See, to me classic Steampunk is Victorian, set in London. I write westerns. When I started the story, I knew it would continue in that vein. I didn’t even really consider what I was writing to be a Steampunk: I thought of it as a western, a technologically driven Victorian-era alternate history. I know, I know, that’s essentially the definition of Steampunk, right? Semantics. I’m a word nerd. Why use a single word when you can use seven?
I envisioned a gritty mining town, secret agents and Native Americans, and a war that felt never-ending. My world is driven by technology, a wild frontier of new and deadly inventions, an unregulated world of robber barons and corporate greed, of war profiteers and mad scientists. The paranormal elements—magic, aether, whatever you want to call it—are very subtle in Jessie’s world. They exist, but they’re subtle. No lightning bolts exploding from fingers here.
My world is Dances with Wolves meets a dirtier version of Wild, Wild West. I discovered I liked it there. I hope you will, too.
What does Steampunk mean to you?
To me, Steampunk is Victorian era (or Victorian-like) Speculative Fiction. It can be as magical or as technological as the author wishes. As long as the world is driven by steam, and the mannerisms are similar to those of the 19th century, I feel that anything goes with Steampunk.
What is your favorite thing about Steampunk or writing about Steampunk?
I love that Steampunk can be anything. While it is largely based in Great Britain, and the mannerisms are 19th century, Steampunk is a new and exciting world to explore. It can be largely technological. It can be set in the world as we know it or on another planet. It can have magic. I’ve read Steampunk that feature vampires and zombies, and others that are largely magic-based worlds. I’ve also read Steampunks that are heavily technological, and don’t have any magic. They can be set anywhere in the world—Jessie’s War is a distinctly western Steampunk construct, and largely, but not entirely, technologically driven.
What is your favorite Steampunk accessory?
That I thought of out of my hot little head? I’m quite pleased with my revolving shotgun and the clockwork carbine. For the ones I own, I have an antique pocket watch that was turned into a necklace. One side contains the watch face. The other side contains all the gears, which are as visible. I wear it all the time. It’s awesomesauce.
What turned you on to Steampunk?
Honestly, working in the university library in college. I went to college in a town largely built from the money created by Nevada’s silver boom, which took place in the late 1860s to 1880s. This largely influences the book. So much of my town is influenced by the Victorian era. I read the histories, and became fascinated by the contrasts I saw in the people living in the Victorian age: a prim and proper society that saw the development of the first vibrator (a medical device to relieve anxiety—no kidding!); a pious group of people who, when not in church, spent scads of time in séances and trying to communicate with the dead. So, really, the Victorian era drew me in, and when I first started writing, that’s what I wrote. Every published book I’ve written is set in the Victorian era. Those are my peeps, I guess.
As I wrote more, more and more paranormal elements crept into my writing. First I incorporated the occult—tarot, séances, that kind of stuff. The next thing I knew, I was writing a Steampunk. Guess I can’t let go of my Victorians.
Do you have any upcoming Steampunk stories you can tell us about?
Right now, I have only one Steampunk out, and that’s Jessie’s War. It’s set against the backdrop of a prolonged American Civil War, and has a very gritty, distinctly western, New World feel.
But I’m currently plotting a more traditional Steampunk set in the Highlands of Scotland. While it’s in the same world as Jessie’s War, with the same technological advancements and limitations, we’ll get to see what’s happening across the pond while the United States is at war with itself.
Who is your favorite character of all from one of your Steampunk stories?
Luke Bradshaw, hands down. I’ve actually had quite a time of it shaking him. I had to start writing something new—in a different genre—before I could shake him entirely.
What’s the hardest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
I think that, with all Speculative Fiction, there’s the danger of the “white room syndrome”. As an author, we understand the world we’re creating, but sometimes, and this is particularly true if the author is a pantser, the world is not adequately constructed until we’re further along in the book. In Steampunk, the world needs to be richly crafted from the beginning, or you lose that unique feel that makes the story Steampunk. So, the author has a choice. You either plot like mad, with your binder that outlines the minutia of your world, or you write the entire story and then rewrite the entire story to fill in the blanks.
As an author, I did both. I have a color-coded binder with the technology fully mapped out (I know precisely what laws of physics I allow to be broken and what I don’t). But I’d be lying if I said I did that before I’d written Jessie’s War. That book went through two different rewrites—one where I physically retyped the entire thing—to ensure that the world was well-developed, and that I didn’t violate any of the tenants of the world I had created.
What’s the easiest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
Creating the clothes. Mostly because I love the fashion. And the boots. How I love Victorian era boots, and have since I was in high school. I think I was the only kid in the early 90s who wore long wrap skirts, cameos, embroidered vests, and calf high boots (that weren’t Doc Martens). Sure, I owned my share of flannel, but honestly, in my Senior pictures, from the waist up, I could have walked out of a Victorian era picture.
I like creating the characters, too. The Victorian era spawned such real life characters as Wyatt Earp, Mark Twain, and Julia Bulette (never heard of her? She’s fascinating). What’s not to love?
What does Steampunk allow you to do as a writer that no other genres can?
I think Steampunk allows for everything. It can contain as much research as you want, it can be as historically accurate as your world requires. Or it can deviate completely, or be set in a different world. I don’t think there are many other genres outside of Steampunk and Clockpunk that allow an author to expand like those two genres. Whether the world is magical or not, has monsters or not, is set in Victorian England or not, I know whenever I pick up a Steampunk book it will still have the unique feel of Steampunk, regardless of setting. I love that.
What are the challenges and advantages to writing a Steampunk story?
The challenges are in the world building, in making sure that your world has the distinct feel of a Steampunk while being something unique. But that’s also one of the advantages, too. Once the world is built, you can do anything you want to in it. It doesn’t have to be historically accurate, like historicals do, because we’re talking about an alternate history, or an alternate world.
How much research does it take and how much imagination.
I think it’s equal parts of both. In order to make my Steampunk feel period appropriate, I did a lot of research on clothing, weaponry and mining technology of the mid to late 19th century, as well as the Native American legends of the time. Then I tweaked all of it. Real people, while not necessarily named in Jessie’s War, make appearances. There is a lot of fact in that story, but then there’s all the technology. I allowed many laws of physics to be broken, and incorporated paranormal elements. It was a good time.
I hope you all enjoy reading Jessie’s War as much as I enjoyed writing it. Happy reading!