The Engine Woman’s Light
Speculative Fiction meets Steampunk!
Author Laurel Anne Hill grew up in San Francisco, California, with more dreams of adventure than good sense or money. Her close brushes with death, love of family, respect for honor and belief in a higher power continue to influence her writing and her life. She has authored two award-winning novels: The Engine Woman’s Light (Sand Hill Review Press), a gripping spirits-meet-steampunk tale, and Heroes Arise (KOMENAR Publishing). Laurel’s published short stories and nonfiction pieces total over forty. She’s the Literary Stage Manager for the annual San Mateo County Fair, a speaker, writing contest judge, and editor.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
The process of writing energizes me, well, up to a point. Eventually, exhaustion wins, and my nose—still attached to my face, of course—plunges toward my keyboard. Then I have to nap on the living room sofa or head to bed for the night.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
The need for sleep, as described above. When overly tired, my mind transforms into virtual quicksand. All the creative ideas sink out of sight.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Reader’s block? Only on a selective basis. Maybe when a plethora of acronyms on the page overwhelms my capacity to translate them. Or when the author lacks sufficient writing skills to hold my attention. A form of reader’s block hit me when I read Benjamin Madley’s “American Genocide,” the first full account of the government-sanctioned genocide of California Native Americans under United States rule. This excellent book ripped open a wound in my very being. In some parts of the book, I could only emotionally handle one page—occasionally only one paragraph—at a time.
If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
Don’t let the presence of characters talking inside of your head worry or embarrass you. Listen to them with care and keep a journal of their ramblings.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
“Heroes Arise,” my first published novel, started out as a short story. The book, published in 2007, took me eight months to write. The process gave me new insight into story structure and character development, which helped me breathe new life into a novel-length manuscript I’d begun around 1995. Of course, that manuscript ultimately became “The Engine Woman’s Light,” which has now won a total of eleven honors and awards and drifts on and off of the Amazon Kindle Best Seller List in the Gaslamp Fantasy and Teen Steampunk categories.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
My family owned no television set until after I turned eleven years old, and going to the movie theater—a special treat—happened mostly on weekends. We had a radio and full bookcase at home, though, and a library within walking distance of our rented flat in San Francisco. Needless to say, my mind learned early to create images from spoken and written words.
One of my favorite chapter books in my grammar school days was “The Museum Comes to Life” by Maribelle Cormack and William P. Alexander, published in 1931. A field mouse enters the museum exhibits at night and the long-dead animals on display tell him about the lives they once lived. I wanted so much to visit our local natural history museum after dark. And I wanted to apologize to all those animals on display whose lives had been cut short by people. Talk about the power of language!
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I don’t have a favorite or even a near-favorite. But I’d like to mention “Shock to Equilibrium,” by Jonathan T. F. Weisberg, published by Stoneslide Books in 2012. Can a hedge fund manager outwit terrorists, a cell conspiring to unleash disease, war, and death on a massive scale?
Also of merit are two award-winning novels that never reached their sales and distribution potential because their publisher folded prior to print-on-demand capability.
“Outside Child,” by Alice Wilson-Fried (KOMENAR 2007), a murder mystery set in pre-Katrina New Orleans.
“A Plague of Scoundrels,” by Jon Cory (KOMENAR 2008). This witty debut novel is no ordinary romp down the river of time to seventeenth-century England. When a second-rate comedian meets a farmer’s clever daughter, the result is the first-rate adventure that captures the meaning of life.
What does literary success look like to you?
In my teens, I equated literary success with having your novel turned into a movie. Years later, my image of literary success was writing a New York Times Best Seller or receiving a six-figure advance. Now, I realize, I’ve achieved some measure of literary success without those things. “The Engine Woman’s Light” has received many awards and Amazon Kindle Best Seller status in a couple of categories. I serve as a program participant at various Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions internationally. I visit schools in California, Washington State, and Virginia, and talk to kids about writing. I’m the Literary Stage Manager at the San Mateo County Fair in California. Am I rolling in money? No way! But I’m content where I am.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I retired from my day job ten years ago. If I wasn’t writing, I’d probably do more volunteer work in my community. And clean my house more often.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I always read the reviews of my writing. The good ones elate me. The lousy ones remind me my stories aren’t for everyone. Fortunately, the good outnumber the bad.
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
I’ve already given up that special one thing: spare time. My investments of time and determination continue to improve my writing skills.
Hear the Interview with Laurel Anne Hill.