Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Steampunk and Writing: Interview with Mark Rossmore from Escape the Clouds

I have not always been open to reading different genres. I enjoy reading classic literature because I know that I will enjoy the reading and because I know I will learn something about reading and writing. Last year, I created a critique group that meets weekly. Most of the writers of the group work in genres that I am not familiar with, genres that I was not always open to reading. However, I kept an open mind and was introduced to the accomplished writer and musician Mark Rossmore from Escape The Clouds who primarily works in the steampunk subgenre. His work is currently nominated for Best Short Story for "Iron Jack," Best Music Video for "Every Storm has an End," and Best Solo Musician at Check it out and vote!
Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Mark Rossmore about steampunk and writing in general. Below are a few things we talked about:

1. What does steampunk literature entail? 
It's a re-imagining of history. The typical setting--but not by any means the only setting--is the mid-to-late-19th century Victorian Era up to the beginning of the Great War, when steam and clockworks were the prevalent energy sources. It's by skewing that history with unique technology that you get the "punk" aspect.
The key question in writing steampunk is: "What if?" You can create an entire new world just by asking that single question. What if the US Civil War was fought with the aid of gigantic armored machines? What if there were airships used in the Crimean War or the Boshin War? What if the climatological disaster of 1816--the infamous Year Without a Summer--lasted for 100 years and mankind had to go underground to survive? Or, heck, what if practical steam power was discovered at the beginning of the Italian Renaissance? 

The thing to remember is that there are no rules. It's up to the author to decide when their history "broke" from reality, how it shifted, and what repercussions that change had on the world from then onwards. History can even be ignored altogether. There are plenty of authors who create an all-new science fiction world that happens to be based on steam or clockworks.

2. What does your writing process entail?
Foremost, a lot of research. I need to know the history before I can bend it, so I spend a lot of time researching period details--food, dress, weaponry, social customs. They may not always make it onto the page, but I keep them in the back of my mind when crafting the story and the way the characters interact with each other. 

3. If someone is unfamiliar with steampunk literature, what do you suggest they read to familiarize themselves with the sub-genre?
The grandfather of steampunk is Victorian Science Fiction, works written by authors who actually lived in that era. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are its most prominent emissaries. While modern steampunk writers are looking at what was and changing it to their own devices, these writers were looking to the future and seeing technology's potential. Wells' work was especially prophetic about modern day issues. Genetic Engineering (The Island of Dr. Moreau). Airpower in warfare (The War in the Air). Technology's role in evolution (The Time Machine).

For modern works written explicitly as steampunk, take a look at Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series as a good starting point. For a quick, broad look at steampunk's various forms, I highly recommend some recent short story anthologies, such as Steampunk Tales ebook anthologies, The Dreams of Steam I & II anthologies, and Jeff and Ann Vandermeer's Steampunk and Steampunk II anthologies.

4. How do you become inspired to write a particular character's story? How do you come up with a plot?
I find a lot of inspiration in the social issues of the period. As an example, "Iron Jack" is a riff on Victorian women's rights and the Marriage Women's Property Act of 1887. I don't have a formula. When I'm researching one piece, I often come across inspiration for other stories.

5. What piece of advice would you give a writer that is striving to become published? 
You can't go from the Earth to the Moon in one step. It can be a long journey, so prepare yourself mentally for it. 

Join a critique group, whether online or in person. This will help you gain fresh perspectives on your writing and get you accustomed to talking about your work in person (as you will, eventually, to an agent or publisher). It will also help you thicken your skin. You will need the latter, because rejections will happen. When they do, don't view them as negatives. View them as challenges to surmount.
Above all else, be professional and courteous to everyone you meet--editors, critique group members, publishers, other authors. Publishing is a small world, so you need to keep your nose clean. 
If you want to learn more about Mark Rossmore, listen to his music, or read some of his work, visit his website at Don’t forget to vote for him and his outstanding work at!

I hope you become more open to reading new genres. What do you think? Do you read inside your comfortable box? Have you unknowingly read work in the steampunk subgenre? Do you enjoy reading different and new genres?


  1. I really enjoyed this because steampunk is one of the genres that I don't fully understand. Thanks for sharing this. I feel like I have a better handle on it now.

  2. The first steampunk novel I ever read was Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade. I loved it. I could see myself reading another.

  3. Kelly: You're very welcome! Other than the general genres they taught in school, I don't know about too many genres and sub-genres. Although it makes sense that there are genres, I never thought much about what falls under what genre.

    Rena: Welcome to the blog! I've never read Hunchback Assignments. I will definitely look into it!

  4. Not long ago I watched a news piece that showed the world of steampunk--conventions and stuff. I didn't know much about it, other than stories like HG Wells wrote. It's fascinating and I will have to check out Mark's links. Thanks Christina!

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