Steampunk at Romance Writers of America 30

Leanna Renee  Hieber gets a Prism Award at The GatheringLeanna Renee Hieber gets a Prism Award at The GatheringSTEAMPUNK PANEL AT RWA 30

This summer was the thirtieth anniversary of the Romance Writer's of America, and the RWA conference took place in Orlando, Florida in July. There were two steampunk themed events: the steampunk panel and The Gathering, in which the best Steampunk costume won a prize.

The Panel Description:
15-054 It's Not About the Goggles: the Allure of Steampunk Romance.
Speakers: Shelley Adina Bates,  Cindy Holby, Jennifer Jackson, agent, and Suzanne Lazear. Steampunk is more than the juxtaposition of Victorian parlors and H.G. Wells’ inspired technologies. Learn about the roots of steampunk, its tropes and themes, and how to combine science fiction and history to create it.

Cindy Holby and Suzanne LazearCindy Holby and Suzanne Lazear
Suzanne Lazear has blogged about this panel here and here and about her RWA experience here.

Each panelist took a turn at defining what Steampunk is. Lazear writes about steampunk and fairies.  Her book Innocent Darkness will be released by Flux in 2012. Steampunk, Lazear said, Goths Discover the Color Brown. It can also be categorized as "Jules Verne on Crack." Steampunk describes an alternative culture where things are driven by steam. This culture can be set anywhere, anytime, and can contain paranormal elements, though not necessarily. Gadgets ARE required. The aesthetics are Victorian, even if not set in the Victorian era. Most importantly, Steampunk is about invention.

Lara Nance and Leslie WitwerLara Nance and Leslie Witwer

Cindy Holby is currently working on several different projects that include a Victorian mystery with steampunk elements and a cowboy hero. Cindy talked about the Character of Steampunk. She gave Richard Harland's YA book Worldshaker as an example: a mix of mysticism of the 19th century (such as that of the Brontës or Arthur Conan Doyle @font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } with technology. What if Einstein and Edison had never been born? It's important to incorporate a great character, like the great characters of 19th century literature: Alice, the Wizard of Oz, Oliver Twist, Frankenstein, Heathcliff and Catherine.


It's important not to take  modern characters and put them in a costume. Your readers in any genre have to build the world through the character’s eyes. To the characters this stuff is normal. That way the reader can accept the world as you create it.




There are pitfalls in everyday language. Steampunk is an alternate history.
Her basics for writing characters:  a distinguishing trait,  the description of the character,  what rises to the top under extreme pressure.

Cindy's las piece of advice: a lot of editors are still trying to figure out what steampunk is, so write the best book you can.

Shelley Adina talked about the settings, people and technology of steampunk. Setting, people, technology. Settings can be Victorian England, or the Weird West with Automatons. You can use something from the period like steam locomotives, but you have to amp it up, put it on crack. You can send your Jules Verne characters to the moon on an ornithopter. The Victorian era goes from 1841-1910 (anything from WWII is called dieselpunk).

A big theme is Exploration: exploratory trips up the Amazon. The character in her latest book is an explorer. You can use and tweak historical characters. In the Difference Engine Lord Byron was prime minister. In her book Charle’s Darwin’s son is prime minister, and a supporter of technology.

The people of these world's are scientists. The maker mindset is very important in steampunk; steampunk is all about creation, the pursuit of intellect and knowledge, put to projects like the building of time machines like Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, or building automatons or large machines.



Lizzie NewellLizzie Newell

The Victorian era wasn't the best place for women, so it is more of a challenge to have fully rounded women characters.

Women’s issues are hot. Invention is the way to break out. She can be self actualized at the beginning or self actualize as you go along. Invention is key here as well, for example in

Girl Genius. There is a Victorian sense of wonder at this technology, such as in the crystal palace shows, the sense that humanity is a wonderful thing. There is clockwork run by steam, the steam locomotive, the maker mindset, the raygun, giant iron spiders, batallions of robot artillery men fighting the Civil War.

Batallions of robot artillery men
Fighting civil war

The Punk in steampunk comes from its anti-establishment stance, from building a world outside of the law.

In steampunk the charcters, whether right or wrong, TRULY believe that they are making the world better.





Suzanne LazearSuzanne LazearJennifer Jackson gave us a list of steampunk books to read to get more familiar with the genre.

Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and Clementine.

Boneshaker and Clementine
Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

Infinity Bridge by George Mann

Alchemy of Stone (robots in battle!)

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.

Airborne Kenneth  -- adventures of an airship

Mortal Instruments Trilogy – Catherine

romance examples include:

Clockwork Heart by Drew Paglossetti


Iron Duke by  Meljean Brooks: nanotech infused with Victorian sensibilities.

Soulless and its sequels.

This link contains Garrigers definition of steampunk and a list of good steampunks book to read.

Paul di Filippo wrote The Steampunk Trilogy and other steampunk works.

Jeff and Anne Vandermeer’s Steampunk Anthology

Heather Massey blogs for sci fi romance


Ester Lopez at the GatheringEster Lopez at the Gathering


Jackson reminded us that readers are looking for steampunk romance. To reach them, don't just put goggles on the character. The steampunk elements have to be core to the story.

If you can take the steampunk out of the story
And the story still works, then it is not steampunk.

Common missteps in submissions:
When blending genres the various elements have to be well balanced.

Do enough research into your historical setting
You are writing an alternative history.
You need to know the rules before you break them

Don’t play it safe: Victoian England is safe.

Steampunk as separate from literature.
What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner. The mixture of Imperialism and technology. There is a perceived need to return to simpler times that steampunk caters to. Avoid mass production.

Steampunk is not just a literary movement. It's in music (Gilded age records), Anime, movies
Steam detectives, Steamboy, TV series such as the Wild Wild West  and Brisco County Jr.

Focus on those elements. Go to that cutting edge, not the bleeding edge.

Cindy Holby added that publishers want to go with the tried and true. She predicted that the trend would really break out in a couple of years.



Q&A part of the panel:
Who is buying steampunk?

Ya Pocket



Subterranean Press


Q: Technology
How much of an invention has to be believable, or explained?

When in doubt blame it on the aether.

Any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic
The character has to believe it
Then the character will believe. The movie

THE PRESTIGE has steampunk elements.

The Darker side of Steampunk. there are colonizers and imperialism in steampunk, the inventions have sinister undertones. What if the entire world was conquered?

Jay Lakes Mainsrping: Clockpunk technology – to keep Queen Victoria from dying.
The dark side is under utilized.
Steampunk: a rebellion against industrialization
Like cyberpunk, a rebellion against the information era

Lazear: had a short list of agents
Then got published without one
Her agent  is now Laura Bradford

Useful Blogs:

Debuts and reviews
Half the books they discuss are steampunk