Exclusive Interview: “A Curse Of Ash And Iron” Author Christine Norris
In 2014, writer Christine Norris put a steampunk spin on the classic fairy tale “Cinderella” for her novel A Curse Of Ash And Iron (paperback, Kindle). Now, nearly a decade later, the book is coming back into print, and with a new publisher (eSpec Books). In honor of this, I conducted the following email interview with Norris to find out about how this story originally came to be.
To begin, what is A Curse Of Ash And Iron about, and when and where does it take place?
Okay, without spoilers…it’s a “Cinderella” retelling, set in 1976 Philadelphia. Ellie Banneker lives with her father, stepmother, and stepsister, and it’s not a happy family situation. One evening she sees an old friend, Benjamin Grimm, while she’s at the theater. They’ve not seen each other for about seven years, and Ellie is shocked that Ben even recognizes her, but not for the reason you might think. There’s a curse, and a ball, and some machines, and drama.
So, did you start out wanting to rework “Cinderella” and A Curse Of Ash And Iron is what you came up with, or did you have an idea for this story and then realize it was “Cinderella”-ish and decided to just lean into it?
I started with the idea of a steampunk fairy tale. As I went on, brainstorming ideas, I absolutely wanted to not do “Cinderella,” as it’s probably the most re-told fairy tale. But then I had a lightning-strike idea, based on my research into the Centennial Exposition and other historical-related things, and there it was. I was kind of mad, but that was the story. I didn’t have much choice after that. I just went with it and tailored all my research and narrative around that basic story plus Philadelphia history.
And should we read anything into the fact that the main character, Ben Grimm, has the same name as The Thing from the Fantastic Four?
Nope, not at all. Matter of fact, I didn’t even realize that until well after the story was published the first time. Benjamin is the first name of a relative that lived during the time the events of Ash And Iron take place, and Grimm, because, well, it’s a fairy tale. That’s the whole story; it’s just a huge coincidence.
As you said, A Curse Of Ash And Iron is a steampunk story. Are there other genres at work in this story?
I would also call it historical fantasy with steampunk elements. Some might think it’s not steampunk “enough,” but those people are entitled to their opinion. There’s a hint of romance too. And, of course, fairy-tale retelling, which seems to have its own category.
Now, the reason we’re doing this interview about A Curse Of Ash And Iron is that it’s being reprinted by eSpec Books. In prepping this new version, did you go back and rewrite any of it or change anything major?
Nope, nothing major. There’s one tiny section added toward the end that wasn’t in the original edition, but otherwise, there were only some minor wording changes. It’s essentially the same book.
At the time it originally came out, A Curse Of Ash And Iron was your ninth novel. Are there any writers, or stories that had a big influence on A Curse Of Ash And Iron but not on anything you’ve written since then?
Gotta go into the wayback machine for this one. I wrote this book probably about 10 years ago originally. And that was when my interest in steampunk started. I was reading Tiffany Trent, Marisa Meyer’s Cinder series (who is probably cyberpunk, but had a big influence on my fairy-tale bending ideas), Adrienne Kress, and Libba Bray, who had her Gemma Doyle series, huge Victorian paranormal YA trilogy. All kinds of input for Victoriana and steampunk specifically that was just such a lush garden for me to grow my story in.
What about non-literary influences; was A Curse Of Ash And Iron influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Because of Ben’s interest in illusion, I watched The Prestige and The Illusionist obsessively when I was first writing this book. And the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes, purely for the period imagery and fun story.
And then, how do you think what you learned writing A Curse Of Ash And Iron influenced the books you’ve written since?
This was one of the first books that I wrote a loose outline for. Previously I had always been a pantser — just write and go with it. But this one, I used a nine-block plot format to make sure I hit the right beats, kept the pacing perfect, and didn’t lose any subplots. It actually made things a lot easier to get the first draft out. And I hate first drafts; editing and rewriting are where I shine.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about A Curse Of Ash And Iron?
Just that it’s a really great book, and I’m so excited it’s actually available again. Dani and Mike at Paper Phoenix did an amazing job with the cover and the interior, it’s honestly better than the first edition.
Finally, if someone enjoys A Curse Of Ash And Iron, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
Any of them, but honestly, I’d love some love for the Library Of Athena series. I don’t have any other steampunk novels out yet, but I have stories in both the anthology Gaslight And Grimm and the upcoming anthology Grimm Machinations, and both are steampunk fairy tales.