The curious thing about steampunk is that most people aren’t aware that they’ve secretly liked it because they didn’t know such a thing had a name. That was me.
In high school my mother had one rule about formals for school dances, if I wanted one, I had to sew it myself. Since I’d been good friends with my sewing machine since age 8, this wasn’t such a hindrance as an opportunity. Most of my formals ended up with a lot of Victorian flair. There was even an over-skirt and bustle on one!
I also happen to be a hopeless tea addict with a collection of teapots and a taste for tea from Whittard’s of Chelsea, thanks to a friend who lived in London for a few years. I have always been fascinated by Victorian architecture and clothing. Other little girls asked their mothers for calendars featuring fluffy kittens or cute puppies. I wanted the one that was Victorian houses, complete with floor plans. I also subscribed as a teen to the magazine Victoriana and live in a “new” Victorian house. (So really, you see really this is something that’s been brewing beneath the surface for some time now.)
So when I came up with an idea about a trio of brothers in the Wild West who were supernatural Hunters in 1998, I didn’t actually realize I was writing steampunk. All of them were named after their father’s favorite guns: Winchester, Remington and Colt. I knew that the oldest was a lawman, the middle brother an attorney and the youngest a gunslinger/outlaw.
What I didn’t know is how they fit together, their history of how they became what they were. Fast forward ten years. In watching the television show Supernatural, I began to think, hey what would it have been like to have these hunters in the West or Victorian times? How would they have functioned, who would they have been, would they have had a secret society that trained them? I merged that idea with my brothers and found out what I had was a Steampunk story-line.
My brothers are hunters in the Weird Wild West. They have an inventor friend who creates and maintains the unusual weapons they use to find and hunt down demons, shapeshifters, ghosts, vampires and the like. My youngest brother rides a mechanical clockwork horse. I have a vampire Countess who has a dirigible. Applying the Steampunk aesthetic to my book made it so much better! It was like finding the missing jigsaw piece that made the whole thing work. The whole series has come together in three books called The Legend Chronicles and the first one, The Hunter, will be out in Nov. 2011, followed by The Slayer in April 2012 and The Chosen in early 2013.
Now I have had some people say, wait, you can’t set steampunk in the West. Actually yes, you can. While the word Victorian makes people think of England, the truth was it was an era that lasted for almost 70 years. The fantastic thing about the steampunk aesthetic is that it is so completely versatile. From Far East to Wild West, you can create settings and characters that are anywhere in any decade of the Victorian era (for that matter even outside that time if you look at H.G. Well’s Time Machine). That said, there are a number of character archetypes you can use when creating costumes or ideas of your own.
Some of the most common character archetypes found in Steampunk include: Adventurer, Airship Captain, Aviator/Aviatrix, Aristocrat, Cardsharp, Cowboy, Dandy, Explorer (which is different from Adventurer because they are more specific in their pursuit, like an archeologist or botanist), Femme Fatale/Soiled Dove, Hunter/Fighter, Inventor, Mad Scientist, Lolita, Mechanic, Military Man/Woman, Pirate, Professor, Reporter, Snakeoil Salesman, Suffragette, Tycoon (different than aristocrat because these are the garish new rich who have working class roots and like to flaunt their wealth.)
So how do you make these archetypes fresh? One way is by putting them in different settings. For example by taking a typical archetype and blending it in with an unusual setting, you could certainly see how a Femme Fatale in China might come across as a Dragon Lady or a Dandy in the Wild West might have a more Southern Gentlemen styling to his clothing. A Snakeoil Salesman in Australia would be very different from one in the American West. And a Lolita in Russia will likely look very different from one in Japan, or even Argentina during this same Victorian era. Are they all equally valid? Absolutely!
For the more outlandish fantasy type archetypes such as airship captain, the country of origin might play into how their ship is constructed and out of what materials. For instance an airship captain from China might be flying something more akin to a junk, while one from Britain might have a three or four-masted barque that flies. Think how different the pirates appeared in the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie when they came from all different parts of the world.
You can also blend archetypes. For instance what if you had an inventor who is also a suffragette? What kinds of inventions is she going to create to advance her cause of women gaining the right to vote? How different would a cowboy aviator from your standard aviator?
Steampunk is a world of endless ideas just waiting to be explored. So what about you? If you had to pick a character and dress the part, what would you pick?
Here’s a taste of The Hunter, coming out 11-1-11 from Zebra.
by Theresa Meyers
Price is $6.99
Zebra paranormal romance with steampunk elements
They’re the Chosen—Winchester, Remington and Colt—brothers trained to hunt down supernatural beings using the latest steam-powered gadgetry. It’s a hard legacy to shoulder, and it’s about to get a lot more dangerous…
A DEVIL OF A JOB
Colt Jackson has gotten his name on many a wanted poster with success in the family business: hunting supernaturals across the frontier. Lately, though, there’s a sulfur stink in the wind and the Darkin population is exploding. A rift in the worlds is appearing. To close it, Colt will have to do the unthinkable and work with a demon to pass arcane boundaries no human alone can cross.
Except when he summons his demon, he doesn’t get some horned monstrosity: he gets a curvy redheaded succubus named Lilly, who’s willing to make a bargain to become human again. He also gets Lilly’s secret expertise on the machinations on the dark side of the rift. And her charm and cleverness help to get them out of what his silver-loaded pistol and mechanical horse can’t. Of course, when all hell breaks loose, he might have to sacrifice his soul. But what’s adventure without a little risk?
Everything in the little mining town turned ice hub in Arizona Territory seemed coated with a ghostly layer of grit, even the chipped crystal chandeliers overhead. He felt the grit in his lungs and in his nostrils. It stunk of putrid eggs and worse, probably from the smoke stacks billowing white outside against an endless cerulean sky. He picked up his smeared, nearly empty glass of ice water leaving behind a dark ring in the pale dust on the scarred, liquor sticky table.
Hell, the only reason he’d stopped in Wickenburg in the first place was for the ice. Ever since the mines deep in the desert had flooded out, and ingenious businessmen replaced the old rock crushers with steam-powered freeze machines, ice had become one of the most profitable commodities next to copper, gold and silver in this special little sizzling corner of hell on earth. He glared at his glass. The ice water had cost him almost as much as a good whiskey.
The lithe blonde saloon girl he’d been eyeing since he walked in strolled toward him across the warped wooden floorboards worn smooth from the sand of so many boots, her hips swaying to the sound of the out-of-tune piano plunking away near the stairs that led up to the rented rooms on the second floor. The cheap glass beading on her dark blue off the shoulder dance hall dress flashed in the illumination of the gaslights overhead creating sparkles to dance along the curves of her pale cleavage.
“Would you like some company, sugar?” Her smile didn’t reach her heavily kohled eyes. She was anywhere between sixteen and thirty. How many men had she had? Worse, did he really care? He wanted the comfort of someone who smelled sweet and womanly. Someone in whose arms he could forget, if only for a few hours, who and what he was.
Colt smiled wide. Enough women had told him his smile was dead gorgeous that he’d learned when to use it to his advantage. He’d dressed with more care than usual tonight, in clean black trousers, a white starched shirt and black brocade vest threaded with a pattern of silver and blue he’d been told matched the blue in his eyes. Seemed the effort had been worth it. “Yes, ma’am.”
She cuddled up beside him, throwing a long leg, bare to the thigh, over his. “So what brings you to Wickenberg, cowboy?”
He slid a hand over her smooth thigh. “Hunting.”
She let out a husky laugh, full red lips tilting up in a come hither pout. “Most men here are lookin’ to strike it rich in ice. But I knew you was different the moment I saw you. In fact, I’ve seen your face before. What’s your name?”
Colt tensed. He worked fairly hard at keeping a low profile, but every now and then a completely unwarranted wanted poster tended to circulate with his likeness. “Colt Jackson.”
“Relax, handsome,” she said, rubbing her hand over his chest, delving beneath the edge of his vest. He felt the heat of her hand through his shirt as her soft fingers stroked right over his heart. “We get outlaws in here all the time.”
Yeah, but Colt seriously doubted they were anything like him. Her constant kneading touch began to drain the tension out of his shoulders, but only a little. His gun hand had started itching the moment he’d stepped into the bar, and his instincts had never steered him wrong before. Something in this little town wasn’t right.
“So are you famous? Are you dangerous?” she asked, her fingers threading through his shock of dark, nearly black hair as she wiggled on his lap. Her perfume was way too strong, and verging on unpleasant. Her skin under all that make up looked dirty. Her blonde hair felt stiff and brittle beneath his fingers and he dropped his hand to her waist feeling whalebone and crisp satin, not silky skin.
“Not exactly,” Colt muttered, finding her less appealing by the moment. “Really more like a modern Robin Hood.”
Glossy ruby lips pouted. “It’s so much more fun when you’re dangerous.” He realized that it didn’t matter how much he wanted or needed a woman right now, a tumble wasn’t going to give him what he truly wanted and could never have—a home, a place where he belonged. No matter how delectable she looked, she wouldn’t satisfy the deeper craving.
These days nothing could. There wasn’t a way to feed the hunger that gnawed deep down, belly-deep. It bit into his bones and wouldn’t let go. Hunting was a like a drug. Once a man knew supernaturals existed, he saw them everywhere. Once a Hunter knew that those creatures were the cause behind deaths no one else could explain, duty lay heavy on his shoulders.
Once a Hunter started hunting, he couldn’t just stop.
Evil didn’t take a holiday. Hunting wasn’t a profession, it was a way of life.
For an instant he wished he could be like his older brothers, Winchester and Remington, upstanding citizens who didn’t run from place to place even if they too were named after his pa’s favorite guns. While the Jackson brothers looked a lot alike on the outside, with their pa’s jet hair and wide shoulders and their ma’s blue-green eyes and winning smile, they were different as could be on the inside.
Winn was a solid, steady, ordinary man. Remy straddled the line, looking respectable but hunting on the side. But being like Winn and Remy wasn’t his destiny. No, Colt had every intention of living up to the family legend his pa Cyrus “Black Jack” Jackson had started as one of the most notorious outlaws of the western territories, rather than living it down like his brothers. That was the life of a Hunter. Tracking down supernatural monsters one at a time and killing them to make the world a safer place. Winn and Remy may have shirked their responsibilities to the Legion of Hunters, but he never would.
“So tell me somthin’ mister. If you’re a gun slinger where’s your gun?” She snaked a hand down to wrap around the inside of his thigh, rubbing suggestively at his groin and wriggling her bottom into his lap. That got his attention. It’d been a long time since he’d rested long enough to find a woman. If he’d been a less focused man all the blood would have drained out of his brain right then and there regardless of how she’d looked.
With practiced ease she slipped one leg over the far side so she straddled him. The damp heat of her seeped right through his britches. He let out a ragged breath and she pressed forward, her soft breasts pushing against his chest as she skimmed the tip of her soft slick tongue along his neck.
Then he heard it. Right next to his ear. The distinct sudden flick of a vampire’s fangs being extended. He caught a sudden whiff of sulfur so strong it burned.
Colt reared up from the chair, but the vampire clung to him, her smooth legs firmly encasing his middle with the strength of a metal handcuff. Knowing he had only seconds to act, he shoved an arm between them, pushing her away from the blood pumping hard and fast in his neck.
Her face was warped beyond recognition, the brows protruded and bent, the eyes red, feral and hungry, her fangs twin white daggers bracketed by stretched ruby red lips. “Now, hunter, you will die.”
He looked her straight in those red eyes and didn’t flinch. “Ladies first.”
With his free hand he pulled the Stun Shooter from the holster at his hip. A high-pitch keening sound split the air an instant before he shot her point blank in the stomach.
The arc of bright blue electricity catapulted her to the floor with a thick thud. She writhed and bucked on the floor like a beached fish, smoke curling in a black wisp from between her red lips.
The piano abruptly stopped. Half a dozen screams echoed in the bar as people came up from their crouch on the floor and stared at the barmaid, then at Colt with accusing eyes. Her face had already returned to its human shape. Her fangs retracted as she lay on the floor in a spreading, glistening black pool that leaked from two charred and smoking holes seared straight through her.
Shit. He hadn’t intended for it to kill her, merely stun her senseless. That would teach him to use one of Marley Turlock’s inventions before it was fully cooked. Marley was a brilliant inventor, but sometimes his ambitions outpaced his execution.
Colt knew better than to wait until the town’s people could get their hands on him and string him up on the nearest tree. So he did what any sensible Hunter would do. He ran like hell.
Today, Theresa is giving away an autographed ARC of The Hunter and a hand-made beaded bookmark. To enter, answer Theresa's question above: if you had to pick a character and dress the part, what would you pick? Or comment on her post in some other way. The contest will close at midnight tonight, and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread.