Author Spotlight: Stefan Bachmann (Plus Giveaway)

© Thomas Bachmann

Jan. 23, 2015

Today we are excited to feature MG author Stefan Bachmann, who has published the highly acclaimed steampunk alternate world duology, THE PECULIAR and THE WHATNOT.  Be sure to enter his giveaway for two copies of THE PECULIAR.

Your debut novel, THE PECULIAR, came out when you were 19. At 21, you have two other published books and are working on your fourth novel. How and when did you start writing for kids?

I was really clueless about genre-lines and age divisions when I started writing. I knew I wanted to write a book that my 12-year-old self would like to read, but my 12-year-old self liked to read everything, including really dark and depressing 19th century  Russian books, so I guess I was lucky the book ended being classifiable as middle grade and wasn't thrown out by agents for being bizarre and unmarketable. 

I do really love reading kid's books, though, and I did even more four years ago when I started the book. I guess that's where it came from. Now that I'm a little bit older I'm writing YA, and maybe in a few years I'd like to try writing an adult book.

I loved THE PECULIAR, a moody steampunk mystery/thriller set in an alternate London where fairies and humans interact. Can you tell us about the companion book, THE WHATNOT?

Thank you so much! THE WHATNOT is the concluding book in the duology. It's a bit longer and bit darker than the first book, and it opens up the world to twice the size. 

THE PECULIAR took place in a steampunk and magic-infused England, and the second book is set half in that England and half in the faery world, which was really fun to do. It's a dark, dying country with random laws and arbitrary citizens, and there are faeries with windows for eyes, and doors for mouths, and houses that are constantly being rebuilt on the inside like a giant stage, and I could go a little crazy writing it.

What drew you to writing steampunk fantasy? Are there other genres you are exploring?

I think Disney movies introduced me to steampunk. Atlantis, Treasure Planet, and The Great Mouse Detective all have elements of that. I had no clue it was called steampunk at the time, but the visuals definitely embedded themselves in my head. So when I started THE PECULIAR and wanted it to have in it all the things I thought were cool, some of those things were clockwork creatures, steam-power, smoky cities, and the rest was English folklore, faeries, and Victorian things, because that was my favorite historical period.

I'm definitely interested in other genres, yes! Fantasy is still my favorite, but at some point I'd like to try writing a book with no fantasy at all. Writing a huge historical soap-opera some day is basically my goal in life right now.

What are you working on these days?

My next book is a YA thriller. It's set mostly in the modern day and written in a different style from my last two books. THE PECULIAR seems kind of elaborate and old-fashioned to me when I think of it now, and this book is supposed to be sharp and fast. At least, that's my goal. :) I've re-written it about three times now, and it's definitely been a jarring shift, but it's helped me learn a lot too.

It's about a group of American teenagers who are given the opportunity to be on the first team working to excavate a massive palace in France, seemingly modeled after the palace of Versailles and for some reason buried a hundred feet under ground. Suffice to say, none of them have any idea what they're getting themselves into.

What were the one or two things you did that most helped you learn to improve your writing craft? And what were the one or two things that most helped you become published? 

I think writing and making mistakes and being willing to correct those mistakes is all it takes to get better. Or maybe I just hope that, because I'm still busily making mistakes. I do feel like I've learned a ton since my last books came out. 

Specifically with the YA book I'm working on now, I've learned a lot about story-arc and context, and judging the book as a reader would, instead of as a writer. So, for me, that means I'll always revise from the beginning of a chapter or a scene, and try to make sure that the dialogue and the action rings true in context, not just on its own, and also to make sure the writing isn't stopping on a point that might interest me from a writing standpoint, but slows down the story for the reader. 

It's easy to get caught up in details (I did it wayyyy too much in my earlier books), and while details are super important, they have to be carefully balanced with the flow and drive of the story.

Also, dialogue. Dialogue can do wonders for speeding up a scene, adding humor, revealing character, etc., etc.

You are also a musician. Do your writing and music influence each other, or do you keep them separate in your creative life?

They're separate for me. I do notice that when I'm feeling really inspired to write, I'm also really inspired to compose or practice, which makes me think that whatever weird thing makes one want to do these things is the same for both. But I can't think about both at once. So, once I start working on writing, I can't really think about music at all.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I tripped over a fire-hydrant when I was twelve and broke two fingers in my right hand. This was right before a piano competition, so it was basically the end of the world for me.

Stefan Bachmann is a music student and author living in a very old house in Switzerland. His debut, THE PECULIAR, was published by HarperCollins, and was a New York Times Editor's Choice as well as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012. Its companion, THE WHATNOT, was released September 2013. He's also the author of a collection of scary short stories together with authors Emma Trevayne, Catherine Catmull and Claire Legrand called THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES: 36 TALES BRIEF AND SINISTER. He should be hard at work on his next book, but is probably procrastinating on Twitter.  

You can find him on his website or Twitter (@Stefan_Bachmann).


  1. I'm just discovering steampunk so I'm looking forward to reading The Peculiar and The Whatnot! Can't wait to read The Cabinet of Curiosities too. I like your point about revising for the reader, not the writer, making sure the story doesn't slow down for the reader. Great point!

  2. Thank you for sharing your journey! Looking forward to reading your work! :)

  3. Love the way Stefan is always pushing himself to learn and grow - one of my favorite parts of writing! Looking forward to seeing where his muse takes him.

  4. I love hearing the connection between music and writing!

  5. Thanks for the giveaway! Looks like an awesome book.

  6. Ooh, what fun! I've been wanting to read The Peculiar for ages, so I was very happy to stumble across this interview and giveaway. It's also interesting to read a little bit about Stefan's writing process--as a writer myself, I always enjoy hearing about how other people write, so this was great fun to read! Thanks so much for the great post and awesome giveaway. :)

  7. Thanks for sharing about your writer's journey! Fan of steampunk and look forward to reading your novels :D

  8. Stefan and Christopher Paolini were rather inspirational for my older son (who is now 18) when he was younger because he, too, loved to write (though his career goals are academic and not writerly). I'll have to direct him to this interview. :) The Peculiar is a book I've had on my to-read list since it came out; I feel better prepared to read it, though, now that I've devoured some of Jeff VanderMeer books on steampunk.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  9. This sounds like a great—literary—introduction to steampunk! I bet my kid brother, and in a year or two my sons, would enjoy it immensely. In the meantime, I want to read it with my husband! We love the movies mentioned.

  10. Sounds like a great book! I'll read it a few times and then put it in my Little Free Library.


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