First Foray into Steampunk
For reasons that have been hinted at previously and are still too underdeveloped to divulge, I have recently dipped my toe into the steampunk swimming pool. For those that have never bathed in steampunk (yeah,I’ve already worn that metaphor out), you can get a crash course at the Wikipedia steampunk page. I won’t overwhelm you with details here. Just imagine that the Victorian Era (roughly 1840-1900; on this side of the pond, think a couple decades on each side of the Civil War) just kept progressing rather than being diverted by WWI. Not helping? Picure steam and clockwork-style machinery being responsible for a lot of what electricity and electronics do now. (Not that steampunk is devoid of electricity; Tesla is a very important steampunk figure…but I digress.) Got it? Good.
Steampunk is very hot right now, particularly in the aesthetic world. Interior design, con costuming, that one episode of Castle…but that’s all a very visual thing. I am not a visual artist. I do my painting with words on the mind’s canvas and all the blah-blah-blah we writers say about that. Bottom line, I find myself doing a lot of describing of visuals. I end up visualizing everything in brass and mahogany. Fortunately, there are a LOT of steampunk images on the internet for me to scour before I decide on what to describe. Lamps, tables, beds, lots of “computers” (which hasn’t come up for me, but they’re there), bathtubs, and clothes clothes clothes. I keep looking for pictures for everything I want to describe, which slows the writing down, but I also keep finding the pictures. I seldom use any single image I find, rather merging several.
So if I can find things so readily, what’s the problem? Okay, there isn’t a problem per se, just a tricky balance. As in any story, I don’t want to put in any details that aren’t useful. I could give a character a steam powered artificial limb or a clockwork cat, but why? Things need to have reasons to be steampunky. As was mentioned on the steampunk panel at ConCarolinas, it’s not just “sci-fi in sepia” (that domain name is available if you want to buy it). Things are falling together pretty well in the story, but I know the edit-fairy will be clocking overtime once I finish my draft.
Here’s the real problem: I am not a steampunk reader. (Pauses for the gasps of horror and threats referencing the circles of hell reserved for those that write what they do not read.) I’ve read some. Gra Linnea’s story “Life in Steam” in WotF 25 was as steampunk as it gets. And I’ve read Michael Moorecock to great enjoyment, particularly the Hawkmoon series, and steampunk discussions are not officially licensed as such until his name comes up at least twice. Airships, gyrocopters, electricity guns, gears, steam…I know the basics. I’ve also gotten a recent crash course in the importance of both social class and intellect in steampunk storytelling. I just bought a steampunk novel on my Kindle (oxymoron?). I am doing my homework, but it isn’t natural to me. Maybe that’s why I feel like the story is shaping up so nicely: the construction is all very deliberate. I just hope that won’t get in the way of flow and storytelling.
Anyway, it’s fun exploring this new (to me) subgenre and navigating its twists and turns. I feel like it’s bringing some old fashioned spark back into my technique. I’m probably half done with the first draft already (not a very long story) and I may have reason to follow up with another similar one. I understand how people can get immersed into steampunk; it’s so visually striking. I just hope I end up doing it justice.