Thursday, August 18, 2011

Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral? by Terry Burns

I give up, what is it?

I just got a submission for a steampunk manuscript, the first I have received. Do I handle steampunk? I don't know.

I had kind of a general idea what the genre was but I needed to know more. I googled it and came up with a blog from Lena Nelson Dooley on the subject. Lena is a good friend and a Hartline client (Joyce's) and generally a pretty reliable source of information. She says, "Early templates for what steampunk would become include Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. So far modern film examples have been pretty lacking and not received strong critical responses, but they include Wild, Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, and some even argue the new Sherlock Holmes film can be included because it uses technology far ahead of its time, explained with older methods."

Okay, I'm quite familiar with all those and enjoyed all of them. So it is books set in the past but uses technology far into the future, or at least far in the future for its time. That's a little closer definition than the rather nebulous one that I was working with. Our agency submission guidelines say that we do not work in the science fiction or fantasy markets so that would rule it out, right?

Not that clear. Is it sci-fi because it is melding technology into the story that did not exist at the time? Or is it just a historical with a twist? We do historicals. I saw Wild, Wild West, was it a sci-fi? Or an imaginative western?

I finally reluctantly turned it down, not because of the sci-fi definition, but because I didn't know where to go with it. Looking through the exhaustive editor databases that I have I just don't see that I am working with any editors that have shown an interest in it. And I don't sell to publishing houses, I sell to editors that I know and have established a working relationship with.

But I'm open to the idea, and will be exploring it further. Maybe someday when the future technology catches up with my historical editor preferences . . .


Katherine Hyde said...

Terry, I've read some steampunk, and it generally comes under the heading of MG or YA fantasy. (You might want to look at the Larklight series by Philip Reeve.) There is probably some adult steampunk too, but the audience tends to be young. I've never seen or heard of any Christian steampunk. It can be a lot of fun!

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Interesting! I've never heard of steampunk. Never would have guessed that definition. I'm not a sci-fi or a fantasy person, yet I do like many of the films you mentioned especially the new Sherlock Holmes. Cool post, Terry!

Rick Barry said...

I believe the third installment of the classic Back to the Future movies closes with a touch of steampunk. That's when Doc Brown arrives from the 1800s in a steam-powered locomotive that he has re-tooled into a time machine. Funny conclusion.

I'm not sure who had the privilege of coining the word "steampunk," but it doesn't seem to be the best descriptor. Maybe "steam-tech" would be easier to grasp?