Snarky Heroines Forever

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Here’s something that might surprise you, given that I’m a straight male sci-fi author in my early thirties: of all the heroines I’ve written, including hot space pirates, buxom models and nubile warrior women, by far and away the most popular with readers is Grace Peters, a snarky deep space prospector approaching retirement age. Grace (from Sparks in Cosmic Dust) is only a supporting character, and doesn’t even have her own POV, but I’ve received more glowing feedback about her than any character I’ve ever written.

“Why is that?” I hear you ask.

Well, I can tell you why I think that is. No big secret really. It’s an author having fun. Throwing caution to the wind. Having a character speak her mind, often, and at others’ expense is a storytelling elixir for me as a reader and a writer. You know the character I’m talking about—most romance stories have at least one—the sassy best friend, the put-upon relative having a bad day, or the snarky heroine who continually puts her foot in it.

She’s someone you cut loose with, and she’s usually the most fun. For me, there’s something instantly humanizing about a character who resorts to irreverent humour or pithy put-downs instead of facing a situation glumly. If there’s an element of world-weariness in there too, well, that’s just my favourite heroine in a nutshell.

One of the best writers of this character type is Sloane Taylor, whose erotic romance heroines are an absolute treat. We collaborated on an erotic sci-fi novel a couple of years back­—Claire de Lune—and I learned a lot from her about blending humour and character to make a scene sparkle. If any of that’s rubbed off onto my Carina books, I’m a happy space camper. Incidentally, two minor characters from CDL have received the full-on snarky heroine treatment in my SF series here at Carina. Grace Peters is one. The other, starring in this week’s release Cyber Sparks, is here to introduce herself (via the blurb):

My name is Allegra Mondebay, and this is the story of my last days on Earth…

Unlike my sparsely populated home, on Earth everything and everyone is plugged in. As a blacklisted model who needs to reboot my career, I can no longer resist the ultimate in virtual-reality networking: the omnipod. At first, altering the sights, sounds and scents around me seems harmless. Then I hear the voice.

Do not adjust your headset. You are in danger…

He says I must help him warn the public about the perils of the omnipod. I think he’s just a hacker—until innocent people start dying, and the police want to hold me responsible. Now, I’m on the run in a stolen shuttle, trying to figure out why he needs me. And if I don’t do as he says, he’ll kill the woman I love.


One of the things I wanted to avoid when writing Cyber Sparks was a dystopia. Like many of you, I absolutely love The Hunger Games; and I’m very fond of Philip K. Dick, not to mention cyberpunk in general. But I’m also kind of optimistic about our future. The free sharing of information we currently enjoy (hi, internet) is a big part of that. Corruption at every level is becoming increasingly difficult to hide. One day, when governments are frightened of the people, the future will be in our hands. What will we make of it?

I had the idea for Cyber Sparks during a bus ride home from work, when almost every single passenger was either texting or chatting on a mobile phone or reading an e-reader or surfing the web on an i-phone. Human body language? Zilch. Digital language? Off the scale. It’s a strange paradox, to be at once social and anti-social. Many’s the time I’ve grumbled quietly when a friend has cut off his face to face conversation with me to answer an unimportant phone call or a text or a freaking tweet. You’ve made the effort to go and meet him in person, but noooo, you play second fiddle to LOL and smiley face and inane callers still at home in their pajamas.

Does it irritate you when that happens? Or is it just me?

Allegra’s omnipod lets her do anything, buy anything, be anyone, speak to anyone—but still she feels cut off. Pretty soon, she’ll wish she was cut off.

Enough to make anyone snarky, if you ask me.



Also available in the Cosmic Sparks collection: Alien Velocity, Sparks in Cosmic Dust and Pyro Canyon.

EPIC Award winner Robert Appleton is a multi-published author of science fiction, steampunk and historical fiction. Soccer and kayaking are his favourite outdoor activities. He has travelled far but loves the comfort of reading Victorian adventure books or watching movies at home. His mind is somewhat mercurial. His inspiration is the night sky.

Author website:

Goodreads author page:

Twitter ID:  @robertappleton

Carina Press Presents: Editor’s Choice Volume II

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By Shirley Wells, Janni Nell, Julie Moffett and Robert Appleton (each will answer four questions…and only four…under pain of death)

Stay tuned for a giveaway contest at the end.

To help celebrate this second anniversary, and to showcase the variety of stories published at Carina Press, Angela James and Deb Nemeth invited the four of us to represent our respective genres in a non-romance anthology. Oh, and each novella was to be a part of its author’s existing series. Need we list the million and one ways in which that news doesn’t suck for an author. Edited by Deb herself—one of the most brilliant and intuitive editors out there—the resulting stories overflow with our enthusiasm for not only our characters and world-building, but for the very ethos of Carina itself: making sure “no great story goes untold,” no matter how unusual. Seriously, we wouldn’t be here otherwise.

So it’s with deep appreciation that we introduce, for your reading pleasure,

Carina Press Presents: Editor’s Choice Volume II

DEAD CALM by Shirley Wells

A Dylan Scott Mystery


Detective Dylan Scott thinks cruising well above the Arctic Circle in November is nothing short of madness. He has zero interest in seeing the elusive aurora borealis, but agrees to the Norwegian holiday to keep his wife and mother happy. At least the biggest problem he’ll have to deal with is boredom. But that boredom quickly dissipates when the unpleasant elderly woman in the neighboring cabin is found dead.

Everyone thinks Hanna Larsen had a heart attack. Everyone except Dylan. Dylan is convinced there’s a killer aboard the Midnight Sun — a killer who may strike again…

Shirley, what do you like best about writing a series?

I love the idea of meeting up with old friends. I feel the same way about writing a series as I do about parties. It’s great to meet new, interesting people but nothing quite compares to the thrill of seeing a dear friend walk in the room.

Who is your main character?

Ex-cop turned private investigator, Dylan Scott. He’s a chauvinist and a terrible husband, but he possesses a dogged persistence and his big heart is in the right place.

If you could meet one of your characters, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Dylan. He drives my dream car, a classic Morgan, and he believes women should be banned from the roads. I’d love to take his Morgan for a spin – although it might put him at risk of a cardiac arrest.

Which character do you love to hate?

That would probably be Bev, Dylan’s wife. I feel for her because it can’t be easy putting up with Dylan, but there are times when I long to slap her for not appreciating just how lucky she is.



An Allegra Fairweather Mystery

Paranormal Mystery


Family vacations fill me with horror–and for a woman who makes her living as a paranormal investigator, that’s saying a lot. Still, I couldn’t turn down a month in sunny Spain and the chance of flamenco lessons with Casper, my gorgeous guardian angel–even if it did mean sharing a villa with my mother.

But it’s true what they say, there’s no rest for the wicked. We’d barely unpacked when the maid started having dreams of being tortured on the rack–dreams my intuition tells me are something more than your average terrifying nightmare. After all, we are in the land of the infamous inquisition, and she does have those unexplained marks…

So for now my dance partner’s going to have to wait for me to get to the bottom of this mystery, and when I do, I plan to send evil packing.

21,000 words

Janni, what do you like best about writing a series?

I fell in love with Allegra and Casper. One book just wasn’t enough. It’s great to revisit these characters and add to their adventures. Even better to watch how their relationship develops over a number of books.

Who is your main character?

Allegra Fairweather began paranormal investigating in high school as a favour to friends. Demand for her services gave her the confidence to become professional. Her conservative mom and stepdad were horrified. Her guardian angel, Casper, prepared for a bumpy ride.

If you could meet one of your characters who would it be and why?

Allegra’s best friend, Wanda Appleseed, is bright, bubbly and a trainee witch. She’d be great fun to hang out with.

Which character do you love to hate?

Allegra’s step-grandfather, Steven Richard Hampton XXXI. He’s rich, mean and condescending. He makes no effort to conceal his sense of superiority and disapproval of Allegra. Let’s just say he got what he deserved in South of Salem.


NO MONEY DOWN by Julie Moffett

A Lexi Carmichael Mystery

Action Adventure/ Mystery


Me and the legendary Zimmerman twins–it’s a friendship made in geek heaven. And it all started back when I worked for the NSA…

My best friend Basia dragged me to the beach for her idea of a vacation. All those annoying people, sand in embarrassing places–not exactly R & R for a girl who doesn’t like the sun, the ocean or bathing suits. I couldn’t wait to get back to work.

Julie, what do you like best about writing a series?

I think the best part of writing a series is the chance to visit and re-visit your characters over and over again. They do become a family of sorts. I enjoying helping them grow and develop in ways that real people do.

Who is your main character?

Lexi Carmichael is a twenty-five-year-old geek extraordinaire. As a child, she excelled in all sorts of math and now she works as a computer techie for the National Security Agency. A disappointment to her gorgeous mother, a former Miss Virginia Colonial Blossom, Lexi has ordinary looks and not-so-brilliant social skills to go with her super-charge brain. Her biggest thrills in life are doing the daily crossword puzzle in the Washington Post and a long-standing addiction to everything to do with Dunkin’ Donuts.

If you could meet one of your characters who would it be and why?

Oh, I’m sure Lexi and I would have a blast eating cookie dough ice cream and chocolate éclairs for dinner. But a dinner with Slash would be eventful to say the least. A good Italian wine, some spicy pasta and all while playing a game of strip poker. Hmmm…

How can readers and fans find out more about your series?

Current and Upcoming Titles:

NO ONE LIVES TWICE (Carina Press/August 2010)*

NO ONE TO TRUST (Carina Press/June 2011)*
HER KILT-CLAD ROGUE (Carina Press/August 2011)
NO MONEY DOWN (Carina Press/June 2012)*
EDITOR’S CHOICE (VOLUME II) (Carina Press/June 2012)
THE THORN & THE THISTLE (Carina Press/January 2013)

*Books in the Lexi Carmichael action/adventure series

Twitter: @JMoffettAuthor

Any other sites we can find you:


PYRO CANYON by Robert Appleton

A Cosmic Sparks novella

Science Fiction


It’s a galaxy-wide red alert…again.

And it’s Corporal Gus Trillion’s job at the Propaganda Office to drum up recruits. But the colonists have heard one too many calls to arm to care. Disabled in battle and on the verge of burnout, Gus feels pretty apathetic himself–until his reporter friend Lyssa Baltacha stumbles upon top secret satellite footage indicating that the treacherous Sheikers are planning to invade human-occupied space. Now Gus and Lyssa must find a way to galvanize humanity to rise up against the enemy–before it’s too late…
37,000 words
Robert, what do you like best about writing a series?
I love the opportunity to delve deeper into this science fiction universe I’ve created. Unlike most series, each of my Cosmic Sparks books features a different protagonist, so the continuity is mostly through world-building and the occasional character connection. It’s an extremely liberating way to explore the future.
Who is your main character?
Not someone you’d pick to save the galaxy, to be honest. As a military cadet, Gus Trillion had a one-way ticket to the upper echelons of his profession; now, damaged, disillusioned and stuck in the propaganda office, he wants a refund. But war hasn’t finished with him yet, and he’s about to discover the importance of second chances.

If you could meet one of your characters who would it be and why?
I’d love to meet Cardie, the legendary female pilot turned politician whom Gus attempts to lure out of retirement to lead the colonial fleet. She’s pretending to be this dignified diplomat when in reality she’s still the same potty-mouthed, two-fisted flier from years ago. I think she’d be great fun to hang out with.
Do you have a favourite location/setting in your story?
Altimere is a lake several miles deep and has the width of a small country. It’s located in a colossal alien satellitle dish—long since abandoned, constructed with elements unknown to man—and has its own weather. Our outer colony command hub is built around its central reception tower. No one who visits Altimere ever forgets its majesty, or his/her swimwear.
Carina Press Presents: Editor’s Choice Volume II is available for purchase here on the Carina website, or anywhere ebooks are sold. The four novellas are also available individually.

To celebrate this release, we’re giving away a free digital copy of the anthology to one lucky commenter. Just leave a comment on this blog and we’ll pick the winner at random at the end of the week. One runner-up will also win a single novella of his/her choosing (from the anthology). Good luck!
And Happy Birthday, Carina!

Persistance and the Runner’s Journey

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We all know and love the success stories in this industry. The meteoric rises from obscurity. The hit-after-hit careers that inspire generations of writers. The self-publishing phenomena, bucking trends and making millions in seemingly no time at all.

They spur the rest of us on. No matter how realistic we say we are about our publishing goals, in the backs of our minds we know there’s huge success to be had if we work hard enough and luck smiles in the right way at the right time. We all have it in us, right?

–Insert answer here–

But what about the untold number of books that stall at the starting line? We rarely get to hear those publishing stories because they fizzle and fade to nothing with surprising speed, and who wants to admit failure, right? It needn’t be a reflection of the book’s quality, any marketing efforts, or even current reading trends. For whatever reason the book just doesn’t…catch on.

I’ve been there and it’s heartbreaking. It’s incredibly frustrating. You’ve written a book you know is good, that others who’ve read it love—heck, it’s even nominated for awards—but that alchemic reaction, that elusive spark, just doesn’t ignite for long enough. There’s no rhyme or reason for it, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Or was it? Because perseverance wouldn’t exist without setbacks. You can’t do anything about luck, but you can choose not to quit.

Alien Velocity is the new and improved, raring to go, EPIC Award-nominated novella about a long-distance runner’s odyssey on the far side of the galaxy. The hero’s journey, much like the author’s, is about second chances and perseverence, and having faith in one’s own abilities, no matter the odds stacked against him. Carina Press jumped at the chance to publish this unusual SF tale, especially as they’d already acquired my novel set in the same Cosmic Sparks universe, Sparks in Cosmic Dust.

And it feels like Charlie Thorpe-Campbell’s adventure has found its home at long last. He’ll be joined by two more Cosmic Sparks novellas on the way in 2012.

The race is on!

Charlie Thorpe-Campbell is the greatest RAM-runner the world has ever seen–and he knows it. On the verge of retirement from the sport, he is defending his title as champion of the annual orbital race one final time when he’s suddenly hurtling away into deep space.

Charlie’s unscheduled voyage through a wormhole ends with a crash-landing on a most unusual planet, with scores of spacecraft from all corners of the universe in orbit. Seeking help, he heads toward what appears to be civilization, unaware of the horrors waiting for him there…

Once inside the great, orb-covered city, Charlie is thrust into intergalactic competition by a bloodthirsty alien race. When he discovers he can use his unique abilities to save not only himself, but the entire galaxy, will he face up to the challenge–or run from it?

Previously published as Charlie Runs Rings Around the Earth, newly revised by the author.
39,000 words

Robert Appleton is an award-winning author of science fiction, steampunk and historical fiction. He lives in Bolton, England. Soccer and kayaking are his two favorite outdoor activities. Though he’s traveled far, he loves the comfort of reading books or watching movies at home. His mind is somewhat mercurial. His inspiration is the night sky.

Catch him online at his website:

Dinosaurs Terrorize Steampunk!

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[Stay tuned for a contest at the end of this post.]

When did you first encounter dinosaurs? In a children’s pop-up book? A school field trip to the local museum? On the big screen in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park? Maybe in the classic King Kong, or the not-so-classic Doug McClure fantasy outings (okay, we’ll let him off for The Land That Time Forgot)?

I think everyone is on some level fascinated by dinosaurs—either giddily on the surface (Me! Me!), or deep down in the primal swamp of the subconscious (also me). Over-sized mythological creatures like the dragon, the kraken, and the Roc are frightening and attractive to us at the same time because while we can imagine them being real, we know they aren’t/never were. Not so the case with dinos. They occupy a unique place in our imaginations in that they really did walk the ground we’re walking and could easily—but for fate’s intervention—be stalking us now. And we’re discovering new, bigger ones all the time!

To answer my own question, I first encountered dinosaurs as a five year old one Sunday afternoon, when my dad and I watched Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant cowboys and dinos film, The Valley of Gwangi, on TV. Those cowboys on horseback lassoed that scary Allosaurus and tried to capture it but it kept biting their ropes and getting free and eventually it ate one of them and just like that I was hooked on dinosaurs. Forever.

When I was 13, Spielberg’s Jurassic Park blew my mind. Later I discovered Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Land that Time Forgot, and I fell in love with the romance of prehistoric adventures. Especially Victorian/Edwardian English adventures.

So when it came time to write my first steampunk novel (after The Mysterious Lady Law, a novella), there was only ever one choice. The frightened five year old, the ecstatic thirteen year old and the spellbound man all agreed—wind back that clock, that Prehistoric Clock—and let’s have the adventure of a lifetime.

For a chance to win a free eBook copy of Prehistoric Clock, simply leave a comment on this post. I’ll pick the winner on Friday 10th Feb. Good luck!

Robert Appleton is an award-winning author of science fiction, steampunk and historical fiction. He lives in Bolton, England. Soccer and kayaking are his two favorite outdoor activities. Though he’s traveled far, he loves the comfort of reading books or watching movies at home. His mind is somewhat mercurial. His inspiration is the night sky.

Catch him online at his website:

Walking the SF Plank

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Remember the execution scene in Return of the Jedi, when Luke and Han are forced to walk the plank over the Sarlacc Pit? Classic pulp sci-fi stuff. I mean there’s no way they can get out of that mess, right? R2?

Well, that scene gave me nightmares as a kid. The appalling odds (shut up, 3PO) of escape. Han’s blindness. The tentacles reaching up, dragging Boba Fett and others in for a gratuitous thousand-year digestion. Um, thanks for that one, George.

Cut to me as a thirty-year-old SF author inching my way along that same plank, about to submit my latest manuscript for publication. In my mind, the odds of doom are equally appalling—I trusted in Sparks in Cosmic Dust as I was writing it, but as soon as I let it go…I could practically hear the Sarlacc’s burp.

Nervous isn’t the word. All those months of outlining, worldbuilding, writing, editing and heeding Angela James’s sage ‘Before You Hit Send’ advice are now Bantha fodder because:

a) the story sucks
b) the title sucks
c) I suck
d) I should have concentrated more on the Romance & eased off on the SF
e) I should have concentrated more on the SF & eased off on the Romance
f) my writing style has gotten more juvenile than an Ewok
g) my writing style has gotten more cryptic than Yoda on peyote
h) Carina’s contemporary romances are selling HUGE
i) Carina’s straight SF (without the romance label) is selling…hey, there aren’t any yet!*

*in late 2010

After twenty published books, you’d think I’d have this confidence thing licked by now. Maybe if I stuck to one genre or conformed more to the mainstream, hitting send might get easier. In a way it has—I have a track record behind me, so if nothing else, I know my writing itself is ready for prime time. But these offbeat stories…man, they lead me out over the Sarlacc every goddamn time.

It’s exhilarating when the acceptance call or email comes in—in the case of Sparks, it was a double acceptance email (with SF novella Alien Velocity, March 2012)—but I’m telling you, any confidence I had while writing this novel, my longest at 87K, evaporated as soon as I’d finished polishing the synopsis. Doubt is an ever-present entity for an author. But so is faith is one’s creative abilities, deep down, the way the Force is for Luke Skywalker. It has to be. As desperate as things seem, he can ultimately find that calm centre telling him everything will work out fine if he believes in his ability to make it so. Sometimes that means taking hits, revising strategies, and growing a thicker skin in the process.

It also means taking chances and following them through no matter what. More than anything else, that’s what Sparks in Cosmic Dust means to me. No half measures. No compromises.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

As it turned out, the Force was strong with me. Alissa Davis, my steampunk editor at Carina, isn’t keen on straight SF so she passed it on to Deb Nemeth, who loved it. Consequently, I now have two of the best editors I’ve ever worked with, in my two favourite genres.

Eat that, Sarlacc!

The final frontier is shrinking. Interstellar Planetary Administration sanctions are forcing the border colonies of deep space into extinction. Kappa Max is one of the last major cutthroat outposts, home to the lawless and the lonely…

Varinia Wilcox, the star attraction of a lucrative bordello gambling house.
Solomon Bodine, spurned by his lover and looking for distraction.
Clayton Barry, AWOL and a few drinks away from having to live in the gutter.
Lyssa Foaloak, a double-crossing criminal who’ll kill anyone for a few credits.

Four strangers, each with secrets that could cost them their freedom, are desperate to get off-planet. They meet Grace Peters, a cynical ex-doctor with an intriguing offer: a six-month trip to a faraway moon where she claims a stunning fortune awaits.

But this adventure is no easy escape. Danger, passion, secrets and madness await. Can they survive the mission, and each other, to make it out alive?

87,000 words

To celebrate the release of Sparks in Cosmic Dust, I’ve written a five-part look at the book’s development, from initial concept to publication. I’m also giving away one SF title from my back catalogue with each segment, ending with this special Sparks giveaway. The contests are all still live, and the winners will be announced on September 30th on my own blog:

Here’s where you can find the other installments:

Part 1: Concept (Aug 31)—Contact: Infinite Futures Blog
Part 2: Character (Sep 13)—Mercurial Times (my blog)
Part 3: Worldbuilding (Sep 23)—Shawn Kupfer’s Blog
Part 4: The Writing Process (Sep 26)—Cathy Pegau’s Blog

With this final installment, I’m giving away an ebook copy of Sparks in Cosmic Dust. To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post. Also, anyone who enters all five contests will automatically win an ebook of their choice (except Sparks) from my SF backlist.

Thanks and good luck!

Robert Appleton

The Way It Should Have Been…

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Just as we ogle The Mysterious Lady Law in her intriguing cover art, she points her magnifying glass at us, the readers, perhaps asking why we are drawn to this oddball genre no one seems capable of describing in a single sentence. A quick browse through Carina’s catalogue will tell you—from the eight different steampunk authors, there are eight different definitions of steampunk.

From westerns to pirates to magicians to automatons, we’re stretching the genre every which way. The commonalities—Victorian era mis-en-scene, hyper-advanced steam technology, a fun reimagining of history—are the main draws as always, but the genre’s such a Rorschach for authors (and readers) right now, it’s a case of pretty much anything goes.

And that’s fabulous. I hope steampunk doesn’t settle into mainly romance or mainly mystery or paranormal or anything else. I hope writers can continue projecting their own geek passions onto the page.

My biggest inspirations are the Victorian/Edwardian sci-fi and adventure writers: Wells, Verne, Haggard, ER Burroughs. Before I was published, I’d already read pretty much everything by those authors and become frustrated by the lack of similar novels in modern literature. Sure, there’s no shortage of adventure and sci-fi, but something about that period, those manners, their mellifluous prose that flows through the mind and off the tongue—to me, that’s when the art of writing peaked and when the age of adventure enjoyed its last hurrah. Told you I got my geek on.

Oh, and it might be non-steampunk, but Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (the novel and the classic TV series) is my number one go-to story for soaking up the eloquence of bygone England. Jeremy Irons’s narration is the best I’ve ever heard for anything—someone please hire him to read for my next audiobook. :fights off a hundred screaming Carina authors:

So why steampunk?

I think steampunk is our attempt to recapture, redesign and elaborate upon elements of that lost world, and to make them as entertaining as we possibly can for today’s readers. In Lady Law, I peppered the story with literary references such as Horace Holly (from Haggard’s She), a giant burrowing machine (Burroughs’s Pellucidar series), and even Allan Quatermain—I just love that retro-speculative vibe done so well in stories like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Then there’s a steam-powered penny-farthing, a tower for scientists that pierces the clouds, and of course, a fleet of positively spiffing airships. And none of that includes the Conan-Doyle-esque mystery at the heart of the story.

One of the reasons I write steampunk is because it presents the best of both worlds: historical research blended with my personal fantastical (read: bollocks science) conjecturing. It’s a whole heap of fun to cherry pick from history and retro-science and then fashion a parallel world where everything’s a bit out of whack. Playtime for an author who suffers from genre promiscuity. And I’m loving the unique concoctions served up by Carina authors so far.

My next steampunk at Carina—Prehistoric Clock—is an all-out adventure on a much bigger scale (guess which Conan Doyle novel inspired it!), and I’ve already hatched outlines for sequels. Someone better stop me before the world really does revert to steam power! And top hats! And…politeness, damn it!

What steampunk trend, if any, would you like to see make a comeback in 2011 society?

Btw, congratulations, Kate and William!

Steampunk Got Rhythm

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[Stay tuned for an eBook contest at the end].

Okay, quick question: How many of you write poetry?

All right, and from those who affirmed, how many write traditional rhyming (metric) verse? Not many, I’ll bet?

And lastly, of those rhymers, how many of you write narrative (story-based) rhyming verse? That’s pretty rare, but I know there are still some of us around, quixotically playing bard.

Okay, now here’s where I come in. You see, about six years ago, from that niche within a niche, I co-wrote a collection of sci-fi/fantasy narrative rhyming verse with a Tasmanian author named Sally Odgers. Just for fun. We fashioned our style on the Victorian/Edwardian poets we loved, and pretty much threw caution to the wind. Our verse was often so dizzyingly “out there” in terms of structure and plot, we ended up trying to one-up each other on both counts. The result, while probably un-publishable (hey, never say never!), was a creative explosion of story ideas the likes of which I’ve never encountered anywhere else.

Better than any outline, our poetry had verve and passion and vivid imagery to boot, not to mention fully-formed “high-concept” plots galore. Enough for decades of story writing. Even after I stopped penning verse, I carried those crazy ideas around with me like a magician’s bag of tricks, hoping to some day dust them off in a fresh venue, for a new audience.

In early 2010, lightning struck when I read the Carina Press submission page and saw they wanted steampunk, a genre I’d never tried in prose but had unwittingly—before I knew what the word meant—fashioned into verse several times. The elements suddenly came together: Victorian era, science fiction, crazy technology, vivid imagery, high-concepts galore. And I had the ideal plot raring to go, ripped from the pages of retro poetry.

The title of the poem was The Miraculous Case Files of Herbert Law. Sound intriguing? Get this: an arrogant private detective solves over six hundred cold case crimes in Victorian London, and no one can fathom how he does it. I can’t spoil the rest, but suffice to say the novella outline practically wrote itself. Herbert Law became the icy private detective Lady Harriet Law, and the feminine angle really fascinated me in the story, especially as the working-class heroine, Julia Bairstow, is ultimately the one who turns sleuth. Also, some of the crazy steam-powered inventions in The Mysterious Lady Law are taken directly from those old SF poems!

So it just shows, a good idea, no matter how obscure, need never go to waste. It’s all about believing in that idea and never letting go—even when it seems buried in a niche within a niche inside an old poetic lark.

The Mysterious Lady Law is out now at Carina.

In a time of grand airships and steam-powered cars, the death of a penniless young maid will hardly make the front page. But part-time airship waitress and music hall dancer Julia Bairstow is shattered by her sister’s murder. When Lady Law, the most notorious private detective in Britain, offers to investigate the case pro bono, Julia jumps at the chance—even against the advice of Constable Al Grant, who takes her protection surprisingly to heart.

Lady Law puts Scotland Yard to shame. She’s apprehended Jack the Ripper and solved countless other cold-case crimes. No one knows how she does it, but it’s brought her fortune, renown and even a title. But is she really what she claims to be—a genius at deducting? Or is Al right and she is not be trusted?

Julia is determined to find out the truth, even if it means turning sleuth herself—and turning the tables on Lady Law…

Have you tried steampunk yet? What was the last steampunk book you read?

If you’d like to win an eBook copy of Lady Law, simply leave a comment on this post and I’ll pick a winner at the end of the day. Good luck!

P.S. I would have loved to post an excerpt from the poem, but pretty much every verse is a big fat rotten spoiler…and stinks of tobacco!

Robert lives in Bolton, Northwest England. When not writing, he loves to kayak whenever he can (not often enough), underachieve at soccer with his long-standing 5-a-side team, and climb the occasional mountain. His favorite authors include Patrick O’Brian, H. Rider Haggard and H.G. Wells. He is also a film buff (with a degree to prove it) who adores Harryhausen, Spielberg and Oliver Stone.

Catch him online at his website: