It’s that time again kitties and catses — time for another jack’ing of another innocent victim. This time around it’s fellow steampunk writer (I can say that now because, well, I can.. so there, shut it!). So let’s all grab a nice bowl of schmilk and a can of tuna and curl up in the smallest of boxes as we Jack the crap out of Kat French.
Steampunk — it’s one of those niche genres that seems to be ready, at any moment, to explode onto the masses in a veritable garage sale of gears, cogs, and goggles. Why? Because it’s just that cool. It takes so many wonderful elements of literature, design, science, and fashion and blends them into a uber-steamy cool that’s almost impossible to resist — and, it has some crazy-fanatic fans who really push the boundaries of fashion. Now that’s what I call fan girls and fan boys!
But at the same time, it’s a bit daunting of a task for a writer who has been swimming in darker waters to dive into the clockwork pool. Steampunk fans want their steampunk delivered to them in just the right fashion — and if it doesn’t hit on all cylinders, you risk going down with the dirigible.
Or so one would think… the beauty of such a genre is that it is open to interpretation. And with the added bonus of newer sub-genres popping up all the time, all that worry just oozes out the pipes.
KF: I think one of the great (and awful) things about steampunk is that it is so open to interpretation. You’ve got everything from Gail Carriger’s gaslight fantasy stuff tossed in there with China Mieville’s weird dystopian imaginings, to Tee Morris & Pip Ballentine’s rollicking “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences” series. So steampunk is a little like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.
Still, I think there’s some common ground. A 19th century sensibility, even if it’s set in a second world fantasy or in the future. An emphasis on the aesthetics of steampunk, like gears, goggles, airships and corsets. Something of the fantastical: mad scientists, homunculi, gothic horrors. A sense of adventure or exploration. A commentary on some of the social and ethical issues that remain from the Victorian era to the present day. There’s a lot of room in all that to play to the darker and lighter sides of the spectrum.
JW: That’s exactly why I was drawn to it. It seemed I could take every genre I liked and smash it together (like so many atoms) and come up with something all together new. Take a pound of sci-fi, and ounce of fantasy, a dollop of horror, and blend in a ribbon of fashion. And I would imagine that steampunk fans are just as rabid as the fans of the horror genre. They tend to glom onto a writer they like and stick with them.
But then, I think that holds true with any genre that has a major ‘con (Dragoncon probably being the biggest and baddest of them all). Con-loving fans are the best. They don’t just attend an event — they become the event! Donning costumes, characters, and really going all out for every aspect of the event. And just what would a ‘con be without Cosplay?
For those that aren’t in the know: Cosplay is short for “costume play” in which fans create costumes (usually sci-fi, anime, fantasy, superhero, steampunk) based on previously existing characters.
Most people assume conventions are made up of overweight boys and men who couldn’t get a date to save their RPG-loving lives. Maybe early on that was true — but now, conventions are filled with a veritable rainbow of attendees — from the uber geek to the uber chic. Conventions are a great way to meet celebrities, fellow lovers of your favorite genre, and get the scoop on what’s out there in worlds previous unexplored.
KF: Is it bad for me to admit that fashion and cosplay is one of the things that drew me to steampunk? In everyday life, I’m a t-shirt and sneakers kinda gal, but getting to wear elaborate Victorian outfits? That’s all kinds of fun. And a really well-made corset is surprisingly comfortable. Makes you keep good posture, which is good if you’re a desk jockey like me. I’m not sure if it’s chiropractor-approved or anything.
Speaking of cons, I went to my first one last year: Fandom Fest in Louisville, Kentucky. You’ll be pleased to know, Jack, that the dominant cosplay theme was definitely zombies. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some rotting corpse shambling through the Galt House. There were a few steampunk cosplayers, mostly folks who were there for the literary track, which had some good sessions on steampunk, dieselpunk and new pulp/noir. I got to meet some of my fave science fiction authors: John Scalzi and Ernie Cline. And I met some new steampunk authors like Delilah S. Dawson who writes carnival steampunk romance, with killer vampire bunnies.
Cons are a great place for writers to meet mentors, readers, editors and other authors for talking shop. Writing can be pretty solitary. Cons are like the speculative fiction author water cooler.
JW: Are you kidding? That’s one of the things that instantly drew me to steampunk. The fashion is fantastic! And the lengths that fans go to in order to transform their everyday personas into these gorgeous Victorian-esque delights is amazing. I so hope I one day see people posting images of themselves as Nathan Gage, Olivia Nightingale, Jarbo Jaurach, or Hieronymus Ebauche from Klockwerk Kabaret. The ultimate compliment.
I agree — cons are a great place to mingle. The only one I’ve been a part of was Scarefest 2012. It was a fantastic experience. I really only spoke with one other writer, as literature was busy taking the back seat to paranormal investigators. But wow! It was a blast (and I came away with some good ideas for new works). But I know I should venture out into more cons and other writer gatherings. You’re right, writing can be a very solitary world — and many of us wind up locking ourselves away with the voices and the shadows and, egads, vampire bunnies.
And I think corsets SHOULD be chiropractor approved and required dress code for anyone wanting to dive into the world of steampunk.
KF: Ha! Yeah, a lot of writers look at cons and think of it as a place to sell books. But it’s really a better place to make connections, find mentors, ask for (and get) advice, and spark inspiration.
Another thing I love related to cons and cosplay? When fandoms collide. I’ve seen amazing cosplayers who do steampunk versions of Star Wars characters, or steampunk’d comic book superheroes. There are some wicked cool creative mashups out there, if you look around.
Which is appropriate, because like we’ve said, steampunk is itself a mashup of a bunch of different media (art, fashion, literature, gaming) and genres (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, alt-history, romance).
JW: Let’s wrap this baby in a nice leather corset and crinoline made of bits and pieces about what makes Kat meow. Tell us all about you and what we can expect in the upcoming months.
KF: Well, coming ridiculously soon is Once Upon a Clockwork Tale, which includes my novella Bitter Cold. It’s four steampunk retellings of classic fairy tales (Another mashup! See what I mean?) It’s coming out from Echelon Press in June, in paperback and ebook. Bitter Cold is a steampunk version of “The Snow Queen.” It’s sort of a fast-paced, humor-laced action adventure, sort of in the vein of Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Plus, there are Tennessee hillbilly gypsies and many things blow up quite spectacularly.
Aside from that, I’m continuing on with my madcap “publish an eBook a month” experiment this year. I’m 4/4 so far! The next short story eBook should be “The Skull Game,” a space western sequel to March’s “Belle Starr.”
And in July, I’m planning on publishing Broken Mirror, a steampunk Snow White tale in the same universe as Bitter Cold. It’s set mostly in a traveling circus.
In the real world outside of fiction, I’ll probably just be hanging out in my t-shirt and jeans with my hubby, kids and pug. Except when my back or a convention demands I dress up in the corset. 😉
By day, I’m a digital marketing and content strategist who manages social media for a Top 500 Online Retailer. Since 2008, I’ve also contributed to Social Media Explorer, an AdAge Top 150 blog.
By night (weekend, lunch break, random holiday), I write speculative fiction, mostly steampunk, science fiction and modern fantasy. In 2013, I’m attempting to produce and publish an eBook every month as an experiment. You can read more about that at katinafrench.com
All the time, I’m a wife, mom, Bluegrass Hoosier, stumbling Jesus-follower, INFP/enneagram 4 and chronic overthinker.