Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Writing a new genre - Steampunk

I am pleased to welcome Susan Laine talking about writing steampunk for the first time.

Steampunk is a fascinating genre, a hybrid. It allows for all kinds of stories. The emphasis can be on an inventor and hard sciences with a futuristic touch, or on a social maverick who rebels against traditions and the system, offering relevant social commentary through action and suspense.

I chose steampunk because I had a ready-made world for it, one that I have been working on for many years, on and off. Steampunk offered a fitting term for a fantasy world where the two conflicting ruling bodies are a theocracy and feudal lords, elemental mages are divided by the regime, and inventors and steam technology are pushed to the fringes of society with the rise of religious fanaticism. In short, the genre gave shape and limitations for the series, the Isleshire Chronicles.

Two stories are out in the series. In the first, Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men, we meet an inventor in danger, Jules, and an elemental mage, Obadai. They are hunted by a deadly steampunk creature through a small maritime town on the edge of the known world, even up to the heights of an airship tavern. In the second, Wishing Wings, Obadai and Jules encounter a new threat—in the unassuming form of a church bureaucrat. And all the while Jules is trying to get the hang of his latest invention—wings… for horses? Read the books to find out more. The third tale which will complete the starting trilogy is in the works.

Originally I hadn’t seen the series as purely steampunk. But over time, as steam-tech details began to increase during the world-building process, the genre was the first to fit, with fantasy coming in second. And I realized there is no such thing as pure steampunk, which is a renegade genre, letting every other genre play a part too.

As I started writing the series, the first trouble I encountered was the English language. I’m Finnish by happenstance of birth, and many of the steampunk world details were in Finnish, as I had written them as a teenager. Translations took their time.

My next problem came with my excitement over the fantasy world I had created. I had it all covered: Geography and nature, races and languages, myths and divinities, cities and towns, etc. In my enthusiasm I wrote the first novella, Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men, with a heavy emphasis on world details along with the plot. Thankfully, by the time the second novella, Wishing Wings, came out, I had learned my mistake from the first novella and vastly reduced the abundance of details not every reader was going to appreciate.

Steampunk allows for great variety, and like a true rebel prefers mixing things up. Giving the world of Nebulosia aspects from other genres—fantasy, action and adventure, mystery and suspense, and even erotic romance—wasn’t difficult, as steampunk lets authors get away with it, leaving imagination and creativity as the only boundaries. I sure had fun choosing elements from other genres to play with as I wrote the stories.

For example, many would consider steampunk to focus on gadgetry, inventions, and naturally, steam-tech. But the overall setting could be anything, from the Wild West to Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, from Lovecraftian horror to steaming hot erotica. Initially, the world of Isleshire (which is the archipelago at the heart of the stories, set on the planet of Nebulosia) consisted of low fantasy features, like mages without a lot magick and elves as a dying race. But the world was reshaped by adding steampunk into it, and where there were humans, elves, and dwarves, now also walked steampunk monsters, outcast inventors, and elemental mages in a cold war with religious fanatics.

A part of steampunk is gaslight, which is a sub-genre of fantasy, historical fiction, and original steampunk (focusing more on hard sciences and credibility). That’s about the range where my stories fit. The beauty of this mix of genres is that the only limits really are in my creativity. Steampunk, which in itself is a sub-genre of science fiction, gives an author great gift of freedom to expand to whatever might come, to simply explore.

I like reading steampunk—and I love writing it. Among romance readers, the genre unfortunately isn’t a particularly popular one, but curiosity toward it is growing. That promises good times ahead. I am continuing the series nonetheless, improving it and learning from past missteps, like any author would. I enjoyed writing these tales from Isleshire. I hope you enjoy them too.

Excerpt from Wishing Wings:

7:00 p.m., Faithday, 10th of Hay Days,
Year 2659 of Epoch of Pious Virtues

“I SMELL impending disaster…,” Obadai whispered to Captain Lovelace.
Jules heard him clearly since they all stood outside in the waning light of the summer evening. “Keep your opinions to yourself, killjoy,” he snapped back, continuing his preparations in tightening the new harness to the horse’s breast collar and cinch.
Lovelace’s chuckle was counterpointed by Obadai’s acquiescing grunt. “Sorry.”
“It’ll work. You’ll see.” Briefly Jules wondered exactly who he was trying to convince of the positive outcome of this upcoming field-test. Himself maybe?
When the airship had crashed against the New Town outer curtain wall nine years ago, it had brought down two adjacent structures. Fortunately, one had been a poor granary warehouse for New Town Market, which was up the street, close to the Dunbruth Secular Humanism College campus, while the other had been a stable, with only three horses that had all gotten out in time. No one was harmed or killed.
Still, Lovelace had been busy apologizing and fixing things that day!
Nonetheless, while the warehouse was beyond repair—half the airship sitting on top of it being the main reason—the stable had been rebuilt.
And now Jules had borrowed a horse from there for the field-test.
“I still don’t get how the, uh… thing works,” Lovelace commented as he scratched his head.
As usual, he wore a kilt and a half-open shirt that revealed tufts of blond chest hairs, and managed to look like a statue of divine masculinity. As dedicated as Jules was to Obadai, even he couldn’t help but notice his friend’s natural beauty.
“I call it the Wishing Engine,” Jules explained proudly, beaming at his invention, even though it wasn’t yet functional with any degree of certainty. That was where today’s field-test came in. “It is composed of a sensory awareness matrix, a subconscious energy flow control unit, plus integrated memory, dream, and wish nodules, among other simpler clockwork mechanisms. At its heart is a Dwarrow Shadow Crystal that focuses thoughts and amplifies mental commands, and this activates the wings and bows them to the aviator’s conscious will and subconscious desires to fly, of course.”
“How much of that made sense to you?” Obadai asked Lovelace on the QT, clearly baffled. But he was easily audible to Jules, who sighed, gathering patience.
Lovelace shrugged and grunted, “I was an airship captain, not an engineering sage. It’s all gibberish to me.”
Jules rolled his eyes. “To put it simply, the clockwork mechanism functions based on dreams and wishes. Horses may not think like us, but they can dream, surely. Everyone wants to fly. The sky is the ultimate unexplored frontier. All that matters is that it works.”
“Trust me, we’re all for that,” Obadai vowed with resolute nods.
Jules wrung the last bonds and buckles in place and backed off a few steps, exhaling loudly. “I guess we’re about to find out.” Suddenly he was sweating profusely, and his hands and knees trembled. His nerves were getting the better of him.
“Hey, Jules?” Obadai waited until Jules faced him. “It’ll turn out fine. You’re a bloody genius, is what you are.” He grinned and winked, and a cool certainty washed over Jules, who felt gratitude for his lover’s consideration.
“Thanks, Obadai.”
He studied the mechanism attached around the dark gray gelding’s breast and back. The wings would extend once the Wishing Engine responded to the animal’s hope to fly and retract after a minute of continuous operation. After all, this was only the first field-test.
He had chosen a gelding horse because it was still young and wild, not domesticated or tamed to the point of fearing new things. Jules hoped the feral beast longed to soar as much as humans and would therefore make the best of the situation.
“Ready?” Jules asked of his companions, of the horse, and of himself too.
Out of the corner of his eye, he witnessed Obadai and Lovelace backing up to the wooden wall of the chapterhouse. Only then did they holler their affirmations. Jules wasn’t sure if he was irked by their reaction or envious they had retreated while he could not, needing to remain close to verify the results of the test, be it success or failure.

·        Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men:

·        Author Website:

Thank you, Susan. Next month is the turn of Lea Bronson talking about moving from crime writing to erotic romance.

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