Today I have the amazing A.J. Hartley on our blog! He graciously answered a few questions about his latest novel Steeplejack which released today!!
The core ideas actually shifted a number of times as I worked on the book. At one stage there were more fantasy elements, at another (very early on) the hero was a boy. I think a lot of the world of the story came together as I planned and went on a trip to South Africa and Swaziland. But in a broader sense, I feel like the book has elements of stories and genres I’ve been working with all my life and that they intersected here—mystery, fantasy, adventure, Victoriana and social issues. At the beginning I think I was thinking of what became Steeplejack as two different books, one a fantasy, the other a fairly realist and more “literary” mystery, and then I realized that the two could be woven together to make something that felt (to me, at least) new and compelling.
2. This is the first book I've ever read where the main character is a steeplejack, how did you come up with that idea?
Steeplejacks were still a part of the world I grew up in, since I was raised in Lancashire, a place that still had a lot of old Victorian factory chimneys which had to be maintained or taken down. I live in Charlotte, NC, now, and the first idea came from spotting an old and abandoned factory chimney which had a bush growing out of the top. It got me thinking about steeplejacks in general and I quickly came up with something very like the cover art for the book! I didn’t have a story idea yet, but I could see this character (a boy at that time) scaling one of those chimneys, and I loved the visual drama of the thing.
3. Which character was the hardest to write?
Hmmm. Tricky. Since the story is told in first person, everyone is mediated by Ang, the protagonist, so I guess it has to be her. In fact I didn’t consciously feel great difficulty writing her because I intuitively felt like I understood her, but I needed to modulate my sense of how she would think of her situation and the people around her because her social situation is not mine: I’m living in the twenty first century, I’m, white and I’m male. She is much younger than me, female, effectively Victorian and of an embattled racial group. All of those things had to be navigated very carefully and I relied on input from other readers to make sure I was getting it right.
4. What was your favorite scene to write?
I like the opening scene of the book because it does so much in terms of presenting the core issues, the world, the key character and the looming mystery, but other more action driven scenes (like the one at the opera house) were fun too. And anything involving Dahria is fun because she’s funny. To me, at least
5. Can you share what you are currently working on?
I’ve just finished the first draft of the second book in this series, but I’m also working on another multibook YA series called Cathedrals of Glass, which is part of my partnership with Tom DeLonge (of Blink 182/Angels and Airwaves) which I think of as Lord of the Flies meets Alien
A.J., thank you so much for stopping by! Steeplejack was a definite 2016 favorite of mine and I cannot wait for the sequel! I am also VERY intrigued with Cathedrals of Glass! It definitely sounds like my kinda book and well I'm a huge Blink 182 fan so having Tom DeLonge on the project with you is an added bonus! So excited!
Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: June 14th, 2016
My review: HERE
Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga, Ang for short, repairs the chimneys, towers, and spires of Bar-Selehm, the ethnically-diverse industrial capital of a land resembling Victorian South Africa. The city was built on the trade of luxorite, a priceless glowing mineral. When the Beacon, a historical icon made of luxorite, is stolen, it makes the headlines. But no one cares about the murder of Ang's new apprentice, Berrit—except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician, who offers Ang a job investigating Berrit's death. On top of this, Ang struggles with the responsibility of caring for her sister's newborn child.
As political secrets unfold and racial tensions surrounding the Beacon's theft rise, Ang navigates the constricting traditions of her people, the murderous intentions of her former boss, and the conflicting impulses of a fledgling romance. With no one to help her except a savvy newspaper girl and a kindhearted herder from the savannah, Ang must resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city is plunged into chaos.