Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is one of my favourite Steampunk writers Kara Jorgensen, author of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series!
Good morning Kara, thank you so much for coming to help me it is so nice to welcome you back to my soup kitchen again, I hope your journey here from your won dimension was a good one?
…. It’s always a little rough this time of year, but luckily, I made it in one piece. Thank you so much for having me.
Oh you’re most welcome , Dear, it is lovely to have you back! And have you brought something delicious with you today to share with the orphans?
I have brought some Tamatar Palak Ka Shorba, or Indian spinach and tomato soup. Here’s the link to the recipe:
Thankyou! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t we have a little peer into its depths and see what images it can conjure up for us from the aether?
Ah yes, the Steampunk genre is certainly full of characters who sport mechanical prosthesis of one form or another isn’t it? I wonder why that is?
I’ve wondered that myself. A lot of it I think is merely due to aesthetics. You can add all sorts of gizmos and gadgets to a prosthetic, like knives, guns, rocket launchers (if you’re a little more modern in your punking). Plus, then your character has some steampunk flavor beyond just their clothing. Now they are actively part of the genre, so to speak. If it’s an actual limb, your character will also regain most of their function or even more, depending on how functional the prosthesis is.
Prosthesis feature prominently in your own writing, not simply as an aesthetic to support the genre but as key elements which shape the narrative, was this a conscious decision?
Yes, it was definitely a conscious decision. While I enjoy the aesthetics of steampunk, I had read a story where the prosthetic served no other purpose than to look cool. I didn’t want that with Eilian and his arm. Disabilities aren’t a costume, and I didn’t think a character with a disability should merely be used to strengthen the genre’s aesthetic. I wanted to show Eilian’s struggles with coming to terms with his disability and eventually progressing enough that he could function without an arm or prosthetic. I felt that journey was necessary before I introduced the prosthetic arm into the story. Instead of having the prosthetic “solve” his problems, I wanted him to solve them himself.
Of course to Eilian and Hadley, prosthetics have a huge impact on their lives in many ways…
Oh yes, well, poor Eilian is minus one arm, so his prosthetic arm plays a large role in his story. Going from an active world-traveller to an invalid, even temporarily, is a huge blow to him, but he eventually adapts to his burn scars and missing arm. His first prosthesis is horribly cumbersome and not worth wearing. After he meets Hadley, well, I won’t give too much away, but she devices something much more functional. Prostheses are Hadley’s business, so they are her livelihood. As a woman in the Victorian Era, she is expected to keep house and have children, but because she is the last surviving member of her family who can create prostheses, she totally goes against the norms of the time by actively working on mechanical devices.
But for Immanuel, his eye injury is not remedied by technology or medical science. Did you ever think that he might choose to try and repair or replace his injured eye, or was that never an issue for his character?
It may sound silly, but I don’t think Immanuel likes to admit that his eye bothers him. In several scenes, his partner has suggested he get glasses, but I don’t think there would be any other technology that could “fix” his eye. In my writing, I only use materials that were at least semi readily available during the Victorian Era, so I can’t make anything too complex. A moveable arm is one thing, but an eye is a much higher level of complexity. I couldn’t think of a way to make a device to help him see that wasn’t completely anachronistic.
You do a marvellous job of showing the complexities that Eilian has to face, both physical, logistical and social when he loses his arm, do you think it’s important to explore these issues in Steampunk and not just have characters ‘slap on a clockwork prosthetic limb and jump back into the fray’ ?
Very. It’s one thing if the story takes place a long time after the character lost their limb or they have always used a prosthesis (as in someone who has a birth defect). Then, it would make sense for them to slap on a prosthesis and go, but to lose a limb is a life-changing event. To brush it off as if it were nothing is unrealistic and kind of insulting to those who have gone through similar traumatic experiences. One thing I try to teach in my creative writing classes is that characters are people, too, so you have to give them human psyches. Exploring these psychological and sociological complexities are what make works of fiction rich, and in my writing, I try very hard to give my characters realistic experiences that readers can connect to.
Immanuel certainly has some physical injuries remaining from his ordeal with Lord Rose (goodness that monster’s name sends a shiver down my spine!) but what affects his life the most is PTSD, isn’t it?
Definitely, his PTSD is far worse than any physical wound. In time, those heal and disappear, or scars at least lessen, but PTSD never truly goes away. As I mentioned before, my characters are written to be human and have human limitations, as far as trauma goes. After being kidnapped and tortured for nearly three months, he has deep psychological wounds. I try not to overdo it in his stories to the point that his PTSD is comical or makes him seem completely dysfunctional, but it affects his everyday life. There are times when something triggers flashbacks to Lord Rose (such as cigarette smoke) or he has a panic attack that tears his mind away from reality. As the series goes on, his PTSD lessens to a point and the psychological issues associated with it change with the healing process.
Prosthetics are very popular in Steampunk cosplay but do you think there is ever a line of tension between creating worlds where varying abilities and needs form major narrative / aesthetic devices, and making those worlds accessible to real people with varying needs and abilities?
I’m not someone with a physical disability, so I can’t say for certain but I could definitely see how that tension could arise. When a disability is used as a prop, it may look cool to the average reader, but to someone with a similar disability in real life, it could be disheartening to see themselves used to further an aesthetic while in real life they struggle for accommodations that would help them live a more normal life. Having a disabled character float through life, especially Victorian life, without issue is hard to believe unless a very high percentage of people in that world are also disabled. No one’s hardship should be used as a prop, whether it’s a disability, their sexuality, or their race, just because it makes the character more exotic or interesting. These things affect people’s lives, and to treat it as nothing more than added flavour, is disrespectful to those living with it.
Do you think more can be done to make sure that Steampunk fiction and conventions are made accessible and welcoming for all fans of the genre?
With conventions, it is fairly easy: make sure the events are all on one floor or have elevators and accommodations for those who need them. The Steampunk World’s Fair does a good job of being inclusive for those with disabilities, differing sexualities, nationalities, etc. Panels on writing/creating characters different from yourself would help a lot to create awareness among writers that their stories could hurt people with disabilities if they don’t do proper research. Going off that, writers of steampunk fiction can take these things seriously when they write and be aware of what having a foreign or disabled character really means and what bad representation does to those that character represents.
Thankyou Kara for those wise and insightful words, I absoloutely agree with you. It really has been so wonderful to chat to you today, thank you so much for coming to give me a hand in the kitchen again! Now then, the kettle is singing so why don’t we pour a nice brew and you can tell me about what is new in the world of Ingenious Mechanical Devices; I know you have Selkie Cove which has just been released ?
Oh yes, Selkie Cove, book five of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices, came out in late July. It’s my latest book child, and I’m super stoked to have it out in the world. In Selkie Cove, Adam and Immanuel get involved with a magical government agency called Her Majesty’s Interceptors, and for them to join, they must first solve a case involving a murdered creature called a selkie. The selkies are seemingly half-human and half-seal and dwell in the northern waters between England and Scandinavia. Along the way, they find more dead bodies, new powers, and that Adam has been holding back more than he’s let on.
And do you have any new titles planned for next year?
Several, hopefully. I’m currently writing a story about Emmeline Jardine that takes place around the same time as Selkie Cove. She finds new love, some interesting lore about her family, and a new direction for her life. In 2018, I’m hoping to write another Eilian and Hadley story as well as an Immanuel and Adam story. With those, I only have a vague idea of what those might be about, but the Emmeline story should be out by Spring 2018 at the latest.
Well that certainly is alot to look forward to! Oh! I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready so shall we start dishing it up?
Mmmm, I can’t wait. Thank you so much for having me. Bon appetit!
Thankyou all of you for joining us in the kitchen today, if you would like to find out more about Kara’s writing you can find her on the aether-web here…
Blessings on your brew my dears!