I didn’t start out writing steampunk. In fact, as late as 2009, I was still trying to figure out some idea as to what exactly steampunk even was. At Cryptic ConFusion in Detroit that January, the masquerade’s theme was steampunk and all these fantastic costumes wandered through the con that day. I talked to a trio of women in corsets and bustles and aviator gear, and I knew I had to learn more.
Going off a Twitter suggestion, I picked up China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and started reading. But…I didn’t see the corsets and such in there. In my head, at the time, it was straight sci-fi. Obviously not what I was looking for, so I set it aside. (Fans may berate me now. It’s okay.)
About that time, Angela James (who was with Samhain then) put out a call for space westerns. I pushed the whole steampunk question to the back of my mind and got to work on a project for her. I wrote fast and furiously…and hated the product. I mean hated. When Angela then left Samhain, I figured it was never meant to be, so I shelved the PoS project.
Fast-forward a couple months, and Samhain (minus Angela) put out a call for a steampunk collection. Now, somewhere in there, I’d clued in that things like Wild, Wild West and Briscoe County, Jr. (aging myself, I know) were kind of steampunk. And Firefly had elements of it. And… and… I did some more digging into the genre. Then I pulled out the PoS space western and thought to myself, “What if it was never meant to be in space?”
I took the barest idea from the original (and only one of the names) and completely re-wrote it. I didn’t sell it to Samhain. But I did sell it to Carina Press (and Angela James was the one who made the acquisitions phone call). Badlands came out in February, 2011 as I was just navigating the world as a published author. (That’s another story for another day.) At long last, the sequel, Clockwork Mafia, will be released this April.
What does Steampunk mean to you?
There’s a line in Thor where Thor says, “Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.” That’s how I see steampunk. It’s magic and science and adventure all rolled into one.
What is your favorite thing about steampunk or writing about steampunk?
A lot of genres have rather narrowly defined rules. Hero has to be this type of person, heroine has to be this type. And sidekicks are relegated to that status. For me and my stories, everyone can be a hero/heroine. There is no shoving characters into boxes and expecting them to stay there. There’s a scene in Clockwork Mafia where Henrietta asks Ever about her tattoos. It’s incredibly revealing about both women and shows that they don’t fit into just “kick-ass warrior woman” or “rich bitch scientist.” They’re both strong heroines and both vulnerable in their own ways. And they’re both worthy of stories.
I love the fact that steampunk encourages strong female characters but that not all of them have to be strong in the same way.
What is your favorite steampunk accessory?
Corsets. I’m a busty girl and I LOVE the way a good corset feels and looks. I’m slowly building my corset collection. For those in search of a good one, I HIGHLY recommend Ms. Martha’s Corsets. I’ll be buying another from her soon.
If it matters, my son’s (11) favorite piece is my goggles. He’s tried to abscond with them more than once. And my daughter (7) has a love affair with bustles and fans.
What turned you on to steampunk?
The clothes. So very much the clothes. I’m a total girl in that regard, I admit it.
Do you have any upcoming Steampunk stories you can tell us about?
Clockwork Mafia is the sequel to Badlands, and it follows the story of Dr. Henrietta Mason as she tries to navigate her life in the aftermath of book 1. (I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t read Badlands yet. Suffice to say, Henri’s world is turned upside down.) She’s struggling with the idea of returning to society life in Philadelphia when mafia super-soldiers track her to the Badlands on a hunt for the research she’s hiding there. Add in clockwork insects, landslides, and romance, and it’s one hell of a good time.
Who is your favorite character of all from one of your Steampunk stories?
That’s like asking me which of my kids is my favorite. Not to mention, not all of them have had their stories told yet. I do tend to favor the women though. Ever is the most kick-ass heroine I’ve written and I love her strength, even though I mourn its cost. Henri is my favorite bitch. She’s the woman you want to hate—everything about her inspires the emotion—and then you’re forced to look deeper, and damn it…you end up admiring her. Also, she has the best wardrobe. And then there’s Mahala… and Laurette… and…
What’s the hardest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
Trying to be faithful to the genre while still being faithful to the vision. Different people who read steampunk expect different things from it. For me, steampunk without the aesthetics doesn’t “feel” right. For others, it’s the more basic components that are important and screw the clothes and toys. I try to find balance, but it’s not always easy.
What’s the easiest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
Screwing with history. I like taking facts and people and just twisting the world they lived in to suit my purpose.
What does steampunk allow you to do as a writer that no other genres can?
It lets me put historical, action adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, and romance in a blender with some whimsical tomfoolery, mix them all up and still come out with something not only readable, but awesome.
What are the challenges and advantages to writing a steampunk story?
With earth-based steampunk (which is what I write for now), the sky is, quite literally, the limit. The bottom of the sea is the other limit. It’s both freeing and daunting to have all this “space” to tell a story. Picking and choosing which of all the fantastic elements to use and which to hold back for some other time when the urge is there to use all-the-things.
How much research does it take and how much imagination?
I should do more research. I really should. I’d say Badlands was 15%/85% and Clockwork Mafia was more 20-25%/75-80%. There’s a reason I don’t write straight historical—I don’t enjoy the research part.
Though she writes across several genres, Seleste has an unhealthy love of corsets, bustles, and all manner of gadgets. One of her favorites is the Internet, and you can find her there at:
PRIZE ALERT: In preparation for my upcoming release, I’m giving away a digital copy of Badlands.