Saturday, July 7, 2018

S.M. Stirling Author Interview

Photo Credit: Anton Brkic

Stephen Michael Stirling is a French-born Canadian-American science fiction and fantasy author. Stirling is probably best known for his Draka series of alternate history novels and the more recent time travel/alternate history Nantucket series and Emberverseseries.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that writing was not just a hobby?
In high school, I had a writing class. It consisted of three other students, myself, and the teacher. At the beginning he handed us some large notebooks, and informed us that we'd be writing a book that year; we met once a week to read and discuss what we'd done, and could go to him at any time for help.

I wrote a novel. It was a terrible novel, but it got better as it went along. At that point, I realized "I can do this".

Do you ever come up with anything so wild that you scare yourself, that leaves you wondering where that came from?
Not really. I've always had an extremely vivid imagination.

In your new book; BLACK CHAMBER, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
It's what's known as an "alternate history"; you take history, change one thing and trace (possible) consequences.

In this case, it's the summer of 1912. Teddy Roosevelt was running for the Republican nomination against the incumbent, Taft.

Teddy isn't the main character; he's in the background, and features in the Prologue and at the end of the book, but he's crucially important to the world of the book.

Taft had been a friend of his, but they'd grown apart while Roosevelt was out of office; Roosevelt, who'd been becoming more radical himself, felt Taft was too close to corporate interests and had too limited a view of what a President, or the Federal government in general, should do.

Roosevelt became head of the "progressive" movement in America -- a word that didn't have quite the same meaning then as now, though there's some overlap. In a speech commemorating John Brown in Osawatomie, Kansas, he proclaimed a policy of the "New Nationalism" -- putting the nation, the community, first. He proclaimed a platform that in some respects is still rather radical today! For example, he wanted a national health insurance system; he was also for women's suffrage, and had close links to prominent female reformers like Jane Addams.

This terrified the Old Guard, the conservative faction of the party, and in 1912 they set out to steal the nomination, with everything from stuffing ballot boxes to 'fixing' credentials committees and outright violence and fraud. In our history, it worked; the Progressives bolted to form the Bull Moose/Progressive Party, and Woodrow Wilson won for the Democrats with only 42% of the vote.

In THE BLACK CHAMBER, there's one crucial difference -- just after the primary in his home state, Ohio (which he lost), President Taft drops dead of a heart attack. It's not stretching things to posit that; Taft weighed 360 pounds and with a profoundly unhealthy lifestyle. His Vice President, Sherman, was deathly ill and due to die before the end of the year.

Teddy Roosevelt and his Progressive supporters had overwhelming popular support; he gets the nomination, and wins the election in a landslide. They set out to remake the country.

That's how the Black Chamber -- a sort of proto-CIA -- comes to exist, and how my protagonist, Luz O'Malley Aróstegui, comes to be a Field Operative for it, and is an international spy on an airship crossing from New York to Amsterdam in the late summer of 1916!

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Luz?
Many things! It's a fascinating period, only a century in the past, in some ways "modern", in others very very different.

One thing that was surprising was how 'invisible' women's sexual orientation could be (Luz is bi, in our terms). Many prominent women -- Jane Addams, the social reformer and friend of Roosevelt, and Mary Thomas, head of the women's college of Bryn Mawr, just to name two lived openly with their female partners and referred to their relationships as "marriages", but it simply passed by without comment, even among their political enemies. If there wasn't any cross-dressing or open sexuality (rare anyway then in respectable circles), it just didn't "register" for most people. That would change in the 1920's and 30's as Freudianism changed people's perceptions, but it was the case in this period. Things were very different for gay men, of course.

Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
That's difficult to say. Stories just "come" to me; I get flashes of the characters and the action, and then have to 'make sense' of them and knit them together. I can tell when a story interests me because I become rather obsessed with it -- ideas are always bubbling up, but some 'take' more strongly than others.

For me, writing is a combination of conscious and unconscious processes .

What part of Ciara and Horst did you enjoy writing the most?
Playing with, to, and against popular conceptions of various types of characters. We 'type' people; it's inevitable. But everyone is an individual, with variations within the limits of their lives and times.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think Luz would enjoy meeting Sandra Arminger from my Change series (starting with Dies the Fire).

Any new and exciting books that you would like to share?
Well, I'm reading (in manuscript) the latest historical mystery by Patricia Finney, A SUSPICION OF SILVER. It's part of a series she's doing (under the pen name P.F. Chisholm) set in Tudor England, amid the lawless reiver clans of the Anglo-Scots Border country, and the protagonist is an extraordinary man named Sir Robert Carey, an actual historical individual who actually did all the wild things that she portrays so well. Patricia is perhaps the best historical novelist operating now, in my opinion. And I'm also reading a new book, an SF story set in the near future (also in manuscript) by my friend Alyx Dellamonica, and up-and-coming Canadian SF author of great talent -- her "Child of a Hidden Sea" and its two sequels are both boffo adventure stories (with pirates and magic!) and hilarious character studies.

One of the privileges of being a professional writer is that you get to hang out with people who do good stuff.

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
Being eaten by wolves and not being able to scream. I had that one repeatedly when I was younger.

If you could live in any period in history, what would it be and why?
This one, because of the medical care! If I could be guaranteed robust good health, there are more possibilities. I might pick the 19th century, because of the vast possibilities.

Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
Watching lions sleeping in trees in Masai Mara park, in Kenya, when I was about 12. For some reason it was fascinating. Though alarming for the VW Bus full of German tourists who didn't notice the one right over their heads until its tail began twitching and hitting their cameras.

What is the last movie that you saw at the cinema?
The Incredibles 2, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

What is your favorite restaurant in town and why?
That's a toughie. La Plazuela in the La Fonda Hotel and La Casa Sena, in the old hacienda headquarters on Palace Avenue are the two top contenders. They both have extremely good food and service, and beautiful settings with historic associations.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional. with whom would it be?
Luz, right now, because I'm writing about her! But she leads an adventurous life, and adventure has been defined as "Someone else, in very bad trouble, far away."

What according to you is your most treasured possession?
Books, undoubtedly! Though I'm also fond of the Masai simi (shortsword). I think it must be "Naughty Red Lion Beware!", a classic British children's tale my parents read to me as a child, and from which I learned to read... and acquired a lifelong fascination with adventure and magic. It's on the shelf over my desk.

Where can readers find you?
My website's at, which has sample chapters of most of my books. I put up large chunks of my writing there; I feel if someone's going to read 5 chapters on a website, they'll buy the book! It also has fanfiction, stories readers have written in my worlds, which I consider a complement (if done respectfully).

I'm on facebook, under my own name and at the S.M. Stirling Appreciation Society page.

The first novel in a brand-new alternate history series where Teddy Roosevelt is president for a second time right before WWI breaks out, and on his side is the Black Chamber, a secret spy network watching America's back.

1916. The Great War rages overseas, and the whole of Europe, Africa, and western Asia is falling to the Central Powers. To win a war that must be won, Teddy Roosevelt, once again the American president, turns to his top secret Black Chamber organization--and its cunning and deadly spy, Luz O'Malley Aróstegui.

On a transatlantic airship voyage, Luz poses as an anti-American Mexican revolutionary to get close--very close--to a German agent code-named Imperial Sword. She'll need every skill at her disposal to get him to trust her and lead her deep into enemy territory. In the mountains of Saxony, concealed from allied eyes, the German Reich's plans for keeping the U.S. from entering the conflict are revealed: the deployment of a new diabolical weapon upon the shores of America...


“A rollicking spy thriller set in a familiar WW1, but with a ‘what might have been’ America racing to cope with a far deadlier, more desperate Germany.” —Taylor Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of River of Bones

“A slam-bang spy thriller with an engaging female protagonist.” —David Drake, author of Death’s Bright Day

“Nobody carries a bigger stick in the alternate-history game than S. M. Stirling. As always, he comes up with inventive twists that keep your mind racing and the pages turning. Bravo!” —Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Quantum Night

“Once again one of the best story-tellers in the world takes you on a wonderful ride. Great tale, great characters …love it.” —David Crosby, of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash

“The nice thing about getting a Steve Stirling book in the mail is that you know for a few hours you can fly on dreams of wonder, travelling to a world so much more than this angry reality.” —John Ringo, author of Under a Graveyard Sky

“It’s a great feeling being in the hands of an alternate history master. Black Chamber is a wonderfully fun transcontinental spy romp, and a great beginning to a new series.” —Django Wexler, author of The Infernal Battalion

“Stirling packs a mighty wallop in this high-spirited alternate WWI history…Stirling’s lavish historical, linguistic, and cultural detail…enhance well-rounded figures to make this a highly enjoyable espionage romp.” —Publishers Weekly

“Too many Alternate History stories have become sadly routine. Riding to the rescue is S. M. Stirling’s Black Chamber. This novel provides a desperately needed infusion of courage and originality. How appropriate that Penguin, publisher of the James Bond novels, launches a hard edged new spy series with Stirling. How appropriate that Ace, famous for classic science fiction, is onboard for the adventure. Beware the Breath of Loki.” Brad Linaweaver, Prometheus Award winning author of Moon of Ice

“Black Chamber is one mighty fine read – sexy, action-filled adventure in a thoughtful alternate history. Enjoy!” —Lawrence-Watt Evans

“Black Chamber is one of the most intriguing and entertaining adventures to come along in years. If you like alternate history, you will appreciate Stirling’s take on what Teddy Roosevelt could have accomplished if he had been allowed. If you like steam punk, you will enjoy elegant inventions that are firmly based on science. If you like derring-do, you will thrill to car chases and combats of all kinds ( there is one scene that anyone with acrophobia might want to avoid). And whatever your gender, if you like a feisty, sexy, intelligent heroine, meet Field Operative Luz O’Malley Arostegui!” Diana L. Paxson, author of Sword of Avalon

“There’s something very exhilarating about watching somebody at the peak of his powers attempt something extremely difficult and pull it off with apparently ridiculous ease. This is a sheer joy of an alternative history, featuring probably the most interesting and talented President ever in a term he never served and a new and darker view of the First World War.“ Patricia Finney, author of Gloriana’s Torch

You can purchase Black Chamber at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you S.M. STIRLING for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Black Chamber (Tales from the Black Chamber #1) by S.M. Stirling. 


  1. The five most beautiful things in the world are 1) my husband; 2) my oldest daughter; 3) my middle child; 4) my youngest child; and 5) me because we are a loving family.

  2. I agree with Danielle. My husband, my daughter my son my grandchildren and my mother. Family is everything to me.

  3. Food-yummy