A Dash of Steampunk

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by Kathleen Y’Barbo

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.” Some are hybrids of science fiction and other elements, 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.

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, 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.
Millies Treasure
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. 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 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. 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?

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. Now what sort of invention will add to my next novel? The sky’s the limit.

Kathleen YBarbo Aug 2013Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a Carol Award and RITA nominee of 47 novels with over one million books in print. She has earned a Career Achievement Award, Reader’s Choice Awards, Romantic Times Book of the Year, and several Romantic Times Top Picks, including Millie’s Treasure, releasing August 1.

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