Today’s #TalkTuesday interview is also our #TeaserTuesday and First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, all of which feature Black Chamber by S. M. Stirling. A joint effort by Elise and I! Enjoy!
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Black Chamber by S. M. Stirling is part alternate history and part thriller involving spies, secret identities, and daring acts. The historical timeline deviates after Taft dies, allowing Theodore Roosevelt to win the presidency instead of Woodrow Wilson. The difference of having Roosevelt at the helm can be felt throughout the book as America considers entering World War I in 1916.
Black Chamber is a CIA-type organization, a secret spy agency to protect America. Luz O’Malley Aróstegui, the cunning spy, is assigned to find how the Germans plan on preventing America from coming to the rescue of Allied nations. She boards a flying vessel, a zeppelin airship, destined for Amsterdam. Her mission is to go deep undercover, portraying a Mexican revolutionary. She meets with the German contact, Imperial Sword, whose real name is Baron Horst von Dückler. Finding out that the Germans are planning something horrific, Luz uses all her skills to get the information and thwart the horrendous danger to America.
Luz is a great character that uses Sherlock Holmes traits of deduction and action type talents of James Bond. Coming from an Irish-Cuban American heritage she speaks numerous languages that allow her to infiltrate the enemy’s circle. She is tough, clever, charming, and has a thoroughly modern outlook.
Stirling offers readers a carrot, the fabulous engaging protagonists, and a stick, the power of the plot. He employs Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big stick diplomacy,” through the many intense action-filled scenes. After reading this first in a series of “Black Chamber” novels, people will look forward to reading the next novel involving these believable and gripping characters.
Elise Cooper: You seem to be a very big fan of Theodore Roosevelt (TR)?
S. M. Stirling: I am. He would have been much more prepared to enter the War, and he had talked exclusively about that need. Because of Wilson we fought WWI largely with French weapons. Teddy was the first President to drive an automobile, fly in an aircraft, and to go down in a submarine. In my “BC” universe he believed in government research of scientific development.
EC: TR did not think highly of his competitors?
SMS: Teddy described Taft as a ‘walrus on legs,’ and Wilson as a ‘prissy, sissy Princeton professor,’ a dry stick who is a man dominated by theories. If the facts do not agree with the theories so much for the facts. He was really a ‘wus,’ and quite a contrast from Roosevelt who really knocked out a gunman with his fists, shot Grizzly Bears, and arrested bandits. His adversary, Kaiser Wilhelm, had Teddy envy, wanting to be a real soldier, reformer, and a great popular leader. The Kaiser imitates Teddy a lot.
EC: Do you like writing about early 20th Century History?
SMS: It was a time of rabid transition. In many ways, a hundred years ago, was modern and archaic at the same time. These conflicts are fun to bring to the story. Sometimes in researching actual history a writer says things that contradicts people’s views, but they are indeed true. My main character, Luz, is the catalyst for the culture, setting, and the points of view of the time. Most everything is told through her viewpoint as she reflects on the issues. Social change takes place a little faster than in real history. At this time, women cross-dressed so if they were gay or bi they could fly under the radar, as long as they were discreet.
EC: There are many references to women having equal rights?
SMS: One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Luz argues with a German professor over the various interpretations of Nietzsche and takes the feminist angle as steam comes out of the professor’s ears. Many do not know that Roosevelt wrote his first essay about equality in 1881, while at Harvard. He always favored women’s suffrage. In my books, it gets passed earlier and I changed the exact wording and implications. I read a lot of what he wrote after he actually lost the 1912 election. He wrote what he would do so I used it in the book after I made him President.
EC: How would you describe Luz?
SMS: She is an exceptional person who did extraordinary things. Luz is an only child whose father was an Irish American engineer and her mother Cuban. She enjoys riding, shooting, and climbing, skills she uses as a spy. Luz is an American nationalist, highly intelligent, adventurous, and frivolous. She is almost invincible as a spy because she is a woman, thus is underestimated.
EC: Mexican and Central American revolutionaries worked with Germany?
SMS: Luz goes deep undercover, portraying a Mexican revolutionary after her parents were brutally killed by radical Mexicans. TR favored intervention in the Mexican Civil War because a lot of Americans were being attacked by the revolutionaries who crossed the border. Some wanted to invade the US and kill all the Anglos. Luz decides to join the Black Chamber to avenger her parents’ death. She is assigned to find out the German plan. In reality, it was known that they tried to recruit Mexico as an ally. The Zimmerman Telegram offered an alliance where the US would be invaded by the southern border country and in return would get California and Texas back.
EC: How would you describe supporting character Ciara?
SMS: She is Irish-American whose father and brother are involved in anti-English actions. Because of them she becomes a carrier for the Irish American Brotherhood. After seeing what the Germans are planning she helps Luz and becomes a Black Chamber operative.
EC: How would you describe the male antagonist, Horst?
SMS: Has a sense of humor, bright, patriotic yet misguided. A German officer who is working with intelligence. He is a formidable opponent to Luz. I based his looks on the Red Baron.
EC: Although the Germans of WWI are not Nazis, it seems to be in their DNA to be cruel?
SMS: During this time period, Germany invented chemistry and poison gas, and being better than Hitler’s Nazis is a pretty low bar. The Germans started WWI and drove the brutalization and radicalization during the War. They had no conception of how to deal with a beaten opponent except grab them by the throat and squeeze until their eyes popped out. They shot hostages and deported people for slave labor. In this book, Germany developed nerve gas. A pint of it could kill hundreds of thousands of people. It is the DDT for people.
EC: Alternate history comes into play when you have the sinking of a ship, Mauretania?
SMS: This is the sister ship of the Lusitania. I exchanged the sinking of the ships. 200 of the 1000 killed were Americans. The Germans were never good at PR. They actually made up a commemorative medal. On one side, it shows passengers buying tickets from this figure of death and the other side has the actual ship, the Lusitania sinking. British intelligence distributed 1000s of pamphlets of the medal all over the US. It caused intense anger at the Germans.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
SMS: I want all the books in this series to show individuals make a difference. The next book is called Theater of Spies. Horst will be a continuing character and seeks revenge on Luz for deceiving him. The plot centers around radar discovered by the Germans. Even though it was actually ignored, in my universe the Germans take it up as a threat to the North Sea. I have Luz and Ciara infiltrate into Germany.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Black Chamber (Tales from the Black Chamber #1)
1916. The Great War rages overseas, and the whole of Europe, Africa, and western Asia is falling to the Central Powers. To win a war that must be won, Teddy Roosevelt, once again the American president, turns to his top secret Black Chamber organization–and its cunning and deadly spy, Luz O’Malley Aróstegui.
On a transatlantic airship voyage, Luz poses as an anti-American Mexican revolutionary to get close–very close–to a German agent code-named Imperial Sword. She’ll need every skill at her disposal to get him to trust her and lead her deep into enemy territory. In the mountains of Saxony, concealed from allied eyes, the German Reich’s plans for keeping the U.S. from entering the conflict are revealed: the deployment of a new diabolical weapon upon the shores of America…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros
I’m also taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros
Every Tuesday Vicki @ I’d Rather Be at the Beach now hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where readers share the first paragraph of a book that they are reading or plan to read soon.
Black Chamber (Tales from the Black Chamber #1)
Looking forward to visiting your blogs and seeing what your Teaser Tuesday and First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, are this week!
Luv Sassy x