Nebula Awards Interview: Cherie Priest by Marshall Payne

Cherie Priest was nominated for her novel Boneshaker.

How long did it take you to write Boneshaker? When did you first get the idea? Could you tell us about the writing process?

All in all, I guess it took about five months – at least for the first draft. The idea didn’t strike me like lightning one day or anything; it took awhile to evolve into something useable (maybe a couple of months?), and then eventually I was able to sit down and start telling its story.

I’m not sure what to tell you about the writing process. I don’t have a magical, sparkly muse or anything. I work for my day-job in the morning and then in the afternoon I put my ass in the chair and write until my husband comes home from work (roughly, depending). In time, I make an entire book that way. That’s pretty much it.

When writing this novel, what was the hardest part? The easiest?

The hardest part was deciding how much world-building to do – and how much to leave out. The backdrop is fairly complicated in its way; but the story at the forefront is very simple.  In the end, I erred on the side of saying too little about the world and making the main story paramount, but sometimes that comes back to bite me in reviews.

The easiest part was probably the action scenes. Those tend to go quickly, and with great exuberance.

Of the two main characters, which was the most enjoyable to write? Briar or Zeke?

Hard to say. I have more obvious points of commonality with Briar (we’re women of about the same age); but Zeke was also fun – he’s so clueless and ordinary, and trying to live up to a huge legacy that he doesn’t really understand. It was interesting to try and write that: the ordinary boy spawned by greatness, who lacks any personal greatness.

Outside of the two MCs, do you have a favorite and why?

Probably Croggon Hainey…in fact, I enjoyed it so much I wrote one of the sequels from his POV (Clementine, a novella to come from Subterranean). I love Andan Cly and his crew, too. They’re a fun bunch.

How would you define steampunk? Where do you see it headed in the future?

I’m afraid you get my standard definition here, the one on my website – because I can’t think of any way to condense or refine it further:  Steampunk is a style (of books, clothes, video games, movies, etc.) that draws its inspiration from old science fiction stories. By “old” I mean Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, and their ilk. Steampunk art is often (but not strictly always) indicative of a place and/or time wherein steam is the dominant form of high technology. Or at least it usually looks like it is.

As for where it’s headed, well, that’s up to the market. I hope it gets a good foot-hold and comes to stand on its own apart from fantasy or horror (the two places where it’s most often mis-filed, and promoted). But only time will tell.

Do you consider yourself a quick, facile writer or a slow, methodical one?

Depends on the deadline and the book. Some projects take more time than others.  Some are quick to bang out.  I hate to sound so vague about it, but there you go. It just depends.  I’ve had books that were written to Draft One status in about eight weeks, and I’ve had books that took more like a year.

What non-literary interests do you have?

Hm, that really limits things, doesn’t it?  I’m a writer, with two writing degrees. I do a lot of reading and research, as a primary hobby; but I also enjoy urban exploration (exploring abandoned buildings), spending a frankly ridiculous amount of time on the internet (oh well), and visiting conventions/conferences. I have a lot of distant friends, and conventions are the only time I get to see many of them.

What are you working on now?

In editorial process I have several projects, including two sequels to Boneshaker (Dreadnought from Tor, and Clementine from Subterranean), a project with George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards consortium (Fort Freak, from Tor), and two books for Bantam that are unrelated to any of those projects (Bloodshot and Hellbent).

But as for new material, I’m waiting on some contract information before I talk about it too much. Though I do have a couple of young adult projects that I’d love to get off the ground, and a horror project in the works.  But those are un-spoken-for at the moment, so technically they fall under “hobbies.”

Where would you like to see your career in, say, five years from now?

One of these days I’d love to break onto the NY Times bestseller list; and eventually I’d like to earn enough money as a writer to live a bit more comfortably than I do now (with an income supplemented by my husband’s small business and my own part-time day job). I don’t know too many people who get rich writing, but I’d like to hope that after a dozen or so books, perhaps I could achieve “moderately secure.”  (Note: But I wouldn’t turn down “rich.”)

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

I have no idea how to answer this one. You mean the weirdest?  Um, let’s see – I worked for the mafia one summer after high school, petitioning to legalize gambling in Florida for everyone to play here. I did this to earn my entrance fee for a private Christian college. It worked, and how. I earned more than I ever would have working counter duty at McDonald’s, I tell you what.

Oh sure, it was a little iffy. Sometimes I got paid in cash; sometimes I got a check. But when I went to pick up my last payment, the feds were there and they wouldn’t let me into the office.  Oh well. Still worth it.

Or, on another weird note, once I spent a week out in the woods (my senior year of high school) learning how to survive in the wilderness – because I was told that before Jesus comes back, there will be a Time of Trouble and all the true believers will have to escape the cities and live off the land for a while. I wish I could add, “Just kidding!” but I’m not.

Did I mention I was raised in an evangelical, eschatological church?  Yeah. I could go on for days.

Cherie Priest was born in Tampa, Florida, down the street from the stadium in 1975 — the same year that gave us Saturday Night Live and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so she considers herself in good company. She has a B.A. in English from Southern Adventist University, here noted because it embarrasses them to share a paragraph with Tim Curry in drag; and she also has an M.A. in Rhetoric (composition/critical theory) from the University of Tennessee, which couldn’t care less.
In addition to novels, she writes for magazines and websites, composing everything from product copy for power tools to interviews and movie reviews.  For her day job, she serves as an associate editor with Subterranean Press.  In March of 2006 she married her long-time significant other, Aric; and together with their fat black cat named Spain (as in, “I claim this land for–”), they moved to Seattle shortly after the wedding. Recently she bought a small blue fish and named her “Merrimack.” She calls her “Ginny” for short, but people in the Pacific Northwest tend not to get that joke.

Marshall PayneMarshall Payne has worked as a touring musician, music producer, sound technician, a salesman, and a waiter. He has written over 100 short stories and his fiction has or will appear in Aeon Speculative Fiction, Brutarian, Talebones, Hub Magazine, Fictitious Force, to name a few. He has a website at and a blog at