Posts Tagged ‘the doomsday vault’

I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating, since it’s one of my more colorful “how I met my author” stories.  Years ago, Steven Harper, aka Steven Piziks, came to me with an offer on the table.  It was the week before my wedding.  Was I interested in taking a look at his material?  If it hadn’t sounded so intriguing, sanity would have reigned, and I wouldn’t have wedged in reading a new submission in the midst of arguing with the caterer, coordinating guest arrivals and doing all of the last minute things that had to be done.  Sanity and I have never been close, and I was very glad for it that week.  I fell in love with Steven’s work and added “haggling with the publisher” to my To Do list.  I think you should add “reading his work” to yours!  Comment for a chance to win a signed copy of one of his steampunk novels or run out and be certain to get one today.

Steampunk by Steven Harper

I recently realized that when I finish THE HAVOC MACHINE, I’ll have written four novels and two novelettes.  That’s about 385,000 words of steampunk.  In other words, by the time September rolls around, I’ll have put more words into steampunk than any other genre I’ve touched–and I’ve written 17 books now.

I still don’t know what the hell steampunk is.

No, seriously.  My non-writer friends often ask me what kind of book I’m working on.  I say, “Steampunk,” and they quite naturally say, “Steampunk?  What’s that?”  And I have no idea what to say.

Maybe steampunk is fantasy.  My publisher seems to think so.  My contracts call the Clockwork Empire books “works of fantasy.” Nowhere on any piece of paper I’ve signed does the word “steampunk” actually appear.  (It occurs to me that this could be the source of some serious weaseling at some future date.)  Certainly a lot of steampunk has a paranormal element or three.  Gail Carriger and Cindy Spencer Pape both rather famously write steampunk about werewolves and vampires and warlocks, for example.  We often have the big, world-shaking events fantasy is famous for.  In THE DOOMSDAY VAULT, the clockwork plague (which I based on the medieval bubonic plague) reshapes humanity.  And we have zombies, a fantasy trope, though mine are more objects of pity than of horror.  In THE IMPOSSIBLE CUBE, a mad scientist uncovers the power to stop time itself and destroy the entire universe, which again sounds like fantasy.  In the upcoming third book THE DRAGON MEN, I use winged men and clockwork monsters taken from Chinese mythology.  But my steampunk books don’t actually use magic.  Neither do Cherie Priest’s, who set her books in nineteenth-century America and who uses zombies of her own.  So as an overall genre, steampunk doesn’t quite qualify as fantasy.  That’s okay–we love it anyway.

Maybe steampunk is historical fiction.  Well, alternate reality fiction.  A lot of steampunkers start by saying, “What would have happened if Charles Babbage had actually built his difference engine and, as a result, the Victorians had embarked on a computer age before micro-processors?”  Of course, there are a lot of other alternates as well.  What if Victorian women were given more independence than they actually were?  What if the Victorians were more tolerant of racial and religious differences?  What if the Victorians didn’t care so much about sexual orientation?  What if Victorian women wore corsets on the outside of their dresses?  And what if the Victorians were enough like modern people to allow modern readers to find them likeable instead of finding them really racist, scornfully sexist, and casually cruel?  So many alterations don’t just nibble at the edge of actual history–they collapse it entirely.  No, steampunk doesn’t quite qualify as historical or alternate reality fiction.  That’s okay–we love it anyway.

Maybe steampunk is science fiction.  I mean, you do have big machines that work with pistons and steam and brass.  And you have computers and robots and sometimes even spaceships and stuff.  For my steampunk, I created a bacillus-borne plague that nearly destroys humanity and a virus that cures it.  All straight-up SF.  Except none of this stuff has a hope of working in the real world.  The robots would collapse under their own weight.  Boilers are inefficient and unreliable sources of energy for anything smaller than a building.  A brass computer processor that poked out even basic computations would weigh several tons and be completely unsuitable for controlling the little spiders and mechanical horses that make steampunk so much fun.  So it doesn’t quite qualify as science fiction.  That’s okay–we love it anyway.

So maybe a better question is, why define it at all?  Steampunk is more of a movement than a genre.  It involves not just literature, but fashion, music, games, role-playing, philosophy, and even movies.  How can you define anything that shows up in all that? Sure, it makes my publisher’s marketing division nervous, but let them deal with it.  I’m in it for the awesome stories, the thrilling adventures, the powerful themes.  To define it is to pin it down like a butterfly on a board.

Once it’s pinned down, it can’t move anymore, and it dies.  Why would we want to do that?

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Steven Harper is, among other things, the author of the fabulous Clockwork Empire series for Roc and WRITING THE PARANORMAL NOVEL from Writers Digest Books.  Check him out on his website or follow him on Twitter.

Fun fact of the day: Steven Harper (aka Steven Piziks) and I go way, way back to the week of my wedding, ‘lo these many years ago.  He had a debut novel and an offer on the table.  I fell in love with the novel (IN THE COMPANY OF MIND) and ended up negotiating his contract and tying the knot with my husband all in the same week.  Needless to say, it was a pretty good week.

In honor of his latest release, the wonderful steampunk novel THE DOOMSDAY VAULT, I’ve asked him to come guest blog for me.  I present to you:

GEEK OF THE WEEK: FANFICTION

Enter “fanfic” into Google and you get about 9,900,000 results.  These results include fan fiction sites for Harry Potter, Twilight, Zelda, Naruto, the Jonas brothers, Lord of the Rings, and yes, even Star Trek.  Fanfic writers spend hours laboring over their own stories about Harry’s post-Hogwarts adventures or Bella ditching Edward or Sam declaring his undying romantic love for Frodo.

And some people snort in derision.  Such a waste of time.  What an utter lack of creativity.  You’re stealing someone else’s work.

Yeah?  Bite me.

I’m what people call a “real” writer, in that I’ve written and sold a dozen-odd books to New York publishing houses.  And I started by writing fanfic.

When I was in college in the late 80s, I joined a group called Stellar Operations Command, a group that combined fanfic with role-playing. We used the Star Trek universe, but not the Star Trek characters themselves. You created a main character and assorted minor characters for yourself, and you were put on a ship with about six other people. Every month, the captain sent out “orders,” basically an overview of what was happening on the ship, and then you wrote a story about your character’s adventures. You could also include other people’s characters, but you couldn’t kill or otherwise change them.

You mailed a copy of your story to everyone else in your group, and they mailed their stuff to you.  (This was before e-mail, so everything was done on paper.)  Stellar Operations Command was huge, with hundreds of members nationwide.  Weirdly, it didn’t survive the Internet, and it faded away in the late 90s.  Such a shame.

My character was the communications officer on his ship, and his name was Rusty.  He had several friends–a med-tech named Randy, a security officer named Nora, a Kaatian science officer named Mrrit.  I must have written 300,000 words about them during my tenure with SOC, enough for three novels.

And by god, I loved every minute.

Why?  SOC fanfic granted me freedom.  Since the setting was already created for me, I could concentrate on character.  I had a dump truck of fun developing Rusty.  He was one of the first long-running characters I created, and still I miss him sometimes.

SOC also forced me to write.  With a monthly deadline, I had to get to that keyboard on a regular basis.  Between SOC and my job at a local newspaper, I learned to write to a deadline, a skill that has served me well over the years.

Finally, fanfic was a safe place to romp around in.  I could do nearly anything I wanted, write purely for myself, tell stories on paper just for fun.  I could take risks, be silly, stupid, or outrageous, safe in the knowledge that the other members of my ship would still read every word.  That meant a great deal to me.  In the process, I learned how to write realistic dialogue, describe people and places, set a scene, build suspense, add plot complications and foreshadowing.

Eventually I started writing my own short stories, and editors bought them.  I moved on to novels, and then novel series, including the Clockwork Empire, of which The Doomsday Vault has just come out.  (Go buy a few dozen copies for the kids.)

And then I sold a Star Trek book.  And a Battlestar Galactica book.  And a Ghost Whisperer book.  Know what?  They’re all freakin’ fanfic.  And they paid very nicely, too.

Still think fanfic is a waste of time?

Since my writing went pro, I’ve been forced to give up fanfic for the simple reason that I only have so many writing hours per day, and I have to choose the one that will support my family.  But a waste of time?

Never!                                                                  ___________________________________________________________________

Steven Harper usually lives at http://www.theclockworkempire.com and http://spiziks.livejournal.com .  His steampunk novel THE DOOMSDAY VAULT, first in the Clockwork Empire series, hits the stores in print and electronic format November 1.