LIZBETH: I’m just going to put this out there: I don’t write steampunk (okay, maybe about 3000 words now) and I’ve read precious little (although what I have read I enjoyed). So, a little while ago when my talented friend and fellow author Naomi Stone suggested we combine our styles and write a steampunk short story for submission to a contest I was skeptical.
Nevertheless, I agreed to try my hand at this unfamiliar genre, and when Naomi—who is a gifted fantasy writer already—came up with the hook and the premise, I even got excited. The result of our collaboration was CLOCKWORK WHALERS, the story of 1800’s whaling captain John Akins (Naomi wrote his parts) and research scientist Felicity Howard (I wrote hers) who meet over a brand new steampunk technology that works like today’s Skype. Here’s a little blurb to tell you more about this mini-novella.
Whaling Captain John Adkins has mixed emotions about the new steam technology that allows him to communicate face-to-face with other ships as well as people on shore. While it's convenient to see those he speaks with--he now can't get away from the whims of his fiancee while pursuing his career. Then one day, a mistaken call leaves him staring at a sight unheard-of in his puritan 1800's world: a beautiful woman naked from the waist up.
Felicity Howard is tough, self-confident and used to adversity. When she realizes John is not her own affianced, she proceeds to berate him for being a murderer of whales--gentle creatures she has spent her life studying. Although from competing worlds, John and Felicity embark on a journey of discovery—not just about about whales but also about love.
Naomi and I did not win the contest we entered, but we did fall in love with our little story. Now we’re offering it to our readers for free to give them that “something completely different” from us. And we’re eager to tell you the story of its creation!
NAOMI: The introduction to our novella tells how it was inspired by author Lisa Norling's talk at our local RWA chapter’s meeting on her book CAPTAIN AHAB HAD A WIFE.” By happy coincidence, at about that same time RWA sponsored a short-story contest, the theme being 'wrong numbers.' The wrong number in this story is on a Victorian-era version of Skype aboard an old whaling vessel...
Writing from the perspective of Captain Adkins came more easily to me when remembering the sea chanties beloved by a friend in our local Rise Up Singing group. These old chanties were work songs that lightened and coordinated laborious shipboard tasks. Opening with this particular chanty, "Rolling Down to Old Maui" not only set the scene, but had the added benefit of providing some back story to the short tale.
I've been an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction throughout my life, and that includes experience reading Steampunk's more serious early works by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, as well as the online comic series, 'Girl Genius' by Phil Foglio and later, more romantic works such as the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. This background gave me a good sense of the Victorianesque language appropriate to the subgenre.
LIZBETH: I was very happy to write Felicity’s part since I know nothing about Victorian history (I’m a totally contemporary writer) much less whaling history. But, my contemporary roots did give me a love of incorporating important issues into my stories, and Felicity is very much a woman ahead of her own time. She’s strong and secure and brilliant—not afraid to take on a stubborn sea captain! It was really fun bantering with Naomi’s John and calling him out for his part in an activity Felicity found abhorrent. And it was really fun throwing the bits of attraction and romance in with the feistiness.
Naomi also set the right tone for dialogue and made it easy for me to learn to adopt the more formal older English. She says I succeeded—I hope I did!
NAOMI: We thought it would be fun to show you how we developed cover art for a book we want to use as promotional giveaway. We used our readers and even took polls! The earliest cover for CLOCKWORK WHALERS included gears and whales and a woman in Victorian dress, but since its original publication I've gotten more experience in designing book covers and was no longer satisfied with it.
I studied the covers of books in the Steampunk sub-category on Amazon and came up with several possibilities for new artwork. Too many of the covers in that category seemed to have nothing to do with Steampunk, but those that did tended to feature brasswork machinery or people in period costumery.
One potential cover was inspired by fantasy writer Erin Morgenstern's 'The Night Circus' series; it used a background of brass gears arranged like waves, and the silhouette of a Victorian woman.
The third option showed a man and woman in Steampunk dress, the ocean and whale behind them.
LIZBETH: I was impressed with the bones of the cover art Naomi created, but I wanted there to be some kind of romance image, and the people Naomi first found felt too stilted to me—so I sent her some suggestions and then she got her fantasy readers involved! Between those readers and Naomi’s own creativity—we found a winner!
NAOMI: To get feedback on which cover our readers might like best, I set up an online poll and sent the link out to everyone on my mailing list. The results came in with the overwhelming majority (about 60%) in favor of the central compass. But, while the compass design clearly told readers about the Steampunk character of the story, I agreed it didn't speak to the romantic element - so we found a high quality stock photo of a couple closing in for a kiss, and I framed that close-up in the center of the compass for the final version of our cover.
LIZBETH: That’s pretty much the story of how a semi-silly exercise turned into serendipity! And I guess the lesson for writers and especially for readers is to never be afraid to try something new and different. I certainly am excited to be offering this freebie to readers, to newsletter subscribers, and giveaway winners and letting them know that they’ll never find anything else like this from me—so they should get the story while it’s hot! And although Naomi normally writes closer to this genre—it’s different for her, too, and her readers will love John and Felicity’s story.
Now we’d love to hear from YOU! I’d like to know what experience (reading-wise or otherwise) you’ve tried in your life that made you nervous, but you ended up liking. And, if you’re interested in grabbing your own copy of CLOCKWORK WHALERS here are two links—one will allow you to sign up for Naomi’s newsletter and one will let you sign up for mine.
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Feel free to sign up for both—get your two free downloads and share the file! You can also share the Instafreebie links—this is one book we’re happy to have you help us spread for free!
And check out our individual books on our websites:
Happy reading everyone. We can't wait to have you come and punk the steam with us!!