Imagine if the Victorian era progressed through the 21st century and Queen Victoria still reigned Britain today. Certainly no human could live that long ... unless they were undead. In Kate Locke's Immortal Empire series, this is exactly what happens. In God Save the Queen, the British Empire becomes a governing body consisting of zombies, werewolves and other paranormal creatures. And Royal Guard member Xandra Vardan has sworn to protect them, until her sister goes missing in Locke's latest book, The Queen is Dead, and Xandra must question her role in the empire. Today Locke shares how she created her undead Victorian world and why alternate histories are particularly fascinating.
As a writer I get asked one question more than any other: "Where do you get your ideas?" I usually reply that ideas come from just about anything. Sometimes I get them from a song, or a quote, a TV show, or story I've heard. A lot of times ideas come from real life and real history. Of course, as authors we play with these ideas and make them our own. Obviously, when writing about factual events you need to stay honest and as close as you can with those events — unless, of course, you're writing alternate history.
What's the difference, you might ask, between alternate history and history that's had liberties taken with it? Well, in my opinion, it's this: Forrest Gump has bits of liberty-taken history, meaning Forrest was there as a witness, but that things still went on pretty much as they really happened. Inglorious Bastards is alt-history. Anything in which history is altered to the point where the modern world would be changed, is alternate history.
The world I've created for the Immortal Empire series is alternate history. Obvious, the paranormal element makes it such, but it's also in world events. One of the things you really have to take into consideration when writing this sort of fiction is that for everything you change, something must remain the same. Or rather, something must remain relatable for the reader.
Xandra Vardan lives in a world that progressed pretty much the same as ours right up until the 19th century. That was my point of change. So what I had to do was create ways in which the world would be familiar yet different had the Victorian era basically never ended. Technologically, things are on par, but have evolved differently. Dirigibles are the mode of travel, but they are safer and sleeker than those at the end of the 19th century. They also are much, much faster. Cell phones exist, but not like we're used to. Instead of CDs and DVDs, there are tiny cylinders upon which information, music and movies are stored. Cars are motor-carriages and have a definite antique feel, despite being able to travel very quickly. These things are both alien and within a point of reference for readers.
Technology isn't the only thing that changes, however. The entire world has changed. Though I can't come out and say it in the books, the world Xandra lives in has never seen a world war, so ways of life and inventions that came out of those awful times either didn't happen, or happened another way. Hitler never became Hitler. He was just a failed artist who got himself eaten by vampires. Anastasia still lives, along with the Czar and Czarina. We are, however, still trying to figure out just what the devil Rasputin is. Parts of London and Europe destroyed by bombs still stand, including Pearl Harbor. Japan was never bombed. The world doesn't have nuclear weapons.
Though, Tesla may have completed his 'death ray.'
What about pop culture? Entertainment and books? What if the Beatles never made it out of England? John Lennon was never shot. Sid Vicious didn't kill Nancy Spungen, and went on to release a Frank Sinatra tribute album. Bram Stoker was exiled for his book Dracula, and moved to the US, where many vampires and werewolves have gone on to become celebrities.
The world has changed via it's altered history, but humanity is still the same. Perhaps that is the most important thing to remember when writing alternate history. No matter what you've done to the past, present or what you plan to do to the future, human nature doesn't really change, only the circumstances. Xandra might not be entirely human, but her humanity is intact. She has wants and needs and fear. She has dreams and wishes for the future. She has friends and family and people she loves. Her world is very similar to ours, and yet so very, very different. It's a world I've had a lot of fun with,and more than once I've had to stop myself and realize that what I was writing couldn't happen because the elements needed for the world to be that way never happened! I couldn't have someone in a tank, because tanks just don't exist! Once, a character was going to say something about the Nazis until I remembered they never happened either. Writing alternate history keeps a writer on his/her toes, but it is incredible fun to play with the building blocks of our present and switch them about.
Most important in Xandra's world is the fact that since the world wars haven't happened, and the tension that led to the cold war never happened, there is a different feeling across the world. We never realized that monsters don't have to look like monsters, so those things that are different are feared and despised. Neither the aristocrats or the humans realize that they both have monsters amongst them, and that's the scariest part. And as a writer, it's the most fun and challenging!
- Kate Locke