When I mention that my historical romantic suspense series, THE SECRET LIVES OF WILL TUCKER, includes a dash of steampunk, I usually get one of two responses: a wide grin or a confused expression. For those of you who best identify with the confused expression crowd, let’s talk about what steampunk is.
Wikipedia calls steampunk “…a subgenre … that typically features steam powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized western civilization during the 19th century.” Often these stories are set in Victorian England or the Wild West of the United States, and in some cases, there is an element of dystopian or alternate reality to the stories. Some are hybrids of science fiction and some other element, while many steampunk novels employ romance or mystery as their main theme. There are as many variations as there are inventions and elements to include. What unifies all steampunk tales is the fact that the characters have access to inventions that are ahead of their time. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were masters of this type of story, although at the time the term steampunk was not in use.
It is this element of creative inventions that I employ in my novels. Unlike the steampunk novels that are more likely classified as science fiction, my stories employ technology that was not yet in use when during the time period the story covers. My heroes are Pinkerton agents, inventors, and childhood friends. When they combine their love of science with their Pinkerton training, they create inventions that help them catch the bad guys in unique ways.
For example, in Flora’s Wish, first book in the series, Pinkerton agent Lucas McMinn employs such devices as extra-vision spectacles for seeing long distances, a personal torch that operates much like a modern flashlight, and a hearing device tucked into a bowler hat that allows him to eavesdrop on conversations taking place on the other side of a room or down the road. Each of these inventions is introduced to the reader as prototypes Lucas and fellow agent Kyle Russell are in the process of seeking a patent for. Writing with an element of steampunk, giving a man the ability to create all sorts of interesting and practical inventions that aid him in reaching the goals set forth in the story, adds depth to the plot and brings a unique slant to his personality.
Another thing I love about adding a dash of steampunk to a story is how it adds a touch of whimsy to what would otherwise be a typical historical novel. In Millie’s Treasure, this whimsy appears first in the opening scene as Pinkerton Agent Kyle Russell meets bookish heiress Millie Cope on the roof of the Memphis Cotton Exchange Building on New Year’s Eve. Kyle is testing a personal flying device that ends up being the means the pair must use for escaping the rooftop once they determine the door has locked behind them. In what other genre could an author write a first meeting that culminates in flying over the rooftops in the moonlight as celebrations rise up from below ushering in the new year of 1889? Only in a steampunk story!
Unlike traditional steampunk, which sometimes introduces an alternate reality or culture in which people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives, I prefer my stories to have a slightly futuristic flair while maintaining the viability of the machines the pair invent. In order to keep the inventions in the realm of possibility, although not historically available during that time period, I combed the files of the United States Patent Office to determine which inventions were patented within a few years of my story taking place. In that way, I could allow for my heroes to have a variation on an idea that eventually becomes reality.
Part of the fun of the story was having the pair rib one another when an invention is mentioned by one that the other thinks is silly. A case in point is the postage machine that Lucas invents, much to Kyle’s consternation. In Kyle’s opinion, any man who cannot take the time to put postage on a letter without using a machine is too busy altogether. Of course, an actual postage machine was indeed patented some years later, leaving the reader to believe—at least I hope—that Lucas might have received the patent first had Kyle not dissuaded him from making the attempt.
Since Kyle and Lucas are trained crime fighters, I also enjoyed allowing them to use inventions to catch bad guys. When Kyle goes looking for stolen gold, he uses a variation on a detector that wasn’t actually invented for another ten years or so. In order to save Flora from a precarious perch on a New Orleans French Quarter balcony, Lucas employs a prototype of a device made from the combination of a boomerang and a filament line. Later, Kyle utilizes a device that could be termed the Polaroid camera of its day to capture the information he needs from the local records office. I loved writing that scene, especially the part where Kyle had to explain to the records clerk what caused the bright flash.
These are just a few examples of how I used the technique of steampunk in a book series. Now that you understand the concept of steampunk a little better, are you ready to exchange your confused expression for a wide grin? I certainly hope so. I know I have. Now what sort of invention will add to my next novel? The sky’s the limit.
I am the eldest child of a Texas refinery worker whose shifts varied from days to evenings to nights depending on the week. With four children to keep quiet when Dad was sleeping and only a window unit air conditioner to cool our Southeast Texas home (thus requiring all interior doors of our small home to be open), my mother’s best babysitters were books.
We spent MANY hours in the library in the summers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those childhood days built a reader who never got away from loving the escape of a good book. I’m not sure I dared to dream of writing as a child–there were no authors in our little town–but I did fill many notebooks with my creative scribblings.
I got married, traveled the world and had four children of my own. In 1996, two years shy of my 40th birthday and one week after my youngest went off to preschool four days a week, I bought a word processor and set out to recreate my love of story. I wrote eight full-length novels before I sold one.
My first published work, a novella, was released by Barbour Publishing in 2000, two years after my 40th birthday. That novella collection, written with 3 other authors and titled Yellow Roses, hit the bestseller lists in July 2000. Next month, Millie’s Treasure, a Romantic Times Top Pick and the second book in the Secret Lives of Will Tucker series will release from Harvest House Publishers.
Next month, I will turn 55. In the thirteen years since that first book, I’ve published 47 novels and have two more finished and scheduled for release with major publishers in 2013 and 2014. I surpassed one million books in print in 2011 and am on my way to the two million mark. A proposal for my fiftieth book (and two more in the series) is being considered this week.
Dreaming? I’m just getting started…
“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” -Ephesians 3:20 The Message
If the books singled out for nominations at the 2013 Christy Awards are any indication, the future of Christian publishing is bright. And from that stellar lineup of novels, these were chosen as winners in their categories:
Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann (Bethany House)
You Don’t Know Me by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House)
Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House)
Rare Earth by Davis Bunn (Bethany House)
Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry (Tyndale House)
Soul’s Gate by James Rubart (Thomas Nelson)
Child of the Mountains by Marilyn Sue Shank (Delacourte Press)
Flame of Resistance by Tracy Groot ( Tyndale House)
And for the double prize winner of the night…
Best First Book AND 2013 CBA Book of the Year:
Into the Free by Julie Cantrell
See any you like? Me too!
Will Tucker is a handsome fellow with enough charm and drop-dead good looks to gain more than one wealthy fiancé. And he does. Not exactly hero material, is he? That’s because Will Tucker, the subject of my new Southern-with-a-dash-of-Steampunk historical series The Secret Lives of Will Tucker is not the hero. He’s the villain.
Writing a series with a villain at its center is a departure for me. In the past, I have centered stories on a location, such as the fictional city of Latagnier, Louisiana where I set seven tales of Cajun life spanning the late 1800s to the present day beginning with Bayou Beginnings and ending with Building Dreams. Or perhaps the series would follow characters who interacted in all the stories. My Women of the West series, currently an e-book 3-in-1 called Rocky Mountain Heiresses, followed this pattern with the first story, The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper, centering on Eugenia and subsequent novels Anna Finch and the Hired Gun and The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck telling the tales of Eugenia’s friend and stepdaughter.
Thus, taking on the telling of the story of Will Tucker, the charming and smooth-talking chameleon with the dubious intentions was new territory to me. In order to write heroines who would be fooled by this fellow and yet not appear to be less than worthy of their stories, I had to find that combination of good intentions and strong will. In the first story of the series, Flora’s Wish, I created a Natchez belle who sets out on a course that, at first, appears quite self-serving. When her efforts to marry in order to see that her family’s land does not pass to unfavorable hands put her in the cross-hairs of a Pinkerton investigation, she is not deterred. Millie’s Treasure, the second book in the series, pits a bluestocking Memphis socialite whose interest in science and literature has her longing to escape her gilded cage against yet another Pinkerton agent determined to catch Will Tucker and bring him to justice. Finally, in Sadie’s Secrets, a lady Pinkerton adds her investigative efforts to the ongoing case only to find that a certain Brit straight out of Scotland Yard is a dead ringer for the suspect, and he’s looking for Tucker, too. Add to this the fact that the Pinkerton agents are inventors who come up with the most interesting gadgets, including a flying machine, bullets that shoot filament wire allowing a person to scale walls, and, well…I digress.
So what becomes of a villain who is so likeable that women fall for him and men don’t mind calling themselves his friend? As I wrote the tales of Flora and Millie, and even as I began Sadie’s story, I wasn’t sure how I could pull off an ending worthy of such a fellow. In the end, Will himself determined his fate. Without giving anything away, I will say that the villain can sometimes play the hero, too.