Putting the Punk in Steampunk – Guest Post

Christine Bell is an author of naughty fairy tales, werewolves now steampunk. Her story is called The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale. She has a rather fun bio and I’m in a hurry to post this, so here it is:

Christine Bell is one half of the happiest couple in the world. She and her handsome hubby currently reside in Pennsylvania with a four-pack of teenage boys and their two dogs, Gimli and Pug. If she gets time off from her duties as maid, chef, chauffeur, or therapist, she can be found reading just about anything she can get her hands on, from Young Adult novels to books on poker theory. She doesn’t like root beer, clowns or bugs (except ladybugs, on account of their cute outfits), but lurrves chocolate, going to the movies, the New York Giants and playing Texas Hold ‘Em. Writing is her passion, but if she had to pick another occupation, she would be a pirate…or, like, a ninja maybe. She loves writing fun and adventure-filled romance stories, but also hopes to one day publish something her dad can read without wanting to dig his eyes out with rusty spoons.

~*~

First, I want to thank Tia for having me! I’m such a huge fan of The Sevenfold Spell and can’t wait (foot tap) for her next release.

It’s Steampunk Week at Carina Press so I thought it apropos to talk a little about putting the PUNK in steampunk. When people think of this hot new sub-genre, we often think of dirigibles and corsets, of goggles and bowler hats, of alternate worlds featuring fantastical machines, possibly made from gears, and powered by steam. Granted, those are all definitely part of the steampunk aesthetic.

There’s also this intangible quality to it, an almost “you know it when you see it” type of feel. I like to say that if steampunk was a movie it would star Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, be directed by Tim Burton, and the score would be done by Danny Elfman.

Yet another aspect of steampunk is often a dystopian society (i.e. what happened after mechanical monsters took over the world). That can go hand in hand with the last, less talked about facet of steampunk, which is the “punk” part. In order to fall under the umbrella of a punk movement, there is typically a sort of anti-establishment thread woven into the fabric of the discourse. To my mind, steampunk is no different.

Let’s use Meljean Brooke’s The Iron Duke as an example, because…well, because it’s a really good book, PLUS is illustrates my point perfectly! Meljean created a swashbuckling tale of sky pirates and nanobots, and paired it with a really well-done love story. With its top notch world-building and fast pace, I was so entertained, it didn’t strike me until afterward that she’d also masterfully woven a poignant critique of imperialism, colonialism and racism into this tapestry.

While she doesn’t shove it in your face as such, there is no question that it’s there lurking under the surface of every page. It’s evident in the way her protagonist, Mina Wentworth, is treated by others due to her appearance and her blood line. The way the Horde views its victims. The nature of Horde-run “crèche’s” where many children were kept. The world has suffered enough major and well-documented periods of class/race/sexual discrimination, apartheid, oppression, genocide etc. that we know a nod to a particular instance when we see it, and there were nods left and right in The Iron Duke.

I loved that about The Iron Duke, because that’s the part that had me thinking about it long after I turned the last page (who am I kidding? I mean pressed the last next-page arrow on my Kindle). While it doesn’t have the theatricality that the other elements of steampunk have, it’s the one I feel really sets the sub-genre apart from science fiction or fantasy. Not to say that sci-fi and fantasy can’t have anti-establishment underpinnings, just that it’s not integral to the genres, whereas with steampunk, in my opinion, it is to some degree.

This probably seems funny coming from me, especially if you’ve read or heard about my book, The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale. To steal a phrase from fab author Cindy Spencer Pape, it’s “steampunk light.” I love steampunk that mixes in other genres, maybe some paranormal, definitely romance, or maybe even a hint of a twisted fairytale. So when I wrote this novella, I picked the parts I loved most about traditional steampunk and skipped others. I skipped the fantastical world-building. Stormy is set in a world that is pretty much just like the regular world was during the Victorian era. My characters are the only ones who know about time travel and the various mechanical inventions that facilitate their journeys. I also didn’t make mine a dystopian society and while, at points, it’s certainly emotional, the overall tone is not dark. In mine, the romance takes center stage, the time travel element is stronger than the steam-element, the characters have a lot of banter and my heroine is full of piss, vinegar and snark. And I like it like that. That’s the story I wanted to write.

BUT, even with all that, there is a message buried in there. Stormy wears pants when everyone else wears dresses, she’d rather be brave than pretty, she rails against the injustices of society based on class and works to right the wrongs heaped on the impoverished. My hero Devlin’s plight shines a light on the way society views the mentally ill and the way the aristocracy views the poor. It’s not exactly a rage against the machine or anything, but this book stands for something and my characters buck the status quo in many ways.

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to this tale, tentatively titled From the Logs of Bacon Frogs which will chronicle Stormy, Devlin and Bacon’s unexpected trip back to 17th century Salem, Massachusetts. There will be mayhem, and romance, and adventure. There will be time travel, and goggles and corsets. And, my trio of characters will again stand up and fight for the oppressed!

Because I like my steampunk with at least a dash of punk.

Please tell me, Tia Nevitt blog readers, how do you like yours? Do you feel like there are some facets of steampunk that are non-negotiable? What has been your favorite steampunk read so far?

~*~

Learn more about Christine’s book at her website Books page. In the meantime, Christine wants to give away a copy of Stormy and a set of her trading cards, one of which is to the right. So if you want to enter, please leave a comment!

14 thoughts on “Putting the Punk in Steampunk – Guest Post

  1. I haven’t posted in awhile (end of the semester meltdown.) but I really enjoyed your comments about the underpinnings of steampunk. It’s not a genre I’ve really explored, so I can’t say much about it. I love your front cover, though.

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  2. I don’t know what it is about steampunk that makes it so fun. Maybe because it is slightly whimsical. That’s why I avoid steampunk that looks to be too gritty, and why your novel looks to be lots of fun.

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  3. I love the punk in Steampunk too — well put, Christine. But I admit, I tend to be frivolous in most of my reading so Steampunk light or Steampulp suits me :)

    and I laughed at your ladybug comment in your bio — so cute!

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  4. Thanks chicory! Croco Designs did it, and I love it SO much. I cried the first time I saw it.

    Tia and Jenny- I have to agree that I do like my steampunk with only a dash of punk, lol. I read for entertainment, so I want the experience to be fun. I like to be moved emotionally, but I don’t want to feel hopeless and sad at the end

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  5. The Iron Duke is the only “steampunk” I’ve read so far, but I loved it so much that I can’t wait to read more. And time travel is always one of those things I have always fantasized about being able to do (That and living with the Borrowers.

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  6. I’m a novice when it comes to steampunk, so I don’t really have a preference yet. At the moment I’m leaning heavily towards “stempunk light”, but then again I haven’t read any hardcore steampunk, so who knows? I remember reading and liking The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W. Dahlquist a while back (it contains, among other things, a sinister cabal and a dirigible!). Thanks for a very informative post, Christine. :)

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  7. I definitely think Steampunk Light is the way to go. Keep it light and fun. I’ve seen some dark steampunks come out–especially when I was running Fantasy Debut–and NONE of them appealed to me. But books like Clockwork Heart were great. I have Christine’s book on my Nook and I’m looking forward to reading it.

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  8. I know nothing about steampunk–but I really relate to your saying at the top of your page: “anywhere but here, anywhen but now”–it’s kind of how I feel all the time…

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    • LOL! Yup, that’s me! I was accused of daydreaming a lot in school, and none of those accusations were unfounded. Now if only I can convert my daydreaming to a fulltime career….

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  10. I enjoy all types of steampunk and have read as amny as I can get my hands on.

    This sounds like one of the good ones so I would love to enter the giveaway if it is open to worldwide entries.

    Thanks.

    Carol T

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