Algonkian Author Salon Emerging Author Interviews
A Talk With Robert Steedman About His Writing Life and Novel
TITLE: MADAME DE HART’S WAX MUSEUM (now THE PHANTASMAGORICAL THEATER OF CRESPIN VARLOT)
GENRE: YA Horror
COMPS: ABE LINCOLN; V. HUNTER - Seth Grahmn-Smith and THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER - Oliver Potzch
Robert Steedman is a proud native New Yorker, receiving his B.A. in Art History from State University of New York at Geneseo and a M.S. Ed. in Art Education at Nazareth College of Rochester. His first YA manuscript, FALLING, took First Place for the Middle Grade/Young Adult Novel category in the 2011 South West Writers 29th Annual Writing Contest. The international contest was judged by Rachel Abrams of HarperCollins Children’s Books. He resides with his family and two goldfish in the beautiful Finger Lakes Region of Western New York.
Madame hunted through graveyards during the French Revolution to collect decapitated heads of the French Monarchy from which she cast realistic wax models. That bizarre historical tidbit set during one of the most gruesome time periods of western civilization rekindled childhood fears - sparking my imagination.
- Robert Steedman
AS: Tell us something about yourself as it relates to your writing life. Also, what inspired you to begin the novel?
Books have always been a big part of my life. Sickly and bedridden as a child, they were warm friends curled up with me under the covers, offering worlds of adventure through authors like R.E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As a parent, I wanted to pass along those same thrills of escapism to my children and others their age. My kids are now older teens, engrossed with horror, and for sometime now, I’ve wanted to take a crack at writing a horror novel.
AS: Who are you reading now? Which authors and novels have been an inspiration to you, and why?
I’ve always enjoyed reading horror. I recently finished WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion and AS THE WORLD DIES by Rhiannon Frater. Right now, I’m reading Stephen King’s latest, JOYLAND. After that, I'm checking out THIS DARK ENDEAVOR by Kenneth Oppel.
The two novels that still inspire me are Steinbeck’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH and Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451. I read Steinbeck’s classic while a freshman at college. It was then I realized the power of writing in exposing social injustice and being a voice for those that don’t have one. My respect for Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT is immense. His poetic sci-fi novella grows more frighteningly prophetic in this 21st century. Both novels are still relevant, transcending generations.
AS: Can you tell us about your novel?
MADAME DE HART’S WAX MUSEUM is a YA Historical Horror novel about Calista De Hart, a powerful witch during the French Revolution able to infuse life into her wax creations. She and her children struggle to save all of Europe, battling her husband’s mad scheme of resurrecting dictator Maximilien Robespierre along with a diabolical army of living wax figures. Calista and her family are forced to call on the only man who can lead them to victory - a man being held prisoner for treason: Brigadier General Napoleon Bonaparte.
This adventurous, high concept novel takes the dark historical spin found in Seth Grahmn-Smith’s UNHOLY NIGHT or ABE LINCOLN; VAMPIRE HUNTER and throws in a pinch of the gruesome from Oliver Potzch’s THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER. It reads with unique cinematic verve: think Pirates of the Caribbean meets House of Wax.
AS: What gives you a passion for this story and why are you the one who needs to tell it?
As a child, wax museums terrified me. Even today I find them unsettling. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is perhaps the most unsettling of all. Madame hunted through graveyards during the French Revolution to collect decapitated heads of the French Monarchy from which she cast realistic wax models. That bizarre historical tidbit set during one of the most gruesome time periods of western civilization rekindled childhood fears - sparking my imagination. The story begged to be written. Historical accuracy was important and my art history background was invaluable when conducting research. Nothing in past or current YA fiction broaches this original subject.
AS: What have you found to be your biggest challenges to writing a successful commercial novel?
Creating something unique and exciting for the market. Vampires, zombies, wizards: fini. However, when Michael Neff heard my pitch at an Algonkian Conference, he encouraged me to pursue my vision of this historical horror piece, inviting me to join Author Salon.
AS: Is there any particular facet of the Author Salon novel writing program that has helped you more than any other? If so, why?f How would you review it?
Each module within the program was a terrific learning experience. I found The Six Act Two Goal Novel (AS I Module 5 & 6) particularly beneficial. Those two modules offered a very pragmatic framework from which to write commercial fiction by helping me decide how and where the major reversal should occur. This greatly enhanced the dramatic impact when killing the main protagonist, catching the reader off guard. The modules were also helpful with establishing the ‘two goals’ within my novel. Once established, character motivation of my protagonists fell easily into place.
The writing exercises in AS II stretched me as a writer. We YA writers sell ourselves short, believing strong prose is strictly reserved for the upmarket big boys. Much of the descriptive prose created within the exercises was later adapted and added to my novel. The descriptions of characters and the exotic settings found in 18th century Paris were sharpened, adding detail and depth.
One last thing: the Author Salon Novel Writing Program gave me the courage to convert my manuscript from 1POV to 3POV, bucking the current YA trend. I’ve always prefered 3POV. It offers more tools for dramatic composition. Author Salon’s advice convinced me to go with my gut and return to 3POV, making it a smarter, stronger read.
AS: What bit of advice can you give to other aspiring authors just getting started?
Just keep writing. Scott Turow wrote four novels (all rejected) before hitting it big. Beatrix Potter, Tony Hillerman and J.K. Rowling were all rejected, and far more than once.
As Barbara Kyle once so eloquently stated about manuscripts that never see the light of day, “All those words had to written.”
And finally, trust the Author Salon process. Their programs are thought-provoking and challenging, offering the tools needed for writers to create a stronger, more marketable work of commercial fiction.