Hello, hello! I’m R. Cooper, also known as Ris, and this is my first time doing anything like this, so bear with me. I’m going to geek out a little bit, because things like steampunk get my gears turning (see what I did there?).
1. What does steampunk mean to me?
Steampunk is like history porn for technonerds. It’s beautiful and I love it, though I admit, the first thing I react to is the look. Steampunk has a beauty of its own. Brilliant people, gas lights, brass fittings, airships, side by side with cars and computers and advanced weaponry. It’s compelling, I suppose because steampunk is usually set in the Victorian or Edwardian eras, periods known for imperialism and repression, and, (and in America especially with the Civil War) a whole host of bad behavior in the name of “progress”. They are time periods not that far from our own, but they feel vastly different somehow, more innocent. These are people living on the verge on the horrors of the 2oth century, and some really great writers use that to great effect. We know what the inventions mean and how history will go, but the characters don’t, and even as readers we don’t know how the inventions will change things. Modern inventions should seem even more monstrous in that “more innocent” time, especially when it involves weapons, but something about it takes away the sordidness and dirt, makes it new. At least in traditional, brass and goggles, steampunk. I suppose when it becomes a world of inventors and visionaries there is a hope for the future.
Personal confession, I hate it when steampunk doesn’t offer me even a little bit of altered history. If 1860s people have cars, it would affect how cities develop, suburbs, subways, sidewalks, traffic lights, everything. Even simple things have a ripple effect. In the Victorian Era would women drive or would that be shocking? If someone like Captain Nemo really built the Nautilus, would governments try to take it from him? I want to see that, or at least get a sense of it, even in the middle of my love stories about airship pirates and shy inventors held for ransom. I like to see new world built, and steampunk is so ideal for that. For example, it was in the 1800s that Europe started to shape itself into what it later became, and certain concepts started to appear. Nationalism and evolution, the rights of workers, the rights of women, the rights of people of color, wars in the Balkans. Total war and artillery used against infantry. Again, we as the audience know what these things are building to, but the characters don’t. It adds tension.
Then again, it also means corsets. Pretty, pretty corsets. I really do love corsets. That look is so hot. The blending is the other appeal about steampunk.
2. What is your favorite thing about steampunk or writing about steampunk?
Mixing two different styles of speech, modern and Victorian together. It sounds stupid, but I especially love curse words. I love using them, and my one problem with historicals is how I don’t get to have the characters always talk like I want them to. Crossing genres means I can have them say what I want.
3. What is your favorite steampunk accessory?
Corsets. And dirigibles. Do those count as accessories? Corset are the ultimate symbol of the repression of the era, the image that everyone thinks of (with or without the accompanying skirts) when they think Victorian. You might think London fog or horse-drawn carriages or Jack the Ripper or gaslight, but you will definitely think of a corseted figure with those other things. I think they intrigue the shit out of people. I’ve been idly thinking about a corseted male figure in a steampunk universe for a while now. Maybe a spy. One of these days I need to write a story with a corset-wearing spy.
4. What turned you on to steampunk?
There was this little, cheesy sci fi show that used to be on late at night called, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. I read Verne as a kid, but the show was something new that I had never seen before. They fudged the history a bit, but the premise was that young student Jules Verne was so good at understanding the inventions of the future because he was actually a visionary. He didn’t realize it, but various groups wanted him to work for them, and he was protected by two spies (well, one was a former spy) for the British Secret Service, who also have technology ahead of their time. There were armored corsets and dirigibles and time machines, as well as swords and duels and wide skirts. I loved it. I had no idea it was steampunk. (If you want to go earlier than that, I could mention The Great Mouse Detective. A Disney film about a mouse Sherlock Holmes that nonetheless featured robots and a detective conducting experiments that didn’t exist in Victorian London.)
5. Do you have any upcoming Steampunk stories you can tell us about?
Nothing current. I’ve wanted to do something else in the same universe as Let There Be Light for a while now, but nothing else has come to mind. LTBL is, in itself, sort of a weird tribute to early spy shows (themselves using “imaginary” technology ahead of its time), and I think the reason I haven’t done anything else in that world is because I want to do something new. Something more obviously about the fantasy.
6. Who is your favorite character of all from one of your Steampunk stories?
I only have the one story so far, but I would have to say Hart. Sir Robert Hartly-Battridge is the eye-patch wearing, desperately in love, determined spy master of my hart… er… heart. He’s not a scientist, he doesn’t understand half of the inventions now threatening his country, but he’s going to do his damndest to protect his country, and a certain short-tempered scientist, anyway, no matter what the cost to himself.
7. What’s the hardest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
Deciding what inventions they have and why. It’s the kind of detail that can hang me up for days. Do they have penicillin? Germ theory? Does every one have a phone or just the very rich? Details!
8. What’s the easiest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
Dressing them. I might not always describing every outfit, but the clothes are the most fun to imagine. (And then taking those clothes off, naturally.)
9. What does steampunk allow you to do as a writer that no other genres can?
Take liberties. Literally take liberties. Things forbidden in a real Victorian context might not be so in a changed world.
10. What are the challenges and advantages to writing a steampunk story?
Advantages are it brings a certain freedom. The challenges are that the cost of that freedom is creating a new historical context for it. Talk about world building, steampunk is casually rewriting history.
11. How much research does it take and how much imagination.
This question. It depends on how relevant the science is to their daily lives. If telephones and computers are semi-common items, the characters don’t need to know how they work. If it’s Karol and Hart, and most of the things they are using were invented by Karol at that moment, or close to that moment, then I had better learn how automatic weapons work, or what a dynamo is, or get a quick in background in molecular physics. (Which seems odd until you look back on some of the things Karol is saying and you realize the things Karol has already thought up that wouldn’t exist for another hundred years or so.)
Thank you so much for this, it was fun. I have been fighting with my internet connection all day, so I apologize for any delays.
Now I’m in the mood for some steampunk sexytimes. Time to open up a new file!