A Very Sad Story About Something You’ve Never Heard Of

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?

Empty Speech Bubble

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 It’s actually outdated…”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.”

“Oh god. My sister won’t stop talking about it. Add Hans Solo and goggles, and it makes a story ‘steampunk,’” my friend Michael ranted.

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.

2014 Pure Slush – A Symphony of Story

January 2014Matt Potter’s Pure Slush monthly anthology gives you a new story for each day of the month. Weaved together by the number of days. It’s truly unique.

Each story is a fully contained flash, but follow a day (example, Jan., Mar. Apr. 29) and you’ll see that each flash for that number builds a larger narrative.

The monthly anthologies are a great way to have stories sing around you in symphony and to meet new writers who are pushing the boundaries of narrative and writing on topics as varied as the days of a month.

Read on Kindle

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

April 2014

May 2014

Glass Animals, By Stephen V. Ramey

Story 1: Into the Woods

(published with permission)

Billy stood in the scrubland, shivering from the cold. He carried a backpack loaded with his favorite things, Teddy the Wonderbear, a book: Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss—Billy wished Tiger hadn’t shredded the cover, but he still liked the story fine—a peanut butter and tomato sandwich with the crust cut off. Ahead, tire tracks marked the ground into a tangle of scrubby trees. Beyond, the setting sun packed the horizon with shades of orange.

Daddy had driven his Jeep into the woods two days earlier. He hadn’t come back. Since Mom refused to talk about it, Billy had decided to find out for himself where the road led and why Daddy had gotten lost. It certainly did look like the sort of forest a person would get lost in. Billy found himself wishing he had saved pieces of crust to drop. That hadn’t worked too well for Hansel, but was better than nothing.

A crow cawed. Others answered until raucous laughter poured over the darkening ground. Billy’s gaze went to a tree taller than the others, its branch loaded with birds. The backpack dragged at his shoulder. He set it down, and knelt to pray.

“Thank you for the food we eat. Thank you for the world so sweet. Thank you for the birds that sing. Thank you God for everything. Amen.” He crossed himself and started to stand, but thought better. “Please let me find Daddy,” he whispered. Tears stung his eyes. “And don’t let those birds get me.”

Billy started walking. It seemed to take forever to cross the sandy soil. A crow launched and fell toward him. “Caw! Caw!” were the sounds in his ear, “Go away!” the words he heard.

“I’m going to find my Dad!” he shouted. The bird flapped past his head, and flew back to the tree. A shiver shook Billy so hard it nearly dislodged the backpack. He clung tightly to the strap.

He couldn’t see more than a few steps into the woods. He thought of the Mickey Mouse nightlight plugged by his bed. There was another in the hall in case he had to go to the bathroom. Daddy had told him he was big enough to do that on his own. He didn’t feel big enough now. He wanted to run back to the house and jump into Mom’s fleshy arms. He wanted to hear her voice. He couldn’t do that. He had to rescue his dad. Daddy would never leave them alone. Something had happened. He sniffed. The forest smelled of vegetation, a hint of pine sap. No trace of Daddy’s Old Spice, or the Jeep’s acrid exhaust.

Biting his lip, Billy stepped into darkness. A chill settled over him, dense like a blanket, only cold. He stepped again. If he stayed between tire ruts he should be all right, but what if crows were not the only thing inhabiting these woods? He unzipped the backpack with trembling fingers, and took out his sandwich. It was a sloppy mess, the bread soggy. He tore at an edge. No. Scattering bread wouldn’t work; the crows would eat it.

What about tomato? Some of the chill left him. He tore apart a tomato slice and dropped a piece at his feet. His fingers slimed with peanut butter. He licked them clean, relishing the sweet smell of Mom’s pantry. The feeling that went through him was like opening his eyes to the nightlight after a bad dream. Emboldened, he took another step, dropped another tomato bit.

Sometime later, he held the final sliver of tomato on his palm. “Well, I can’t give up now,” he said. Hearing his own voice scared him a little. He fought down his fear. “I’m going to find my dad no matter what.”

“Who?” an owl hooted. Eyes glistened.

“My dad,” Billy said, puffing his chest. He dropped the tomato, and continued. It seemed like hours that he walked and, still, the woods went on. The sky dimmed, then darkened. He could barely see his feet now. At least the moon was almost full. It watched over him through the canopy of twisting branches.

The cold seeped into his toes and fingers. He stomped and flexed, but it did little good. Soon, the chill had seeped into his mind too, and even his heart shivered with every beat. In a way, it was good, though, because when something rustled beside the path, he was able to ignore it and keep walking. The only warmth inside him now came from the flame of his purpose. He would find Daddy, no matter what.

He barely noticed the sky brighten. All of a sudden the moon was gone, and blue sky filled the voids between branches. He had walked all night. He should eat breakfast. He opened the backpack, and found the sandwich gone. He must have eaten it while he walked.

Weird. It felt like he had lost something else overnight too, something important. But maybe he had gained something too. He was no longer afraid of the woods, no longer afraid of the dark. A grin overtook him. Dad would say that was part of becoming a big boy. He could hardly wait to hear it from Dad’s lips. His strides lengthened.

It was midmorning when he reached the forest’s end. He stepped into sunshine, the warmth of it soaking his skin. The numbing cold released. He had done it! He ripped the backpack from his shoulder, and whipped it into the underbrush. He no longer needed it, was glad to be free of its clinging weight.

The road continued as far as he could see. No jeep, no Dad, no sign of habitation. Another woods smudged the distance, another woods like the one he had crossed. It was too much. Fatigue flooded over him, knocked him to his knees.

“Daddy!” he screamed. “Daddy, where are you?” Tears ran down his cheeks. Snot sagged from his nose. He brought his palms to his face, and leaned into them.

Fingers gripped his shoulder. He shrieked. The hand pulled him around until he looked into Mom’s sad eyes. Her other hand held his backpack. It carried a few dead leaves, but was otherwise intact. Billy took it. It was heavier than he remembered.

“Daddy’s gone,” he said.

“I know, sweetie, I know.” She drew Billy to his feet. In the distance, a crow screamed, then another.

Without a word, Mom led him back along the tire track path. He clung to her skirt. She smelled of apples and cinnamon, of buns rising behind the oven door glass. But there was something more complicated too, some hidden scent Billy could not grasp.

Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania, once the tin mill capital of the world. His work has appeared in many places, from Microliterature and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, to Strange Horizons and Daily Science Fiction. He is the editor for the Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink and for the speculative twitterzine, trapeze. Find him at www.stephenvramey.com

Buy Glass Animals on Amazon or for Kindle

Steampunk – A Genre or a Style?

An acquaintance of mine very eloquently described Steampunk to me as a style not a genre. And he’s right. Steampunk style rocks. (Here’s what the NYT had to say about it in the fashion world in 2008.) Here are just a few places I’ve seen it used as a style recently:

Game of Thrones opening theme: Game of Thrones is more fantasy than sci-fi, but the opening theme no doubt has some awesome tinker-y gear action:

Disney’s Festival of Fantasy Parade, Spring 2014. An early look I caught of Mickey and Minnie’s Hot Air Balloon looks air-ship-y to me. Here’s an image from Hong Kong’s float in 2012. And look. Goggles!

Oprah wearing a bright full gown and a top hat. Victorian and then some.

Are you new to Steampunk? This is the book that made me fall in love with it. It might engulf you, too..

Steampunk. Always Ahead of Its Time. How Apropo.

My foray into Steampunk has me looking for Steampunk influence anywhere in our culture. Every time I find it, it’s trying to be part of mass culture, but it’s disconnected and ahead of it’s time. How annoyingly apropo.

Firefly: Released in 2002. Tanked. Ranked cult in 2005. Loved by 2009. Talked about in Entertainment Weekly by 2012.

What makes it Steampunk: Tinkering. Anachronistic language, dress and behavior. Technology that doesn’t exist – because it’s in a future time period. Goggles. Courtesan. Airships.

What makes it ahead of its time: It aired, flopped, failed and succeed years later.

Cloud Atlas: Released 2012 bringing in only ~$27 million against a $102 million budget (IMDB). Has huge names in the industry but was produced independently and with horrible marketing (IMHO). Seem to be gaining some interest in 2013; released through HBO and HBOGo just recently.

What makes it Steampunk: Alternative futures and histories. Story lines that defy time. The devil in a top hat. Airships.

What makes it ahead of it’s time: The movie Babel successfully intertwined multiple story lines similarly to Cloud Atlas, but the mass market may not be ready for multiple story lines across time. Cloud Atlas requires us to bend our concept of past and future lives, fate and time itself. But physicists are working on bending time… we might best well get used to the idea.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Released 2003 with an estimated budget of $78 million. Grossing £7,319,844 (IMDB). What? There’s a skip in the figures there, a skip across the pond, IMDB…

What makes it Steampunk: Everything. It’s set in an alternative Victorian age with sci-fi and fantasy characters coming out of nowhere.

What makes it ahead of it’s time: The UK and South Africa seem to get it, but the US still doesn’t (?). A few cultists probably do… So, well. This one may not every succeed here. But it’s a great example of steampunk at large that at-first failed.

Here are some more examples of Steampunk that pop up in story, books, movies, videogames, etc.: http://lettherebedragons.com/steampunk/

Are you new to Steampunk? This is the book that made me fall in love with it. It might engulf you, too.