For Writers: Research Steampunk Style! Encounter with Tim Powers

10 Nov

by Marie-Claude Bourque

I was at Musetracks today. Here is what I had to say:

Some of you know I was at Steamcon last week in Seattle. Now it was not all about me squeezing into a corset and searching for the perfect pair of googles (did that thought! Awesome googles!).

No I also attended two great pannels/meeting with Steampunk authors that got my brain in gear. The first was with Tim Powers (author of  the classic novel THE ANUBIS GATE) who basically took all kinds of questions from the audience. The second included Cherie Priest author of the latest steampunk novel BONESHAKER who discussed the post-apocaliptic nature of some Steampunk stories.

Cherie was quite frank. First, she said, if you are not having fun while writing your steampunk novel, then you’re not writing steampunk. And she was also very open about the liberty she took in rewriting history a little bit. This is fantasy. Her civil war is a little longer than reality and that’s ok.

In fact, “Steampunk needs historical accurracy like an airship needs a goldfish” was the motto at Steamcon (and I have the t-shirt to prove it!)

Tim Powers however had a great method for his research and inspiration and it was quite different.

sc0904 Author Tim Powers at Steamcon 09

In fact, Powers told us that he loves to read biographies. He just keeps reading all kinds of biography from interesting people and with an eye on the quirky, looking for small details that may be unusual and… perhaps caused by some supernatural or “spooky” little glitch somewhere.

Then his imagination does the rest.

The next step is what caught my attention and fascinated me. Once he found the biography of interest, say Einstein, and some key events of interest in the life of his subject, he researches what is going at the time, day by day. Let say Einstein makes a particular discovery one day, then Powers will look at all that was happening in the world on that day, and perhaps that time period (or even at the hour timescale if applicable.

He may add some contemporary of Einstein and line up the dates. Then he makes connections. So and so had a accident on that day, another important person died on that day and so.

Then it’s only a matter of connection the dots and with a little imagination, all these events are not random, but caused by one thing.

Boneshaker_Cover_FrontI thought that was particularly clever. I am not so good at research (unlike our own research queen Jenn) and I am paralyzed at the though of writing historical romance. But I though Powers methid might be one more tool for the writer’s tool box.

Hope this sparks your imagination as well!

Notable links of last week!

At Witchy Chicks, a good take on Nanowrimo with “Not now, write more”

Scott Eagan on Teacups and Toasts!

How not to act as an author/writer by Susan Adrian

A really sweet candid must-read about the whole Angela James saga (from Samhain to Quarter and her great new job!) In her own words at Dear Author

and of course support our own Candi, if you like her stories, please please go tell Leah Hultenschmidt at Romantic Reads to help Candi make the cut as a finalist in the Best-Celler Dorchester contest!

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