- What was your introduction to the Steampunk genre?
I blame my interest in the genre on William Gibson and Bruce Sterling for their collaborative novel, The Difference Engine. I’d been a fan of Gibson’s for his Cyberpunk novels, and the book came out during my last year in college, where I was studying computer systems engineering. Since it was about computing being invented over a hundred years earlier, I was fascinated. I will admit that despite that early start, I didn’t follow Steampunk again for decades when it gained more prominence as a genre of its own.
- What inspires you to write in the Steampunk genre?
I write the kind of stories I like to read, and Steampunk inspires me as a pure form of speculative fiction. It can be written as science fiction, fantasy, or both. The roots of my favorite genres were born with Verne, Shelley, Burroughs, Wells, and Poe. Those original science fiction and fantasy authors dreamed of a future that never was, and it’s easy to get caught up in that alternate reality.
- Did you set out to write Steampunk, or did it just happen?
It was an accident, I promise! Well, sort of. I had the idea of writing a novel about a character who can hop from one alternate reality to another through the use of quantum states, as in quantum computing. The idea rattled around in my head for years. I pitched ideas to my critique group, I jotted down notes, but nothing gelled for a long time. Finally, I sat down and made up some characters and started writing, to see what would happen. The first time the main character world-hopped, I had to think fast to provide a contrasting alternate history. Steampunk floated up as an ideal candidate, because it is a very visually different world from our own, and one that I could fill with swashbuckling airship-pirate action. That book became Reality Check, which is my best selling book to date.
- Do you write in other genres? If so, what attracted you to those genres?
I write in a few speculative fiction genres.
My first three novels, the Road Ghosts Trilogy, are supernatural fantasies, though they’ve also been called “horror lite”. I never intended to write horror, and I still maintain it is urban fantasy. I’ve been a big fan of urban fantasy as a fan of Charles de Lint’s Newford stories, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. My wife and I were ghost hunters for seven years, and so I wrote my urban fantasy involving supernatural entities like ghosts, demons, and ghouls.
That series spun off into the Tipsy Fairy Tales, which are more pure magical comedic/action contemporary fantasy stories, which still owes a lot to Buffy’s wry sense of humor and sense of pacing.
I mentioned my science fiction novel, Reality Check, and all I can say about that is, I grew up on a diet of Heinlein, Asimov, Niven, and McCaffrey. And yeah, you’ll catch Star Wars references in most of my books. It’s a weakness, I can’t help it.
- How did you come to choose your protagonist and antagonist?
In Girl in the Gears, my main characters literally came to me in a dream. I dreamed of a young transgender woman on the run with an Artful Dodger type mentor, in an airship without a ladder. For some reason, they had to fly up to tall structures, like the masts of ships, to climb down. (It was a dream, don’t ask me.) I woke up at 2 in the morning and scribbled down everything I could remember on our grocery list pad, and was so excited about the concept that I dropped my work in progress to start on the new idea.
The story is, in part, about the struggles a transgender woman might have in a world without even a word for transgender, without any support network or medical assistance for such a person. For that story arc, I had to make the antagonist someone very much opposed to her path to live as a woman, and so I decided it was her father who could not accept her as a woman, and who would try to drag her kicking and screaming, if necessary, back into a more “respectable” position in life. He is forced to work from afar, through agents, so the Trans-Continental aspect is due to her being chased across several of the balkanized republics of North America. Luckily, she has help, though her Artful Dodger friend has problems of her own.
- Do you write backstories for your characters?
Not really. I jot down notes as things occur to me, or as they come up in the story. The characters tend to reveal themselves over time.
- How do your own experiences add to your characters and narratives?
In the case of Trans-Continental, my experiences growing up transgender, but not knowing a word for it, or really understanding why I was different, helps me create the character of Ida, who’s trans in a world also without a word like that. She’s otherwise quite different from me: bolder, braver, more outgoing. Duffy’s even further from me in most ways, she’s cocky and tricky, but their loyalty to each other speaks to the kind of friendship I value.
- Are you a ‘planner’ or a ‘winger’ when it comes to plotting your narratives?
I started out more of a “winger” (in my circles, we call it “pantsing” as in writing by the seat of your pants), but have learned to do a minimum of planning to make sure the story stays on track. For novella or novel length works, I usually write a sort of headline of what should happen in each chapter ahead of time to keep the overall pacing working toward the end, even if I’m not 100% sure how it will end. I prefer having that skeletal framework to flesh things out on.
- If you are a planner, do you stick strictly to your plan?
Ha, definitely not! For Reality Check, I had to rewrite the plan three times while writing it, and after beta readers agreed the ending felt abrupt, I added even more on the end. Often the plan will start out with holes that need filling in, and sometimes whole unplanned chapters will become necessary to be inserted as my characters do unexpected things.
- What is more important to you: that the characters conform to your plot, or that the plot grows naturally out of the characters?
My stories are, as a rule, character-driven. The plot has to follow naturally based on who they are, and how they interact. If I force a character to do something that’s out of their nature, it is as if the muse responsible for the story goes on strike and my writing goes flat. So I listen to my characters, they know their story, I let them reveal it.
- Do you set time aside to write every day?
I wish. No, I’m more of a binge writer. Which isn’t all bad. I learned I could write novels by participating in National Novel Writing Month, which is the bingeiest binge that ever binged a binge. But I’m working to change my habits to a more moderate and constant pace. Girl in the Gears was written like this, and I think it helped me keep the story always in mind without having to put the rest of my life on hold until it was done. I’ve been in an editing/promotion phase since then, but hope to get back to a regular writing schedule soon.
- Do you set yourself a word length to write every day?
Sort of. The plan that’s worked best so far has been to challenge myself to write 10,000 words in a month. That’s an average of 333 words a day, and I know I can write 1000 words in an hour when I’ve got momentum. I’ve written a 500 word flash fiction story in 15 minutes, even. So this is a modest goal, and even if I have to do all my writing on the weekend, I can catch up. This flexible writing goal suits my life and personality best, it seems.
- Do you write with a word length in mind, or do you let the story dictate the length?
Hmm. I usually know if I’m writing a flash story, short story, novella, or novel when I sit down at the keyboard, based on the idea that the story comes from. Some stories just don’t work in that framework, and end up getting reworked. For instance, one night I dreamed about my Road Ghosts characters and jotted down what I remembered of the dream. I tried to write a short story based on it, but it just wouldn’t work for me. Eventually, that became the first chapter of the second Road Ghosts novel, Sinking Down, because the problem was, the idea demanded a lot more than a short story (and I changed the point of view, too). But that’s an exception, rather than the rule, for me.
- How important is research to you and your Steampunk Narratives?
I think most people who read this question expect the answer to be an ambitious, “Of course research is paramount! Detail is everything in Steampunk!” This is where I differ. My Steampunk world is an alternate reality that’s set right NOW, not a hundred years ago. History, especially science, took a different turn around the time of Newton, and so the spread and adoption of technology has gone very differently. Yes, I do research, but I don’t let my imagination be fettered by historical events or fashions, since the canvas of history in my Trans-Continental world is painted with a different brush.
- Do you use online resources to help you write and research? Can you make recommendations of any websites you find particularly helpful?
Google is my friend. I use Google Maps for geography, but also I search for historical maps, original names of towns, ancestry of historical figures, the progress of fashion, the dates technologies were invented, and so on. I was delighted to stumble upon your site, because the articles you write and share are fuel for my imagination for this genre.
- Do you have any favourite Steampunk authors?
I am a huge fan of Katina French’s Clockwork Republics stories (Steampunk fairy tales!). I am fortunate to have her as a friend and colleague. She can also tighten a corset to within an inch of your life, as I found out on our expedition to the Steampunk World’s Fair last year!
- Do you have any favourite Steampunk movies?
You know, if for nothing else, I adore the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes movies for their soundtrack! Hans Zimmer captured the Steampunk style in musical form with quirky instruments and a breakneck pace that I played on repeat while writing Girl in the Gears. I’m not certain that the movies qualify for most as true Steampunk, but I think they capture the spirit of the genre quite well.
- Are you part of a Steampunk community? If so, do they inspire your writing in any way?
I’ve attended the Indianapolis Aerodrome’s Steampunk Sunday gathering, and would like to do more with that group. I run into a lot of them at local conventions. I think inspiration comes more from friends I have in that group, through their latest costumes and inventions. They’re a creative bunch, and I’m thrilled to be among them.
- Tell us about your current Steampunk Book – which is due out on the 1st of June
Well, I have cleverly dropped tidbits about my latest in the questions above! But the short of it is, Trans-Continental: Girl in the Gears is a novella that’s the first in a planned series of Steampunk adventures starring Ida, a transgender woman, and her larcenous-but-loyal companion, Duffy. They are running from their respective pasts together across the military-industrial landscape of the North American Republics, which are working up toward multinational war. As my friend Moxie Magnus says, “[Ida and Duffy] put the ‘team’ back in Steampunk”.
I mentioned that my science fiction book, Reality Check, has a steampunk setting. It is that same alternate reality that I’ve used as the setting for the Trans-Continental series. I haven’t decided if there will be any direct crossovers, but they do share that common world-building.
- Do you have an online presence?
But of course! There’s even a Steampunk story about that.
I deliberately avoided saying the word “Steampunk” anywhere in Reality Check. Instead, the main character, Lee Green, thinks of the Trans-Continental universe as the ‘silly hat world’ because to his modern, practical eyes, the flamboyant fashion of the neo-Victorian alternate reality is pretty silly. He even thinks of the alternate version of his love interest as “Silly Hat Dionne”.
So, when I revamped my website awhile ago, I gave it a new domain name: http://sillyhatbooks.com
I would welcome anyone who’s made it this far to come visit me there, or follow me on Twitter at @ecgarrison.
Thank you again for having me as a guest!