Aztec steampunk! How did this story come about?
I was doing some work for my Obsidian and Blood trilogy, and I had this very vivid image of a gunslinger coming to a mine—except I couldn’t really fit it anywhere into my novels. So I took the image, added the research I’d done into Aztec customs, and more or less made up the universe on the spot, throwing in a few references to not-quite-steampunk-y things (the god-machine is actually more a reference to Asimov’s positronic machines in his short stories, who end up ruling the world).
It’s exciting to read steampunk outside of its traditional settings—do you plan to bring steampunk into other dusty corners of the universe?
I wrote a couple stories in the same mould (“Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders” in Interzone is set in the same universe, except centred around another Aztec god; and “Memories in Bronze, Feathers and Blood” is inspired by many of the same setting elements). I would love to do some steampunk set in Nguyen dynasty Vietnam, but haven’t got around to it yet; mainly because I would need to get serious again about my Vietnamese so I could find decent sources . . .
There’s so much depth here: What was the biggest challenge in pulling all of the story elements together?
Part of the challenge was keeping a balance around the character of Tezoca: I wanted him to be deliberately unpleasant, arrogant, and cocksure, but not so unpleasant that the reader would hate his guts and wish him dead—it’s a tricky balance to strike.
Any surprises between the initial conception of the story and its final form?
This was actually a fairly easy story to write: It doesn’t happen very often, but it practically wrote itself, and I had very little to do other than follow the muse. I hadn’t envisioned, when I started it, that Tezoca would end up all but dead, which gave me a bit of a fright when that part came around out of nowhere—I wasn’t really sure how to resurrect him enough for my planned ending!
What role did Marshall Payne and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz play in the story’s final form?
Marshall helped me a lot by doing detailed line-edits on the story, fixing my disastrous tendency for run-on sentences and making sure that the message in my head got on the page in a comprehensible fashion. Rochita is a very good friend, and we’ve been corresponding and supporting each other for a long, long time—notably, she read the first draft of this and made very incisive comments about it, which helped me polish it into shape, but in general she’s always been there for me.
Is there anything in the story that you think tends to get missed by readers? Like, who is Tezoca?
Tezoca is actually the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca—it’s a bit of an Easter egg, really, as you can read the story perfectly well without knowing this, but there are a few clues. The fact that he calls Quetzalcoatl his brother and his enemy is a big one—the two gods were at odds in the Aztec pantheon; and of course the shards of obsidian that he carries are the shards of his obsidian mirror (Tezcatlipoca means “Smoking Mirror,” and he had an obsidian mirror in the place of his foot). Another thing that people would miss if not familiar with Aztec mythology, I think, is Quetzalcoatl being buried underground, which is a deliberate reference to the myth of Quetzalcoatl going into the underworld to find the bones of the dead and repopulate the devastated earth—there is a slight promise there that he will come up one day, bearing humanity’s salvation.
Can we expect more set in this and the world of “Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders”?
I might come back to this universe later on—I had plans at one point for a longer novella detailing what happened to Tezoca and Coztic (the main character in “Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders”)—but right now I’m focusing on other projects in the limited time that I have.
Any news you want to share with us?
I just finished the first draft of my novel, a sort of post-apocalyptic urban fantasy set in Paris, complete with fallen angels, Vietnamese dragons, and entirely too many murders. I hope to get it polished soon; and of course I’m working on short stories: I published two set in the universe of Xuya recently, “In the Days of the War, as Red as Blood, as Dark as Bile” in Subterranean, and “The Breath of War” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and have a couple more upcoming in various anthologies.
Spread the word!