Greetings! I’m Kate Roman, wandering chronicler of romance and scribe of the indescribable. I have thoughts. Steamy ones. See below. Ask me any question you’d like or just make a joyful noise in the comments; I’ll be giving away a copy of my steampunk m/m romance Firebug to one lucky noisemaker.
1. What does Steampunk mean to you?
I’m more of a traditionalist: steampunk, for me, means stories where the backdrop is a society whose needs are met by steam. I say “traditionalist” because I like to focus on ways steam could meet people’s needs rather than their whimsies. I do like a good harsh natural environment which, combined with a dependence on steam, has fascinating implications for romance.
What does romance mean in New Eddington, for instance, where I set Firebug? It’s a frontier town in a very northern continental US climate, so I wanted to think about how the citizenry would use steam to combat snow and sub-zero temperatures. You toss in this restrictive monarchy backed up by the military and that’s a very interesting backdrop against which to try to figure out how your characters fall in love and get out of their trousers without injury.
2. What is your favorite thing about steampunk or writing about steampunk?
The mental gymnastics necessary for effective world-building. You have to really put your brain through the wringer to figure out things like, do they have a newspaper? If so, how is it printed? By hand, or is there a new but likely governmentally suspect printing press? What powers the press? If it’s a network of subterranean steam tunnels how do you connect press to steam?
I feel like a romance set against such a layered backdrop is a very different and dangerous beast to tangle with.
3. What is your favorite steampunk accessory?
4. What turned you on to steampunk?
I’d read a ton of steampunk that was interesting but not necessarily satisfying, and I’d been trying to figure out why. At the same time I’d been reading books that were dark and depressing and everything was so hardscrabble, and I found those books incredibly satisfying.
So all that mess percolated in my brain until finally, on a work trip back east in winter, I was stuck in my hotel by a freak snowstorm and looking out the window at all the gray and the slush it just hit me. This. This was what I wanted to marry with steampunk in some way.
5. Do you have any upcoming Steampunk stories you can tell us about?
There is definitely a sequel to Firebug in the works. New Eddington and the Colonies are a hotbed of civil unrest and mechanical innovation, but in more pressing news, there’s a very large and very old creature living in the bottom of the lake, and listening to so much steam get pushed through the rocks has made it angry…
6. Who is your favorite character of all from one of your Steampunk stories?
Ha! Gotta be the urchins. New Eddington runs, semi-illicitly, on this network of swift and grubby urchins, because no one ever notices them and unlike the steam tunnels, they hardly ever explode.
7. What’s the hardest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
I don’t really have a background in hard sciences and a lot of figuring out how to craft steampunk worlds, I think, depends on calculating how physics would react to the structures you’re building.
Let’s just put it this way: I wrecked a lot of teacups in trying to figure out how the printing press worked.
8. What’s the easiest thing about creating a Steampunk universe?
The romance. Love always finds a way.
9. What does steampunk allow you to do as a writer that no other genres can?
Rewrite portions of history by applying rolled-up science directly to its nose!
There’s a great quote by Amal El-Mohtar in Towards A Steampunk Without Steam:
“I wrote a story in what, to my mind, would be a steampunky Damascus: a Damascus that was part of a vibrant trading nation in its own right, that would not be colonised by European powers, where women displayed their trades by the patterns of braids and knots in their hair, and where some women were pioneering the art of crafting dream-provoking devices through new gem-cutting techniques.
Syria, you may be aware, is a fairly arid country. There are better things to do with water than make steam.”
And that’s what I want to do with my steampunk. Figure out how the whimsy of steampunk, the flourishes might actually work in the real historical settings with real romances.
10. What are the challenges and advantages to writing a steampunk story?
World-building world-building world-building! And for someone like me, coming from a soft sciences background, I have to get creative in how I determine how chemistry and physics really would work in the setting I’m aiming for.
Honestly, half the time the challenge is spelling ‘physics’ correctly. All the esses want to bunch up together.
11. How much research does it take and how much imagination.
When I wrote Firebug, I had a head-start on the setting in that I’m originally from northern New England and I’ve spent a fair amount of time there as an adult, so I really understand the weather, particularly the winters. They’re simple: they want to kill you.
The bits I had to research involved that I knew my heroes were both veterans, and I wanted to tie their war experiences to this deadly winter idea. I’d just read, at the time, a biography of Florence Nightingale, who did most of her nursing on the Crimean battlefields, and that just clicked for me. But having been something of a *cough* undistinguished history student, I had to do a bit more research on Crimea, the Black Sea and Crimean conflicts in general.
Not to mention losing a handful of beloved teacups.