It wasn’t so long ago that I sought an answer to the question, What exactly is Steampunk? All fingers, pistols, and parasols pointed to H.G Wells and Jules Verne as a reference point: The Time Machine, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Okay. That gave me the general idea about Steampunk, but I wondered what the genre looked like today. Enter author Gail Carriger and her Parasol Protectorate series. Carriger has a knack for combining the Steampunk world with the supernatural and romance. I was hooked, but whether or not I had a knack for writing in the genre, that was still the question.
Serendipitously, I discovered the Collaborative Writing Challenge and that their newest project just happened to be a Steampunk novel. Being newbie to the genre didn’t stop me from jumping on board the locomotive (steam-powered, of course) destined to carry a mad group of writers to create CWC’s seventh project: Army of Brass, released this April.
Each writer who participates in one of these challenges gets a crack at writing the novel’s first chapter and is then assigned a few chapters to attempt for the rest of the novel. None of us really know where the story will take us. Based on the relevant information and summaries for previous chapters supplied for us by the story coordinator, we try to shape the road ahead together. It’s the story coordinator who decides which of the submissions for a given chapter bests fits with the overall concept and plot as the story starts taking shape. She also gives feedback to all the writers on their attempts as to why their chapters weren’t chosen. For me, it seemed like a great way to get my feet wet in a new genre.
My submission for Chapter 1 was not chosen. Ah well. My next chance was to take a crack at Chapter 7 of the original draft and this time—success!—my submission was chosen (and ended up as Chapter 11 in the completed novel). By the end of Chapter 6 the story was really rolling. We had a military incursion, political intrigue, and a mysterious, derelict army of brass automatons that might help to save the day. Most exciting to me was one of the main characters: Elaina Gable, Master Tinkerer, a strong woman character at the heart of the action. She had already joined forces with Captain Jack Davenport, a dashing pilot from the Cartographers Society, who believed in her plans to revive the brass army and who was—let’s face it—a very convenient romantic interest for Elaina. Phew, I thought, because romance is a genre I’m very familiar with both as a reader and an author. (I’ve had three paranormal romance novellas published under the pen name Kat Duarte.) A bit of my trepidation for writing in a new genre subsided. At least I had a comfortable jumping off point to try to advance the story.
A widow, Elaina had already experienced heartbreak. With Captain Jack in the picture a hint of joy in the future had emerged, but seeing as she was such a dynamic and special woman, I felt she deserved to have romantic options. And there he was: Tom Drubble, another skilled member of the Tinkerers’ Guild, someone who had worked closely with Elaina for years. And, yes, I just had to create the foundations for a love triangle. I decided that Tom has secretly been in love with Elaina but has been biding his time. With the threat of Jack, of whom he becomes immediately jealous, Tom has to step up and compete for Elaina’s attention. Voila! We move along nicely with romantic side-dish number one in Army of Brass and add more plot tension. And with two men vying for Elaina’s affection, their perspectives on her actions as Master Tinkerer and the sometimes dark choices she makes to solve the military conflict take on more poignancy.
Army of Brass romantic side-dish number two is served up with the secondary characters of Rose and Bernard. Rose Tippenwolf, the Forgemaster’s daughter, shows great promise as an apprentice smith as well as a growing affection for fellow apprentice Bernard. Although Rose’s mother is worried that she’ll never “find a husband looking like a grease monkey” she should have no fear. Bernard’s budding love for Rose comes from not only his attraction for her, but from their friendship and a mutual respect for each other’s technical skills. They are made for each other in more ways than one. Their bond as a couple is forged through the adversity they face on the Smith Guild’s journey to join Elaina in to help revive the automatons as a tool to defeat the brutal warlord who has invaded the realm. For my small part in developing this secondary romance, I wrote a scene where Bernard finds a deep, intuitive understanding of the automations’ inner workings. As other writers further developed the story, the dovetailing work of Rose and Bernard become integral to the awakening of the army of brass.
Although the main plot of Army of Brass revolves around gadgets dangerous gadgets, an evil warlord, and heated warfare, I believe the element of romance adds interest and raises the stake for many of the main characters as well as the reader.
Is there a happy ending for the young, innocents Rose and Bernard? Does Elaina choose to give her heart to dashing Jack Davenport or fellow tinkerer Tom Drubble? Or does she end up going her own way? If this were a romance novel, you could be fairly certain of the odds, but in this novel’s dangerous world all bets are off—and I’m not telling. You’ll have to grab your own copy of Army of Brass to see how it all turns out.
As for me and Steampunk? I found out that I do like writing this genre. Eventually, I want to get back to the story I started in my submission for Chapter 1. I also found out that complex plots with war, espionage, and political intrigue are definitely not in my comfort zone. By the time I got my third crack at writing a chapter for Army of Brass, I had to face the fact that I had absolutely no idea of how to weave the various plot lines together. I’ve ended up with an even greater respect for writers who succeed at complex world-building on such a grand scale.
For more thoughts on Army of Brass from other contributing authors, check out the entire blog tour:
4/13 – A Sneak Peek at Chapter 1 by Jason Pere
4/14 – Launch announcement
4/15 – Interview with contributor Jason Pere
4/16 – Memes in the Making
4/17 – Excerpt by Jim O’Loughlin
4/18 – The Pros and Cons of Collaborative Writing
4/19 – Interview with contributor Jean Grabow
4/20 – Collaboration is the Future by Kathrin Hutson
4/21 – Excerpt by Michael Cieslak
4/22 – Excerpt by Dorothy Emry
4/23 – Review by Penny Blake
4/24 – Character interview of Captain Jack Davenport
4/24 – What’s in a Name? Steampunk Before “Steampunk”
4/25 – Steampunk: The First 10 Years
4/25 – Interview with contributor Jeremiah Rickert
4/26 – Steampunk: The Second Decade
4/27 – Steampunk: The Last 10 Years
4/27 – Excerpt by Phoebe Darqueling
4/30 – Review by Victoria L. Szulc
5/1 – Prim & Proper? Not These Steam Age Murderesses by Phoebe Darqueling
5/2 – Excerpt by E.A. Hennessy