And, speaking of very recent releases, next up is Christopher Hoare, author of Steam and Stratagem, published by Tyche Books and only released on November 30th of this year.
In this, the 9th in the 12 Days of Interviews, I wanted to know how a science-fiction writing, one-time wild catter and explorer could make the jump to writing Regency/Steampunk. Turns out, it’s not really that big of a leap, if you have a really diversified background like Christopher does.
Check it out!
9DW: You recently launched Steam and Strategem at Pure Speculation Festival, and on your blog, you mention that you feel like you’re a kindred spirit of long-time steampunk enthusiasts. You also mention something about a “steampunk ethos.” In your opinion – and based on what you saw at the Pure Speculation Festival, what does it mean to be steampunk?
CH: I have been able to see a number of Victorian engineering triumphs over the years, such as “SS Great Britain” of 1843, the first iron built steamship capable of regular service across the Atlantic; Brunel’s other surviving vessel, the steam dredge “Bertha” of 1844…the oldest working steam vessel in the world; “HMS Warrior” of 1861, the world’s first iron built and armoured steam warship; and although I have never been in an airship, I was in the old 1910 airship hangar a few times… Beta Shed at RAE Farnborough.
I believe those enthusiasts of steam and airships who call themselves Gearheads or Steampunk affecionados share the same interest and reverence for such marvels without actually touching or seeing those survivors—honouring the past and those people who lived in it. They seem to live a facsimile of that world of the past whenever they don their fantastic costumes and move among the wondering denizens of urban life today as representatives of another time.
9DW: There’s a healthy measure of technical detail that went into Steam and Strategem, and I know you wanted to keep it to the right balance so your readers weren’t overwhelmed. How did you know when to stop writing details? Where do you draw the line between adding authenticity and clogging up the plot with too much technical information?
CH: There is a great deal of technical detail that must be shown to recreate the world the characters live in, but it should be the backdrop rather than the purpose of the text. The first detail I used in the plot was the overheating bearing in one of Roberta’s reciprocating steam engines and it served as the introduction of Roberta as an engineer among her fellows. I worked for a few years in a WWII vintage refinery unit that had many reciprocating engines driving pumps and was very familiar with rigging hoses to cool failing bearings in the hope they would keep running through a night shift or weekend until the machinists arrived on day shift to repair them. That experience allowed me to introduce one of the characteristics everyone mentioned about the old steamers—that engine rooms sometimes seemed to be experiencing a monsoon rain whenever the machinery was worked at its limits—offering an image rather than a lecture.
9DW: The official release day was only on November 30th, but I was wondering…have you been getting any feedback yet from early release issues?
CH: The very short answer is that I have heard none yet.
9DW: You’re also published though MuseIt Publishing and Double Dragon Publishing, and from what I’ve seen, you seem prolific in fantasy and science fiction. How does writing steampunk measure up against what writing science fiction or fantasy?
CH: My writing seems always to take place in alternate worlds rather than real or historical ones, and the steampunk universe is very much an alternate world of the past celebrated in the world of today. The world of Steam and Strategem is just a bit closer to the world of the Industrial Revolution than are the fantastic steam powered walking transporters of the Offrang invaders of Rast, or the world threatening marvels of steam and steel with which my Iskander protagonist’s father hopes to create a new era of international equality; that Gisel, his daughter, then has to use to stave off the attacks of their enemies.
9DW: Historical and technical details aside, did you find you had to adapt your “voice” to steampunk?
CH: My style, or voice is generally different for the era or circumstance of the human cultures in the stories. Rast is flavored with magical speech and settings, Steam and Strategem has, I hope, just a touch of the English world and expression of Jane Austen and her characters in 1814. Of course Gisel Matah in Iskander is the epitome of the wild young adventurer from the future, trying to rein in her penchant for expletives when meeting some new nobleman from the ancient world of Gaia. I don’t think the steampunk itself required me to find a special voice for it.
9DW: And aside from steampunk enthusiasts, who else do you think would enjoy reading a copy of Steam and Strategem?
CH: I hope readers who enjoy the world of our Regency writers would also enjoy Roberta Stephenson’s life in a similar setting but with a different perspective. Her adventures with romance and its customs are much the same even if her knowledge and her shipbuilding are totally anachronistic.
9DW: You’ve had at least three different publishers now, so you’ve probably worked with multiple editors. Now, I’m biased toward Margaret Curelas of Tyche Books, so let’s just assume she’s twelve kinds of awesome. But in your opinion – and from your experience – what are some things a good editor does to help an author?
CH: A good editor should, to a degree, be on the author’s side rather than that of the ‘house policy’ when working with the manuscript—that the house is inviting in some new perspective rather than trying to graft a few elements of its own onto the writer.
When the writer has actually ‘blown it’ the editor should help find the words or ideas to recover from the disaster rather than say, “ that’s your problem”. Of course, this is a criticism primarily of submissions editors who search for something with which to demolish all the work sent to them.
9DW: You mentioned on a blog or an interview somewhere that you think that your experience as an oil explorer may have influenced the characters you developed. What kind of an impact does your old job have on the new?
CH: Somewhere in the late, Victorian, steampunk age everyone admired explorers; the public saw their explorers as people developed into more authentic individuals by the hardships and dangers they faced. Working in deserts, jungles, mountains and the frozen winter lands of the Arctic are the closest one can get to those ‘on the edge’ experiences today.
In our cell phone and heli-rescue world one has to go for the really reckless rather than the self controlled and developed persona of a Franklin, a Livingstone, or a Shackleton to make the same impression. I could never dream of skiing down Everest, and neither would my fictional characters, but we bring a measure of calm control beyond ordinary experience to the tasks we are faced with.
In the Arctic I helped a helicopter pilot get rid of a jammed sling load that threatened to kill him, and appreciated his silent resolve when he later told me that some similar incident or other scared him out of his wits every day, but he kept on flying. In Libya I took a mine clearance specialist to a site where we (the survey crew and I ) had discovered some unexploded WWII thermos mines for him to destroy. They were a bit more dangerous that the other ordinance we could handle, since they were made with very sensitive detonators…which might or might not still be operable after 25 years laying in the desert. When we arrived I walked with him to see how he evaluated the situation and was quite disconcerted as he knelt down and lifted one of them to eye level to look underneath. On our return trip he mentioned to me that he didn’t believe in taking chances with explosives…and I felt myself lucky that I didn’t have to be with him when he was taking chances.
I write my characters to have the aplomb and fortitude of the men and women like these I have worked with in my oil exploration life; it’d be a cold day in hell when one of them would be seen in Elsinore.
9DW: You’ve done oil exploration in Libya, in the Canadian Arctic, in the western Interior – a lot of remote and isolated areas. Have these places carried over into the worlds that you write about as well?
CH: My fantasy novel Rast has the most direct geographical experiences. My female protagonist, Jady, undertakes a journey alone (with only her ‘pickaback’, her six legged riding mount for support) across the Undulains to meet the princess who has been sent to marry the man she loves. The Undulains are desert and semi-desert country that I was familiar with from being four and a half years in the Libyan desert. Jady is able to meet all the dangers of being hunted by wolven, of not finding a watering hole when she needs one, of finding her way through places she had only heard about to fulfill her duty. She also has to control the burning hatred she feels for the arrogant princess so that she will help her when she becomes a prisoner—a triumph over herself as well.
The nearest I have been to Roberta’s world, other than London (I was born there), is the ferry terminal at Dover and the flat lands of France and Belgium that we traveled through to get to Germany and the artillery regiment I served in at Dortmund. In the Iskander series I indulged myself by having the Iskander people’s first landing site on the alternate Earth take place on the same stretch of estuary in Devon where I lived a child, and also used Exeter and Topsham as the locales (with different names) for some of the action. I have never sent any of my characters to the Arctic, although I did start a story in an Arctic setting once—it didn’t work out. In another Iskander story Gisel arrived by covert-ops launch at the Binger Loch on the Rhine after she had made a midnight intrusion into the ducal palace at a city Koblenz stood in for, both places I have visited.
The places I have used either come from memory or perhaps are locations in maps that have something in common with places I have been. I have never been inside the Admiralty, but Roberta was there by courtesy of Wikipedia, and I found more parts of Regency London from city websites—but I have to tell you about one of my real life characters from Steam and Strategem who connects with the Arctic I worked in. In 1971 I led a crew move from Rae Point to Dundas Peninsula on Melville Island and guess who turned out to be First Lord of the Admiralty who Roberta met—the Second Viscount Melville, Robert Dundas, after whom the Arctic island was named. We almost count as old mates.
For more about Christopher Hoare and to purchase titles from his Iskander series (and score a freebie novella while you’re there!), check out his website: http://www.christopherhoare.ca/ His full bio is below, so check that out, too.
Want a copy of his Muse paperbacks? Email Christopher directly at kwhyte2 (at) gmail.com (link broken to prevent spam).
I was born in Britain three months before WWII started. Later, that resulted in a scholarship place for secondary education under the Butler Education Act and to some engineering training with the Ministry of Supply. I appreciated the training but I really wanted to be a writer so I left halfway through the course for the Artillery; then the N. African oilfields; and a move to Canada and years of work in the Arctic and Northern bush.
The writing intervened when I took time for it. First, was a huge historical novel about the Anglo Saxon incursion into Roman Britain, that incorporated absolutely no material from the Arthurian myths. Several large publishers, who did their own submissions editing in the 1970s, agreed “Wyrd’s Harvest” was interesting but far too long to be accepted.
Work gave me the next subject—I became one of the principals of a worker attempt to buy and operate the old Calgary Refinery; and the fictional account of how Big Oil gave us the run around was almost published in Winnipeg as the novel “Nothing Venture”. When that publisher gave up trying for grant money I entered it into the next ‘Search for an Alberta Writer’. It was not chosen but I met one of the judges many years after, who said she had liked it—and after all that time was able to discuss plot points and characters. It must have struck at least one chord.
So let me jump to more recent years. Five novels of my Iskander series are in print. They feature the storm-crow Gisel Matah, a security agent on an 18th century alternate Earth. My high fantasy novel Rast is in transition from a publisher to a planned rework aimed at self-publishing. And, most importantly, my Regency-romance-steampunk with Tyche Steam and Strategem that features another strong female protagonist who must navigate the channels of Britain’s Admiralty simultaneously with the attentions of three possible suitors.