originally published December 1, 2013
First, I Fell in Love
I fell in love with Steampunk when a good friend opened the door to the 1800s, pushed me in and shut the door.
But, like so many affairs, it was short-lived. Steamy, mystifying, intense and then over.
It all started when I met Lily Stargazer, Lord Byron’s lover, before her debut in Melanie Karsak’s Chasing the Star Garden…
Melanie had contacted me not long after she self-published The Harvesting, a zombie apocalypse story with a strong heroine but a convenient plot. She asked me if I could read/edit a beta version of her new novel; she wanted it pristine before shopping it out to agents. She said it was “Steampunk.” I had no idea what that meant, but I said yes.
Four hours and a book later, I was as addicted to Lily Stargazer as Lily Stargazer was addicted to opium. (For those who know me, the fact that I was reading a book with heavy drug use – an “addiction story” – was in and of itself a complete miracle. I hate drugs in life and in fiction.)
This new “genre” – Steampunk – was giving me everything I’d been yearning for as a reader. Adventure. Historical information, both fiction and fact. Excellent characters who challenged my beliefs and made be believe in humanity. And so I was in love.
I loved Chasing the Star Garden. But did I love Steampunk?
I went looking for more Steampunk the next morning, but I wasn’t impressed. I read a few first chapters here and there from small presses and self-pubbed authors, and I found nothing equaling the little taste I’d gotten. Was this love affair over?
I decided to ask some trusted readerly friends and trend connoisseurs I knew for their version of Steampunk. This is what I got:
“You think it’s up and coming? It’s actually outdated…”
“Yeah, it’s an old trend from the ‘90s,” my husband said. “You can see some of its influence in Firefly, but it never really went anywhere.”
From the 90s? Old trend? I thought it was a rising star. Apparently not.
“The cult following will annoy you.”
I quickly learned that some steampunkers are ex-gothers – the type always “committed to a cult.” As Michael’s comment suggested, I soon found the main audience for steampunk was a tad annoying to me.
“I’d never heard of it before, but here’s some awesome Steampunk jewelry I just found!”
“Nope, never heard of it. But funny you should bring it up,” my friend Vanessa said. “The open house at Oregon Kitchen this coming Thursday has a Steampunk jewelry artist coming in from Soho. She’s got some cool stuff.”
I went to Oregon Kitchen, a local consignment shop, and indeed found some cool jewelry. But no evidence of awesome literary Steampunk.
I kept looking
I kept researching, but I found no evidence of a viable Steampunk market at early glance. And the corners of the interwebs dedicated to Steampunk, to me, were cold and culty. I started to feel I’d been duped. The Stargazer series might be the only Steampunk I like.
And then this happened
I wasn’t sure how to talk to Melanie about this, but I soon after received from her more validation that I wasn’t the only one who’d never heard of Steampunk and who was confused by my first little taste.
A prominent – and very good – literary agent provided Melanie with a reader’s report after sadly delivering a rejection. It was a glowing report about how much the reader loved the story and how easily she fell into and devoured it because of excellent pacing and character development. But. Was it YA? Too much drugs and sex. Was it adult? Too fantastical. (How can she mash up a real historical character with fictional characters, and technologies that don’t belong in that time period? The report said.) Clearly, the reader had never heard of Steampunk either.
Bottom line of the reader’s report: the book doesn’t know what it wants to be and so doesn’t have a market. Reject.
I told Melanie the world just wasn’t ready for Lily’s story, that it was ahead of it’s time. She wrote back, sadly, she thought not. She said there was plenty of other stuff out there that was Steampunk and good. Since then, I’ve seen a few things come out that are promising, but they certainly weren’t available back in June.
Back then, I hadn’t found anything Steampunk that a) the general public knew about and b) I can truly say is as good of a story as Chasing the Star Garden. My experience working on this book with Melanie is what inspired me to start this blog. It’s meant to break down the silos that have naturally built in publishing (traditional and self) because we as readers needed genres to help define what we like. Well, maybe we don’t need genres anymore. We just need good stories. And who knows… maybe my love affair isn’t finished after all.
Since I first drafted this post, I was most humbly honored and surprised to learn that Melanie dedicated Chasing the Star Garden to me. It’s beyond an honor to have a writer that I respect so much tie me to her book in such a way. I will forever be humbled and grateful.
Buy Chasing the Star Garden on Amazon.