Tag Archives: steampunk

Jayne Barnard on Maddie Hatter’s Steampunk Society

An interview with author Jayne Barnard.

Jayne - coverMystery writer and steampunk aficionado Jayne Barnard has written a smashing novella, MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND. The novella is fun and the world Jayne created is fascinating. Steampunk, if done right, feels like a period in history that we should have studied in school and where Jayne’s book is compulsory reading. For all these reasons, I had to interview Jayne.

We had so much to talk about however, that you’ll have to read the second part of the interview Dueling Parasols and Creating a Steampunk World, Jayne Barnard Tells All to learn why Jayne chose to pay homage to certain personalities, her steampunk fashion choices and about the sport of dueling parasols!

Being a Steamlord’s daughter must be oppressive because Maddie vies to stay out from under her father’s thumb. Her class status, though,  gives her insights (and privileges) into the upper echelons of society which are delightful for the reader to see. What is it like to be a Steamlord’s daughter and why does Maddie wish herself to be so independent from it?
Maddie Hatter comes from one of the three earliest Steamlord families. Her great-grandfather invented a mechanism that allowed steam power to be used for a much wider variety of purposes than before. The family’s wealth is almost beyond counting; they live in a vast subterranean mansion, have servants for every possible task, and travel everywhere by private luxury airships. They’re the 1% of their era. But a peerage only four generations old is barely a blip to English aristocrats who can trace their lineage back to the Norman Conquest. The Steamlords want to improve their family trees by marrying into the Old Nobility, which is lineage-rich but often cash-poor.

That’s the pressure Maddie is escaping: to be handed off, along with a well-padded dowry, to some family even more restrictive than hers, and spend the rest of her life taking tea with her mother-in-law and bear children for some inbred aristocratic fop, all so her father can fulfill his inherited duty to advance the family’s social and political power. Maddie is a girl of spirit and independence, not about to tamely submit to having her whole life decided for her before she’s twenty.

It must have been hard for Maddie to leave home and learn to fend for herself but she  can’t seem to make a complete break. Why is making a complete break hard for her?
Since fleeing her home, Maddie has had to learn to do things for herself that a girl of any lesser family would have learned at a much younger age: to dress herself, care for her own clothing, organize her own meals, and most especially to earn her own living. She managed for two years on her own, and now has made a sort of peace with her family, becoming a female variant of the remittance man. That adventurous breed historically – often reckless younger sons who embarrassed their family once too often – was sent abroad to live or die as they chose. Their families paid an allowance on condition they stayed away and kept the family name clear of scandal. As a woman, Maddie’s not paid well for her work. Her father’s allowance is all that she will be able to save toward someday buying a home, or for her eventual retirement. A little older and wiser now since venturing on her own, Maddie knows that  she can’t realistically make a complete break  until she is earning enough to fund her future life as well as her current adventures.

The gadgets: mechanical birdie, airships, coffee service – you’ve got a wonderful smattering of them which makes Maddie’s world very interesting. Her little mechanical bird, Tweetle-D, who so delightfully inks things he’s seen, who is Maddie’s spy and is so helpful to her job. What inspired you to create him, and why him instead of a human helper?
Steampunk runs on clockworks, the brassier the better. To create the gadgets in Maddie’s world, I needed to only look around at daily activities and think: if this world were operating by a combination of steam power and clockwork controls, how could – for example – making and serving tea be done? As for the mechanical bird Tweetle-D, or TD as he is more often called, he is small, mostly quiet, but quite a personality for all that. He serves as a confidant for Maddie while she is cut off from family (by her own choosing) and from friends (by her assignment in Egypt). While he can’t fly far on his own, he travels well by airship, train, river-steamship or even by camel if necessary, and with far less fuss and bother than a living animal companion would require. And he’s got mad skills in note-taking and picture-taking, both essentials for a young lady trying to make her way as an investigative journalist.

Maddie is precocious, very liberated and besides needing to keep her true identity secret, she’s fighting for a place in a man’s world of crime reporting. She’s strong, as are all the female characters in this world. Is this historically accurate?
This story is  historically accurate in the sense that young women ‘of good family’ who grew up in the late Victorian era were finally breaking out of the wife-governess-nun straitjacket, entering the workforce as shopgirls, office workers, nurses, authors, mathematicians, professors, and yes, as reporters. Maddie’s story is partly inspired by the barrier-breaking American journalist, Nellie Bly, who in the 1880s tackled a great many stories outside her early purview of fashion and society gossip. She not only went undercover (as Maddie also did) in pursuit of stories – most notably as an inmate in an insane asylum – but she set the record for getting around the world in under 80 days. As an inspiration for a young lady journalist, she’d be hard to beat. But then, this story is also inspired by the true story of a British colonial officer who stole a fabulous diamond ‘eye’ from a temple in India.

Less historically accurate but equally inspiring were the stories written by Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, the Indiana Jones and Young Indiana Jones movies, and my wonderfully imaginative friends in the Steampunk community in Calgary.

It’s as if the women have found a way to do what’s important and be themselves despite the obstacles. Is this story a social commentary?
This is first and foremost an entertaining story of one young woman taking on the world.

As for social commentary, women in the West have continuously struggled to take and keep control of our own financial security despite the political, social, religious, and economic barriers thrown up in front of us, our mothers, our grandmothers, and our daughters. More than a century after Maddie and Nellie Bly, women have still not achieved the grail of equal pay for equal work, except in unionized workplaces. Despite women outperforming men academically in sciences and mathematics, there are still glass ceilings and male-dominated industries and professions. The internet shames women relentlessly for sexual conduct (including for reporting rape or assault) as much as any Victorian society matron would, and threatens women’s lives for speaking up in some perceived male bastion (Gamergate, anyone?). Just recently, the female premier of Alberta was threatened with assassination by men who disagreed with her politics.

I didn’t set out to write a feminist fiction but the element most fantastical of all in Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond may be that the women all found a way to do what’s important and be themselves despite the obstacles, and nobody threatened – or tried – to kill them for it.

That concludes this part of our interview. If you’d like to read MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND and see what other people have said about it, you can find it at Amazon and Tyche Books, and there are reviews on Goodreads.

Be sure to check out Dueling Parasols and Creating a Steampunk World, Jayne Barnard Tells All  – you don’t want to miss out on dueling parasols!

Jayne from steamconJayne Barnard is a founding member of Madame Saffron’s Parasol Dueling League for Steampunk Ladies and a longtime crime writer. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. Awards for short fiction range from the 1990 Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for PRINCESS ALEX AND THE DRAGON DEAL to the 2011 Bony Pete for EACH CANADIAN SON. She’s been shortlisted for both the Unhanged Arthur in Canada and the Debut Dagger in the UK.  You can visit her at her blog or on Facebook.

Writing About Writing

A guest post by Brent Nichols

(And if you think that’s hard, I had to write about writing about writing)

We write. It’s what we do. Fiction, mostly, and if we’re lucky we have readers. It’s when we don’t have readers, or we want more, that we sometimes have to resort to writing of a different sort.

Fiction comes more or less naturally to me. My head’s full to bursting with imaginary characters, and sometimes I let them out to play on the page. It hardly seems like work, most days. The sense of work comes when I’m doing the other kind of writing. You know, the tedious reality-based kind. Especially when I face the tricky problem of writing about my own writing. But every so often, if I’m lucky, even non-fiction writing – even thorny non-fiction writing about my own fiction – manages not to be work. It even manages to be fun.

bdbfullserialA couple of years ago some entrepreneurs approached me, wanting to feature some of my self-published steampunk fiction on a new website they were launching. I was happy to agree – until they told me they wanted a couple of blog posts to go with it.

Having already sweated through the ordeal of making blurbs for the stories in question, the last thing I wanted to do was write even more about my work. However, being a sucker for direct appeals to my ego (hence my appearance on Fictiorians), I reluctantly agreed.

But what could I tell the average web-browsing reader about my work that would make them keen on picking up my stories?

I decided to write about the reasons I wrote steampunk fiction. Now, there are many reasons I turned my mad keyboarding skills to that particular sub-genre. Laziness in high on the list. Steampunk offers the cool gadgets that make science fiction fun without the tiresome need in most science fiction to be sure your gadgets would actually work. It offers the entertaining trappings of the nineteenth century, but being an alternate history, it spares the efficiency-minded writer all that pesky research. In a world where Queen Victoria commands a flying navy, most anything goes.

Sloth on my part, however, hardly seemed like a selling point to my droves of potential fans. So I dug deeper. I wanted a blog post that came alive for the reader, and I found myself thinking back to a time when I felt that spark myself, that shiver of excitement that came along all unexpected and made me, suddenly and for the first time in years, excited again about writing.

I was floundering in the doldrums of discouragement, the dream of writing like a faded picture of something I could remember being keen about, when I decided to attend the first ever When Words Collide festival. That was where I encountered a call for submissions to Shanghai Steam, an anthology of steampunk/wuxia fiction.

Just like that, my perspective on writing changed. All the eager excitement of my teenage self came flooding back. That call for submissions had two things going for it: It was cool (I mean, come on! Kung Fu action and steampunk? Who can resist that?) and it was specific. There were exact requirements, down to word count and cultural influences. I could stop floundering around and tackle a sparkling world of possibilities with a clear framework to guide me.

This, I realized, was the essence of what I needed for my blog post. Why did I write steampunk? Because it’s so damn cool. And how would I communicate that thrill to my readers? By being specific.

After that, the blog post seemed to write itself. I wrote about nineteenth-century technology, the glory days when the most wonderful machine you could imagine was still accessible to a clever person, something you could take apart and tinker with in your basement. A time when the world was enormous and exotic and full of unmapped corners. And a genre that said, never mind exactly how it actually was. What if? What if, in addition to all the grubby bits, there were airships and walking robots and clockwork birds? What if we took an entire genre and said, never mind that it won’t quite pass a rigorous historical or scientific examination? It’s marginally plausible and it’s cool, and that’s justification enough.

We don’t have Barsoom anymore. We lost Tarzan, too. We know too much about Mars and Africa and the universe for those grand adventures to survive. But we have steampunk, and it’s awesome.

That’s how you write about your writing. You look past all the details you’ve been buried in. You dig deep and look for that buried gem of excitement that got you started on the story in the first place. If you can communicate your excitement, readers will be excited to read what you created.

I sent the blog post off, and then I forgot all about the blog and the website. I was too busy to give it another thought. Because the post had the same effect on me that I wanted it to have on every reader – it made me want to drop everything and go read some steampunk.

Brent Nichols is a science fiction and fantasy writer, book cover designer, andBrent Nichols man about town. He likes good beer, bad puns, high adventure, and low comedy. A native Calgarian, he is a member of the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association and is the author of the War of the Necromancer series of sword and sorcery novels (available at a fine ebook retailer near you). See his book cover designs at www.coolseriescovers.com or visit his website atwww.steampunch.com.

Steamed Up Anthology Virtual Launch (Marketing in Action!)



It was the better part of a year ago when I signed up to organize a Fictorians month around the topic of “Marketing and Promotion.”   At that time I was still unpublished, in the phase of my career where I sent out submissions and hoped for the best.  I’d chosen the Marketing and Promotion topic in the hopes of gaining knowledge for that far-off time when I’d have something of my own to promote.  Little did I know that by the time October 2013 arrived, I would have it…

So here’s an opportunity to see a Virtual Book Launch in action.  Tomorrow, Sunday October 27, myself and other contributors to Dreamspinner Press’ Steamed Up Anthology will be on the Dreamspinner Press Blog to celebrate a virtual book launch.  We’ll be providing background on our steampunk stories, excerpts, chat and more!  Visit us at http://dreamspinnerpress.com/blog/

My contribution to Steamed Up is “Ace of Hearts”:  All Aeroplane Mechanic First Class William Pettigrew ever wanted was to fly, but due to an old eye injury, he can only maintain the aircraft and fantasize about the pilots. When Captain James Hinson,  war hero and dirigible flying ace, joins the squadron, William catches his eye. But William lacks the confidence to see James’s overtures as anything but friendly interest in his innovations. Then James is shot down over enemy territory, and for William that changes everything. The time has come for him to choose: believe in himself and fly or lose forever the man whose heart he hopes to win.

Join me in celebration of an era of zeppelin aces, clockwork cavalry and mechanical marvels…in an age of high adventure!

Steamed Up is now available in paperback:


or Ebook:


Hope to see you there!

The Maker Spirit of Steampunk

Guest Post by Billie Millholland

vic ladyWhen I told a friend I was doing a blog piece that championed steampunk stories, she sighed deeply. “Are you sure you aren’t a little late?” She thinks the steampunk genre reached its zenith in 2009/10 with a glut of excellent books like Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and Dreadnought; Gail Carriger’s Souless, Changeless and Blameless, the first three books of the Parasol Protectorate; Jay Lake’s Pinion; and The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder to name a few. She’s not the only one who feels that steampunk has become so mainstream it’s doomed to wither on a vine of mediocrity.

I’m not blind to the tsunami of pathetically thin, steampunkish novels bursting bookstore shelves under nearly every category label from bodice-ripper romances to futuristic space adventures. Copycat themes that descend into cliché are inevitable following the advent of any literary innovation, but they are not always an indication of waning popularity.  Steampunk stories are still alive and well in the literary world because they offer more than just an entertaining adventure.

What attracts good story tellers to the steampunk genre is not so much the clank and clatter of gears and springs, as intriguing as that is; the pull is bigger than that. I think it’s partly the recognition of a general global anxiety in the wake of decades of plastic, throw-away everything. An anxiety that’s soothed by metaphors of important inventions constructed out of noble, solid materials and forever repaired by a regular person in a shed behind the house. It’s the hope embodied in the notion of the revival of the backyard mechanic.

If anachronistic steampunk images, wrought of leather, glass and metal, were simply expressions of a nostalgia trend, steam trainthen steampunk fiction would have a dim future. It would fade into the shelves of historical fiction, still somewhat satisfying, but not really remarkable. Fortunately, the appeal of a good steampunk story goes deeper than the thrill of an airship piloted by a goggle-wearing aviatrix.

The appeal of a good steampunk story emerges in part from an empowering maker spirit; the clever ingenuity of DIY craftsmanship that flaunts the notion that anyone can build a flying machine and echoes the sentiment that gave birth to the open-source movement. It’s found in flipping the finger at the rigid conventions and stagnant protocols of a familiar puritanical past, the choke hold of which is still present today. It’s welcomed by those numbed by the tedium of relentless modern consumerism.  A good steampunk story fuels a longing for an individualistic, break-away adventure. It encourages a smug satisfaction in heroic self-reliance. Steampunk is the cheeky tendon that connects a cynical present to an equally flawed, yet more colourful and idealistic past.

The industrial frenzy of the Victorian era is a natural mind worm that darts from neuron to neuron, bouncing off the hard curves of the skull like jolts from fresh morning coffee.

The emergence of wild and wonderful technology during the era of steam parallels the whirl of constantly changing technology today. Both are exciting, seductive and frightening. There is still room for good stories that rescue us from the latter by taking us to the former – a world we wish had been.

As recently as March 2013 “Cowboys and Engines“, a steampunk movie idea received crowd sourced funding through kickstarter. The maker spirit is at work here on all levels. Steampunk is about finding alternative ways of thriving in a world of megalithic institutions. Steampunk is for anyone with a maker spirit. It invites glorious literary experiments with giddy mash-ups. It encourages collaboration. Steampunk artists, writers, crafters, inventors, role players breathe life into an arts community forsaken by fiscally paranoid governments. Steampunk allows us to explore the past while contemplating the future. We are a tool-making species and steampunk reminds us how far we’ve strayed from our roots.


BM -Women-of-the-Apocalypse-CoverBillie Milholland was first published in non-fiction (Harrowsmith magazine, Westernpuzzle_box_cover4 Producer People magazine and weekly newspapers in Alberta and British Columbia); then short fiction (in Canadian magazines & produced on CBC Radio Anthology); then novellas (a Time Travel Romance & one of four novellas in “Women of the Apocalypse“ (Aurora Award winner  2010). More recently she has had a Chinese steampunk story in Tyche Books anthology “Ride the Moon“ and is looking forward to seeing another short story in the “Urban Green Man“ anthology and another novella in “The Puzzle Box“, both coming in August 2013 (both from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing).