Archive for April, 2012

This is the final post in Steampunkapalooza. Thank you so much for making it a success, once again.  Stay tuned for winners.   Don’t forget, our Gadget Contest ends tonight, so get your entries in.  Our signed book contest ends tonight as well–we have signed copies of two great books up for grabs.

Today we welcome author Nico Rosso.  Night of Fire will be available on July 10th from Avon Impulse.

Taking the “What If?” and Making it a Reality

by Nico Rosso

Steampunk was real.  In a way.  Imagine you’re a farmhand in the 1870s, taking a rare day off to visit the county fair.  And there you see a man on a steam-powered bicycle.  It would’ve looked like science fiction come to life.  The way technology was evolving, there was always a new and amazing machine just around the corner.  Now, the steam powered bicycle wasn’t very practical, but giant agricultural machines and new developments in trains were quickly implemented and brought into the world.  In a time when many people still made their own tools by hand, it must’ve seemed like fantasy made real.

So my job in writing steampunk is to create new technology that captures the same excitement and wonderment for a modern reader.  A steam train, or a Gatling gun, while groundbreaking at the time, are too familiar now.  The technology has to be pushed further.  The Gatling gun turns into a Gatling rifle, fired from the shoulder and wound with a clockwork mechanism.

The hero of my first steampunk western Night of Fire: The Ether Chronicles has one of these rifles.  Together with the heroine, they fight against a mining company that wants the land around their town.  But again, things need to be escalated beyond the familiar.  Instead of the evil mining company trying to buy up the land, they’ve sent a thirty foot rolling machine that can eat through the side of a mountain or level a whole town.

While my wife, Zoë Archer, and I were working on creating the world of The Ether Chronicles, we looked for new ways to let the steampunk elements drive the plot, while keeping the humanity consistent.  It had to be grounded.  If we were writing straight historical, then the inventions would seemantastic.  But for our characters, each development is consistent with the world they live in.  They can still marvel at the airships and motor-driven stagecoaches, just like that real farmhand in the 1870s, but because they understand them, it makes it that much more real for the reader.

And that’s the great fun of steampunk: taking the “what if?” and making it a reality.

So my question to you is: What real technology from the Wild West would you like to see in a steampunk setting?

Skies of Fire: The Ether Chronicles by Zoë Archer is available now.  Night of Fire, my western set in the same world will be available on July 10th from Avon Impulse.

~Nico Rosso


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If you live in Southern California you should check out the Gaslight Gathering in San Diego May 11-13, 2012.  I’ll be there on Saturday.  Come say hi.

Anastasia Hunter is the Director of Programming for Gaslight Gathering and has actively volunteered on various Southern California conventions including San Diego Comic Con, WonderCon, and LosCon.

Gaslight Gathering 2: The Expedition – A Southern California Steampunk Convention

Most steampunk enthusiasts in Southern California have not been largely involved in the convention scene until the last few years.  The local steampunk communities focused primarily on hosting various meet ups, single day events and the occasional concert. San Diego Comic Con became a haven for all local steampunks who were able to attend and the response was overwhelming.  In 2010, Comic Con won the Guinness Book of World Records for Largest Steampunk Meet Up.

Elsewhere, a number of new dedicated steampunk conventions were already in the works. Nova Albion Steampunk Expo launched in the Bay Area and was an immediate hit.  TeslaCon, in Wisconsin, and SteamCon, in Washington State, pioneered a unique steampunk convention model as a weekend event filled with performances, panels, and many special ticketed events. This was exactly what Southern California steampunks were looking for!

Out of this void, Southern California’s first steampunk specific convention – Gaslight Gathering, was born. The brain child of a few San Diego steampunk & SF/F fans who had decades of convention experience, these pioneering souls teamed up with other local steampunks to bring forth a brand new steam powered convention open to all enthusiasts, both young and old.

The inaugural Gaslight Gathering convention kicked off on May 6, 2011, at the Town and Country Hotel. Organized and operated exclusively by volunteers, Gaslight had a total attendance of just over 1200 guests with more than 85% making an effort to dress the part. Along with a wide variety of presentations, classes, vendors, teas, and other special events, the Gaslight crew made every effort to ensure there was something for every steampunk enthusiast.

Gaslight Gathering 2: The Expedition will be returning to the Town and Country Hotel this May 11-13, 2012, with Kaja Foglio, writer and co-creator of Girl Genius, and Dan Jones, Maker of Tinkerbots as our Guests of Honor. Award-winning authors Tim Powers and James Blaylock, two of the founding fathers of steampunk fiction, will also be on hand to discuss their thoughts on where steampunk has been and what steampunk may become in the future.

New in 2012, Jon Magnificent will be performing at Gaslight’s first annual Airship Ambassador Ball and there will be an amazing Travelling Medicine Dinner Show, with special guests Steam Powered Giraffe and a Safari inspired High Tea!

Whether you stop by Basecamp, where newly unearthed Mayan relics with some very unusual carvings will be on display, or show off your steampunk or vintage bathing costumes at our Poolside Bathing Contest, Gaslight Gathering 2 will have fun and excitement for all ages!

Please join Suzanne, and all of our amazing guests, as Gaslight sets sail on another incredible voyage! All passengers are welcome, especially volunteers! (Steampunk or Victorian costumes are not required, but highly encouraged.)

Check out Gaslight Gathering’s website for a full description of our special events, maker classes, confirmed guests, and other information.



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Get those gadgets in!  You don’t want to miss out on our really cool prizes.  Our gadget contest ends 4/30/12.  https://ageofsteam.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/steampunkapalooza-prizeapalooza-ends-43012/

Also, our signed book giveaway also closes 4/30/12. 

Today we welcome a very talented author who writes under many names…

Kady Cross and Kate Cross are both pseudonyms for USA Today bestselling author Kathryn Smith. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and a pride of cats. She likes singing with Rock Band on the 360, British guys, Vietnamese food, and makeup (she’s hopelessly addicted to YouTube makeup tutorials!). When she’s not writing she  likes to catch up on her favorite TV shows, read a good book or make her own cosmetics.

I Love Writing Steampunk
By Kady/Kate Cross

Steampunk saved my career. That might sound overly dramatic, but it’s true! For years I wrote historical romance as Kathryn Smith – romance that got me on the USA Today list – and then something changed. I wrote 5 vampire novels that readers loved, but when I decided to go back to straight historical romance, my readers didn’t follow. People wanted more vampires from me, and I didn’t have any more to give. What was I going to do? I didn’t want to do more vamps, but I didn’t want to do straight historical either. I wanted to do something different.

Around this time I was approached by a former editor of mine who now worked at Harlequin. She asked if I was still interested in doing more YA novels because Harlequin had just recently launched their teen imprint. I said, “Heck, yeah!” and she asked what I had in mind. I really don’t know where it came from – I just asked myself what would be the most fun. I replied, “Teen X-Men meets League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” The Steampunk Chronicles was born that day. I renamed myself Kady Cross and set out to write Steampunk Young Adult fiction. The first book was The Girl in the Steel Corset. The second is The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, and it comes out May 23rd. It got a rare starred review from Kirkus and I’m terribly proud of it.

It wasn’t long after selling The Steampunk Chronicles that I started giving serious thought to what I was doing with my adult books. It was time to change. I’m not usually a brave person – impulsive, yes. Anyway, I made the decision to say good-bye to Kathryn Smith for a while and reinvent myself completely. Since I was already writing as Kady Cross, I decided to write adult Steampunk as Kate Cross. I put together a proposal for a Steampunk romance, gave it to my fabulous agent and… waited. Not for long, though. Next thing I knew I was writing for Signet Eclipse.

So there I was with a fresh start sprawled out before me. Terrifying and exciting. I let my fans know about the change and started writing. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. Everything was new and sparkling before me! It was also scary. I loved my former publisher and former editor, and now I was with someone else who didn’t know my quirks and neurosis. I’ve always sought to turn in the best book of my ability, but now I felt like I had something to prove. I wanted to write the most fabulous book I could – my career depended on it. I’d taken a huge risk to write this book, and I needed to make the risk worth it.  I needed to write a romance I wanted to read, and I needed to put my heart into it. I had to bring it.

And I think I did it.

On May 1st, 3 weeks before the release of The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, Heart of Brass will hit shelves with its gorgeous gold and purple cover. Romantic Times gave it 4.5 stars and called it ‘riveting from beginning to end.” I think it’s one of, if not the, best romance I’ve ever written, and I’m extremely proud of it. Was it worth the risk of starting over? Definitely. Steampunk has breathed new life into my career, while allowing me to continue writing in a historical setting. I think the genre is here to stay – at least for a good long while, and I cannot wait to write more of it!

~Kate/Kady Cross

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Today we welcome author Kiki Hamiltom.

Kiki Hamilton is the author of the YA historical fantasy series: THE FAERIE RING, and a YA contemporary story entitled THE LAST DANCE.  Visit her at http://www.kikihamilton.com

Just the Facts, M’am….Blending Historical Fiction and Fantasy

by Kiki Hamilton

When writing my YA historical fantasy, THE FAERIE RING, my goal was to try to immerse the reader in Victorian London, make it as real as possible, but then add a slightly fantastical twist. To that end, I worked hard to make all of the historical facts accurate and true to London 1871.

My research was multi-pronged as I had to research both Victorian London and the history of faeries in the British Isles. Luckily, I found both to be fascinating topics! While I wrote the first draft of The Faerie Ring in a fairly short amount of time, I spent quite a bit of time in revision enriching the historical details and checking for accuracy.

I’d never been to London when I started writing, and actually didn’t know much about the City.  It was really quite fortuitous that I had set my main character living in Charing Cross railway station, which is the true heart of London and the point from which all distances are measured to this day.

The Faerie Ring is set in 1871 because that’s the year one of my characters, Prince Leopold, (Queen Victoria’s youngest son, was 18.) My research was conducted through a variety of sources – several books were a wonderful resource: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool (Simon & Schuster 1993) and Victorian London, The Tale of a City 1840-1870 by Liza Picard (St. Martin’s Griffin 2005). Additionally, I used online resources including Google Earth.

After I’d sold the book, but before I’d worked on any editorial revisions, I had the opportunity to visit London for the first time. It was a wonderful experience and so helpful in writing this book. As everyone knows, London is an ancient city with so much history oozing out of the buildings and sidewalks, it can’t help but to inspire a writer! I got to walk in my main character’s footsteps from Charing Cross to St. James Park to Buckingham Palace and more.  The trip was surreal and fantastic (!!!) and very beneficial in filling in some of the more oblique, but very important concrete details.

For faeries, I did a ton of research into the wide and varied history within the British Isles through a combination of online research and books. Additionally, part of the world is completely imagined – one that I’ve envisioned and created – based on folklore and the lives of my characters.

Of course, some of the challenges in writing historical fantasy is that the author is faced with writing about an era that they can never actually visit and in the case of THE FAERIE RING, a race (faeries) that are imagined.  But for a fantasy writer – that’s the fun part!

~Kiki Hamilton








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Today we welcome Leigh Barduo who’s going to tell us all about Tsarpunk, because Tsarpunk is awesome.

Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. She indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as a makeup artist. She lives in Hollywood and can occasionally be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone, is the first book in the Grisha Trilogy and will be published by Holt Children’s/Macmillan in June 2012.

Genre Friction: What is Tsarpunk?

by Leigh Bardugo

We can be frank with one another, yes? We’ve known each other, lo, these many seconds, shared a few vowels. All right then, I’ll give it to you straight: The term “Tsarpunk” started off as a bit of a joke. When I wrote my debut novel, Shadow and Bone, people kept asking me to identify the book’s genre. One glance at the map will tell you that this story isn’t alternate history, but saying “High Fantasy” made people reach for their crossbows. Do Shadow and Bone and Tsarpunk belong anywhere along the Steampunk spectrum? Lia Keyes, founder of the Steampunk Writers and Artists Guild and host of #SteampunkChat (Fridays, 6pm PST, not to be missed!), was kind enough to help me break it down.

Lia Keyes: Shadow and Bone, is a genre-mashing feast being referred to as Tsarpunk, so let’s get right to it: How do you define Tsarpunk and how does it differ from High Fantasy?

Leigh Bardugo: First of all, I would very much like to attend a genre-mashing feast. It sounds delicious and possibly messy.

Second, I always thought of the Grisha Trilogy as High Fantasy or Epic Fantasy. (Please don’t ask me to distinguish between these two things because I’ll start babbling about heroic quests, and word count, and eventually, you’ll just find me in a corner muttering in Elvish.) But I was surprised at how often this was met with resistance and confusion– and occasionally, outright hostility.

Despite the fact that plenty of authors have created secondary worlds built on varied cultural bedrock, most people still associate High Fantasy with Medieval Europe, usually Medieval England. So, for some reason, the Russian influence seems to throw people for a loop. Also, the advance of military technology plays a major role in the series, and when you bring guns into the discussion, all hell breaks loose.

So, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll say that Tsarpunk is fantasy that takes its inspiration from the aesthetics, culture, politics, and social structure of early 19th century Russia.

But the magical system is a bit different from standard High Fantasy, too. Lavie Tidhar of the Internet Review of Science Fiction defines Steampunk as that moment whereby ”technology transcends understanding and becomes, for all intents and purposes, magical.” Can you tell us about the tension between technology and magic in Shadow and Bone?

Keith Thompson's Map of Ravka

I don’t think there’s a science fiction or retro-futurist element at play here. The Grisha practice the Small Science: the manipulation of matter at its most fundamental levels. But they can’t create or animate matter. Inferni can summon combustible gases like methane or hydrogen from the atmosphere, but they still need a flint to create a spark. Similarly Grisha steel or corecloth (similar to modern body armor) isn’t endowed with wizard sparkles. It’s the result of the Fabrikators’ ability to hone a blade at the molecular level and to create modern alloys and polymers through means that to us would appear magical. So maybe there’s a bit of an inversion of Tidhar there?

The Fabrikators are a recognizably Steampunk archetype, much like Makers. What part do they play in the overall storyline?

The Fabrikators get kicked around a bit in Book 1. They’re considered the lowest Grisha Order because they aren’t valued as soldiers in what is essentially a garrison state. But they’ll become more important to the war effort as the books progresses. Keep in mind, too, that one of the defining characteristics of Ravka is the deep gulf in wealth between the aristocracy and the peasant class. An incompetent monarchy is squandering the country’s resources and this includes Grisha power. In Book 2, I introduce a privateer inventor who brings a bit more ingenuity to the table… and some much needed goggles. (They’re functional, promise.)

So the historically uneasy relationship between magic and science is merged in Shadow and Bone, providing a scientific basis for Grisha power, but science isn’t an entirely friendly presence.

Yes, this isn’t a question of magic fading or the old gods dying away. These old gods take a bullet to the brain. Ravka is a country that has failed to industrialize and is being left behind by the modern world. Beyond Ravka’s borders, repeating rifles, more mobile cannon, and the forerunner of the machine gun are being developed. Meanwhile, Ravka is cut off from its ports and harbors by the Shadow Fold. Every weapon and every bit of ammunition is obtained at tremendous risk and usually with heavy casualties. As the Darkling says to Alina early in the story, “The age of Grisha power is ending.”

You also allude to the dangers of trying to push the boundaries of that power.

Merzost is the Ravkan word for both magic and abomination. It looks a lot more like what we traditionally consider magic– creation of matter, animation of the inorganic. It’s considered taboo by the Grisha, but it’s also quite a temptation and, naturally, it carries a terrible price (dire warnings!). Grisha power feeds you; merzost feeds on you. I also touch on this in my short story, “The Witch of Duva.”

In creating the Russian-inspired Ravka, how did you approach research, and how did you decide where to divert from reality in order to create a unique world?

My goal was always to create a fantasy world that used Russia as its cultural touchstone, not to write alternate history. Early on, I was lucky enough to discover Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes. It’s a thoughtful, richly detailed cultural history and I recommend it to anyone interested in reading about the real Russia. I collected books like Glants and Toomre’s Food in Russian History, Susan Massie’s Land of the Firebird, The Bathhouse at Midnight by W.F. Ryan, Bowlt’s beautiful work on the art of Moscow and St. Petersberg (which focuses on the early 1900s, but you never know what you’re going to learn where), old atlases, collections of Russian fairytales. Over Facebook, my friend Erdene Ukhaasai helped me negotiate some choices in Russian and Mongolian when building the Ravkan language. (Fun fact: the Grisha combat instructor, Botkin Yul-Erdene is named after her.)

The choices I made were always based on what I felt served the world and the reader’s experience best. But things enter the narrative in funny ways. For instance, after the Napoleonic wars, the aristocracy’s infatuation with all things French fell out of fashion and there was a clamor for the “authentically” Russian. In Shadow and Bone, the Grisha have embraced peasant crafts and culture (down to what they eat for breakfast) in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the aristocracy and to associate themselves with the Ravkan people. Much like Russian noblemen who rusticated in fake hunting lodges, they’ve adopted a kind of theme park version of serf life. For the Grisha, it’s a misguided attempt to seem more populist and to assimilate.

“Assimilate.” Is that a deliberate choice of words? In the #Steampunkchat I hosted, you mentioned that you’re a Russian Jew.

On my mother’s side, way back. On my biological father’s side I’m Sephardic. So, when we weren’t running from pogroms, we were running from the Inquisition. Apparently, I should be much more fit. (Also, my last name is Spanish for “executioner” so I guess we didn’t spend all of our time fleeing.) And yes, I suppose “assimilate” is a deliberate choice. Though the Grisha are an elite, they’re also a group subject to a great deal of prejudice and suspicion. One of the reasons Ravka has survived is because they’re the one nation where Grisha are safe from persecution for their abilities. Elsewhere, they’re burned as witches, experimented on, sold as slaves. To me, this idea of Ravka’s Second Army was a bit like the Jewish scientists who fled Europe and became a kind of braintrust for the United States in World War II.

You said Tsarpunk started out with tongue firmly in cheek. But what’s the verdict now? Do you think of Shadow and Bone as High Fantasy, Steampunk, or something else?

Hell if I know. To be considered a real sub-sub-genre, I think Tsarpunk wouldn’t just be about Russian influence as window-dressing but also about incorporating a distinctly different worldview and spirit. I hope the Grisha Trilogy does that, but I’m not going to be the one to claim it. If the series shares the revolutionary and DIY sensibilities of punk, then that makes me happy. If I get to rub up against the innovation and ingenuity of Steampunk, I’m honored by the association. If Shadow and Bone stays firmly grounded in High Fantasy, I’m good with that, too. As long as no one calls it smooth jazz, we’ll be just fine.

~Leigh Bardugo

Watch the book trailer for Shadow and Bone here.

Download a free excerpt here.

Learn more about the Grisha Trilogy at LeighBardugo.com.

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Today we welcome Theresa Meyers.

Raised by a bibliophile who made the dining room into a library, Theresa has always been a lover of books and stories. First a writer for newspapers, then for national magazines, she started her first novel in high school, eventually enrolling in a Writer’s Digest course and putting the book under the bed until she joined Romance Writers of America in 1993. In 2005 she was selected as one of eleven finalists for the American Title II contest, the American Idol of books. She is married to the first man she ever went on a real date with (to their high school prom), who she knew was hero material when he suffered through having to let her parents drive, and her brother sit between them in the backseat of the car. They currently live in a Victorian house on a mini farm in the Pacific Northwest with their two children, three cats, an old chestnut Arabian gelding, an energetic mini-Aussie shepherd puppy, several rabbits, a dozen chickens and an out-of-control herb garden.

Supernatural Steampunk

by Theresa Meyers

You know we don’t give enough credit to the Victorians for our current love of all things paranormal, but it really was that era that brought creatures of the night out into mainstream society. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to surge of interest in Egyptology (and hence mummies) the 1800s really laid down the foundation for our fascination with monsters.

The Victorians loved the supernatural. It was a period of time where Spiritualism (the contacting of the dead by the living) was rampant, as was fortune telling, and séances. This is when you found stories of fairy sightings being reported in daily newspapers or fictional accounts of airships being seen hovering over the city reported as front page fact (thanks to authors like Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe). This was paired with the newly emerging sciences of cryptobiology, cryptozoology and Egyptology. The blend of fact and fiction, mysticism and science was at it’s zenith.

I suppose that’s part of the reason why I enjoy writing paranormal steampunk romance. I know—a mash up if there ever was one—but it really all does work together. What we consider Frankenstein, hard-core steampunk fans would consider a construct (revivified human body). All I had to do was add in my Jackson brothers, who hunt down Darkin (aka supernatural beings).

In The Legend Chronicles Winchester, Remington and Colt (all named after their father’s favorite guns, naturally) are Hunters in the wilds of the America west. It’s an age of cowboys, rustlers, miners and stage coaches.  But the world is getting smaller too. Telegraphs and airships, the use of electricity and the development of science is all happening and converging during the late 1800s. So while the Jackson brothers may use old-fashioned know how when it comes down to hunting demons, vampires, ghosts or skinwalkers, they often have a few gizmos courtesy of their intrepid inventor friend, Marley Turlock.

Writing paranormal steampunk means I get a chance to play in that Victorian era, when monsters were something fresh, exciting and new to the masses. While my brothers are well-versed in Hunting, average citizens still see these monsters as merely fictional creations by the writers of the day. They don’t know that vampires are real.

Which puts my eldest brother, Winchester, in a tough spot in The Slayer. You see, he’s given up hunting and is trying his best to lead a normal life as sheriff of Bodie, California. But when a vampire contessa arrives, asking for his help to recover a stolen piece of the Book of Legend (the compendium of all Hunter knowledge handed down generation to generation) he can’t really say no. The world depends on him and his brothers recovering the scattered pieces and reuniting the Book to defeat an even bigger threat to our world.

To be perfectly fair, I put all my Jackson brothers in a tight spot, forcing them to rely on gorgeous Darkin (a succubus, a vampiress and a shapeshifting thief) in order to accomplish their goals. What better way to torture a character than to make him fall for the thing he trusts least in the world?

And just like the Victorians, my stories get to be a blend of supernatural and plausible science side by side, with a dash of romance and generous dollop of action and adventure thrown in. I really do believe that our love affair with monsters started with the Victorians. Seriously, can you imagine how Dracula would have looked without the benefit of a great cape? Simply dreadful. It wouldn’t have had nearly the impact if he were in slouching, baggy jeans and a hoodie. The Victorians imparted our impression of monsters with style and grace, flair and excitement. Without them, would our vampires and demons, witches and werewolves still have the same appeal?

For a taste of paranormal mixed with steampunk I suggest you consider going to Steamcon IV (www.steamcon.org) in the Seattle area, Oct. 26-28 (yes, Halloween weekend). Their theme this year is…take a wild guess….Victorian Monsters. Bring your top hat, and your fangs. I can’t wait!

~Theresa Meyers

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As promised our open-internationally signed book giveaway is up here. Also, don’t forget to enter our gadget contest, which ends April 30.

Today we welcome author Steven Harper.

Steven Harper lives in southeastern Michigan with his sons.  THE DOOMSDAY VAULT, the first novel in the Clockwork Empire series came out in November, 2011 and its sequel THE IMPOSSIBLE CUBE arrives in stores on May 1.

The Speed of Write
by Steven Harper
I’ve written my share of steampunk: three novels, a novella, and a novellette.  I just realized today that when I finish the fourth Clockwork Empire novel, I’ll have written more steampunk than any other genre.

And the process always feels somehow wrong.

See, when I sit down to work on another chapter, I pour myself a tall glass of diet soda, boot up my dual-core processor computer with 2-terrabyte hard drive and flat-screen display, call up a word processing program and a streaming music player, and begin writing.  When I finish a book or story, I create a computer file for my editor and send it off by email.  Later, the same file returns to me with comments in the margin, asking for this change or that.  Later still, I get a PDF of the pages to proofread.  Never do I actually touch pen to paper.  I’ve only actually spoken to my editor once.  All the rest of our interaction has been by email.

This feels just . . . wrong.

Steampunk is (usually) set in the 19th century, and it should be created differently.  I should climb the steps to a drafty garret, slide a creaky chair up to a rolltop desk with a stack of foolscap on it, and pick up a pencil or fountain pen.  I should be wearing tweed and flannel, and a teapot with a leaky spout should perch on a spindly table nearby.

Or maybe I should sit in a comfortable, leather-backed chair in a book-lined study with a roaring fire in the grate while yellow fog presses against the windows and a maid in starched ruffles brings a lunch tray and the afternoon post.  Words are carefully tapped out on a cast-iron typewriter with a crooked M.  Scratchy music from a Victrola complements the hiss of gas lamps.  This version sounds less likely but a lot more fun.

True, I could write by hand.  But the modern world won’t really let me.  The speed of write has changed.

My publisher requires all manuscripts to arrive electronically, not on paper.  And modern bookstores don’t keep novels on the shelves for very long (unless you’re famous), so my publisher fights back by putting books out faster.  This is nice for readers–the next book in the Clockwork Empire is always no more than six months away–but it means I have to work quickly.  Fountain pens and foolscap simply won’t cut it, especially when I can type 80 words per minute.

Ah well.  I do have to admit it’s nice to have total control over the temperature in my office, and that my choice of music helps me stay focused at all times.  It’s easier to correct mistakes on a computer.  And I prefer diet soda over tea.

But in my imagination, I’m still wearing tweed.

–Steven Harper

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Have you entered the gadget contest yet?  Thanks to everyone who’s sent in creative entries so far.  We’d love even more.

Oh, I’m running an online writing class called “Punked” about writing across the punk genres in May.  It’s only $16.  Details are here.  It’s a brand new class and I’d love to “see” some familiar faces.

Now, as promised, here’s an open-internationally giveaway of some signed steampunk  books I picked up at RT.  Skies of Fire by Zoe Archer and Blood of the Wicked by Karina Cooper — and they’re SIGNED.  Just leave a comment below telling me what steampunk book you’re going to read next. Open until 11:59 PM, PST 4/30/12. Open internationally.

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Today we welcome author Annie Seaton.

Strong and Sassy Steampunk Heroines!

By Annie Seaton

When I decided to write my steampunk story, Winter of the Passion Flower, my heroine was constantly in my head, telling me what to do!  She wanted to be the one in charge, the one who called the shots, and the one who did most of the adventuring. Thus it became a very easy story to write as Indigo de Vargas y Irausquínno pushed the swashbuckling action to the limit.

One of the concerns when you  are writing about a strong heroine, particularly in the steampunk and romance genres, when most readers love an alpha male is to be able to balance the strength of your hero and heroine so that the action and the romance are believable and satisfying to the reader.

Gail Carriger has done this perfectly with Alexia Tarabotti in the Parasol Protectorate series. As well as being a strong female character, Alexia drinks tea, carries a parasol and has been known to faint!

Indigo appeared in my mind, all of her characteristics already in place. Being the ultimate pantser and one who does not take time to do character sheets and plotting, my characters evolve through their actions and this really works effectively for me. When the book was finished, I reflected on Indigo’s character and tried to marry it to words that would be characteristic of a strong and sassy heroine.

Is she a risk-taker, is she brave, and does she have attitude? Tick…yes to all of those.

Does she have a strong survival instinct in the face of adversity?
Does she passionately believe in a cause?

Does she have the respect and admiration of the other characters?

Does she recognize when she makes mistakes?

Tick… yes to all of those.

Sassy is defined as impudent, vigorous and lively and it can be very easy to overdo the ‘sass’ to the point where a character can become unlikeable. Sassiness must be balanced with strong by softness and an underlying reason for the sassiness must be demonstrated. A passionate belief in a cause, where the heroine fights for truth and justice in our alternate steampunk world, whether it be on a global scale or within a relationship must provide a backdrop for each of the sassy heroine’s actions and reactions.

So how does an author convey the strength of a strong and sassy steampunk heroine, yet still keeping her as a believable and likeable character? One of the most satisfying reviews of Winter of The Passion Flower recognized Indigo’s strength:

 I especially like that Indigo is the scientist and I love that Indigo needs to rescue Zane! Both characters were light and fun and fit in perfectly with this swashbuckling plot. (The Romance Reviews)

Detailed descriptions of both setting and physical characteristics are very important. The use of strong verbs, both when describing the actions of the heroine and in her dialogue are essential to provide a backdrop to successful characterization.

Strong dialogue, where the heroine shows her intelligence, and demonstrates her ability to make the right decisions under pressure, can convey much about her strength of character in very few words and can be a most effective tool for telling the reader about her.

Having the respect of secondary characters is integral to the success of a strong female character and this can be demonstrated successfully though both dialogue and action. Mr and Mrs Grimoult in Winter of the Passion Flower came alive for me in their love and respect for Indigo. It is essential that the soft side of the strong character comes to the fore when required and the reader gets a balanced view of the character.


“Madam, here are your goggles,” insisted Mrs. Grimoult, holding them out to Indigo as she peered down through the transparent floor of the dirigible. Indigo glared at her as she observed Mrs. Grimoult roll her eyes at her husband.

“Madam, the putrid air will not be good for the baby’s health,” coaxed Mr. Grimoult. Indigo reached over, donning the goggles, without a word, taking great care not to disturb her magnificent hairstyle

When there is a fight or an action scene, it is essential to use the right creative technique to convey action. Short sharp sentences are effective. The heroine must always win! Indigo is physically strong and this made it very easy to convey her strength of character, which complements her physical strength and size.


She bit. She slashed. She screamed. No holds barred, she fought dirty. Her life depended on it. Using her fingernails, she gave a grunt of satisfaction as skin ripped beneath them. Her adversary released her as she ran for the road, pulling the scarab controller from her bag.

The relationship of a sassy heroine with the hero must always be full of fireworks. After all, he is threatening her independence and making her feel emotions that she is unused to, as well as threatening her control. They must always be at odds—both physically and in dialogue.

I love this moment between Indigo and Captain Dogooder…


Their eyes locked, and she moistened her lips in a slow and sensuous movement. Indigo moved in closer, and the captain’s eyes darkened.

She bit him sharply on the lip as she brought her knee up hard to his groin. Pushing him away, Indigo spat words at him. “You will learn your place in the scheme of things. Do not ever touch me without invitation. Do not ask questions about things best left unsaid.”

Summer of the Moon Flower, the sequel to Winter of the Passion Flower is set ten years later and follows the adventures of Sofia, Indigo’s younger half sister. It has been an interesting journey, as Sofia is petite and fragile and writing her as a strong character in an action packed romance, when she doesn’t have the physical strength of Indigo has been challenging.

Again, setting, physical description of characters and the use of strong dialogue have been essential in the creation of a vivid picture of her personality, and to convey her strength of character. Sofia is directing me through a process where she is more proactive than Indigo. Most of the action scenes and interactions in Winter of the Passion Flower were reactive; in the sequel Sofia is much more in charge of what happens!

Make your sassy steampunk heroines human… let them make mistakes, let them show their emotions, give them a soft side. So…when you are creating your steampunk heroines, make them the heroines that we all secretly envy!

~Annie Seaton

Winter of the Passion Flower Lyrical Press March 2012

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Today we welcome Steamypunk author Camryn Rhys.

Camryn Rhys grew up on the border of Canada and the US, and still hasn’t decided which country to call home.  She splits her time between the Alberta and Montana Rocky Mountains, with friends and family in both beautiful locations.  After running her own restaurant for several years and acquiring advanced degrees in writing, foodie romance seemed the only logical option. When she’s not watching the Food Network, she’s reading a romance novel, or if absolutely necessary, working as a consultant. Someone has to put really excellent food on the table.

Blending Erotic Romance & Steampunk

by Camryn Rhys
Blending genres is very careful work, because all genres have their own set of rules. As an author who sets out to blend Steampunk (the philosophical, the mechanical, the aesthetic) with a genre like erotic romance, I had to really analyze what each of these genres brings to the table.

First of all, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to who don’t understand that “erotic” romance is a genre. Because many stories have “heat levels” and the word “erotic” seems to be part of a heat-level discussion, they assume that erotic romance is just another heat level.

It is not.

True erotic romance is not just “explicit” or “hotter” than “regular” romance. The arc (and art) of erotic romance centers around the nature of a love story. In the same way that “inspirational” and “sweet” are not the same genre, “erotic” and “spicy/sensual” are not the same thing. The nature of an inspirational romance is that there are two parallel plots/conflicts. One is the love story of the characters, and the other is the inspirational element. Often, the two are entwined (but they must at least be concurrent). The same is true of erotic romance.

The genre expectations of erotic romance are different. The sexual stakes will be higher than in a non-erotic romance. Characters may fall into bed sooner (although they may not) and the sex may be more extreme (although it may not). But one thing that is consistent: in erotic romance, sex is the path to love. In fact, sex is often the way characters discover they are in love. Their sexual journey leads (at least) to at least the possibility of commitment, if not the promise of it. (As opposed to erotica, where the sexual journey may or may not end in love—which is also a valid and real and different genre than erotic romance.)

So when you blend erotic romance with another genre, you have to take into account the nuance of what it means that erotic romance is a genre itself. The sexual journey (with whatever level of love you end) must still run parallel to and be intertwined with whatever other elements you’re blending. It’s my opinion that if you’re going to write erotic romance, then the “erotic” part of the journey should always be primary. Otherwise, why tell that erotic story? If the same love story could be achieved between two characters without their sexual journey bringing them to the place, why not write a sweet romance? Or at least a mainstream?

So when you blend erotic romance with another genre, there are expectations readers bring to the book that have to be fulfilled. In the same way, a genre like Steampunk has very specific expectations. Readers don’t want to walk away feeling like they could have taken the goggles off a heroine (or her corset, as the case may be) and they could as easily have had the same story.

In Airship Seduction, my most recent release (a Steampunk erotic paranormal romance—say that five times fast!), the two main characters both have some sexual hang-ups they need to work through. Sacha, because she can read minds, tends not to trust men. I can sympathize with her, because of course she can see all the things they’re thinking and feeling when she’s with them. Her sexual journey revolves around finding a man she can believe is really in love with her.

That necessarily has to happen through sex for her. Otherwise, she couldn’t really trust that he would want to be with her and only her, just the way she is.

Right alongside that journey is the one she and Javier must travel that relates to their steampunk genre. They are part of science’s war on magic. Their Steampunk journey is philosophical (anti-establishment, anti-government) and mechanical (the gadgets used against magical creatures, the gadgets that magic uses to win their war). But it’s also magical. Making all these journeys coincide is not easy. And I’m never sure that I’ve even done it justice. But I am very intentional about trying to bring all the genre elements together to make all audiences feel at home reading my book.

What about you? What do you think about blending genres?

And speaking of blending genres, don’t forget about the (Cowboys &) Corsets & Cocktails release party going on right now, for my Western erotic release, and my Steampunk erotic release. Stop by and you could win an iPad (http://camrynrhys.com/?page_id=762)! Thanks so much for having me at Steampunkapalooza! (And see my book’s acknowledgements…. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Suzanne Lazear…)

-Camryn Rhys

http://camrynrhys.com                                http://facebook.com/camrynrhys           http://twitter.com/camrynrhys

Airship Seduction:

When Victorian Europe declares war on magic, Sacha Camomescro—an Empath demon with an airship—might be the only thing standing between progress and apocalypse.



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Today we welcome writing team Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.

Philippa Ballantine is the author of the Books of the Order series with Ace- Geist and Spectyr out now, and Wrayth (2012) and Harbinger to follow. She is also the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with Tee Morris. Phoenix Rising debuted in May 2011 and The Janus Affair will be out in May 2012. She also has the Shifted World series with Pyr Books, with the first book Hunter and Fox coming in June 2012.

Tee Morris began his writing career with his 2002 historical epic fantasy, MOREVI The Chronicles of Rafe & Askana. He won acclaim and accolades for his cross-genre fantasy-detective Billibub Baddings Mysteries, the podcast of The Case of the Singing Sword winning him the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Audio Drama. Along with those titles, Tee has written articles and short stories for BenBella Books’s Farscape Forever: Sex, Drugs, and Killer Muppets, the podcast anthology VOICES: New Media Fiction, BenBella Books’ So Say We All: Collected Thoughts and Opinions of Battlestar Galactica, and Dragon Moon Press’ Podthology: The Pod Complex.

Collaboration: An Art within the Art

By Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

People are fascinated by how the two of us managed to write Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair, as well as pen several short stories for our podcast series, Tales from the Archives. The questions range between “How did you manage to keep your continuity straight?” to “How did you two manage not to kill one another?” Collaboration is a risk for publishers and, sometimes, for readers as the end result can be jarring when switching from one chapter to another. The running complaint for many collaborative works tends to be that the two-featured authors cannot effectively mesh their styles.

Somehow, we manage to avoid that pitfall. Exactly how do we do that?

We begin with an understanding that this book will not be a novel by Tee Morris and not by Pip Ballantine, but a novel written by the both of us. That means the style might have moments of Pip and moments of Tee, but a voice and a style completely different. This hybrid style is born from trust. If you were to talk to other collaborative teams, you will find that alongside communication, trust is an essential ingredient in a successful collaboration. We trust each other, not only in the way we write but in the way we plan and the ways we want to progress our plots forward.

From the trust also comes the faith in giving each other’s work a good, hard editorial eye. This is when the hybrid style matures. After Pip writes her scene, Tee steps in and begins an edit for not only grammatical and typographical slips, but also peppers throughout his own trademarks and touches. The same rule applies for Tee’s work when it comes under Pip’s red pen, and between each of our passes, this new voice emerges and the story begins to unfold.

Communication is also key in a successful shared story. To use a steampunk analogy, harbored grievances between authors are a bit like boilers building pressure. If you don’t release that valve, even slowly, you have a bomb on your hands; and when it blows, the damage isn’t pretty: Plot twists and characters flaws strewn across the furniture, and cliffhangers that — no matter how hard you clean — will never come out of the carpet. Yes, maybe relieving the tension is noisy and uncomfortable but in the end, that essential communication can save a story and (in some cases) a writing relationship. When collaborating with friends, family, and loved ones, keep the communication solid. If your communication falters, your trust soon follows.

These factors are all part of a successful collaboration, but they are also building blocks for any creative endeavor, whether you are sharing a byline or flying solo. How so? At the time of this posting, we are about to head up to Pennsylvania to shoot our book trailer. This time around, our trailer is calling on the talents of a cast of six, the resources of Brute Force Studios, and the filmmaking talents of our friend, Linc Williams. The brainstorming, the writing, and—across four days—the visual creativity of Linc, Thomas Willeford, and the two of us will come to fruition through six actors who have never worked together before and, in a few cases, never worked on camera before. We’ve been swapping emails, tweets, and text messages for weeks now; and in the final two weekends of April, it’s all coming together.




Sound familiar?

Collaboration can yield amazing things, and while you may have a book under one person’s name, don’t forget that within those words, within those chapters of narrative, struggle, drama, and revelation, there is an editor offering an objective look, a proofreader attempting to catch any of the typos that may have missed the editorial passes, a designer that gives the book’s interior a flair and a polish, and a cover artist that makes people stop to look. It may vary from publish to publisher, but we believe that The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels have been—from the beginning—true success stories from the beginning. From our writing, to the editorial and creative staff of HarperVoyager, to the marketing team of HarperCollins, to the amazing writers invited to podcast with us in Tales from the Archives, to the filmmaking talents of Bald Groove, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences may have taken its first steps with us, but became a flash mob of epic proportions through trust, communication, and faith in some truly inspiring individuals. Consider the words of actor, producer, and director Kenneth Branagh when he was asked what his secret was in creating successful films: “Surround yourself with people more brilliant than yourself.”

We did, and now we’re headed up to Pennsylvania to step through a steampunk looking glass.

Shall we dance?

–Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris


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Today we welcome Matthew Delman from Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders.

Matthew Delman is the Publisher/Executive Editor of Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders, a Steampunk magazine with a stated mission of reporting on the entirety of the Steampunk world. It seems to be succeeding, since readers of The Steampunk Chronicle recently voted Doctor Fantastique’s web version “Best Steampunk Website.” Matthew is also the Publisher of Doctor Fantastique Books, which is releasing an anthology of Shakespearean tales with a Steampunk twist–The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, due out May 11, 2012.

Mass Communications in a Steampunk World

By Matthew Delman

A lot of Steampunk takes place in the latter half of the 19th Century, or possibly the very early days of the 20th. As such, one of the things that takes prominent position — especially for those stories in the 1890s/1900s — is the concept of improved mass communication. In The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, which takes place in the 1850s, mass communication innovation takes the form of a machine that can slap handbills up on walls while the worker rides in comfort inside the body of the machine.

In terms of historical innovations, there are several inventions that improved mass communications far beyond what it was for hundreds of years. These include the telegraph, the radio, and improved printing presses as some of the primary changes happening in the 1800s. In the early portion of the 1800s, we also see the invention of the postal system in Britain and the first stamps issued in 1840 — invented by a schoolmaster named Rowland Hill. Hill was also the first one to design a system where the price of post was determined by weight instead of size.

Samuel Morse invented the electrical telegraph in 1837 while working at New York University as an artist. Yes, Samuel Morse was an accomplished portrait painter, and worked at NYU teaching students how to paint while he also perfected his design for the telegraph. He would eventually receive patents from both the United States government and European nations, and permission to build telegraph lines linking major cities around the world.

In 1843, after receiving permission to connect Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland, Morse first attempted to lay telegraph wires underground using a machine designed by Ezra Cornell (the founder of Cornell University). However, experiment soon showed that the underground method was unacceptable. Thus, we see Morse deciding to string the wires along poles. Eventually, telegraph wires would become such an integral part of communications in the United States that the Native Americans cut the lines in order to effectively disrupt any and all communication between outposts. 

Newspapers also took a quantum leap forward during the mid- to late 1800s. The New York papers realized that the telegraph would change the way people communicated, and were thus early adopters of the technology. Also at this time, we see Robert Hoe’s invention of a double-cylinder, steam-powered printing press that exponentially increased the number of broadsheets a newspaper could print. Then, in 1845, his son Richard developed the rotary press. This steam-driven rotary press could produce 100,000 newspapers per hour, a 250 times improvement over traditional hand-cranked presses.

A second, but no less important, innovation that affected newspapers and communication in general was the typewriter. For the first time, people didn’t have to rely on hand-written documentation (which as we all know can be nigh unreadable depending on penmanship). In 1868, Christopher Latham Sholes, in collaboration with Samuel Soule and Carlos Glidden, invented the first usable typewriter.

However, the initial machine was prone to mistakes and could break easily. Eventually James Densmore, an investor, bought Soule and Glidden out, and he and Sholes built several machines in succession to perfect the device. Densmore and Sholes offered the machine to Remington in 1873, who would eventually purchase the patents after the machine was perfected.

By the 1880s then, we have the telegraph, the improved printing press, and an actual postal system that are connecting the world. Move into the 1890s and the early 1900s, and we see Guglielmo Marconi and the invention of wireless telegraphy, which would change the communications landscape yet again. (But that’s an entirely different post).

Anyway, what does all this mean for Steampunk? Well, it means several things. First off, you’ve got a vast array of communications technologies to play with. No television yet, but motion pictures arose in the late 19th Century, and Gibson and Sterling had a kinotrope that was used as a rudimentary projector for presentations.

As with most Steampunk then, you can take these inventions — printing presses, radio, telegraphs, etc — and turn them into some sort of entertaining blend of mechanics to craft an innovation that makes sense for your world.

 –Matthew Delman


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Today we welcome Andrew Mayer, author of The Society of Steam series. One lucky commenter will win The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam Book One) AND Hearts of Smoke and Steam (The Society of Steam Book Two). I know there’s been a slew of North America only contests. Our gadget contest is open internationally, and I’ll put up a special open internationally contest this weekend with some steampunk goodies I picked up at RT. Now, back to our guest.

Andrew Mayer was born on the tiny island of Manhattan, and is still fascinated by their strange customs and simple ways. When he’s not writing new stories he works as a videogame designer and digital entertainment consultant. Over the years he has has created numerous concepts, characters, and worlds including the original Dogz and Catz digital pets. These days he resides in Oakland, CA where he spends too much time on the internet, and not enough time playing his ukulele.

Heroic Steampunks
by Andrew Mayer

I walked into a clothing store on Haight street in San Francisco this weekend. Sitting in the jewelry trays, below with all the pseudo-psychedelic trinkets, and to the left of the feathered jewelry that seems to have infested San Francisco like an avian flu over the winter, were a number of steampunk pins. They were mostly exposed wristwatch innards with a pin glued to the back—sitting there like clockwork butterflies, although not quite as colorful

After taking a long look at the items in the glass case I asked the women behind the counter the same question I ask almost everyone when I see steampunk themed items, “Do they work?”

After a bit of hemming and hawing her final answer was that no. That’s not unusual but it does make me sad—not just for the thousands of watches that have died so that we may have gear-encrusted jewelry and bowler hats, but for steampunk itself.

I know that may seem a bit hyperbolic, but I’m beginning to worry that even though steampunk itself has begun to penetrated mainstream culture, we’re missing the mechanized forest for the iron trees, and it may end up being nothing more than a broken fashion statement.

To me that Steampunk has reached a crossroads of sorts in the last year, with the true fork in the road being the Justin Bieber video Christmas video that featured a breakdancing Santa, and the Beebs wearing a mechanized arm. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the appropriation of the trappings of steampunk by mainstream culture, and I’ve said so publicly.

At the same time there’s a danger of the zeitgeist passing by without really ever really giving steampunk its chance to shine.  And like everything about this quirky, unique genre it isn’t easy to pin down where either of the many paths forward might lead.

One thing that’s become clear to me as I work on finishing up the final book in my own trilogy is that my own feelings about what Steampunk is, and the impact it has had undergone a transformation in the four years since I started writing them.

If I have any unique perspective to bring to Steampunk I think it comes from the fact that I decided to mix it with superheroes, another genre that’s had a long and winding road on its current path to mainstream success. As I’ve been pulling elements from the two genres to create my own (hopefully) unique blend, it’s also given me a chance to compare and contrast their impact on popular culture.

Superheroes are currently enjoying a strong resurgence. Not in comics, which have been on a fairly steady downward sales trend over the last decade, but in movies and television. And the genre has been here before: in the 80s, and the 60s there were plenty of superhero movies, although they were played more for camp. Even as far back as the 1940s, Batman and Superman both had serials that played in front of movies in theaters across the United States. And back then 1940s the comics regularly sold copies in the millions, and probably had as much of a hold in popular culture as the current round of films have in ours today, if not more.

Steampunk has been around since the 80s, but it seems to have never quite caught on in the same way. Despite making cameos in television, inspiring numerous video games, and clearly being the inspiration for the new Sherlock Holmes films it seems that we’ve yet to have a true culture-busting moment of impact.  Yes, a number of movies have been optioned by Hollywood, but so far none of them have reached the all-important first day of filming—usually the true point that you can tell a film is actually going to come out.

So what is it that Superheroes have the Steampunk doesn’t? They’re both visually appealing, both are highly metaphorical, and both often deal with popular themes of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong.

The first issue is that Steampunk exists in the mind of many as more of a pastiche than as an actual fully defined genre. It is, at moments, greater than the sum of its parts, but it is definitely made up of parts, with gears and corsets often being the main ones.

Secondly, I think the metaphors that Steampunk deals with best are primarily political in nature. That can present a problem because attempts to push the politics of the genre tend to run into two main issues: first is the fact that there is a strong “politically incorrect” undercurrent to the proceedings.

One of the features that makes Steampunk so enticing is that it was built on a worldview that was only possible due to massive British imperialism. While it’s fun to puncture the hot air dirigibles of political stuffed shirts, the need to keep it from going down like a lead balloon often end up either glossing over of that facts of history, or recoiling away from the more unpleasant details by moving it into a an “alternate world” setting that takes it out of any historical context at all.

Personally I think that’s a mistake as the greatest metaphorical impact of steampunk comes from the fact that the ability of mankind to inflict global suffering maintained by a rigid philosophy was what makes the Victorian era resonate so strongly. The 1800s were basically the birthplace of modern Western culture, especially technology and politics. It was, for all the ugliness it contained, the cradle for the global world that we live in today.

I can’t say that embracing the messy, uneasy parts of the genre more closely would fixe the problem, but it might add some edge to a genre that can be very hard to define. No, it’s not the easy power fantasy that superheroes enjoy, but embracing it might help us to find the elements of the genre that could resonate with a larger audience.

Steampunk also seems to defy a way to easily define the characteristics of its protagonists. Is it the spunky heroine or the spectacled engineer that is truly the archetypal hero of the genre? How about the bumbling gentry, or the intrepid scientist? Yes, superheroes come from all walks of life, but you can always expect them to overcome overwhelming odds whether they’re a playboy billionaire, or a geeky teenager.

So what’s next for this plucky little genre with a 20 year history? I do think that steampunk is going to continue to grow, but perhaps not with the same abandon that it did over the last decade. Barring a major successful movie or television series, I think it’s already lost the opportunity to make a major cultural impact on aesthetic or cultural grounds for the next few years. That saddens me not only because I love to write these stories, but because I think that there’s a case to be made that, given the right mix of ingredients it could have done a great deal.

But with the rise of post-cyberpunk digital culture, and a series of genuine political movements around the globe, we may be entering into an era where the Victorian metaphors aren’t quite as apt as they used to be.

That said, I do think the literary growth of the genre has been astounding, and does seem to be chugging along. So who knows? Maybe we’ll get that movie after all. And meanwhile this little genre that could is going to be worth watching for a while longer.

– Andrew Mayer
twitter: @andrewmayer

One lucky commenter will recieve The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam Book One) AND Hearts of Smoke and Steam (The Society of Steam Book Two). North America only please. Contest ends at 11:59 PM PST, April 24, 2012.

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Today we welcome author Mark Hodder. One lucky commenter gets a copy of Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.

Mark Hodder is the creator and caretaker of the BLAKIANA Web site (www.sextonblake.co.uk), which he designed to celebrate, record, and revive Sexton Blake, the most written about fictional detective in English publishing history. A former BBC writer, editor, journalist, and Web producer, Mark has worked in all the new and traditional medias and was based in London for most of his working life until 2008, when he relocated to Valencia in Spain to de-stress and write novels. He can most often be found at the base of a palm tree, hammering at a laptop. Mark has a degree in cultural studies and loves British history (1850 to 1950, in particular), good food, cutting-edge gadgets, cult TV, Tom Waits, and a vast assortment of oddities.

Dancing Amid the Ruins
(A Peculiarly British Perspective)
By Mark Hodder

We, in the Western world, are dancing amid the ruins of fallen empires. They died slowly, those great, lumbering beasts, and there are those who think to revive them, or to create new ones, but we won’t let them. We know that empires benefit the few whilst enslaving the many. We cannot support such injustice, such avarice.

In Britain (God bless her, and all who fail in her)—once the seat of the largest empire in history—it was young satirists who alerted us to the fact that the beast must die. The world wars had already destroyed the myth that the privileged were special, deserving, superior. Forced by conflict into close proximity with the smelly commoner, the Lords and Viscounts were revealed to be a mite funky themselves—rather ordinary, in fact—and, by golly, they got needlessly slaughtered just as efficiently as plain old Tommy Watkins.

After the conflict (which was really one long war with an intermission for ice cream), those toffy nosed twits who’d managed to survive dug in their claws and clung on to their riches and, of course, continued to propagate the cultural myths that kept them in their stately homes. But they were much weakened. And now they had a new enemy. Not Johnny Foreigner this time. No, it was Johnny Bird and Johnny Fortune and the other satirists of the snarky Sixties. Those guys ridiculed the heck out of any pompous idiot who tried to maintain a delusion of dignity. The aristocratic, the rich, and the powerful became the laughing stock of the country. Respect your betters? Are you serious? Take a look at what they get up to! Listen to the gibbering nonsense that spews out of their mouths! They’re too busy bothering foxes to understand the real world. Down with the upper class! Up with the lower class! We’ll mingle in the middle!

The gloss came off the posh.

The killing blow, the true end of the empire, was struck in the late Seventies. Again, it wasn’t at the hands of Johnny Foreigner. This time, it was Johnny Rotten. The punk movement jabbed the knife in good and proper, and did so with one very clear, very basic, very deadly war cry: “We don’t respect you.” You might have a plummy voice, country tweeds, a Range Rover, a family crest, and a comfy seat in the House of Lords—but we don’t care what you got; if you want respect, you gotta earn it, you greedy git.

Empire only functions when you know your betters. Punk didn’t know any.

So the British Empire snuffed it, just like the Portuguese Empire had done, and the Spanish and Dutch and Italian and Russian and all the many others. The time of empires is gone, but their ghosts still haunt us. Obviously, the pitiful remnants of the elite would like to resuscitate them, but, even more, now it’s the economists who want empires. Shiny new ones. Great big cash cows. Come on European Union, get your act together. Trust me, it won’t. We have no will for it.

Enter Johnny Steampunk.

Steampunk embodies the ghost to remind us that the dead are dead. It plays at empire with a wry smile. It toys with the romance of it—the unexplored territories ripe for exploitation, the pioneering spirit required for imperialistic colonisation, the promise of fabulous contraptions that will cower the less “civilised” into submission—but it does so with a knowing wink and a gentle dose of self-mockery. It’s the cool clothes without an evil bastard inside of them, it’s an airship that doesn’t drop bombs on the natives, it’s a blunderbuss that won’t mess with your face. See, a lot of the propaganda produced to bolster belief in the empire was actually tremendous fun. You just have to filter out all the guff. Back in the day, stiff upper lips and prodigious whiskers adorned the faces of heroes who, just beneath their very, very, very white skin, were racist cads of the highest (which happens to be the lowest) order. Now, though, you can square your shoulders, grow a fine pair of Picadilly Weepers, don a stove pipe hat, and everyone recognises that you’re affiliating yourself only with the joy of the wrapping, not with the filth of the content. Steampunk gives the icons, symbols, fashions and mores of empire a damned hard shake until all the confounded nonsense has fallen out of them. What’s left signifies that which deserved to die and must never be allowed to live again. It’s a celebration—a happily nihilistic jig on a well-earned grave, stamping down the earth so the corpse can’t rise, while a curious and optimistic eye is cast to the future.

Punk was the murder. Goth was the mourning. Steampunk is the wake.

Mark Hodder

One lucky commenter wins a copy of Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. North America only, please. Contest ends 11:59 PM PST, April 23, 2012.

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Today we welcome husband and wife writing team Clay and Susan Griffith.  One lucky commenter wins both The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book One AND The Rift Walker: Vampire Empire Book Two.  Don’t forget to show us your gadgets and win great prizes.

Clay and Susan Griffith are the authors of the VAMPIRE EMPIRE trilogy (Pyr Books). The Greyfriar: Book1 (2010), The Rift Walker: Book 2 (Sept. 2011), Book 3 (2012).

What is this Steampunk of which you speak?

by Clay & Susan Griffith


We just returned from the RT Booklovers Convention. This convention is sponsored by RT Book Reviews magazine, which was once known as Romantic Times. Well, now RT covers all genres of books, including science fiction and fantasy. We were at their convention to promote our VAMPIRE EMPIRE series. RT has recognized the booming steampunk genre and sponsored a workshop track dedicated to it. We were on one of the panels because Vampire Empire is steampunk.

There was a lot of conversation around the convention about steampunk among readers and writers. The three most commonly heard comments at RT were:

  1. “What the heck is steampunk?”
  2. “I just read my first steampunk book, and it was awesome.”
  3. “I’m writing a steampunk book.”

All these comments say interesting things about the genre…or subgenre or whatever it is.

First, even among a large group of seasoned genre readers, steampunk is still a relatively new animal. Or at least, the word steampunk is new to them. When you tell the uninitiated to think about Jules Verne or H.G. Wells or Wild Wild West, they immediately get it.

Of course, you can wade into a more complicated explanation, but that only opens the door to the whole debate about “what is steampunk…really?” Does steampunk have to be Victorian? Does it have to have steam power? Is it defined by what it is, or what it isn’t? If you add an airship to Lord of the Rings, does it become steampunk?

Hardcore steampunkers care a great deal about that argument, but we believe that generally most readers are looking for something new, and they want to be immersed in an innovative and exciting atmosphere. They intuitively grasp the workings of a world of established manners, usually Victorian in nature, that are then challenged by new technologies or alternative historical events or supernatural outbreaks.

That leads us to the second comment in which readers who are new to steampunk find they really like it. (Self-servingly, many people told us that Vampire Empire was the first steampunk they had read, and now they wanted to read more. Yay!) So will steampunk become the new Regency romance? The new Western? The new hardboiled private eye? Those genres have readers who return over and over with almost slavish love and, in the case of some readers, are the only type of book they enjoy. It’s too early to tell whether steampunk will become the go-to genre for very many readers, but it is certainly becoming a favored item off many readers’ menus.

There was a lot of discussion at RT about whether steampunk has legs in the publishing world. Some publishers seem hesitant to buy, while others are stockpiling. Is steampunk a flash in the publishing pan that has already peaked in its popularity expansion? Or are we seeing just the beginning of a growing trend? From the numbers of the first two comments noted above that we heard at RT, you might conclude that the trend certainly isn’t played out yet. And, in fact, it may just be reaching a mass market.

The third most common comment we heard at RT came from writers who were delving into the genre for the first time. Of course, writers being writers, there’s always going to be an upsurge in manuscripts in a particular genre any time a new blip hits the publishing radar screen. Vampires. Paranormal romance. YA fantasy. Zombies. And now steampunk. That’s natural. Writers want to sell their books, so they look for what the hot trend is, or they get swept up in the excitement of a new genre and want to be a part of it somehow.

However, that isn’t the case with many writers who are working on steampunk novels who talked to us at RT. They are writing books they have always wanted to write, but never had a market. Now the steampunk “explosion” gives them the chance. They might have to make a few changes to render the book a little more steampunky, but they truly aren’t just pulling an old unsold historical romance or epic fantasy out of their file cabinet, tossing in gears and top hats, and sending it off newly labeled as steampunk. They are truly fascinated by the tropes of the genre, and want to explore them.

Even faster than vampires, paranormal, and zombies before it, tropes of steampunk are being twisted and shattered. Steampunk may be the one genre where the ground rules are never even fully established before writers begin flying off into their own directions. And that’s pretty cool. It also calls into question what steampunk is…really.

But that’s not the issue here. At RT, we learned that there is great curiosity about steampunk, a growing love of the genre, and a massive productive force ready to throw themselves into exploring and exploding the genre.

Things are going to happen fast and furious in the world of steampunk fiction over the next year or two. So hold onto your hats and corsets, a lot of new readers are about to be swept up in a wonderful genre, and fresh voices will twist steampunk in wild directions.

~Clay & Susan Griffith


One lucky commenter wins both The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book One AND The Rift Walker: Vampire Empire Book Two.  North America only, please.  Contest ends April 22, 2012 at 11:59 PM PST.

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