Me: Hello, honored guest! Introduce yourself to all the friendly strangers!
Alyson: Hello, strangers-who-are-friendly! My name is Alyson Grauer and while I am originally from Milwaukee, WI, these days I am a Chicago-based writer, actor, and ukulele-playin’ weirdo. I am a big ol’ nerd with a love of film, tv, comic books, video games, and fiction of all kinds. I can be found performing at Piccolo Theatre in Evanston, or at the Public House Theatre in Chicago with Plan 9 Burlesque (most often as a host and uke-playing variety performer), and also at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, where I am often found Making A Fool of Myself In Public.
Me: Public foolery: A most excellent pastime. You’re here, of course, in connection with your recently published work, “Lavenza, or the Modern Galatea”, the grand finale in “Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology” (which I reviewed here on the blog last week). But what’s the first story you can remember writing?
Alyson: I recall at a very very young age that I wrote and illustrated a picture book called “Dingo”, about a collie that was like Lassie but less goody-two-shoes. The other early venture I remember was a reboot of “The Wizard of Oz” wherein Dorothy follows the red brick road instead of the yellow one, Toto is the first person narrator, and a ton of excellent Greek mythology references got thrown in along the way.
(Me: *cheers for Greek mythology*)
A: It was about 3/4 done when I abandoned it for other shiny objects, but the idea of a smart-mouthed Toto and a ditzy Dorothy Gale have always been in the back of my head. I don’t think I’d write it again, though, because… y’know. There’s enough Oz rewrites in the ‘verse right now.
Me: Ah, well; maybe your story will reinvent itself into something else, one day. Speaking of stories and their reinventions, how did you hear about Xchyler Publishing’s “Mechanized Masterpieces” anthology, and what compelled you to submit?
Alyson: I try to keep abreast of opportunities via Twitter. It is honestly the easiest, quickest way to find out what agents are looking for, what magazines or publications are having open calls for submissions, and if there is a sweet anthology out there waiting for you. I saw the open call on Twitter and loved the accessible nature of “rebooting” classic literature with steampunk elements. So I spent a few days hemming and hawing on Xchyler’s website before deciding that I had an idea good enough to actually write out and then attempt to submit it. It came kinda close to the wire, too; I got very busy and almost didn’t finish my draft, but I did, thank God, and sent it in.
Me: Which is happy news for the world! Not to be biased, I hope, but your story was one of my favorites in the book, and a great way to cap off the collection. How many ideas did you sift through before settling on your reimagining of “Frankenstein”, and what was it about the story that inspired you?
Alyson: Like I said, I knew right away that I wanted to submit something, but I needed to figure out what classic to base my story on, and how I would infuse the steam. I needed something that didn’t NEED the steampunk but was well suited to it, something that I was passionate about already, and a style that I felt comfortable emulating. I considered Austen, but that dame is a darn tricky lady (huge props to fellow “Mechanized Masterpieces” writer Anika Arrington for awesomely using Margaret Dashwood from “Sense and Sensibility” in her story “Sense and Cyborgs”), and so I continued racking my brains for other ideas. Honestly, one of the first things to mind was “Frankenstein” because I have a long history of fangirling Mary Shelley, but I wasn’t sure how to go about steaming it up.
When I finally realized that my heart lay with Frankenstein, I realized also that there was no way I was going to take the obvious route and tell a gear-grinding version of Victor’s journey. It became clear pretty quickly that I wanted to take an unfulfilled story from the main plot and give it a little more attention. Elizabeth, Victor’s betrothed, is portrayed in the original novel as angelic, loving, pure of heart and utterly characterless except for her devotion to Victor and her horrible death at the hands of the Creature. She’s supposed to be a victim, to infuse Victor’s horrible journey with more pain and suffering. I wanted to tell her side of the story, and I wanted to follow the original novel’s details as closely as possible. I used the landmarks in Shelley’s text of what Elizabeth says and does specifically, but I told the story from her own eyes and gave her a secret history so unusual that not even she suspects the depths of it, and therefore, neither does anyone else!
(Me: My favorite kind of character secret. Keep everybody in the dark until the last minute – up to and including the author, sometimes!)
A: Victor blazes through her world unaware that Elizabeth is anything more than his devoted fiancée, which I thought was kind of fun. And the “punk” earmarks of steampunk are an independent, female protagonist who grows in intelligence and strength despite society’s constraints upon her during that time period, as well as a dash of advanced technology and genetic engineering.
Me: Read it, people. I can’t even tell you about that part that got me all internal-flailing excited. This is a spoiler-free zone, so I guess we’ll just have to talk about something else. Any other personal publishing successes you’d like to crow about, Alyson?
Alyson: This is my first published novella, but last summer I was asked to contribute to the “Tales from the Archives” ebook/podcast anthology from Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine over at the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. I wrote a short story called “A Trick of Strong Imagination” which is available for 99c on Nook and Kindle, and can be downloaded for free from their website (read by moi, other vocals contributed by David W.M. Kelch, Ben Muller, and Tee Morris). It’s fun, and if you haven’t read the Ministry books, STOP NOW AND PURCHASE THEM – sooooo gooooood.
Me: As someone who’s written multiple works, have you noticed any recurring themes within the Alyson Grauer canon?
Alyson: Recurring themes include pirates, ladies being excellently in charge of their own destinies and comfortable in combat, and elements of a fantastic/supernatural/mythological nature.
Me: Speaking of all things fantastic, our second year on cast at the Bristol Renaissance Faire is upon us! Will you be reprising your former role, or playing someone new?
Alyson: Buongiorno, my friend! I am happy to return to Bristol as one of those darn ragtag Italians in the Commedia dell’Arte troupe (formerly known as At Your Service). Pedrolino, my role last year, has been laid to rest (at the risk of sounding morbid), but you will get to meet a lovely new lady this year, a not-terribly-bright servant named Coviella! She also plays the lute-a-lele, gets distracted easily, and has a penchant for feathered caps.
Me: Who doesn’t have a penchant for feathered caps? Okay, time for some things in threes. Three of your favorite books, and three random favorite things: Go.
Alyson: Three of my favorite books: “The Last Unicorn” by Peter S. Beagle, “Have Spacesuit Will Travel” by Robert A. Heinlein, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern.
Three of my favorite (random) things: Heavy thunderstorms during the summer, Benedict Cumberbatch, and really high grade green tea (Gyokuro Imperial).
Me: Any last words (I ask ominously)?
Alyson: Thank you for the interviewythingy and for the support of the anthology! Big Bristol-sized hugs and congratulations on your own endeavors, Danielle! And to those reading: If you’re in Chicago, please feel free to come check out Plan 9 Burlesque’s monthly nerd-themed cabarets at the Public House Theatre. It is always an AMAZING time! Don’t be shy, come introduce yourself sometime. Also check out my nerd blog co-written by Stella Cheeks (also of Plan 9) at Comma-Chameleon.com. Also I’m on Twitter @dreamstobecome. Sorry, that was a lot of last words.
Me: No worries; I don’t grudge monologues to those about to die. X)
In all seriousness, thank you for stopping by, Alyson! My Town Crier self will give Coviella a shout when next we meet in merry olde Bristol. And readers, if you’re on the fence about whether you should check out “Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology”, allow me to provide you with a benevolent shove. Go get it; shoo. (And feel free to pick up a copy of “The Swan Prince (Book One of The Wilderhark Tales)” while you’re in the neighborhood. Then you’ll be twice as cool.)