An Interview with Karen J. Carlisle, Steampunk Author.

What was your introduction to the Steampunk genre?

My introduction to steampunk was a slow process. The seeds were planted early on, after re- reading a few classic Victorian science fiction stories and new ‘alternate history’ science fiction books, intertwining two of my passions – historical fantasy and science fiction. A run of steampunk inspired movies followed, in the early 2000s, fed a growing curiosity and intrigued my inner costumer. I started collecting bits to assemble my own costume. By 2006, my obsession had bloomed with my first steampunk costume – an explorer. I literally had a ball (at the annual Australian Costumers’ Guild Ball). I could indulge in my love of research, creating accurate period costumes, and let my imagination run wild with the fantasy elements.

What inspires you to write in the Steampunk genre?

I could never decide which genre I preferred – in costuming or reading. Now I get to mash them all up – fantasy, science fiction and history – in one fell swoop. How exciting! I can play with a familiar setting, create my own alternate world and posit what if with historical events. What is there not to love?

Did you set out to write Steampunk, or did it just happen?

I started out writing a fantasy story and got side tracked by several other (steampunk) ideas. My first series, The Adventures of Viola Stewart, is more gaslamp fantasy, than pure steampunk. The original fantasy story is just biding its time…

Do you write in other genres? If so, what attracted you to those genres?

I also write fantasy and gaslamp. There is even a science fiction-comedy manuscript hidden away somewhere…

How did you come to choose your protagonist and antagonist?

They found me.

In 2013, I was having issues with work stress. I decided to rekindle my dream of writing, and use it as a cathartic exercise. I got told: ‘Write what you know’. Viola became a nineteenth century optician, frustrated with being unable to follow her chosen career path. My latest antagonist, Doctor Jack, was inspired by a documentary. I disagreed with some of the reasoning behind their suspect choice. I researched other options and thought:
What if it was all planned? Who would have planned it? Who would they get to perpetrate such deeds, and why would someone agree to such an undertaking? Doctor Jack was born

Do you write backstories for your characters?

Yes. Some are detailed, with family trees and detailed major events in their lives. Other character backgrounds start out with just the basics required for the plot. It is organic. It grows as the characters introduce themselves – sometimes becoming epic. (Not that you get to see all of it)

Are you a ‘planner’ or a ‘winger’ when it comes to plotting your narratives?

I am mostly a ‘winger’ (or ‘pantser’) – at least at the start. As the story unfolds, I need to start planning. Initially, I used to plan the ending (or a major turning point) and only one or two chapters ahead. I recently did a writing course on plot and writing. I plan a lot more now. My costume cupboard door is sometimes covered in sticky notes. But, whether I plan or not, the stories always change. They are fluid, always changing as my imagination and characters take over. So really, I am still winging it really, but I now I often have a contingency plan for when I get sidetracked.

If you are a planner, do you stick strictly to your plan?

Heck, no! I am always being side-tracked.

What is more important to you: that the characters conform to your plot, or that the plot grows naturally out of the characters?

Technically characters are more important in any story. They need to be believable. But in reality, which comes first will depend on my muse. Sometimes I have an idea for a story, often a scene; sometimes just a feeling. Characters then introduce themselves, but not always when I want nor who I want. At other times, the characters present me with their story and challenge me to write it. They can be wilful.

Do you set time aside to write every day?

Yes. When I started on this journey, I fell back on my training and did the scientific thing. I researched what I needed to do to give myself the best chance of success. Early on, I read some advice: Read or write 1500 words a day. It has served me well.

I try to write at least five days a week. For the first twelve months, I entered competitions regularly. The deadlines helped create a habit of regular writing. Now I have set writing times, usually between 10am-2.30pm. Sometimes the muse attacks me late at night, so I keep a notebook by the bed.

Do you set yourself a word length to write every day?

If I have a deadline, yes. I have found NaNoWriMo to be helpful in pushing me to increase my daily word count. I have an ideal but find 1000 words a day is a comfortable stretch.

However, as a general rule, I try to complete a set writing task – a specific scene or solve a specific problem.

Do you write with a word length in mind, or do you let the story dictate the length?

The story dictates it. Doctor Jack was supposed to be a short story of about 10,000 words. As I developed the characters, I found the story demanded more and ended up at 36,000 words. The Department of Curiosities was originally projected to be roughly 80,000 words but will most likely end up being possibly 85,000. If I was a better planner, I could possibly control word count more accurately. Or so I am told.

How important is research to you and your Steampunk Narratives?

I am a research fiend. I research historical events, characters, science, costume. And not just for the sake of constructive procrastination. I love learning new things. It gives me ideas (and is great for quiz nights). I have maps of 19th century London, photos of houses and portraits of people. I have found original period scientific papers presented to the Royal Society (of Science). I have at least one box of notes per story/series.

For The Adventures of Viola Stewart, I have researched dirigibles, the colour of gases under electricity, colours of smoke produced by various explosives and optograms. I attended a museum lecture on Daguerreotypes and Victorian Post-Mortem Photography, and have delved into the world of Jack the Ripper, and even walked the virtual streets of London via Google Earth.

Did I mention I love research?

Do you use online resources to help you write and research? Can you make recommendations of any websites you find particularly helpful?

Here are just a few:

Do you have any favourite Steampunk authors?

 Gail Carriger. I am also waiting (not so patiently) for Jim Butcher’s upcoming Steampunk novel.

Do you have any favourite Steampunk movies?

Movie? Hard decision. I do love the television series Murdoch Mysteries. It has a Steampunk flavour in many of its stories.

Are you part of a Steampunk community? If so, do they inspire your writing in any way?

Steampunk SA – costumers, some of who have given their time and enthusiasm as beta readers, cover and book trailer models and loaned out their costumes. Steampunk Empire: There is a writers group in SE- all very supportive denizens.

I know you cosplay Steampunk outfits. Was this a conscious decision or did it grow out of your enthusiasm for the Steampunk Literary Genre?

I was cosplaying Steampunk-inspired outfits before I really knew it was called Steampunk. Next the house redecorated with the Steampunk Aesthetic, and then – finally – there came the Steampunk genre writing.

Tell us about your current Steampunk Book.
My first novella, Doctor Jack, is coming out as ebook, following after three short stories. A compilation paperback is due out at the end of the month. The Adventures of Viola Stewart Journal #1: Doctor Jack and Other Tales.

I am just finishing up the first draft of my first novel-length story, The Department of Curiosities, hopefully out at end of the year. Just in time for Christmas!

Do you have an online presence? 

  • website and blog: htt://karencarlisle.purplefiles.net

mirror website on WordPress: https://karenjcarlisle.wordpress.com/blog/

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8 Comments

Filed under Australian Steampunk Author, Books & reading, Interview, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist

8 responses to “An Interview with Karen J. Carlisle, Steampunk Author.

  1. Is that a Tribble in the photo at the bottom of the interview? So many of my Steampunk friends are also Star Trek fans (like me).

  2. Pingback: The Law of Murphy | karen j carlisle / off the artboard

  3. Pingback: The Law of Murphy | Karen J Carlisle

  4. That is an excellent interview.

  5. karen j carlisle

    Reblogged this on Karen J Carlisle.

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