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Susan Kaye Quinn: As I was writing my steampunk romance (ThirdDaughter, The Dharian Affairs #1), it struck me that the term “Steampunk Romance” is just a bit redundant. Yes, some steampunk stories have romance as the main driver of their plot, but to me, the entire genre is inherently romantic. These stories take place in a bygone era (or entirely fictional analogue of one), alleviating some of the oppressive ideas of the past while keeping the lush aesthetics and romantic ideas about relationships and love. How could that be termed anything other than Romantic?
Scott E. Tarbet: Steampunk is all about goggles, right? We use them as a convenient symbol of the entire genre. Through our steampunk goggles we look at the world in a different way, a more romantic way. We get to reimagine reality (sometimes the Victorian past, sometimes alternative futures) without the fettering realities of modern technology and recent history. We get an imagined do-over.
Let’s face it: from an historical perspective the 20th Century was horrible. Sure, there were rapid technological advances, but with them came the worst wars, genocides, and horrors in all of human history. What a wonderful thing it is to put on our Steampunk goggles and imagine a simpler, more romantic world without that 20th Century baggage!
Scott E. Tarbet: Susan, you’re 100% right! A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk (AMNS) is just what you would expect from the title: a resetting of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy/romance into the Victorian Era. Let me do a little stage-setting:
If you ask any three Steampunks for a definition of what Steampunk is, you’ll get at least five different answers involving the clothing, the weaponry, and the literature. But common to every definition I’ve seen is the gender politics. Did the genders have equal rights and influence in the real life version of the Victorian Era? Not even close. Would the 20th Century have been very different if they had been? Ooooh yeah!
One of my favorite academic writers, who takes on Steampunk as a field of study, Dr. Mike Perschon, puts it this way: “[W]e make the past in our image, as we do whenever a nineteenth century woman isn’t slowly going crazy in a room with psychedelic wallpaper.”
Writing AMNS I had great fun projecting how history would have been different if Vicky, the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who happened to be the eldest daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, had been able to take that brat over her knee and straighten him out. There would have been no World War I, no Russian Revolution, no World War II, no Holocaust, no Cold War. Millions around the world would have lived out very different lives. The world we live in today would be a very different place.
Would the two young girls in Shakespeare’s romance also have been different people? Yes, in fundamental ways. As a result many of the elements of their respective romances would have been different in interesting ways. My heroine, Pauline, is a Sorbonne-educated engineer, the epitome of the strong, educated woman.
So AMNS gave me the opportunity to play with this romantic concept, and bring these three strong women (and several others) to the center of the stage of world politics. It was a lot of fun.
My turn to ask you, Susan: the world you create in Third Daughter also has gender politics flipped on their ear, making strong female characters possible—even necessary. How did that feel for you as a woman, and as a writer?
Scott Tarbet: I do! Her name is Lakshmi, and she is the Steampunk analogue of the character ‘Titania’ in Shakespeare’s play. In the play, Titania and Oberon are the fairy queen and king. In my adaptation they are genius inventors.Lakshmi is the daughter of the sultan of Golkondah, a physician, engineer, inventor, and philanthropist. Truth be told, not only is she my ideal woman, but she is everything I myself would like to be—my idealized feminine side. To me she embodies all aspects of love: romantic, filial, and godly. She is a profoundly romantic figure, in the best possible sense.
Scott Tarbet is the author of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk from Xchyler Publishing, Tombstone, in the paranormal anthology Shades & Shadows, and the forthcoming Lakshmi, Dragon Moon, and Nautilus Redux. He writes enthusiastically in several genres, sings opera, was married in full Elizabethan regalia, loves steampunk waltzes, and slow-smokes thousands of pounds of Texas-style barbeque. An avid skier, hiker, golfer, and tandem kayaker, he makes his home in the mountains of Utah. Follow Scott E. Tarbet online at his website or on Twitter.