Thursday, October 29, 2009

Steampunk and Weird Wild West

I have to confess a secret.
I love Steampunk

I haven’t discarded my intense attraction to writing Western romance, but my writing is morphing into a strange combination of Victorian age, alternate history with fantasy elements set in the post-Civil War era of the American West.

Try to say that to an agent or editor and watch their facial expressions. A few people do “get it” but more of them will say, “What’s Steampunk”?

So, here’s the official Wikipedia definition: Steampunk a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers (such as Charles Babbage's Analytical engine); these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality.

Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk. But often, when I’ve heard people search for a quick shorthand for defining the genre, they say, “Wild, Wild West” is Steampunk. Both the movie and the televison series clearly illustrate the elements found in a Steampunk. And both are set in the American West.

When I first discovered Steampunk, I was attracted to the reference to the Victorian era. Most of the books I’ve written have a setting between 1848 and 1888. I love the clothing, lifestyle, proper rules and etiquette of that age. When I’ve set my books, although they are in Montana, they are also clearly in the mid-19th century. So when I heard about a sub-genre of literature and an artistic movement that included fashion, music and other elements that focused on the era, I was fascinated.

That lead me to the Steamcon, the first gathering of folks in the Northwest who idolize Steampunk. It was a three-day event that offered workshops, vendors and music – but most of all, costumed participants, to celebrate all things Steampunk. It was a delightful introduction to an amazing genre.

How do Westerns fit into this technological age of steam? Easily, I think. Consider that the Victorian era coincided with the exploration and settlement of the West. There are so many possiblities for creating stories that are set in the wild, unexplored wilderness beyond the Mississippi. With Steampunk, a writer has the freedom to rewrite history, to include magic, technology and a fantastical world all in the same work. The possiblities are endless and they excite me.

So, while my book coming out in January 2010 is clearly set in the reality of a Montana mining town in 1873, my work-in-progress expands the horizons of possiblities to take a setting of historical reality and mix it with all the “what ifs” of fantasy and speculative fiction in a Steampunk world.

I have no idea what I’m going to end up with, but it sure is fun to write!

What do you think about Steampunk? Have you heard about this genre?

Deborah Schneider, 2009 RWA Librarian of the Year
Promise Me – January 2010
View the book trailer at:


P.L. Parker said...

I have never heard the term "steam punk." But your explanation was wonderful. I usually write paranormal, but drifted over to Cactus Rose with the advent of "Aimee's Locket" which, for the most part, takes place in 1847. I enjoyed the research into that time period. Love the blog, very interesting.

Shannon Robinson said...

Cool idea! I've never heard of Steampunk but I would definitely be interested in reading it! Good luck and I hope to see a story soon!

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Deb, I think steam punk sounds fantastic. And your post today really helped define it. Actually at my Encino book signing, I ran into a girl who knows you...I'll try to remember her name (young, longish blonde hair)...either through SteamCon or a loop? Sorry, my mind was pretty excited that day. (sold 'em all!)

I don't know if I have quite the mind to write it, but I know I'll be the first in line to read yours! Best wishes also with Promise Me.

And I also loved your Author VIP at Winnie Griggs.

Cheryl said...

Hi Deb,
WOW, this sub-genre really opens up some possibilities, doesn't it? I didn't know what "steampunk" was, but when you explained it, it was clear, and The Wild Wild West is a perfect example that everyone can identify with. This sounds really interesting! I look forward to reading your work--and I envy you branching out like that--not sure I could do it without writing something really dumb. LOL

Deborah Schneider said...

Thanks Ladies for stopping by to read the blog.
I'm glad I could shed a little light on a genre that I have grown to love.
I'm planning to get the rough draft done as part of NaNoWriMo, so we shall see how that goes.

Tanya, I bet is was my friend Suzi Lazar you met. She's one of the Steampunk Hussies I met at National. Great news about the book event - selling out is awesome!

Cheryl - I have no idea if it will make any sense when it's done, but I'm having so much fun I don't even care.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Deb,
I've heard of steam punk before but I've never heard such a comprehensive explanation. You really made it sound like fun. Thanks!


Mary Ricksen said...

Sounds like fun to me. I might try it.