Vlog 2 – a moment of reader appreciation

So I recorded my second video. I’m a roll! It’s less awkward putting it out than the first one, too. I basically wanted to say thank you in person to my readers, because I so appreciate everyone who reads my books 🙂 So there it is….


My first video ever!

So I recorded a video. It’s on youtube, Out In The World. Which is pretty exciting! (and a tad nervous-making) I’ve decided to try my hand at keeping a youtube channel as a substitute to blogging, which just hasn’t been happening of late. And from my first effort, I’m liking the more informal format compared to blogging, which bodes well. This one is just a little intro with a bit of a an overview on what I write (other than Rory and Longinus stories) and why I write what I write. There’s going to be more forthcoming, but if you have any questions or requests for me you can let me know and I’ll do a video about it!

Hope you enjoy 🙂 (and if you want to subscribe, you can do so here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8pSdmLSCE_g0xXp0cgwYLQ)

Deconstructing Damsport: a round the world tour of the research and inspiration behind the creation of the city

bloodless Assassin EbookPicasso famously said: “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.” I won’t go as far as to say that I’m a great artist, but one of the things I love to do is to steal — and I steal a great deal, from all over the place. So I thought it would be fun to take you through a tour of all the influences and steals that went into creating Damsport, the city in which The Bloodless Assassin takes place.

It’ll come as no surprise that I stole from Victorian London, and I purposefully gave a little nod to Dickens in creating Pip, a cheeky chappy urchin. I won’t discuss the Victorian influences though, as I think they’re quite obvious.

The less obvious steals come from all over the world: Hong Kong, Istanbul, Constantinople, Mumbai, Japan, Cambodia, general 17th century Europe, sort of from Colorado, and Macau, at the current count. Often what I stole is utterly random and I doubt you’d be able to spot the inspirations on your own (if you can, bravo!)

Let’s start with the biggest influence: Hong Kong. I live in Hong Kong and grew up in London, so the first thing I did in creating Damsport was to take Victorian London and push it through a Hong Kong sieve. Hong Kong is the banyan trees that grow everywhere, the humidity, the storms, the crookback streets, the smells, the food, the crush of people in the streets. Regarding the banyan trees, the photos below are taken in central Hong Kong. The top one in particular is in Mid-Levels, one of the most modern and built up parts of Hong Kong. Banyan trees can grow anywhere — including out of walls it seems — and the top photo was the inspiration for the rundown house Rory and Jake lived on top of.



Hong Kong is also part of the inspiration for the Wet Market. Fruit/veg/meat/fish markets in Hong Kong are called Wet Markets, partly because the produce for sale is fresh, partly because the floor is always wet, and it’s best not to think too much about what is in the murk on the ground. Especially when you see the gusto with which fish are eviscerated!

(I have a particular walk when wearing flip flops — apparently — which means that with my heels I flick up any mud/sludge/dirt/etc up the backs of my legs. Yes, I’m that ladylike. My many visits to wet markets over the years have made me far more familiar with the wet filth of the ground than I would have liked. It’s grim. Which was why when I had to describe a market I immediately thought of how wet the floor would be.)

We also went to a Wet Market in Cambodia (in Kampot to be precise) that was covered with a hodgepodge of tarps and bits of plastic stretched overhead. It caught most of the rain (it was summer and rainy season) but the water still dripped through the gaps, so that the entire market seemed to be dripping — you could hear the water drip above the chatter of voices. That gave birth to the ‘dripping’ description of the Damsian Wet Market.




The woman sleeping in a hammock among her cuts of meat in the Damsian Wet Market is real — I stole her wholesale:


The book maze at the edge of the Great Bazaar was stolen from Mumbai book sellers, and I still regret that so little of The Viper and the Urchin takes place among the maze of books — stay tuned, this might be the scene of part of a future story! We discover Damsport’s library in The Black Orchid, and I have a bit of an idea for a story featuring scheming librarians, so it’s very much a possibility.

DSC_0032 DSC_0035

I stole the Old Cistern from Istanbul, and of course I bastardised the Grand Bazaar name, although the Damsian Great Bazaar is nothing like the Istanbul version. I also stole Istanbul’s Blue Mosque to make the baths in Spirepass, and while I was at it, used that kind of architecture to inspire the entire area of Spirepass including its name.

From Wikipedia – the Old Cistern

From Wikipedia – Blue Mosque — inspiration for the Damsian baths.

I purposefully made Damsport a port city so that it could justifiably have a real melting post of influences in terms of its architecture and culture. But in working out its political situation, I turned to Constantinople, another port city. And while there’s nothing actually recognisable from Constantinople in Damsport’s architecture, I used it as inspiration to work out how Damsport would be defended. This led to the creation of the Bottleneck Wall, which led me to the Three Day Battle and to Damsport’s current political situation.

Two very random steals came from Japan. I very much doubt anyone will be able to guess where the Japanese influence is, though. The first is the cats in the Damsian cemetery. I was in Tokyo, wandering about on my own, and I chanced across a cemetery. Now I love cemeteries — I find them fascinating. I went walking around the tombs, and I kept coming across these fat cats, most of them white, bathing in the sun and regarding me with that hostility particular to cats. And I thought there was something delightfully creepy about a hostile cat lounging across a tomb and glaring at me as if telling me to leave.

The fun thing about Fantasy is the ability to take something real and twist it into something fantastical — so these cats became the cats in the Damsian cemetery who are voiceless and who appear only at night.

I also stole an old street sweep from Tokyo. I came across an old man with a broomstick that had to be 2 meters long that he wielded in a semi-circle around him to push dead leaves away. Sadly I didn’t take a photo of him but I thought he was too perfect not to steal. I added the vapour lamps hanging from a pole stuck down the back of his shirt to create the Damsian street sweeps. The sweeps are actually one one of my favourite little details of Damsport.

Closer to home — at least digitally — I stole from a fellow blogger’s blog post: from Sammy over at Bemuzin, which technically means I stole from Colorado, I guess. Back in 2014 she wrote about an exhibition she went to see: the stunning Chihuly Garden Cycle show featuring incredible glass sculptures. I thought glass sculptures was such a wonderful concept that I decided to feature glass sculptures as part of the Revels towards the end of the book.

Speaking of the Revels, another act comes from The House of Dancing Water, an incredible show that I saw in Macau. I stole the masts rising from the water from that show (I won’t say anymore to keep the post spoiler-free). If you’re ever in this part of the world, this is one of the most amazing shows I have ever seen.

I also stole and embellished on 17th century European currency. There was a real problem back then of people shaving or clipping the edges of coins, and then melting all the shavings and clippings and making new coins. This problem is what led to our modern coins having edges with writing or patterns on them, so that if the coins were clipped, it would immediately be obvious. I thought that was a fun detail to steal and I decided that Damsport would have the same problem but would deal with it differently. Since the city has both clipped coins and a quantity of foreign currency flowing through it, the logical thing to do seemed to have them deal in coin weights rather than coin values. The expression ‘making change’ then became a fun literal interpretation: Damsians go to smiths to make change by cutting coins up into smaller pieces.

That said I don’t always realise when I’m stealing, and some steals I can’t identify even now. Crazy Willy and his steamcoach, for example: I have no idea where that came from. Likewise for Susie’s coffeehouse and the butterscotch coffee. I detest coffee, so who knows why that idea popped into my head!

Not all steals are successful, either. My most extensive piece of research came to absolutely nothing. I read a large biography of Isaac Newton’s life when I was thinking about how to develop the science of alchemy for Longinus. Newton didn’t just discover gravity, he was an incredible polymath, but he sadly wasted a lot of his time looking into alchemy and I thought I’d find useful inspiration in his life’s work. Turns out Longinus’ alchemy has nothing to do with Newton’s (not a shocker, in hindsight). Not wanting the time I spent reading Newton’s biography to be a complete waste, I put a little nod to him in the form of the prism found in Dr Corian’s place. It has absolutely no bearing on the story, I doubt anyone noticed or remembered it, but it was a nod from me to me, referring to the research I’d done so I could tell myself that I got at least something out of that book.

I don’t actually think reading that book came to nothing — I got some other stuff from it which might be useful some day. Maybe one day I’ll write a new post like this and tell you one of my characters is partly stolen from Newton’s life. Who knows.

So there you have it, all the steals that went into creating Damsport — at least the ones I can remember. There’s bound to be a great many steals that I’ve forgotten about, and a great many more that I can’t figure out. If you’re curious about any other part of Damsport feel free to ask me in the comments and I’ll see if I can figure out where the inspiration for it came from.


The sequel to The Bloodless AssassinThe Black Orchid also takes place in Damsport, and I’ve added a few more steals — more from Hong Kong (I’m milking the place dry!) a very obvious one from Morocco, and I stole from one of my uncles.

Book 3 in the series is already in the works, but it will take place in a new city and I’m currently creating it (oh such fun!). So far I have influences from Indonesia, more from Hong Kong and Cambodia, a very random steal from Beijing, and an unexpected one from Brittany of all places (a place in France. Papa et Maman — it is indeed from Perros-Guirec). I’ve also taken inspiration from the eyebrows of a singer I really like. I’m hoping to have the third book ready and out by the end of the year, so keep your eyes peeled! In the mean time, if you want to check out The Black Orchid, you can find it here on Amazon. I hope those of you who read it will enjoy it!

PS: I know not everyone reads on Kindle. If you have another kind of e-reader but you want to read The Black Orchid, you can buy it on Amazon, email me the receipt, and I’ll send you an epub instead 🙂 you can find me at celine (at) celinejeanjean.com

Fairytales and Writing processes – an Interview with Emily Witt


Today I have an interview with Emily Witt about her new book, A More Complicated Fairytale. Emily is a lovely blogger friend with A Keyboard and an Open Mind (I love how the blog title lends itself so well to an introduction!) and I’m really happy to be sharing this interview with her today!

AMCFTsmallThanks so much for being on the blog Emily! I wonder if you can begin by telling us a bit about your story, A More Complicated Fairytale.

Thank you for having me! A More Complicated Fairytale is the story of Caitlin, and her begrudging-friendship-turned-romance with Crown Prince Felipe. Felipe takes a shine to Cait when he meets her during a royal festival, and though she’s not as keen on him at first, when he goes to war to avenge the assassination of his older brother, she enlists as a nurse. She ends up taking care of him when he is badly injured and their relationship continues to develop from there.

It is not a re-telling of any specific fairytale and probably has more in common with historical romance than fantasy, apart from the setting being a fictional kingdom. The title is really referencing the idea of a “fairytale romance” that we often read about in relation to celebrities or indeed, royal romances, too.

What inspired you to write this book, do you remember where the original idea for it came from?

I actually got the idea from a dream I had. I was myself in the dream, and my in-dream boyfriend had gone away for a while. I was moping about that, and meanwhile, a prince showed up and wanted to hang out with me, but I just wanted him to go away so that I could continue my moping in peace. This was three years ago now, so I’m lucky to remember that much, but at the time, it must have been a bit clearer and I somehow saw the potential for a romance!

Did any particular authors or films influence you while you were writing the book?

I didn’t realise it at the time, but my main characters, Cait and Prince Felipe, have a very similar dynamic to Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott’s characters in the 1999 movie, Ever After. Given that it’s one of my all-time favourite movies and I re-watch it at least once a year, it’s probably not that surprising they snuck in there.

I was working at the Australian War Memorial at the time I started writing, and often got to read the diaries and letters that got donated to the collection there. Knowing the sorts of things that actually got written by the people caught in the middle of the First and Second World Wars really helped me shape Cait and Felipe’s experiences.

I have to agree with you, Ever After is a great film. I loved Angelica Houston as the evil step mother! That’s so interesting that you worked at the Australian War Memorial. Could you please share some of the letters that you read while working there?

Ooh, gosh, good question! I haven’t worked there in a couple of years now, so I’m having to cast back a bit. I do remember a couple of occasions where the family had all the letters in date order in a folder and whatnot, and the last letter was completely innocuous, and then you’d read a family member’s label on the plastic sleeve that this was the last letter they wrote home. It was always very jarring. There was one from a soldier in Vietnam to his best friend – I’m not sure if he was killed very early in the action or what the situation was, but this was the only letter he wrote home and he was killed while the letter was still in transit. I was warned when I first started in that position that I should probably keep a box of tissues on my desk, and with good reason!

On the other hand, as a Doctor Who fan, it made me ridiculously happy to discover an actual Captain Jack Harkness who fought with the Australian Army in WW2 And there was also the reference to some Australian soldiers being put on court martial for stealing watermelons in Cairo, which I thought was hilarious. So it wasn’t all terrible!

Haha, watermelon thieving – that’s a niche crime! I can imagine that the letters must have been quite poignant or difficult to read at times, though. What’s your writing process like? Do you outline or pants? Any particular writerly rituals you could share with us?

I tend to pants my first draft, but it lacks a lot of details. Once I know how to get from A to B, I set about filling in the gaps. Between the first and last drafts, AMCF doubled in length.

I keep a spreadsheet with my daily word counts all added up in there. On days I write over 200 words, I make the row green, and on days I don’t write, I make it red. In theory, it’s supposed to be visual inspiration, seeing all the green and the increasing totals, though sometimes when I go through a period of not writing much, it can get a bit depressing!

What was your favourite part of the story to write? And what was the hardest part to write?

There’s a scene just after Cait starts getting on better with Felipe, where he is showing her some of the special items the royal family has in its library, including the Nardowyn equivalent of an illuminated medieval manuscript of their religion’s sacred text. I’m a librarian by day, so having my two leads bonding over an item like that made me happy.

Having said all of that, I think actually creating a religion was one of the hardest things to do. I knew it would be difficult, and originally tried to create an entirely religion-free world, but it just felt a bit empty. Religion doesn’t dominate my characters’ lives but it’s good having it there as something that informs them.

If you could go back in time to your previous self about to start writing this book, what advice would you give her?

Hmm, good question! The first thing that comes to mind is to tell her to stop stressing about Cait’s name and just roll with it (Cait went through quite a few names, and I wasted quite a bit of valuable writing time poring over lists of names trying to choose something that felt “right”).The other thing would be to stop putting things off because I was nervous. I always took forever to send early drafts to readers or to answer my cover artist’s questions. I’m hoping that now I sort of know what I’m doing, the next book won’t take three years from conception to publication!

I can totally sympathise with the whole putting things off because of nerves — I went through the same thing with my first book! Well thank you so much answering all those questions Emily! 

A More Complicated Fairytale is now available to pre-order on Amazon


Most of the young women in Nardowyn swoon over Crown Prince Felipe, but Caitlin has never seen the appeal. When she catches his eye during a royal festival, she has little choice but to begrudgingly go along with his attempts to form a friendship between them, and soon learns that there is more to him than meets the eye.

When Felipe goes to war to avenge the death of his brother, Cait enlists as a nurse to be nearer to him. Here, Cait’s connection to the prince will put her in more danger than she can imagine. But Cait’s never been one to take the easy way out, so if her life is going to turn into some sort of fairy tale, with a prince and a happily ever after, it’s no surprise it will be a more complicated one.

A More Complicated Fairytale — Cover Reveal

Hi guys! Today I’m excited to be part of Emily Witt’s (she of the Keyboard and the Open Mind) cover reveal for her new book, A More Complicated Fairytale. She’s a lovely blogger friend, and I’m so excited for her new book coming out.

So over to you, Emily!


Title: A More Complicated Fairytale

Author: Emily Witt

Release day: April 02, 2016


Most of the young women in Nardowyn swoon over Crown Prince Felipe, but Caitlin has never seen the appeal. When she catches his eye during a royal festival, she has little choice but to begrudgingly go along with his attempts to form a friendship between them, and soon learns that there is more to him than meets the eye.

When Felipe goes to war to avenge the death of his brother, Cait enlists as a nurse to be nearer to him. Here, Cait’s connection to the prince will put her in more danger than she can imagine. But Cait’s never been one to take the easy way out, so if her life is going to turn into some sort of fairy tale, with a prince and a happily ever after, it’s no surprise it will be a more complicated one.

author-photoAuthor Bio:

Emily has been writing since the age of six, but only recently developed the skill of finishing the projects that she starts (and even then, only sometimes). She is currently studying for a Masters in Museum and Heritage Studies and works at the National Library of Australia. In her spare time she can be found watching Doctor Who or curled up on the couch with a hot chocolate and a good book.

You can visit her blog for more information: http://keysandopenmind.wordpress.com

And also her Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/keysandopenmind

Cover design: Thanks to the very awesome K. L. Schwengel – http://klschwengel.com


Towards the middle of the afternoon, they came across a wooden stage with a banner across the top bearing the words ‘Alfonso the Magnificent, Grand Illusionist’. On the stage, a man was describing the great feats of illusion that the crowds would witness when the show started in ten minutes. Neither Cait nor Ava had ever seen a magic show before, so they bought tickets and found themselves good seats.

For the next three-quarters of an hour, they witnessed mind-reading, card tricks and even a woman being sawn in half! Even Cait had been on the edge of her seat for that finale.

When Alfonso the Magnificent had taken his final bows and disappeared from the stage, Cait turned to Ava. “What did you think?” she asked.

“That was spectacular!” Ava replied. “How do you think he did that last one?”

“There were two women in the box,” said a hooded man who had been sitting on Cait’s other side. “That’s the only way it could be done.”

“Do you think so?” Ava leaned across Cait a little to speak to the man and in doing so, recognised the face under the hood. She sat back again, quickly. “Cait, it’s -”

The cloaked man held up a finger to quickly quiet her. “Please don’t give me away. I’m trying to avoid my guards at the moment.”

He lowered his hood and Cait realised why Ava had been so surprised. She looked at Ava. “Well, won’t Ginny and Bridget be jealous?” She looked back to Prince Felipe with a wry smile. “Our younger sisters are big fans of yours, your Highness. We tried telling them it was unlikely any of us would see you here, but they kept their hopes up. I’m sure they’re going to be frightfully upset about this.”

“Well, I suppose you were right to discourage them. I’m not supposed to be spending my time at magic shows designed to entertain the masses. In fact, I believe I should be dining with the Princess Royal of Brellalan at this very moment.”

“Then why aren’t you?”

Cait didn’t mean to ask such a direct – and perhaps slightly accusatory – question, not to the prince, but it was out of her mouth before she could remind herself who she was talking to.

The prince did not seem too perturbed, though. “Have you ever had to spend time with women who have been raised only to aspire to one day marry a prince?”

“I can’t say that I have, Your Highness.”

“Then count yourself lucky. I would much rather spend my time at magic shows in the company of such charming ladies as you and your friend, than dining with any of them.”

As he spoke the words, a yell was heard behind them, and the prince looked up with a start. Someone shouted “There!” and a group of red-uniformed men of the palace guard pointed towards Cait, Ava and Prince Felipe.

Glancing back at Cait and Ava, the prince quickly stood and replaced his hood over his head. “It’s been lovely,” he said with a nod, and then leapt across three benches and off in the opposite direction to the guards. They shouted again and ran after him, but Cait saw him quickly blend in with the crowds and silently wished the guards luck. They were probably going to need it.

Speakeasies and the Roaring Twenties: an interview with Sarah Zama

Hi everyone! It’s been a little while since I’ve done an author interview, but today I’m super excited to bring you an interview I did with Sarah Zama, she of The Old Shelter blog. She’s got a wonderful new book, Give in to the Feeling coming out and today she’s here to tell us about the research that went into it.

Thanks for being on the blog today Sarah – I’m so excited to be interviewing you! Could you start by telling us a bit about your story Give in to the Feeling? 

Thanks Celine, I’m excited to be here too. I’ve been following your series of fantasy interviews dreaming one day I’d appear in it too. I’m so excited to be here at last.

Since we writers are encouraged to write the blurb for our story in case anyone will ask what’s it about, I suppose this is a great occasion to use just that.

Chicago 1924

Susie has never thought she might want more. More than being Simon’s woman. More than the lush life he’s given her when she came from China. More than the carefree nights of dance in his speakeasy.

Simon has never asked her anything in return but her loyalty. Not a big price.

Until that night.

When Blood enters Simon’s speakeasy, and Susie dances with him, she discovers there’s a completely new world beyond the things she owns and the she’s allowed to do. A world where she can be her own woman, where she can be the woman she’s supposed to be. A world of sharing and self-expression she has never glimpsed.

But she’s still Simon’s woman, and he won’t allow her to forget it.

Soon Susie discovers there’s more than two men fighting over her in the confrontation between Blood and Simon. There’s a fight breaking through the walls of the real world, into the spirit world where Susie’s freedom may mean life or death for one of them. And if Susie gives in, she will lose more than just her heart.

At its heart, Give in to the Feeling is a story of self-discovery. A coming of age, if you will, but with a fantasy twist… which is to be expected from me!

Give in to the Feeling takes place in a speakeasy in Chicago during the Prohibition era, which makes for a wonderful setting. For anyone not familiar with the era, can you tell us about speakeasies?

a1ae6a72c67e252d52196ddef3025862The funniest thing about speakeasies is that nobody really knows much about them. They had been around for quite sometime before Prohibition. National Prohibition went into effect in 1920, but before that, there had been state prohibition or temperance laws everywhere in the U.S. for decades. This means even before National Prohibition, people in certain states couldn’t freely drink alcohol. Speakeasies provided this opportunity, although under wraps and away from the public eyes. Everything was kept as secret as possible. In fact, one of the theories about the origin of the name ‘speakeasy’ is that owners would invite customers (who of course became quite loud after a few drinks) to ‘speak easy’ so not to be heard and discovered.

speakeasy_1These kind of places already existed in the second half of the 1800s, though what we think about when we hear the word ‘speakeasy’ today is Prohibition incarnation of them and the reason is that speakeasies proliferated at an astounding rate during the 1920s.

There were all kind of speakeasy around the U.S. As it was said, all you needed was a room, two people and a bottle of liquor, and that’s exactly what happened in most little towns. Speakeasies were often rooms in private houses where people would gather to drink (producing and consuming one’s own liquor wasn’t illegal, mind you. But if you charged for that… well, that was a different story).

In larger cities, speakeasy could take up any form, including very exclusive restaurants where food was served and shows where offered. These places were hardly secret. One journalist related that it took him about two minutes to find out where a speakeasy was in NYC (he jump out the train and into a cab, and the cab driver asked him whether he fancied a drink in special place). True, there were places that used passwords and membership cards so to shrink the possibility that a Prohibition agent slipped inside unnoticed, but most places just bribed police and agents, so they didn’t really bother about secrecy.

Could you share your favourite / most interesting tidbit from your research into this time period?

I know this not very exciting, but what surprised me more about my research was discovering how much the Twenties were like our own time.

It was a time of shocking change, fast modernization, clash of cultures, phobias of any form of ‘otherness’. It was a time of coping with a life that changed so fast it was hard to adjust to. Attitudes of young people that were so new and different they felt alien. A sense that old, reliable values were crumbling away.

Sounds familiar?

I was also impressed by how much young people of the Twenties looked like us.

I was worried about this aspect of life. Give in to the Feeling and my trilogy are both set largely in a speakeasy, which were places frequented mostly by young people looking for booze and wild jazz dances. But we’re talking young people of nearly a century ago. What would they be like? What would they do? How would they think?

Well, turned out they looked and thought and acted like us a lot more than young people of the subsequent three or four decades did. The Great Depression and then the war years were huge setbacks for any social advancement that started in the Twenties.

A reader of my AtoZ Challege of last year, which was about the Twenties, commented that she thought a few of the things I was talking about started in the Sixties. Not so. That was merely the time when things caught up.

What books (other than yours of course!) or films would you recommend for anyone new to stories set in that time period.

In terms of novels, there’s no competition. My favourite era author is Langston Hughes, who was one of the frontmen of the Harlem Renaissance. If the devil ever showed up offering me to gain Hughes’s writing qualities, I’d give him anything he would ask in return.

Langston Hughes’s style is simply wonderful. Vivid. You can see and smell and hear what he writes, that’s how powerful his prose is. His sight was so keen he could see deep inside his characters. He’s absolutely fantastic.

He was mostly a poet, but he wrote shorts stories and novels too. My favourite is a short story titled Father and Son, the story of a white father and the son he had with his black house maiden. Heart wrenching. All the characters in the story are so strong-willed and so focused you know it can’t possible go well for any of them.







In terms of book about the era, the first to spring to mind is always Last Call by Daniel Okrent. That’s one of the newest book about Prohibition and one of the more thoroughly researched. Michael Perrish’s Anxious Decades is my favourite book about the Twenties. It actually covers both Twenties and Thirties, but the Twenties section is the best, in my opinion. Very essential, it doesn’t really go into mush details on anything, but it does touch on all most important aspects and events of the time.

I also enjoyed Erin Chapman’s Prove it on Me a lot. This is an examination of the social position of black women in the Twenties, one that sometimes was very far and different from the flapper’s life.

As for film, Underworld, a silent film of 1927, is my absolute favourite. I know a lot of people thinks silent films are boring and stupid, too simple in comparison with moderns ones.

That’s because they have never watch one.

I found it really interesting that your characters were Chinese and American Indian – it made for a really interesting mix of cultures. Did the decision to do this spring purely from story, or were there large communities of Chinese and American Indian in Chicago during that time?

It mostly happened by chance. Seriously.

The very first idea for Blood and Michael’s stories came to me from Michael Jackson’s video Smooth Criminal (which is one of my favourite videos and songs ever). In that video the lead female dancer is an Asian girl. I just took the two characters as they were and put them in my story.

Michael came from my interests. When I started planning the trilogy, six years ago, I was already very much into Indian cultures. Michael just happened one day and that’s when everything went into place for my story.

There wasn’t a big community of Chinese in Chicago. Large Asian communities were on the East Cost, but the Midwest? Not so much. In fact Chinese people in Chicago were so few it was hardly considered a community at all.

Indians just didn’t leave reservations at the time. In fact, the Twenties is probably one of the bleakest times in the history of any American Indian people. They were shrinking in numbers. Most of the old leaders were dead or dying and there weren’t new ones taking up their place. The U:S. was employing any policy to disband unity and crush cultural proud. Nearly all Indian religious practices were outlawed. Children were taken from families and sent to boarding school, were a large number died and more just became whitewashed. Indians were recognised citizen of the U.S. only in 1924, the same year as Give in to the Feeling takes place. Michael probably doesn’t know he’s a U.S. citizen.

It was very hard. Things only started to get a little better in the Thirties with Roosevelt’s New Deal.

So, I suppose it wasn’t too smart of me to choose characters who were so unlikely to be there. But I promise there is an explanation for that in the story.

In your story you mention beliefs held by the Chinese and American Indians about spirits. Did this come from your imagination or is it based on real cultural beliefs and superstitions?

As well as I tried to be as accurate as possible with the historical setting, I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible with the ‘spirit’ world.

I did go after cultural belief that could make sense in my setting and to the characters I was handling. Luckily, it looks like cultural beliefs about the spirit world seem to touch across culture, so I could envision quite an organic fantasy incarnation of my spirit world staying close enough to actual cultural beliefs.

I was also lucky enough to have first person experience of the cultures present in my story.

When I live in Dublin, I shared my apartment with four other girls and one of them was Chinese. I have to admit Susie own a lot to my Chinese friend.

On the online workshop I was a member of, I met a Mohawk woman who was willing to share knowledge about Indian cultures. I couldn’t believe my good luck. Over the past four years, we’ve become friends and I’m very aware that my story would be – and especially feel – a lot different if I hadn’t met her.

I did read a lot as research for my story, but these personal experience were fundamental. I really think researching Ghost Trilogy has been an enriching personal experience.

I’m a big fan of your blog, over at The Old Shelter, which, for anyone new to it, is stuffed with interesting posts about the prohibition era and DieselPunk. Can you first tell us about DieselPunk as a genre and share some of your favourite reads/films in the genre? 

If I have to be honest, I discovered Dieselpunk by mere chance, but the moment I learned about it, I was hooked. It was very strange, because I was already writing something that could be considered Dieselpunk, only I didn’t know it. In a way, it was like finding my home, you know.

Dieselpunk is a speculative genre that mixes settings of the diesel era and punk elements. There is actually some debate about the definition, but I adhere to Larry Amyett’s ideas. The diesel era goes from the late 1910s (WWI included) to the early 1950s and the story can be set in our world or in a world inspired by this period’s history and events.

The punk element is something more allusive. Many fans think the punk element is the fantasy element. Amyett admits that the fantasy element may be what punks the story up, but the concept is broader. For him, the punk element is a subversive element that may come in many different fashions. If it questions reality how we know it or if it shows it in a different, new way, even if it isn’t fantasy, then it punks the story up and create Dieselpunk.

It’s a more complex (and to me, more satisfying) definition than “it’s Steampunk, but with machines working on internal combustion rather than steam” which you do find on quite a few Dieselpunk blogs and forums.

I wrote about my idea of Dieselpunk in a blog about International Dieselpunk Day, if you are interested to look a bit deeper into the question.

Dieselpunk today is mostly a visual genre. Novels are still in small numbers, mostly located in the self-publishing market. There are authors who are becoming quite popular (I think Ari Marmell, Charles A. Cornell, Bard Constantin, but mostly they are popular inside the community.







Visual stories are a different beast. There are dieselpunk stories that are popular films, some of which broke into the mainstream arena. Indian Jones’s films are probably the most popular of them all, but recently there have been Captain American the First Avenger and the spin-off tv series Agent Carter (which is hugely popular inside the dieselpunk community).

You also do a great post series called The New Woman’s New Look, about how women changed during the 20s and 30s. What’s your favourite thing/tidbit you uncovered when researching the posts? 

I’m having a lot of fun with this series, and the reason I enjoy it so much is that I’m discovering so many things about ourselves. Many things we take for granted appeared in the Twenties for the first time. And as I like to say, history always makes sense. There is always a reason why things happen, and what happened in the Twenties define the entirety of the 20th century.

The history of women is only one of the many changes society went through in that time, but it speaks of a deeper change happening inside the society. Only a small number of women were flappers: they were all a certain age (college student), they mostly belong to a certain class (middle and upper-middle class), they all had time and money on their hands. Many, many women didn’t have all these characteristics at the same time.

Still, when we think to women in the Twenties, we automatically think to the flapper. We think to the fashion and the dances, to bob air and heavy make-up. Women drinking and smoking. Women discovering their sexuality. All of this did happened – to a small number of women. But even women who weren’t actively involved in the change, even men, even older people, all where affected by the evolution of feeling s and ways of thinking the flapper was the more shocking expression of.

As I explained in my first The New Women’s New Look article, the changing fashion and attitude so prominent in the flapper speaks of a wider change in society. A change that went far deeper than women’s look and went right to the core of relationship between genders and ages, between the past and the present. A new way to understand life, closer to what we feel today. What allowed the emergence of the flapper was a profound change in heart and mind that was also the birthing place of society as we understand it today. It’s a lot more than just fashion.

Well thank you so much for taking part Sarah, it was great to have you on the blog! 

Give in to the Feeling – by Sarah Zama

Chicago 1924

Susie has never thought she might want more. More than being Simon’s woman. More than the lush life he’s given her when she came from China. More than the carefree nights of dance in his speakeasy.
Simon has never asked her anything in return but her loyalty. Not a big price.
Until that night.

When Blood enters Simon’s speakeasy, and Susie dances with him, she discovers there’s a completely new world beyond the things she owns and the things she’s allowed to do. A world where she can be her own woman, where she can be the woman she’s supposed to be. A world of sharing and self-expression she has never glimpsed.
But she’s still Simon’s woman, and he won’t allow her to forget it.

Soon Susie will discover there’s more than two men fighting over her in the confrontation between Blood and Simon. There’s a fight breaking through the wall of the real world, into the spirit world where Susie’s freedom may mean life or death for one of them. And if Susie gives in, she will lose more than just her heart and happiness.

Now available for pre-order on:


Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.
After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.

Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.
In 2016, her first book comes out, Give in to the Feeling.

She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.