyone. It's ust a matter of making it happen.
SZ: What has been most effective for you as an author, in terms of these events? Large conventions? Bookstores? Smaller conventions? What advice would you offer an author on a limited budget in terms of deciding what kinds of appearances to make?
NV: A lot of things have been super effective. It really depends what you want to accomplish with events. For instance, large book fairs are really good. A few that I went to that were amazing were The Baltimore Book Fest, The Virginia Festival of the Book, The South Carolina Book Fest, The Austin Book Festival, and The Southern Festival of Books here in Nashville. Sales at these big book festivals are usually really good. Here's the trick though. As an author selling your book at these things, you can't sit still and wait for people to just wander to your table. You have to be genuinely excited about your work and you have to engage everyone that comes by. Sitting there will not sell books. Small cons are awesome for different reasons. You meet all types of amazing people at every event but some of the smaller ones offer an intimate environment where you get to make real friends with readers, fans and authors. These are friendships that last through the years. Like I met the amazing ladies of the Frenzy Universe at a small steampunk con in St. Louis and we've been amazing friends ever since. As big cons go, they're usually amazing. My biggest con sales wise was Fan Expo in Toronto. It was a huge few days and totally awesome fan wise. Another awesome con was CONvergence in Bloomington, MN. It was only 4500 people but it was huge and wonderfully crazy in every way. This year was a big trial and error year for me. My plan was to hit everything I possibly could and repeat the good ones for Thomas Riley 2. The thing is that most of them were awesome in their own way. Really, I would only not go to a handful and I'd probably replace them with other cons and events that I've heard good things about. For authors looking to to plan events, look for things you can afford and that you can drive to. Even if it's an eight hour drive, do it. Have no fear.
SZ: What’s coming up for Nick Valentino in 2011? (at least what you can share with us publicly or in general)
NV: Thomas Riley 2 is the big thing for 2011. With any luck, it will be out between July and September on ZOVA Books and I'm quite excited about it. I also have a few anthologies that I'll have stories in but the only one I can speak of right now is called "In Her Majestiy's Mysterious Conveyance" which is a steampunk anthology where each author picks a different part of the world to set their story. Mine is set in Japan.
SZ: How do interested readers connect with Nick Valentino online? Time for all your links to your sites, blogs, social networks!
NV: Here we go.
The book site: www.sirthomasriley.com
My Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hazeltherabbit
The Book Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sirthomariley
Steampunk Empire: http://www.thesteampunkempire.com/profile/NickValentino
Stephen's suggestion: Now that you know a little more about Nick, pick up a copy of Thomas Riley today and enter his steampunk world today!