How Lovecraft Caused My Downfall
I’ve written, to date, eight steampunk short stories. And when I wrote those stories, I had no plan or intention for them to be consistent with each other. This was something I had learned from H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft didn’t write his stories to be consistent with each other — he wasn’t deliberately crafting an internally consistent universe. In his mind, he was creating a playground for himself and his fellow authors to explore different ideas and concepts. And he was selling stories, and those stories might wind up in this magazine or the other and he had no thought that someone would one day hunt them all down and expect them to make sense compared to one another.
And so I followed suit. To date, I’ve published three of my eight steampunk stories, one in Dreams of Steam III and the other two in New Orleans By Gaslight. Two of the other five are being considered by editors as we speak and a third, “Camryn Bey and the Yeti from Mars,” will be published in Cairo By Gaslight. So it never made any sense to me that I should bend over backwards to keep this detail consistent with that detail in some other story. After all, there’s no reason to suspect that should I get a story published in some magazine that anyone at all will also have read my stories from New Orleans By Gaslight and absolutely no reason to think that even if they should, that they would one day ask me why some idea introduced in a story in New Orleans By Gaslight didn’t match how I treated some subject in a story placed with a magazine. No. The logical thing to do was to focus on each story as its own story and to make it the best story it could possibly be and not to worry about the details falling between them.
I’m talking about details like there being no radio in “The Gift” and radio being existent in “Camryn Bey and the Yeti from Mars.” Similarly the lack of commonplace lift engines in “Camryn Bey” but not in “The Gift.” “Camryn Bey and the Yeti from Mars” will be in the upcoming anthology Cairo By Gaslight, and while there’s every reason to suspect that many of the readers we gained from New Orleans By Gaslight will also pick up Cairo, there’s no reason to think anyone would expect the two stories to be set in the same fictional universe.
And that’s how I operated until last December. Last December at the first Geekonomicon, Allan Gilbreath introduced me to Tommy Hancock of Pro Se Productions. Tommy told me the best way to promote a novel — I’m working on my first novel by the way — is to release a series of short stories set in that fictional universe. I listened. I nodded. I got home. I panicked.
None of my stories were written with an eye towards consistency with the others. I could and would write new stories but even then, the question would be which stories should the new stories be consistent with?
I drew up a quick list of the steampunk stories I’d written so far:
“Time and the Wrinkled Prostitute”
“Songs of the Divine Pulsation”
“Blood, Steam, and Iron”
“The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon”
“All Aboard The Storyville Express”
“Camryn Bey and the Yeti from Mars”
“The Sublimity Chair”
Without giving away any spoilers, “Time and the Wrinkled Prostitute,” “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” “Camryn Bey and the Yeti from Mars,” and “The Sublimity Chair” each dealt with plot points, story concepts or ideas that I didn’t envision to be in keeping with my imagined steampunk universe, the setting I was sketching out for my novel. So they had to go off to their own separate universes. Giving it some thought, I could see no reason that they couldn’t share a universe and so my second steampunk universe was born.
Well then, what stories did I see in keeping with the universe I was building? “Songs of the Divine Pulsation” and “The Gift” were both stories that fit that universe precisely. They were the stories I was writing when I laid the foundation for my steampunk universe. And that both stories had been published together in New Orleans By Gaslight was a plus in that I could reasonably assume anyone who’d read one of the two would have read the other. Also, New Orleans By Gaslight was my biggest foray into steampunk to date. So it would be great if readers from that anthology came along to read my first novel as well.
“All Aboard The Storyville Express” was expressly written to be part of its own universe, a steampunk dystopia. My mainline steampunk universe is intended to be a lot more upbeat and positive. “All Aboard The Storyville Express” was written as a one-off, a stand-alone story that now that it was done, I had no intention to come back to. However, my beta readers told me in no uncertain terms that that would not be tolerated. So — I sat down and thought about how I would expand it and ideas did start flooding in and I decided to craft a series of short stories about the character. “Blood, Steam, and Iron” was another dystopia story I’d written as a complete one-off but looking back at it, there was no reason that the dystopia it portrayed and the dystopia of “All Aboard The Storyville Express” couldn’t be the same dystopia and viewed in that light, “Blood, Steam, and Iron” revealed important details about the history of that world. And so, now I had three steampunk universes.
Of course, three steampunk universes for a new author seems like two steampunk universes too many but that problem is easily solved by holding the stories from the other two universes back until there are enough of them to fill an anthology. Or at least, I’m hoping that’s how it will all work out. Wish me luck.
* * *
Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.