Steampunk Saturday: Guest Post: Deb Howell

Today’s Steampunk Saturday post is by my good writer friend Deb. I’m very pleased to have known her for close to a year now, and she has helped me learn a lot about the craft of writing. So, take it away, Deb!


Hey yo!

So, I’ve been a long time follower of our dear friend Chris, here, and when he said he was running a series of Steampunk Saturdays, I thought I’d jump in there. I’ve been dabbling on the fringes of Steampunk for a long while, which either means I have no idea what I’m talking about, or I have a unique viewpoint. Shall we pretend the latter and proceed? Yeah, alright, I understand. But let’s go on anyway, eh?

I returned to writing by accident. I’m not going to lie and say I’ve written my whole life. I mean, in many ways I have, but I never considered fiction as anything more than a fun way to pass the time, or the fun part of taking English classes. When I found myself out of permanent work and keeping ends together by temping, I also rediscovered my love of writing fiction.

I stumbled half-drunk into the Steampunk camp in much the same way. But I’ve always been rather shy, so I’ve kind of stuck to the outskirts. Sure, some part of me wants to dive right in, go the whole hog, bite the bullet and get in there with costumes and gadgets (where are the little book-like wallets for – cheap – Android phones, I ask you?Where?). But I guess, just as I am with my fiction, I’m still discovering my style.

One particular point I would like to make about Steampunk is that it is generally accepted that the stories are set in Victorian times, but that does not mean they must be Victorian England. So, the Victorian Era covers the entire reign of Queen Victoria – 1837-1901. That’s a lot of scope as far as time goes. What about geography? Well, it seems it depends how much of a purist you are. I’m no purist. My favourite music tends to be those bands/songs that blur the genre lines. So, my personal preference is for the late 1800s in the Wild West. Or even Victorian New Zealand (which I think combines the two, because we had fresh settlers from the British Isles, but we were very much taming a frontier at the time). It’s just a time and place I have a great affinity for, and so, it is what I choose to write.

My personal love affair with the Wild West probably started with the 1980s show Bonanza. Don’t ask me what it was about. I was a little girl and there were horses. And then there was The Young Riders at the end of the ’80s and into the early ’90s. Horses, and boys… and I was less of a little girl by then, so that certainly caught my interest. And then there was The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., which, I believe, was my first true exposure to Steampunk. It featured time travel: while the show was set in 1893, the main antagonist, John Bly, came from the year 2506. It featured amazing technologies for the error it was set in: each episode featured something, and yes, there was an airship! But there were also motorbikes, jeans, a slide-show projector and fingerprint technology. This was all explained by the hapless inventor (aka “tinkerer”) Professor Albert Wickwire, played by John Astin.

So, you see, when I think of Steampunk, my first image isn’t of the industrially smoky streets, nor the beautifully upholstered mansions, of Victorian London. No, I see gritty pioneer towns where law is still finding its feet, and futuristic references are added for a giggle (for instance, a strangely Elvis-like sheriff, or discussion of the convenience of ride-by take-away restaurant meals). That’s not to say such things found their way into my story. I’m not that clever…

Now, some may say Brisco County is “Weird West” rather than “Steampunk”, but I argue that they share so may similarities that it barely matters. And if it does, well then, perhaps Weird West needs to up its popularity and visibility. See, I bet it’s not just me that would rather delve into the wild frontiers boots and all (see that? I’m just tossing them out there, huh?)

So, there you go. My humble view of the scope of the Steampunk genre and its relatives.

My favourite aspect of the whole thing would be the “tinkerer” character(s). What fun one can have with those… Well? What are you waiting for? Go and think up something tinkery and put it in a story already!

Thanks for that, Deb! Check out Deb’s blog at


4 thoughts on “Steampunk Saturday: Guest Post: Deb Howell

  1. Deb, I like your notion/point of view regarding the Wild West and tinkerers. I look at Iron West by Doug TenNapel as a terrific steampunk/weird western or Daisy Kutter by Kazu Kibuishi. Both are graphic novels that shouldn’t be missed. Personally, my writing is taking place in Pennsylvania at the peak of industrial progress for the city, though I’d like to point out that my main character has spent some time in the west.

    I also enjoyed your thoughts on Brisco County Jr. I knew about the show when it was on the air, but never spent too much time watching it. I may have to correct that oversight, especially since I enjoy Bruce Campbell and John Astin O.G. (the Original Gomez) a great deal.

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