Buzzymag Interview: The Backstory of JW&TCTM

For those interested in how Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine came to be, I’ve hoisted from the archives the following article from BuzzyMag where I was interviewed by Jean Marie Ward at Dragon Con 2014:

JMW: What kind of challenges are you bringing to that Steampunk story?

Dr. Anthony Francis: I was inspired to write this story by coming to Dragoncon and seeing all these people with all these gears and stuff and all the stuff on their costumes. I’m like, how would that possibly work? What if that possibly worked? Wait. Could I design a reason why people would be wearing goggles because they have ray guns that have a lot of ultraviolet? Could I design a reason why there’d be all these tubes where they maybe have gas powered things like with compressed air. So I started building this up and I started writing a small amount of story on this. I’m like, but how did they get that in the early 1900’s, slightly after what in our world would be the death of Queen Victoria? Technically Edwardian rather than Victorian, but you’ll have to read the book to see more of that. But it started to bother me. Like, how did they get in this early 1900’s time frame with all this technology that we don’t have and then it occurred to me. What if some of the scientists didn’t die, like [Riemann], and if we’d had something like modern antibiotics so he didn’t die [of, I think,] tuberculosis or pneumonia, I can’t remember which at this time. And then what if other people didn’t die? What if Mary Shelley didn’t die? I was researching feminism at the time and I had found out that there was a feminist movement in the early 1800’s that died out when Mary Wollstonecraft gave birth to Mary Shelley and died subsequent to the childbirth and then when her husband published her biography, it had the backfire effect of trashing her reputation so women’s rights were set back about a hundred years.

To learn more, go check out the interview at BuzzyMag, fellow adventurers! Or to read the book that was the ultimate product of this thought process, get Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine wherever fine books are sold:

-the Centaur

Pictured: a location from Dragon Con. Or, perhaps, one from JW&TCTM … can you spot it?

The Willstone Family Mint Julep


One of the fun things that Bell Bridge Books does for authors is to find ways to connect them to readers. While brainstorming about Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, one thing they suggested was to find something fun in the books – like an activity, a recipe – or a drink. Well, as it turns out, there’s a cocktail in JW&TCTM: the mint julep.

It was worth the wait. The mint julep was precisely as she remembered her grandmother’s: sweet sugar, sharp bourbon, the tang of mint fresh-picked from the garden, all served icy-cold in a tall Collins glass. It was like a sudden flash from another universe, another time, and Jeremiah felt a pang of homesickness—and forgotten loneliness; her grandmother was long gone, and Jeremiah realized she was more than a decade into the project of redeeming her mother’s good name. After a long sip of mint-muddled bourbon, Jeremiah marshaled herself and spoke.

According to Garden and Gun’s The Southerner’s Handbook, “the mint julep may be the most iconic cocktail in America” after the martini. Originating in the early eighteen hundreds, it was perceived as a drink of the elites – because you needed a heck of lot of money to offer someone a drink, much less one served with ice, in a pewter cup, prepared by a servant, so it arrived frosted, all prior to refrigeration! But in modern times the mint julep is a drink for the masses, perhaps best known for its association with the Kentucky Derby, which in turn shot from regional to international prominence because of Hunter S. Thompson’s groundbreaking article of gonzo journalism, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.

But all that history takes us away from the damn drink, and while Jeremiah Willstone’s family originated in England with Mary Wollstonecraft, they very definitely became Southerners when they emigrated to America (where the real-life Mary Wollstonecraft had hoped to travel one day, if she’d lived longer). It took a little work to interpolate what the Willstone family’s mint julep might be like, but then I realized, since Victoriana is a century up on us, their drinks might be a mix of old and new. And so:

The Willstone Family Mint Julep

8 mint leaves
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
2.5 ounces Kentucky bourbon
Selzer water
Crushed ice
1 Julep Cup (traditional) or Collins Glass (modern)
1 mint sprig
Put the mint leaves in the bottom of the glass and top with the sugar. Muddle them together until the mint leaves begin to break down. Add a splash of seltzer to dissolve the sugar. Fill the glass 3/4 full with crushed ice and pour in the bourbon; top off with selzer. Stir, then garnish with the mint sprig and serve!

This recipe is a combination of ones from Garden and Gun’s The Southerner’s Handbook, updated slightly through comparison with one by Alton Brown to make it stronger and sweeter and to incorporate the more modern selzer water that the Victorianans would not be afraid to use. Contrariwise, the Garden and Gun one uses hot water instead of seltzer water, a good old Southern trick to make sure that the sugar completely dissolves – so Grandma Mark Willstone just might have poured a “little drop” of hot water on her mint and sugar before muddling it … and pouring in that crushed ice.


-the Centaur

Pictured: a mint julep, from Wikimedia Commons by CocktailmarlerOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

Adventures in Women’s History

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Jeremiah’s world is one in which women’s liberation happened a century early, so, with twice as many brains working on hard problems, they’re more advanced in 1908 than we are today – but that doesn’t mean we’re not trying! In March, the people of our universe celebrate Women’s History Month as a way to highlight the important parts of our history that might otherwise be forgotten, and so this month on the Adventures of Jeremiah Willstone I’m going to highlight various figures in women’s history and how they inspired various characters in the Jeremiah Willstone series.

We’ll be talking about women’s liberation pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft and how she inspired Jeremiah Willstone; women scientists Emmy Noether and Marie Curie and how they inspired Doctor Jackson Truthsayer; computer scientists Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper and how they inspired Georgiana Westenhoq, and women soldiers Kristen Griest and Chantelle Taylor and how they inspired characters like Jeremiah and Natasha Faulkner-Jain.

I’ll also talk a bit about Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day, and the whole notion of “history months” and how Bayes Rule helps us understand why singling out one group for recognition, which to some people seems prejudiced and unfair, really can be a fair thing if that group has been unfairly treated!

Stay tuned!

-the Centaur

Making a Point…


I told someone: “Jeremiah comes from a world where women’s liberation happened a century early, so, with twice as many brains working on problems, they’re more advanced in 1908 than we are today.” His response: “Oh, you’re making a point, aren’t you?”

Yes. Yes I am…

-the Centaur

Author Spotlight at Bell Bridge Books

Over at Bell Bridge Books, I talk about how I came to love steampunk and how Jeremiah Willstone came to be!

Alright, I’ll admit it: I didn’t start out liking steampunk. When The Difference Engine came out, I just didn’t get it. I mean, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engines actually working, much less changing Victorian society? I didn’t buy it. Looking back, I think I just didn’t like alternate history, as I found other, similar novels off-putting.

But as I grew, I watched the steampunk movement grow too, hand in hand with the burgeoning maker community. At the same time I started attending the Maker Faire and admiring all the amazing contraptions our modern independent inventors were coming up with, I started noticing more and more steampunk costumes expressing the same kind of gutsy do-it-yourself, throw-it-all-together flair.

It all came together for me at Dragon Con 2009 …

To read more, check it out at the Bell Bridge Books blog!

-the Centaur