Posts Tagged ‘Steampunk’


If, like me, you stalk the manuscript wish lists of various agents (here and here), then you may begin to see that certain patterns emerge.

One of them is, of course, diversity in all things (not just color, but sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic background, and disabilities — both physical and mental).  If you write from the perspective of your diverse character (#ownvoices), then you have a leg up, because this is the clarion call right now. Unfortunately for me, as a middle-class, middle-age, healthy white male, there is no special market for “my” voice.  Which means I have to focus on another trend I see.

A couple of months ago I wrote about the explosion of new genres and sub-genres in speculative fiction, these days.  Gone are the days of simply Westerns, Romances, Science Fiction, and Mainstream.  Science Fiction alone has fractured into Horror, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi.  And within those are dozens of sub-genres, each with their own rules and audience: Paranormal Romance, Steampunk, Space Opera, Military Futurism, Dystopian, Historical Fantasy, Fairy-tale Retelling, and on and on.  The trend I’m seeing in agent’s wish lists is to recombine and create something new.  Find the literary equivalent of a chocolate bar stuck in a jar of peanut butter, yielding the next great taste sensation.

sddefaultA retelling of Cinderella, but with androids! Romeo and Juliet, but set during the Civil War.  You get the idea.  Waterworld was basically Mad Max but in the ocean instead of the desert.

If you can find that perfect but untried combination — and pitch it correctly — you have an enormous advantage over your competition in the slush pile.



James-West-Wild-Wild-West-Robert-Conrad-dI’m working on my own one of these.  Steampunk has taken on a life of its own.  It actually goes back to the days of Jules Verne and Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  And do you remember Wild Wild West, and all of the futuristic gadgets they had up their sleeves … and in their boots and on their train?  Steampunk + Western? That show was before its time, but it would fit right in today.

Steampunk is based on Verne’s worlds of Victorian England, but with modern devices cobbled together out of the technology of the day.  Like Doc Brown’s ice maker in 1885, from Back to the Future III.  However modern movies, television, and literature have taken the original idea of Steampunk and found a dozen new ways to define it: Cyberpunk (computers), Dieselpunk (1930’s, engines), Biopunk (biological experimentation), Mythpunk (post-modernized folklore and fairy tales), Stonepunk (think The Flintstones), and several others.

I have an idea for a world which is different from any of these, but still in the tradition of the original Steampunk idea.  And its for kids.  If I can find a way to define it and name it, I just may have a hook when I pitch it.  I’d rather not go into details just yet.  Not until I have a handle on it and flesh it out a bit more. Oh, and of course, I have to answer the most important question of all:




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


Photo Jun 16, 1 19 43 PM

So I’ve taken a rather unique approach to parenting, as you may have read here before.  I’m not especially good at relating to my children – or at least not as good as I wish I was.  However I have tried to latch onto those interests I share with each of my children and emphasize them.

With my oldest son it was paintball and basketball and lately the things he’s studying in college.  With my daughter it has been fantasy and superheroes.  She and I have seen all of the Avengers films together as well as Spiderman, Superman, X-Men, and such.  And we never miss an episode of Once Upon a Time.  Until she stopped letting me read to her we shared a deep mutual interest in The Sisters Grimm books, the Narnia books, the Disney Fairies, Harry Potter of course, and so on.  So now we’re writing a book together aimed at her age group (she was 12 when we started), and all about heroes and fairytale creatures, using ourselves as models for the main characters.  And we’re having a wonderful time.  She has even started writing her own novel, in collaboration with her best friend.  I couldn’t be more proud.

My younger son, on the other hand (who also appears in our book) has broader interests.  Superheroes, of course.  But also anything that flies, anything that goes in the water, anything that has wheels, anything that transforms, and anything built out of Legos or Lincoln Logs.  Or pretty much anything.  Oh, and pirates.  We make paper airplanes together, play with wooden trains, and fight with invisible light sabres almost every day.

So I got to thinking….

Part of the idea behind The Last Princess was to earn college money for my daughter, plus if she ever wanted to pursue a career as a writer she would have her foot in the door and representation before she even wrote her first book.  And now we’re thinking series because middle grade publishers are buying more series than individual books these days, and … because I like to plan ahead.

Steampunk boySo why not write a series for my son?  He’s only five, now, and his particular market is not one I feel comfortable writing for.  I would need an illustrator, for one.  And I tend to write long.  I can’t even imagine writing a book with only a few score of words – I need tens of thousands of the damn things for the stories I want to tell.  So – thinking ahead like I like – what if in a few years I write a spin-off series from The Last Princess, but about the younger brother?  This time for a more male audience. About an 8-9 year old boy who builds all kinds of amazing gadgets that fly and shoot and transform, for fighting bad guys because he lacks the faerie magic his older sister has.  I’ve wanted to delve into steampunk for awhile now, and here’s the perfect vehicle but for an audience to which steampunk is mostly brand new.

The idea has lurked in the back of my mind these past several months, but suddenly stood up and started doing jumping jacks when I read a listing in Writer’s Market for a publisher who was looking for steampunk stories not set in the Victorian time period.  I swear the clouds parted and rays of sunlight beamed down upon my head.

Obviously, it’s going to be several years before this idea comes to fruition, but that just gives me time to plan it.  And to start reading every steampunk novel I can get my hands on.

Any suggestions?