Diving Into Fertile Ground, and Other Mixed Media

Posted: February 9, 2017 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

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Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave or possibly just awoken from a prolonged coma, you will have noticed that all of the literary genre’s have come unstuck. Once upon a time they were pretty straight-forward: fantasy, science-fiction, romance, horror, mystery, western, and “mainstream.” There were books for adults and books for kids, broken into books for little kids (board books, and storybooks) and books for big kids (Nancy Drew and The Babysitter’s Club). And like old-time manners, these genres and age groups kept politely to themselves and did not step outside of their own social circles.

Then Something Happened, and the genres started to mix and mingle and breed offspring which had their own ideas and demanded to be recognized. Horror and fantasy got pushed aside by paranormal and magical realism, while science fiction shelves became segregated into military, post-apocalyptic, and space opera. Today there are hundreds of genre “grandchildren” to be found (biopunk, cyberpunk, decopunk, dieselpunk, solarpunk, and steampunk are all established genres).

And of course children’s books age categories went through a similar evolution: pictures books, early readers, and chapter books for the little kids, and “juvenile” and “teen” gave way to lower middle grade, upper middle grade, young adult, and new adult.

The mixing continues. Today you can find historic fantasy, comedy space western, and paranormal romance.

The challenge of coming up with something original seems a bit daunting. I have been scribbling down notes for a new series of adventure books for a lower middle grade audience (because they can be shorter), that has a steampunky feel to it. Well, fantasy steampunk. Contemporary fantasy steampunk adventure. Ahem. The thing about steampunk is that is has definite adult conventions, such as buxom women in leather bustiers, dark alley murders, and lots of absynth. Naturally, none of these things have a place in books written for 7-10 year olds. I discovered in my research into children’s steampunk that there are not very many books written like this. To be sure, steampunk is very popular in the young adult market, where those adult themes can make an appearance, but not for “children.” This means two things: there are few examples I can use for inspiration and guidance, but it also means this is a largely untapped market, if I can find the right balance.

There is certainly a great deal of material left to work with in the steampunk genre. Kids love the idea of building elaborate gadgets – have you been to a toy store lately? Kids love any kind of machine that goes – fast cars, flying machines, rockets, submarines, walking tanks, you name it. I do not intend to set this in Victorian England, which is the gold standard for steampunk, however I have seen plenty of examples of people being transported to parallel worlds or alternate timelines where technology is more primitive or electricity and fossils fuels are unavailable.

I just happen to have this contemporary fantasy world laying around (from my daughter’s and my Fae-born series, where descendants of the fearie-folk live among us). In the third book were were planning to have the classic fae of old descend upon the earth when their faerie realm is unlocked, resulting in a war. It would enhance that storyline and perfectly set up the new series to have the fae’s magic and presence in our world completely disrupt our modern technologies. If you take away electricity, that pretty much kills everything – vehicles, the power grid, communications, even nuclear and solar power. What you have left is clever clockwork versions of traditional gadgets. Lots of steampunk relies on crystals for power. Our hero will have access to magic. And LEGOs. And comic books full of superheroes for inspiration. Imagine an 8yo inventor with a cape and a jet pack (powered by a flying spell), and goggles that let him see through walls. With faerie assassins and gangs of goblin thugs to fight, as well as mysteries to solve with clever gadgets.

Meet Thomas Brökkenwier, the Gadgeteer.

Photo Jun 16, 1 19 43 PM

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Comments
  1. talewins says:

    Once more you have projected a brilliant post. Your thought of parallel earths brings a strange experience that led to many an adventure. I remember as a child I walked 3 miles to the reservation store and I always took the same trail. One morning I noticed a cactus on the left side of the trail, just a few yards from our dwelling. I had never seen it before. I paused to study, then went on. On the way home I looked for that cactus.It was not there. How strange! But then, it had been a strange, radiant day.
    Every time I was sent to the store, I looked for that cactus. “Curiosity,” I said. “Killed the cat”. But I had a way with cats. About a month later, there it was again. HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED IT? Not only was the cactus there, there was a new trail beaten into the earth by many feet. It led off into the mountains. I) was not afraid of the mountains
    Earl H. Roberts. https://www.linkedin.com/groups/3723330

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rick Ellrod says:

    I think steampunk for the younger set is viable. Think Jules Verne instead of the buxom women. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sandra Coopersmith says:

    Great post, John! I think you’re definitely on the right track, one occupied by steam-blasting trains, of course. I love where your imagination is taking you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] couple of months ago I wrote about the explosion of new genres and sub-genres in speculative fiction, these days.  Gone are the days […]

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