M: Welcome Jeff. It's wonderful to have you by the blog today.
M: The title, The Walking House, caught my eye. This is a new story title for me. What fairy tale is it based on?
JY: There are a number of stories based around the Russian character Baba Yaga and her rather peculiar dwelling – a hut that stood on chicken legs. She’s interesting because she typically known as evil person, literally a devourer of young women with her iron teeth. At the same time, she is also occasionally someone who is gone to for advice and help. So she’s a fascinating character, but let’s get back to that house. Interestingly enough the Sami People of Scandanavia built huts on top of tree stumps, which just happen to look like chicken feet. It’s a striking image and one that could certainly spark people’s imaginations to come up with a story to explain what they were seeing. Add to that a cautionary tale to keep your kids in order and just like that faerie tale. On the whole, the stories gave me a great deal of opportunities and I ran with them.
M: Could you share what your story is about?
JY: “The Walking House” is about three people who form an unlikely friendship as they search for the inventor of a walking machine for the Tsar. Nikolai, who once met Sasha Gubernetsky and whose parent’s balloon will provide transportation. Piter, a writer and Nikolai’s acquaintance sent along as a chaperone. Svetlana, Nikolai’s maid who grew up in the wilds of Russia and will serve as a guide in the search. But “The Walking House” is also a story told by Piter to two young children, who occasionally interrupt with their own thoughts. Finally, it’s a tale about a fearsome old woman, three challenges, and an unexpected love.
M: What drew you to tell the story The Walking House?
JY: When I was younger, I read the standard Faerie Tales and since I tend to read a lot, I kept looking for more. That meant that once I’d finished with Grimm and Anderson I had to look a little farther a field. I found things like the 1001 Arabian Nights, Irish folklore, and even a few Russian tales that included Baba Yaga. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time in thought when Danielle Ackley-McPhail came along looking for a steampunk story that was based off of a Faerie Tale. Besides, there were so many different places to go with this one and the fact that there’s not a tremendous amount of steampunk set in Russia.
M: What steampunk item did you use in the story that you would love to have?
JY: The spoiler’s apparently right there in the title – a steam-powered walking machine. If I was going to write about Baba Yaga, then I better have an explanation concerning her very famous hut. Why shouldn’t it be steam-powered? After all the setting is one great big forest and there’s plenty of fuel around. But I also took the opportunity to tie the walking machine idea to Tsar Alexander II’s need to move troops and weaponry through difficult terrain to deal with the Polish Uprising.
This sounds so cool! I'm looking forward to all the machines created.
An Excerpt from The Walking House
based on Baba Yaga
“UNCLE, TELL US WHY THERE IS AN OAK TREE IN THE YARD.”
Piter looked down at Alexei and his little sister Tatiana. Her fingers gripped Piter’s pant leg and she pulled insistently. He put a hand on the young boy’s head, ruffling his dark hair. Then he led them over beneath the shade of the tree. “You know these don’t grow this far north and certainly not like this one. So why don’t you sit down, and I’ll tell you the whole story the way your father told it to me.” Piter pulled out his ever-present journal and paged through it until he found the story. Then he began, “A long time ago, your father lived in Moscow and one day he went on a journey with two friends...”
~ * ~
“Nikolai, wipe the borscht from your beard. You look like a Cossack.” Svetlana handed him his napkin from the table. Then she turned away, her cheeks reddening as she hurried to the doorway.
“She is too forward with you, Nikolai,” Ivan said, pointing with his knife.
“No, she is right. You do look a bloody mess.” Piter laughed and sipped his tea before turning to the other guest, “Be kinder, Ivan, you don’t want her mother against you. After all she merely tolerates Nikolai and he pays her to keep the house. Although that is not a bad thing now that his parents are gone, else he would be like a house spirit with no tenants. A little domovoi on his lonesome.”
Nikolai sighed and daubed at his beard. Svetlana was right. More often than not she was right.
Ivan rapped his knuckles on the table and the others turned to him. “Congratulations, dear Nikolai, on your new assignment. It is always good to be noticed and very good to be noticed by the Tsar.”
“Even if you are being sent out into the woods to chase a ghost.” Piter’s cup occluded his cockeyed grin.
“That may be my fault,” admitted Nikolai running his spoon around the bottom of the bowl. He looked to the mantelpiece at the photograph of his parents in front of their balloon. Perhaps it was his turn to explore and hopefully his luck would be better. “When I spoke of the drawings I found by Sasha Gubernetsky I had little idea things would turn out so.”
“Why do we need a machine that walks anyway? Didn’t we free the serfs to raise an army? You tell him, Piter; you know I am right.”
“No, Ivan. The Tsar freed the serfs because it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. What is this walking machine anyway, Nikolai?”
“Gubernetsky’s machine was two-legged and had a gyroscope inside to keep it balanced. It was big enough that it could step over most obstacles. Imagine how you can march men over areas you could never drive a wagon through; that’s what Gubernetsky envisioned. Unfortunately, all I have is a picture and some vague sketches that were given to the Tsar by a mysterious source.
“Since I met Gubernetsky a while ago, I am considered familiar with him and his work. The military is always looking for ways to keep the borders more secure, such as those with the Ottoman Empire, and stop unrest in places like Poland.”
“You sound like you should be recruiting for the army, Nikolai,” Ivan said with a laugh.
“No,” Nikolai replied, “I’ve just heard it too many times. One of the generals is taken with the idea of a walking machine and pushed the plan up to Alexander II. So I am commissioned to find Gubernetsky and retrieve him.”
Piter leaned forward. “But that still doesn’t tell us why Svetlana is going along with you, much less why you are taking the balloon.”
Nikolai found he couldn’t meet the other’s eyes for a moment even though the reason was perfectly honest. “She is from the Ural Mountains north of Perm where Gubernetsky was last seen. So she will serve as a guide. As for the balloon, there is an immense amount of land to cover in our search and we will do it more quickly from the air. The plan is to stop at villages here and there and ask after Gubernetsky until we find him.”
“You make it all sound so simple, Nikolai. But when you come right down to it, it is you and a young lady in a balloon in the wilderness. I know Mistress Kasinov well enough that she would not allow that for her daughter. So is this where you come in, Piter?”
With a glance at the doorway, to ensure he was not being watched, Piter replied, “Yes, I am the chaperone, but only because my uncle married Mistress Kasinov long ago. Even though she is sharp of tongue, Svetlana is family and I shall look after her. I am to keep our young man here a dreaming inventor and not a wild beast that the young lady should fear. Also I am a writer. The opportunity to chronicle this adventure is too great to pass by.”
“And Mistress Kasinov trusts you to not spend your days head down over your notebook?” Ivan laughed, shaking his head. “I don’t know who is the greater fool here, you or Nikolai for chasing a ghost in the wilderness.”
When his guests left, Nikolai climbed the staircase to his room. As he packed his clothes, a light evening rain dimmed the lights of Moscow. In a day or two they would be far enough away that he would no longer see those lights. A day or two more and they would be farther away than any dacha he had ever visited. In a week, farther than he had ever traveled. He reached out to put his sable hat into the trunk and stopped when he heard a board creak. Looking up he caught Svetlana glancing at him from the doorway. She pointed to the hat and then shook her head. It was so quiet that the long black hair spilling from her headscarf rustled against her back. Then he smiled and set the hat aside. She was right; something so fine would make him stand out as from the cities. As always her advice was sound. At least some things would not change.
~ * ~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~About the Author:
Jeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.
He received a Writers of the Future award for “Written in Light. He also has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future v.26, By Any Means, Best Laid Plans, Dogs of War, In an Iron Cage, Fantastic Futures 13, Clockwork Chaos, TV Gods, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson and Gaslight and Grimm. Jeff was published in the magazines eSteampunk, Realms, Cemetery Moon, Trail of Indiscretion, Realms Beyond, Carbon14 and Neuronet. He is an editor with Fortress Publishing for their Drunken Comic Book Monkey line as well as the anthology TV Gods.
Jeff has helped run the Watch the Skies SF&F Reading Group of Harrisburg and Camp Hill for more than fifteen years. He also is an instructor for the Step Back in Time class. Step Back in Time prepares children to enjoy all aspects of Renaissance Faires by learning about dress, language, culture, history and more. Finally, Jeff is also the proprietor of the online eBay and Etsy shops- Helm Haven, which produces Renaissance and Steampunk costume pieces.
Order Gaslight & Grimm now:
Release day, May 29, 2016.