Okay, my apologies for my half-assed title… but I’ve been meaning to have my friend Alison over to visit for ages… for one, then another book release.
See, Alison is one of my Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award friends, but we all know… in all places we make friends that we enjoy and say hi to, and then we make friends we sort of gel with… friends we cross pollinate with in other domains… blogging, facebook… and Alison is one such friend.
And Alison does something special with her books… something I would like to see more of, because as much as literature grows our minds to new worlds, I think it doesn’t always grow our minds to the diversity of the world we are actually IN… And to the extent we can get young people thinking about diversity and embracing it, I think we make for a more promising future. But I will let Alison talk to you about that…
If you watch a group of children play together, they are what they are. They don’t care what other kids look like, as long as they are all engaged in the game. When writing for a YA audience, keeping them engaged is the key.
Steampunk is a great genre for YA readers. By its very nature it is filled with adventure, fantastic inventions, and strange mysteries. The YA audience loves this sort of story: witness the popularity of the Foglios’ Girl Genius series (link - http://airshipstore.com/ggnovel01.aspx)
If those stories, however, were all limited to a Eurocentric view and characters, or to cowboys (and girls) and explorers who all speak English and look the same, then the genre would, perhaps, eventually lose steam.
Including a multicultural theme is, I feel, the cure. Air pirates are fascinating, but how many books can be written about them? Look at how repetitive the vampire meme is becoming. I feel, though, that both archetypes, the aeronauts (and perhaps even the vampires) could be rescued from flabby similarity by a multicultural slant. An example of that rediscovery in paranormal romance can be seen with Natasha Larry’s book, Darwin’s Children (link http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-Children-ebook/dp/B0050CL8R2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1306300962&sr=1-2)
Steampunk authors are doing the same thing, and I feel it can easily carry over into the YA market. For example, if a group of teen-aged aeronauts were building an airship in Tibet, what an interesting premise that would make. The sky pilots could be struggling against overwhelming odds and have to escape a clockwork threat by using local materials and ingenuity. Along the way they could encounter strange, fascinating forms of prayer wheels and Tibetan temples.
In order to do that successfully, the author would have to begin with a great deal of research. What are the local materials in Tibet? What would that group of young sky pilots do during the day? What would they wear, where would they sleep, and what would they have for breakfast? The steam author can riff off the research and history, of course, but she must have a firm ground from which to launch the airship.
When I wrote my steampunk trilogy, it began in England and moved to an island. I based that mythical country, Lampala, on the real island of Madeira, which for centuries was a Portuguese colony. I used many of Madeiran realities in creating my steam country: Madeira had thick forests, which were used for export, and the population ate tapioca in lieu of wheat, which had not yet been cultivated there.
The colonial part didn’t fit my story, though. I rewrote Madeiran history and gave the local population ownership of their own industry, thus creating a wealthy, ethnic class. It just seemed the time to showcase PoC as an economically thriving group, whose members had large houses, beautiful clothes (made from local materials, of course) as well as living in an island filled with mysteries. I mention this as an example of how an author can start from reality and more to a steamier place from that background research. Now that I have finished the first three books of the series, I feel that there are many other, more fascinating worlds to be created.
One example of that is Jaymee Goh’s story, Between Islands (link to http://expandedhorizons.net/magazine/?page_id=1464) The story discusses an Asian response to The East India Trading Company, centering in the island of Pinang. It’s a fascinating subject, and one that is extremely well handled by Goh.
And this is the important element without which the multicultural steampunk story must have in order to survive.
|Tart note: This is my favorite|
A writer cannot simply jam a bunch of research into a story and toss in some ethnic characters, just as the addition of airships to a lackluster plot will not create a steampunk work. The writing itself must be well done. The characters must breathe and live, and interact with society. And yes, this is even true in YA fiction. The YA audience is quick to pick out dull characters and discard them. On the other hand, they will overwhelmingly appreciate a creation who lives and breathes and has real problems.
This can be very interesting in a multicultural work. In Joyce Chng’s Moon Maiden’s Mirror (link www.semaphoremagazine.com/Semaphore%20Magazine%20-%20September%202009.pdf) the main character, Foo H-si, is living in Paris and renamed Henri. The story is a fascinating look at a clash of cultures within a steampunk framework. Chng shows the boy’s reaction to European dress and customs, and does so beautifully.
In my trilogy, a lot of my main characters are PoC. They, like Foo H-si, also had to confront existing societal mindsets and prejudices. While writing, I hesitated over that a great deal. It took a delicate touch to delineate that confrontation while being neither insulting nor colonial.
A way to avoid that pitfall is to make the character a real person. The character of color must have real adventures, real problems, and real triumphs. It is difficult to sustain throughout a longer work, but the reward is falling in love with that character (or group of characters) and caring deeply about what happens to her.
There are many resources for the author who is considering writing a multicultural steampunk work. I would send her to http://beyondvictoriana.com/ and http://silver-goggles.blogspot.com/. There is an excellent discussion on the possible pitfalls of the genre at http://holzman-tweed.dreamwidth.org/129133.html as well as a very comprehensive, in-depth discussion by Ay-leen the peacemaker, creator of the Beyond Victoriana blogspot, here: http://www.doctorfantastiques.com/steampunksaroundtheworld.htm/
When you begin your research, don’t miss reading back issues of http://thesteamerstrunk.blogspot.com/ Of course, you will need to do traditional research too, and Wikipedia and an old-fashioned library are great places to start. That journey towards creating a story that will be lively and multi-layered, filled with promise for the discriminating YA market, is difficult and mysterious. No map exists for that journey, but gorgeous treasure does lie at the end.
Resources: www.airshipstore.com, www.amazon.com, www.expandedhorizons.net, www.semaphoremagazine.com, www.beyondvictoriana.com, www.silver-goggles.blogspot.com, http://holzman-tweed.dreamwidth.org/, www.doctorfantastiques.com/, www.thesteamerstrunk.blogspot.com/
Bio: Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books. She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.
Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey. Alison's Blog is here: Fresh Pot of Tea