Friday, January 29, 2016

A Lady of Many Devices: Award-Winning Author Shelley Adina

Nineteen Teen is delighted to welcome Shelley Adina, with whom Regina admits to having an author crush. Shelley writes wonderfully detailed books full of characters you can root for. We sat down with her to learn more about what she's been up to, and where she's going next with her intriguing Magnificent Devices series.

Nineteen Teen: You have written about life and love in Amish communities, a posh teen boarding school, and an oceanside community in the Pacific Northwest, but perhaps your most popular series is set in an alternative 1889 London, where Victoria is Queen, Charles Darwin's son is Prime Minister, and steam is the power that rules the world. What drew you to 19th century England and steampunk stories?

Shelley: I’ve been a fan of steampunk since the 1960s, when we’d watch Wild, Wild West and then act out our own episodes. I always had to be James West because I was the oldest, but secretly, I wanted to be Artemus Gordon, inventing all the cool weapons and gizmos, and knowing where all the secret cupboards were on the train. I was a bookish child, reading English authors like Elizabeth Goudge (The Little White Horse, Linnets and Valerians, The Dean’s Watch) and R.F. Delderfield, and Canadian authors like L.M. Montgomery. Maybe it was the libraries I consorted with, but then, there was almost no contemporary fiction for what we now call middle-grade and YA readers. There was a lot of fiction written and set in the 1800s and early 1900s for that age group, however. I think my tastes were set early … until I discovered Nancy Drew and my love of cozy mysteries.

19 Teen: Your heroine, Lady Claire Trevelyan, starts out in the aristocracy but yearns for something more. What do you like best about Claire? What sometimes challenges you?

Shelley: What I like best about Claire is her inability to stay down for long. She’s had her share of setbacks, but as she advises the Mopsies, “Look around you, catalogue your resources, and then apply your intellect.” That bit of advice has saved her (and me) many a time. The thing that challenges me about her is that she’s so loyal to her friends and the people she loves that it never occurs to her that she shouldn’t dash off and attempt to help when they get into trouble. This turns out to be quite a conflict in books 7 and 8, when Andrew Malvern, whom she honestly loves, has a fairly reasonable expectation that when they marry, she might settle down. I don’t think settling down has ever occurred to her, and a little maturing has to take place before she realizes that sometimes you have to give other people the chance to be the hero.

19 Teen: Your understanding of both the times and the technology really shine in your books. How did you get so wise on steam and did you uncover anything really surprising in your research?

Shelley: ::whispers:: You know a lot of that isn’t real, right?

Seriously, I’m fortunate in that a man who builds steam-powered engines lives not three miles from me. If I need to know the rate of burning coal for a steam train on a three-percent grade over 80 miles, he’ll run the calculations and tell me. (“If a train left London at 4:00 p.m. at sixty miles per hour …” Who knew word problems would ever be useful?)

As for surprises, one day, I was sitting at breakfast in a lovely B&B a thousand miles from home (, and at the next table sat a submarine captain and his mariner wife. It so happened that I needed to know how an undersea dirigible would operate, so I asked them if they would mind applying their imaginations to it. We had a very entertaining talk over the frittata about everything from oxygen levels to how one might escape out of a torpedo tube, much to Ian the innkeeper’s delight.

19 Teen: If you had been born in your alternative England, would you be a Blood (aristocrat, born to wealth) or a Wit (those who live by their intellect) and would you be satisfied with that?

Shelley: I’m definitely a Wit. I would have been a writer then, too, and hold lovely salons so that my writer friends and I could talk about the subject we love best over tea cakes and wine. Oh, wait. We do that now!

19 Teen: You have a new book out this month, squee! Tell us something about it.

Shelley: I’m so glad you brought that up. Here’s the story summary:

Her father started a war. She intends to stop it.

Her father may have sacrificed his own life to save hers, but heiress Gloria Meriwether-Astor is finding it difficult to forgive him. After all, how many young ladies of her acquaintance will inherit wealth, beauty, and a legacy of arms dealing? Now the Royal Kingdom of Spain and the Californias is about to declare war on the Texican Territory and Gloria simply will not allow it.

In company with Alice Chalmers and the crew of Swan, along with a lost young Evan Douglas seeking reparation for his own sins, she takes to the air. Her intention—to stop the train carrying the final shipment of monstrous mechanicals into the Wild West. But they should have known that making a deal with air pirate Ned Mose in exchange for his help could never end well.

What is a lady of principle to do? For the lives of thousands may depend on her ability to stop the war … even if it means losing everything and everyone she has come to love …

“It’s another element I love about these books; from Claire to Gloria to Alice to Lizzie and Maggie to Lady Dunsmuir, the women in this series generally like and respect each other. Other women are not required to be lesser—weaker, more cowardly, less intelligent—in order for Claire to be awesome. She is not an exceptional woman, she is an awesome woman among awesome women.” —Fangs for the Fantasy: The latest in urban fantasy from a social justice perspective

19 Teen: Sounds fabulous! Where is the Magnificent Devices series going next?

Shelley: Well, Gloria’s journey from former finishing-school mean girl to woman of principle and strength is just beginning. In the course of her attempt to stop the war (which will comprise Books 10–12), she will stretch the limits of her capabilities and beyond, will learn who she really is, and will become a force to be reckoned with in her own right. (It is no coincidence that the aforementioned posh boarding school in San Francisco is the Gloria Stanford Fremont Preparatory Academy, hm?) She will stop asking herself, “What would Claire do?” and begin to ask herself, “Is this the right thing for me to do—and how will it affect the people I care about?” She, too, has grown up in a world of privilege, and like Claire, must have it all stripped away so she can see what she can make of herself on her own.

19 Teen: Pop quiz round:

Fruit trifle or chocolate truffles? Fruit trifle, no question. Be liberal with the brandy.

Chamomile or Earl Grey? It depends on whether the stomach is unsettled. If so, the former. If not, the latter.

Napoleon or Wellington? Heavens. What a question for this citizen of the Commonwealth. Wellington, of course.

Empire waist or bustle dress? You tricky minxes. You’ve heard about my Regency prequels, haven’t you, dubbed “Prinnypunk”? The steam engine was invented during the Regency, as you know, with the help of Claire’s great-grandmother, Loveday Trevelyan. I have the clothes all ready to go. I just have to figure out how to make the goggles stay on a bonnet. And write the books.

Cats, dogs, or chickens? Chickens! In fact, I just wrote three of them into Gloria’s book. I didn’t mean to, I swear—I just opened a door and there they were, roosting on the bedframe in a deserted house! When they followed the characters out, I was helpless in the matter.

19 Teen: Where can our readers learn more about Shelley Adina?

Shelley: I’d be delighted if you’d visit Be sure to sign up for my newsletter, too, and get a free short story set in the Magnificent Devices world!

Thank you, ladies—it has been such a pleasure talking with you. Now … you were saying about trifle and tea …?

19 Teen: Right this way, my dear. And, if I might inquire about borrowing your goggles . . .

RITA Award® winning author and Christy finalist Shelley Adina wrote her first novel when she was 13. It was rejected by the literary publisher to whom she sent it, but he did say she knew how to tell a story. That was enough to keep her going through the rest of her adolescence, a career, a move to another country, a B.A. in Literature, an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and countless manuscript pages.

Shelley is a world traveler who loves to imagine what might have been. Between books, Shelley loves playing the piano and Celtic harp, making period costumes, and spoiling her flock of rescued chickens.

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