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Author Meredith Rose has been a literary rebel since the age of nine when she began rewriting novel endings she didn’t like. Childhood peers mocked her for using words longer than two syllables, and adults told her that she would never be able to make it as a writer–because it’s, like, not a real career. Thoroughly undaunted, over the next two decades she secretly pursued writing novels and finally sold her first book at age twenty-nine (under a different name). She went on to publish another three novels, wherein the experience of rewriting endings actually came in useful. Chains of Silver is her first young adult novel, and she wrote it for her two teenage daughters who are also talented rebels in their own ways. When she’s not writing, Meredith studies Welsh, dabbles in graphic design and altered art, and reads Tumblr way too much. Bucket list items include becoming a yarn bomber, Argentine tango dancer, and an opera singer.
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About Chains of Silver:
If all the world’s a stage, then I am utterly screwn…
In the high-stakes world of the theater, stage fright can seriously crank your career, so apprentice Minx Mellor hides her phobia, studying as a technomancer to create fantastic, steam-powered devices.
But when the mysterious serial killer known as The Peacock targets one of their own, Minx can hide no longer. To save the life of the woman she loves like a mother, she teams up with her sworn enemy and a dashing young director whose powerful magic wakes the nightmares she’s kept secret for years.
When disaster strikes, Minx must face the horrors of her past and find the courage to do what she vowed she’d never do again.
Even if it means risking her life as bait to trap a murderer.
From the shadows of cobblestoned alleys and the glittering steampunk world of an aristocracy gone mad for theater comes the first book in a brand new young adult fantasy series about love, the power of creativity, and the resiliency of the human spirit.
Chains of Silver, Ch. 1
by Meredith Rose
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…”
~As You Like It
If all the world’s a stage, then I am utterly screwn. Give me vampires, zombies, kraken any day—even wereducks. The worst monster in any novel is less scary than standing in the limelight under the invasive gaze of an audience. I’m not talking about stage fright. That’s just the snakes-in-your-stomach jitters that some actors get. I only wish my problem were as small as that.
No…when I look at the stage, all I remember is a prison. All I feel is the hunger and pain. All I know is the terror of a child treated like a beast. All I hear is the voice of the monster that invaded my mind, controlled my body, used my magic, and destroyed my innocence.
All I see is him.
“They say you are a melancholy fellow.” Delphine Birdwell’s piercing voice filled the theater, reciting Rosalind’s line from As You Like It.
The words pulled me from my own melancholy thoughts and brought my attention back to the rehearsal I was watching. Our apprentice company’s fall production was As You Like It, and the way things were going at this point, I was just hoping the audience wouldn’t respond with “No, we hate it.”
The first few rows of the small rehearsal studio at the Alchemy Empire Theater looked like we were having an exam-cram session. Textbooks, notebooks, and sketch pads slid out of threadbare canvas bags and lay scattered on the sloping marble floor between the oak theater seats. Tech and costume apprentices sat in little groups throughout the theater, whispering and giggling, even though we were supposed to be taking notes on the rehearsal.
Boring. I was hoping everything would go well and we could be done early. I was a final-year theater tech apprentice with a load of projects. I had a lot more important things to do than sit through a blocking rehearsal, even if I was the apprentice tech director.
My best friends, Thea and Raymond, weren’t here to entertain me either. Thea, who was training to be a stage manager, was in a meeting with the chief lighting technician. Raymond was a playwright apprentice, so he didn’t really need to go to rehearsals.
Delphine waited impatiently on stage for Walter Edison, who played the sulky Jaques, to deliver his next line. She must have been staying up late a lot—her face looked more pinched than usual, and she had bluish shadows under her eyes.
Walter blinked, his chubby cheeks sagging as his mouth dropped open then closed again, like a large fish. “I am so; I…I—Line, please?”
“For the love of the Empress,” Delphine snapped, “use your script already. It’s only a blocking rehearsal.”
She definitely wasn’t getting enough sleep—cranky as a rusted gear shaft. I felt a little sorry for Walter. He wasn’t bad at acting; he just didn’t have a very good memory. But Delphine and her crowd were always so rough on him.
Walter pinched the bridge of his nose, squinting his eyes. “No—no, I can do this. Let’s see…I am so; I…ugh, why can’t I remember?”
“I am so; I do love it better than laughing.” Delphine snarled the line at him and shoved her script into his hands. “If you’d use the script, you might actually learn your lines.”
Her entourage of fellow acting apprentices snickered from the front row. I shrank into my aisle seat, glad I was several rows back. Delphine’s friends could be really mean. Of course, they just followed her lead. Thea and I couldn’t understand how someone who was always so nasty managed to have so many friends. Delphine was the apprentice rep for the student company. And she’d been picked as Alchemy Empire Theater’s Spotlight Apprentice three times in the last three years. How was that possible? Sure, she was beautiful and talented, and she could be nice when she wanted something.
But she could also be a bully—like now. It wasn’t right for her to always get away with it. The only reason she did was because she was the most magically talented actress in the apprentice program, and Master Fenrey was hoping to talk her into staying after she finished her apprenticeship.
Our director, Dietrich Wolff, whom we addressed by the title “Presul” because of his particular kind of magic, had been called out of the theater. I hoped he’d return soon. I couldn’t imagine even Delphine being this mean to Walter in front of a Theatrical Guild member.
“I don’t need the script!” Walter tried to hand it back, but she wouldn’t accept it. He flung it across the floor, his shirt pulling too tight across his belly. “I had my lines earlier today.”
“You’ll still be asking for prompts at dress rehearsal. I can’t believe we let you into the apprentice company.” Delphine retrieved the script and slapped it against her other hand.
I heard the wooden theater door clatter open and then thud closed, but I was too caught by what was happening on stage to pay much attention to it.
Walter’s round face was so red now, it could almost rival the glow of a stage light. “I keep telling you—I don’t want to use it. I need to practice without it.”
Delphine stalked toward Walter. “You need to practice without your script the way you need triple servings at dinner and need to spend all your pocket money at Miss Tabitha’s Sweet Shop.”
“That’s enough, Miss Birdwell!” Presul Wolff’s usually quiet voice boomed from the back of the theater. Even in anger, his words lilted in a melodic Cymric accent that had been making hearts race ever since he joined our theater four months ago. He strode down the aisle toward the stage. As he neared my seat, I shut my eyes and braced myself against the magic that crackled around him like a storm.
Walter looked like he might cry. He did overeat, it was true. I didn’t know him very well—I tended to avoid most of the boys. But it wasn’t hard to see that he was hurting inside. Maybe the food helped him feel better. All I knew is that it definitely wasn’t any of Delphine’s business.
Delphine whirled to look out across the house. She flung out her arm, pointing at Walter like the Queen of Hearts demanding a beheading. “He’s the one that interrupted the rehearsal because he couldn’t remember his stupid line. I refuse to share the stage with someone so incompetent.”
“He’s doing just fine, and you don’t have a choice in the matter. Take it from the top of the scene.” Presul Wolff’s eyes narrowed, sharp like chisels.
“No. Not until Mr. Edison at least pretends he’s an actor and picks up his bloody script.”
We gasped. Defying the director and swearing—she was begging to be assigned to clean the girls’ lavatory for the next month.
Presul Wolff’s face grew dark, his eyes blazing. “You will apologize immediately to Mr. Edison.”
I shivered. If he ever spoke to me in that menacing, iron tone, I’d curl up and do whatever he said. But Delphine just glared back at him.
He took one step closer. “Apologize to Mr. Edison or get off my stage.” His voice was like the metallic whisper of a sword being slid from its sheath.
The theater was silent. I could barely breathe. He couldn’t back down. He couldn’t let her win.
She pursed her mouth and glared at Walter. “I apologize for telling you the truth, Mr. Edison.”
A whoosh swept through the theater, like everyone had been holding their breath and let it out at once.
“Not acceptable,” Presul Wolff growled.
“It’s the best I can do.” She shrugged like the whole thing was incredibly tedious.
I wanted to scream. She was obviously trying to get the new director sacked. She’d hated him ever since he’d been hired, and she and her clique were always trying to prove he couldn’t keep control of the apprentice company.
He was supposedly one of the best new directors in the empire. And definitely the steamiest—all dark curls and forest green eyes, and the muscled body of a dancer or fighter. When he wasn’t dealing with defiant apprentices, he seemed kind, too. It wasn’t his fault Delphine hated him.
I didn’t like to draw attention to myself, but…fine. Somebody had to do something.
I grabbed a small box from my bag, flipped it open, and pulled out a life-sized dragonfly. I slid a control band onto my wrist and quickly flipped a tiny switch on the band to power on the numerous steam nano engines inside the bracelet. They sent electromagnetic waves through the aether and to the dragonfly. Its iridescent wings came to life and its copper-plated body shivered.
I tossed it high over my head and it took flight.
The tiny robotic creature soared through the air, straight for Delphine.
She shrieked and ducked her head, batting her arms at the device. The other apprentices giggled. The theater filled with gasps and murmurs.
It dived at her again.
I veered it away before she could score a direct hit. It had taken me months to get it working and I didn’t want it damaged.
I landed it on Walter’s arm. It balanced there, its wings whirring and flexing. He studied it a moment, then looked out across the house until he found me. I saw the gratitude in his eyes, and I gave him a tiny smile before looking away.
Millicent Walsh and a couple other apprentices in Delphine’s front-row crowd scrambled on stage. They cooed over the dragonfly, but I didn’t want them coming too close. I guided it back to me, where it landed on my finger.
Everyone applauded—except Delphine, of course. When they quieted, I nodded to Presul Wolff, but avoided looking at him directly. “How do you like my latest project? Robotic insects. I thought we could use them in the forest scenes.” My pulse pounded, and my voice was higher than usual. I hoped he didn’t notice. It was awful feeling so nervous around him.
Delphine’s hatred radiated out at me. It burned my heart a little, in one corner that I couldn’t harden enough not to feel.
She sneered. “Who cares about robotic insects? The audience comes to see actors, not Minx’s stupid toys.”
I almost snapped back at her, but Presul Wolff beat me to it.
“The audience comes to see an entire production, including the set.” His voice was calm, his accent nearly hypnotic, but I could tell he was working hard to keep his temper.
He turned to me then, and for a second, I really thought I might do something totally cogged. Like faint.
Or ask to touch his hair.
I clamped my mouth shut and grabbed the back of the seat in front of me with my left hand.
His eyes followed the movement of my hand. They traveled back up to my face. He held my gaze, steady, the hint of a smile on his lips, but a little bashful, like he saw what I was feeling and was flattered by it.
This was exactly what I’d been afraid of—every time he looked at me, I felt like he didn’t just look. He saw. All of me. All my secrets. It was terrifying and thrilling, and…I just wanted to die.
“Beautiful,” he said, looking straight at me.
©Meredith Rose, 2012. All Rights Reserved.
To read the entire chapter 1, please visit the Books page.
FAQs and Suggested Interview Topics:
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What Inspired the Alchemy Empire Series?
I’m writing the Alchemy Empire series for my daughters. I asked them for a list of everything they ever wanted in a young adult novel, and I promised them I’d include every item from their lists in my story. They requested everything from proms and popular girls to magic and romance. It was quite a diverse list!
I’d been wanting to write a steampunk novel, mainly because I love the steampunk aesthetic–especially the clothes. I also have always loved theater nearly as much as I love writing, and my youngest daughter is an aspiring actress. Setting a young adult novel in a steampunk theater was too enticing an idea to resist.
I have also been long fascinated by how the arts, especially literature and performing arts, have been used as tools of political protest and even revolution. A lot of steampunk literature focuses on wars and political conflicts, and even steampunk-themed cosplay centers around guns and other weapons. As someone deeply committed to non-violence, I thought it would be fun to twist that around and tell a story about how a bunch of steampunk drama nerds use their talents to fan the flames of a non-violent revolution.
The so-called Arab Spring a few years ago was celebrated as a model of mostly non-violent uprising–until it turned tragically bloody. The debate is ongoing–how far can non-violent resistance and protest go? Can it really change a nation? Or can a more just and open society only be forged through war? These are some of the questions I am exploring with the Alchemy Empire series. Considering that most revolutions start with a nation’s young people, it made sense to have this discussion in the pages of a young adult novel.
What Is Steampunk and Why Do You Like It?
Steampunk is basically Victorian-flavored science fiction. It’s based on the question “what if advanced technology had happened through clockwork mechanics and steam instead of electricity? Steampunk gives you airships and goggles, beautiful brass devices, lots of gears, and corsets, cravats, waistcoats, top hats and all sorts of other Victorian wear. It also gives you the ability to create a story world full of the British comedy-of-manners type culture that people love about Jane Austen or North and South. I enjoy combining that polite historical flavor with modern snark and independence.
I admit it–I enjoy steampunk mostly because of the clothes! There’s something so whimsical and fun about combining corsets and goggles and top hats with today’s clothing. It’s like a happier version of goth. I also like the gadgets. I would love, love, love to have a steampunked computer like Steampunk Workshop makes.
On Fashion and Body Image
In the past several years, I’ve become rather interested in fashion and clothing–part of what brought me to steampunk, I’m sure. But growing up, I had picked up on some really negative messages about clothing, my body, and my self image. I got the idea that clothing was primarily meant to cover up and hide a flawed, unworthy body, and that fashion was only for rich, superficial, skinny people.
I was taking my cues from people in my life who didn’t really feel good about their own bodies and who seemed to think they didn’t deserve to look nice. I don’t think looking nice solves problems or makes a person more valuable. My interest in fashion is an outward way of saying that my body is good, beautiful, and acceptable and that it’s worthy of caring about. It’s only been in the last ten years or so that I’ve been able to say that and mean it, so for me, this has been really important.
That said, I think there’s a lot about the fashion world that is unjust and extremely unhealthy. Everyone should have the ability to look nice and feel good about their appearance without having to spend a fortune, and yet so much of affordable fashion relies on exploiting workers who are worse off than even the poorest of the “developed” world. So I think being interested in fashion gives people who care about justice and fair trade and health the opportunity to speak to those things as well as change negative attitudes about our bodies and what our physical appearance does or does not add to our worth as human beings.
On Artists as Revolutionaries
Stories are powerful. I was still a kid when I first learned that Black Beauty was more than just a fanciful story about the life of a horse–that it actually helped end some of the cruelest abuses against horses in the Victorian period. Then, in high school, I heard about playwrights who used the power of their pens and the stage to bring awareness of social and political injustice–and who were persecuted and arrested as a result.
In college, our theater director was a political refugee from Latvia. Rumor had it he was persona non grata throughout most of eastern Europe for speaking out against the government. He never spoke of it much, but I always wondered if he used theater as a way of expressing his revolutionary ideas.
In 1989, theaters were the birthplace of the “Velvet Revolution” that led to the peaceful end of communism in what was then Czechoslovakia.
In the Alchemy Empire series, I focus mainly on the role of theater artists in bringing about social and political change, but we see examples today throughout the world of musicians, writers, visual artists, dancers, and actors using their art to challenge injustices and to connect with the public on an emotional as well as intellectual level. Artists challenge us all to reflect, to see from a new perspective, to question, to take action. It’s no wonder that our seats of power–governments, schools, churches, corporations–often seek to suppress or control artists. They are real revolutionaries because they expose and explore and reveal the deepest–and often most uncomfortable–truths of the human experience.
Thoughts on Teenagers
I’m so tired of people saying “I’m sorry” when I tell them I have two teen daughters. I always fire back with “I’m not! Teens are amazing, and my daughters bring me so much joy and energy and life.”
When my oldest daughter was twelve, she overheard some dance moms at the studio talking about how horrible teens were. Being on the cusp of teenagerhood, my daughter came to me, worried that once she was thirteen, that I would think she was horrible as well.
I told her, “No. Those moms were wrong. Teens are wonderful people, and you are going to be an awesome teen. You and I will have a great relationship, and when we have conflicts, we’ll work through them because I love you and I believe in you.”
And that’s so far proven to be true–for both my girls.
Teens don’t need us to tell them how much they suck. They need us to believe in them and inspire the best in them. They need us to see their potential and help them figure out how to reach it.
If we tell teens they’re awful and we dread having to deal with them, then when they live up to those expectations, should we really blame them–or ourselves?
Thoughts on Girls
One of my other hot buttons is when I say I have two daughters, and people (usually moms of boys) respond “Ugh. I’m so glad I don’t have girls. Girls are moody. Girls are mean. Boys are so much easier.”
It makes me want to reply, “Yeah, with that attitude, I’m glad you don’t have girls, too.” Because girls don’t deserve to be sent even a silent or subconscious message that they suck, that they’re inferior, or that their own mothers would have preferred to have a son instead.
My heart aches for our girls. They’re told they have to be perfect. They have to look perfect. They have to be twice as kickass as any boy but still have Hollywood hair. Our culture bemoans the fact that our girls are graduating college in greater numbers than the boys (“our boys are in CRISIS! We must save them!) and then that same culture blames a girl when she is raped because she “shouldn’t have dressed/acted/spoken like a slut.”
I’m a feminist. I believe in gender equality. I believe it’s the job of all of us, no matter what gender we identify as, to fight against abuse and injustice. If we care about violence against women, and want to stop it, we need to start with empowering our girls, because every woman was once a girl first.
With my daughters, I spend a lot of time talking them through the cultural issues they are bombarded with–whether it’s messages about their body or messages about how they are expected to act.
Just recently, my oldest daughter told me about a senior in one of her classes who was pressuring her to give him a hug after school–“because you’re nice.” She was confident enough to respond back that her niceness doesn’t mean she owes him a hug. I congratulated her for being assertive and reminded her that she doesn’t owe anyone access to her body just to be “nice.” I also pointed out that she should avoid going out with boys who say things like that because it’s the exact same reasoning used to pressure a girl into giving sexual favors. If he does it with a hug, he’ll do it with sex.
A lot of our girls won’t realize these things unless we take the time to talk to them, mentor them, and help them find their own confidence and strength. Empowering women starts with empowering girls. And to empower them, we have to love them and believe in them.
I believe we should pursue non-violence wherever and whenever possible. I’m not a fan of cowboy-style bluster or saber rattling (though I do think sword fighting and fencing are amazing as art and sport). I admire Dr. King and Gandhi. In my own life, I would like to become a person who is non-violent and peaceful in the small things, too–like controlling my temper, and not using my words to hurt people.
At the same time, it seems that sometimes we have to fight–to protect ourselves or the people we love, or to stop injustice and cruelty. Can we defend and fight peacefully? I struggle with that. My ideals and my desire to care for people sometimes are in conflict with each other.
This inner conflict fuels a lot of what happens in the Alchemy Empire books–but at the end of the day, I believe we have to try to find ways to treat all people, even our enemies, with as much love and compassion as we can. That by itself would bring more peace and less violence into the world.
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