“Real” Steampunk with Viola Carr and Win a Book

First, HAPPY MARDI GRAS! Wish I was in NOLA today but the next-best thing? Wearing a purple jacket and “schwimp” Mardi Gras beads to the day job. They all think I’m weird anyway, so why not, right? This is as close as I’ll ever get to a “selfie.”

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Now, please join me in welcoming my good friend and fellow author, Viola Carr, to Preternatura today. Viola is dropping by to celebrate the release of her latest book, The Diabolical Miss Hyde. The Diabolical Miss Hyde was published on February 10 by Harper Voyager and is the first book in Viola’s Electric Empire series.

Viola Carr was born in a strange and distant land, but wandered into darkest London one foggy October evening and never found her way out. She now devours countless history books and dictates fantastical novels by gaslight, accompanied by classical music and the snoring of her slumbering cat. You can learn more about Viola by visiting her website, on Facebook and by following her on Twitter.

tdmhABOUT THE DIABOLICAL MISS HYDE: Magic, mystery, and romance mix in this edgy retelling of the classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-in which Dr. Eliza Jekyll is the daughter of the infamous Henry In an electric-powered Victorian London, Dr. Eliza Jekyll is a crime scene investigator, hunting killers with inventive new technological gadgets. Now, a new killer is splattering London with blood, drugging beautiful women and slicing off their limbs. Catching “the Chopper” could make Eliza’s career–or get her burned. Because Eliza has a dark secret. A seductive second self, set free by her father’s forbidden magical elixir: wild, impulsive Lizzie Hyde. When the Royal Society sends their enforcer, the mercurial Captain Lafayette, to prove she’s a sorceress, Eliza must resist the elixir with all her power. But as the Chopper case draws her into London’s luminous, magical underworld, Eliza will need all the help she can get. Even if it means getting close to Lafayette, who harbors an evil curse of his own. Even if it means risking everything and setting vengeful Lizzie free . . .

And now, let’s hear from Viola…

The authenticity (or not) of steampunk
By Viola Carr

You got it wrong.

The words every author of historical fiction – even steampunk quasi-historicals – dreads. It wasn’t really like that back then. She wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing X. People didn’t talk like Y. You got it wrong! *sneer, snark, deride, etc..*

Thing is, I’m a fantasy author first and foremost. Making things up is what I do. When I hear works that are clearly steampunk coming under attack from such nitpickers – especially the more recent kind of steampunk, which crosses genres with mystery or romance or what-have-you… (and there might lie the rub, folks. Romantic steampunk! Fantasy by women, for women! *sneer, snark, deride, etc.* But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post. Ahem. Back on topic…

When I hear steampunk under attack from such odd purists, I want to protest: ‘But this is a romp, not a thesis. It’s anviolacarr improbable fantasia on quasi-Victorian values, with magic and action and lashings of romance. It’s meant to be fun. It isn’t supposed to be serious fantasy!’

And then I stop, and I slap myself upside the head.

Serious fantasy.

Honestly. When did we all get so boring? When did fantasy lose its sense of wonder and imagination, and become about rules and definitions and my-side-your-side? And who says plot-driven fantasy can’t be ‘serious’?

Because ‘serious’ fantasy, of course, is supposed to equate to ‘real’ fantasy. As if fantasy isn’t valid art unless it’s got something deep and meaningful to say. The Only True Fantasy must be about ideas and issues, don’t you know, not just plot or character or fun stuff like airships and goggles!

Which is rubbish, and insidious rubbish at that.

Don’t get me wrong: I love epic fantasy. I adore grimdark. I could fangirl all day about The First Law and The Gunpowder Mage trilogies, and how awesome the grit and realism is in Song of Ice and Fire. I admire authors who write fantasy about feminism or alienation or equality. You can even catch me in the occasional gripe about window-dressing and cursory world-building in all genres of fantasy. An undiscerning reader I am not.

But I also adore a good romance. I’m unashamed that my historical fantasy is romantic, whimsical and sometimes improbable. I’ll argue all day that those elements don’t necessarily make a fantasy pointless or trite. It’s the author’s job to create a satisfying whole from whatever genre mash-up they’re attempting, and pasting on wallpaper that features cogs and airships in a story that isn’t about cogs and airships is not a failing of romantic steampunk in particular. It’s just lazy writing. World-building fitted after the fact makes a less compelling story than world-building that’s inextricable from the plot. In my opinion. YMMV. Some readers don’t care. Good luck to them.

But I maintain that’s a different basket of eels to historical ‘inaccuracy’, which in steampunk can and does serve the story. Steampunk is about anachronism. It asks “What if things weren’t the way they really were?” I’m not sure we as steampunk readers have much to complain about if everything isn’t strictly by the history books. And in romantic steampunk (which could just as easily have a capital R, as art for art’s sake, otherwise known as ‘fun’) we unapologetically spend additional page time developing the story’s emotional core.

Even in pure historical fiction, a little license can work wonders. Go watch Immortal Beloved and tell me you don’t have an emotional response to Beethoven’s imagined tragedies. Tell me you aren’t itching to personally chop off Thomas More’s head after reading Wolf Hall. ‘But it’s inaccurate!’ some people cry. ‘It’s revisionist! It’s pro-Reformation propaganda! Off with Hilary Mantel’s head!’
*head desk* People. Listen. Wolf Hall is historical fiction, for a modern audience, written in Cromwell’s point of view. Of course he rationalizes the dissolution of the monasteries and More’s execution. He’s the hero of his own story. That’s the whole point.

So if Dr. Eliza Jekyll, my heroine in The Diabolical Miss Hyde, says something that isn’t quite ‘authentic’, or wears garments that didn’t strictly exist? That would be because in her London, the sewers are full of fairy hybrids, alchemists sell their wares on street corners and someone went and invented the electric train forty years ahead of its time. Wouldn’t it be odder if she did speak and dress authentically?

The world of my Electric Empire series is shamelessly wacky, out-of-order and ass-about. Historical accuracy (whatever that means, in the context of an anachronistic genre) takes second place to voice, plot, picturesque settings, and characters I’d want to read about for fun.

Because romantic steampunk is ‘real fantasy’, dammit, and it’s still supposed to be fun. The way Deadwood and The Tudors are supposed to be fun, and gorgeous, and fabulous, and sexy, without too much worrying about whether the characters would really have talked like that or whether someone’s codpiece sports historically authentic dimensions. ‘The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely,’ wrote Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and added: ‘All art is quite useless.’ Amen, Oscar. Come over and watch Da Vinci’s Demons with me.

Honestly, nitpickers: we know. We did our research, believe it or not. If you want 100% historical accuracy, read a history book. Better still, read fifty history books – like most historical fantasy authors did, I can assure you, before they wrote a single word – and decide for yourself. Don’t read/watch one author’s vision, which they created for a modern audience’s entertainment, and sneer at them for ‘getting it wrong’.

Then again, go right ahead, if it makes you feel good. Who am I to stop you? But I’m sorry for you, because in my opinion, you’re missing out on some brilliant entertainment! For the rest of us: relax. It’s fantasy. Enjoy it.

Thanks, Viola. Congrats on the release of The Diabolical Miss Hyde, it’s near the top of my TBR pile right now.

I happen to know that some of the regular commenters here are fans of steampunk and I’ll be looking forward to reading their comments today. And, if you would like to be entered for your chance to win a copy of The Diabolical Miss Hyde, then you must leave a comment and perhaps good ol’ random.org will smile on you. Good luck!

24 thoughts on ““Real” Steampunk with Viola Carr and Win a Book

  1. A romp is the perfect word to describe steampunk. I totally agree with you Viola! That’s what I love so much about steampunk (or at least some of my favorites) they’re fun, sexy, scientific, mysterious, and hopefully a little dark. An author can really let their imagination go wild in that genre. There shouldn’t be any rules. Half of the adventure as a reader is anticipating how this author is going to set up their version of a steampunk world. I’d love to read this book! Love the idea of steampunk meets Hyde.

  2. My main desire is Urban Fantasy. In time it has expanded some to Paranormal Romance, thanks to Susannah Sandlin. And some Science Fiction, thanks to Gini Koch. Then yes, some Steampunk, thanks to Pip Ballentine & Tee Morris. Just ordered The Diabolical Miss Hyde, another new to me series thanks to today’s post. My poor TBR pile just grows and grows. Good thing I’m retired.

  3. I love anachronistic stories! If I wanted to read about historical accuracy, I would seek out the same materials these authors are using as research for their worldbuilding. But half the fun of anachronistic stories *IS* the changes that are made. The only time I worry about “historical inaccuracies” is if it detracts from the story. If a character in a steampunk is running around saying “as if” and “talk to the hand” or other really weird clearly-20th-century things, that’s going to take me out of the narrative and make me question what the heck the writer is doing. Buuuut most stories are better than that 🙂

  4. I have read some steampunk and did not imagine that readers would nitpick historical accuracy in this genre. It made me chuckle and want to tell them, “Oh, get over yourselves!:” *shakes head at the silliness of it all*

  5. I love Steampunk especially because it introduces fun and weird stuff to a historical setting, making it exciting and new. Who doesn’t love strange contraptions and and steam powered monstrosities?!

  6. i do love some steampunk but it’s true i haven’t read that many either, this oen does tempt me. i do love the anachromism in this genre it add to teh humour

  7. oh I totally agree with your post! I like reading all of the different interpretations of “steampunk” b/c that’s exactly what it is.. interpretation. How each author “reinvents the wheel” in their unique space/world is half the fun! And if I don’t like or agree, I put it down and pick up another 🙂 I’m dying to get my hands on this book, though! Thanks for the awesome post and best of luck with the series!

  8. Lol that necklace is creepy Susannah, those paws and things are almost wiggling for real.
    I do enjoy some steampunk, and why shouldn’t there be romance in it? My first encounter was with Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. I’ve not enjoyed everything I tried (nano-technology was a bridge too far for me!) but I love the inventiveness, the strange contraptions and the freedom of the usual rules.
    I have to admit, I have been a nitpicker once though, with an historical romance. The heroine kept saying those totally modern things, that irritate me in real life, let alone in my beloved fiction.
    But mostly, if I get lost in a good story, I don’t really notice details like that, it is all just part of a good book.

  9. Steampunk is a new genre for me. I enjoy retellings of classics and a female Jekyll/Hyde is intriguing. Love the cover too! The Diabolical Miss Hyde is now on my TBR list.

  10. If you were writing historical fiction or historical romance, I would expect you to do your homework and get the details as correct as you can. But you’re writing historical fantasy, so I would come to your work with no expectation of accuracy (though I like it personally when writers at least strive for accuracy. I think it improves the over-all flavor of the story.)

    But in steampunk, plots are so generally off the wall, complaining about inaccuracies does seem a little silly. I haven’t come across a historical fantasy that was wholly accurate yet, but I’ve still enjoyed some of them despite that.

  11. I love steampunk; I am into Gail Carriger so much now. I wish I didn’t have to sleep so I could read more steampunk authors. I really don’t care about the accuracy of the history, I want the stories, character development and fantasy.

  12. I love steampunk, and I’m always so excited to see a new steampunk story coming out, especially one with an interesting twist. I added The Diabolical Miss Hyde to my wish list as soon as I ran across it the first time. 😀

  13. I love steampunk because you never know what you are going to find in the story. Wacky gadgets, interesting costumes, challenging the social mores and usually fascinating characters. I will have to add your book to my TBR pile.

  14. I love how steampunk mixes the sensibilities of Victorian times with the fantastical machines that seem to spring from the minds of Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci, chews them all up, and spits out wonderful things. Add in sassy, exciting characters and you have a genre that’s pure fun. I can’t wait to read this book!

  15. I don’t read a lot of Steampunk but I read and write Dieselpunk.
    I think in the end, it all comes down to what the author is after. Not all Dieselpunk (and I suppose, not all Steampunk) is the same. Some authors stay closer to the Era, some other stride far away from history. I think this is where ‘accuracy’ comes into play.

    I chose to write a Dieselpunk which is as close as possible to history (the Twenties, for me), so if a reader told me something is inaccurate, it would sure bother me. I did everything I could to make my world as historically accurate as possible and I hope the reader with get this… together with the fantasy part 😉
    But if an author just go for the feel of it and then creates a completely new world that only resembles the historical era, I suppose historical accuracy will have far less importance. This author will be more concerned in creating a believable secondary reality… and the reader should get it.

    In the end, I think the reader should always get what the author is after (which is our job as authors to make it happene) and judge the story based on the author’s parameters (which is their job as readers to be able doing).

  16. And that’s why it is called historical *fiction*. One should be celebrating/having fun with the authors imagination, that takes you to fantastical places and alternate realities, rather than criticizing perceived inaccuracies of history!

    Although I do think that a codpiece should sport historically authentic dimensions 😀

    This book sounds wonderful – good luck with the series!

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