Tuesday, 25 February 2014

On Writing Steampunk

Seeing my short stories in the anthologies, Fiery Beasts and Hell's Garden, and also the appearance of my Amazon Author Page, 2014 has proved a turning point in my writing career. And now I've told the Tax Man, I guess it's official. However, for me, this month has steamed past.

Rayne Hall, editor of the Fiery Beasts anthology, has asked me for a steampunk story. I've never read this genre let alone written anything remotely similar, so I had nothingexcept imagination, of course. I found a copy of Steampunk, a collection of stories edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, and devoured it.

Since beginning this project, I've come to realise many people are unfamiliar with this genre.

What is Steampunk?

In short, think Sci-Fi but not in the sense of Star Wars or Alien. Picture a scientist in Victorian England rather than on a distant planet far in the future. Don't imagine robots or cyborgs, instead see clockwork automatons and steam-powered constructs. There are no laser guns here but derringers with good ol' bullets. And drop the concept of a hovering spacecraft and visualise zeppelins and galleons maneuvering through the sky, propellers whirring. Balloons and goggles, cogs and gears, thrunge plates and mechanics...it's all there.

The steampunk world is extensive and for me, this has been a challenge. I am now on one of the final drafts of the story, titled "Hole In The Sky". Rayne specifically asked for a dark tale and that's what I've created for her...and it hasn't come easily. Yet as I near its completion, it may possibly be one of my favourite stories to date.

It began, as do all my stories, as scribbles in a notebook and plenty of tea-cradling and staring into space. With dozens of ideas that seemed to flow, this project was in danger of becoming a novel. Before I knew it, I'd written a chunk of 6,000 words beginning with a horrible exposition dump and too much waffle throughout. I was, however, excited about the premise: an escaping automaton, on fire and wreaking havoc as its magnetic flux strengthens.

I pulled out only 2,000 words and moved a few segments around. I wanted to include mechanical animals and something else a little alternate for the tale. Not only did I end up changing a character's sex, I also hacked a few limbs off the PoV (Point of View) character too, and so we start the story with him in a wheelchair, chasing after their flaming construct.

Once I had pretty much everything in place, it was time to get both characters in on the action as their creation crashes through town...

Throughout the tale I needed to find a way to weave in all that back story and having now done that, the whole piece clocks in at just under 7,500 words. It's my longest short story so far. Indeed, it's almost a novelette.

So, as I print out yet another draft of "Hole In The Sky" and attack it with the Red Pen of Doom, I can only hope Rayne likes it enough to include it in her next Ten Tales anthology, Cogwheels.

Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorMarkCassell