Writing Steampunk: Thematic Material
Welcome back! I recently covered an interview with Barbra J. Dillon from Fanbase Press. It was interesting to have the perspectives and advice from someone who works in the publishing industry. Her interview gave me another idea for my writing steampunk series. Thematic material is very important in any form of fiction, but many people overlook it. What is a theme and how important is it in steampunk fiction? I'll explain it to you.
Truthfully, this post will work for most types of fiction. It doesn't have to be specific to steampunk. However, steampunk might have some recurring themes within the genre. Overall, a theme is a major component that a reader can pull out of a story. It's not the actual plot. Instead, themes are ideas, messages, or morals that an author disperses throughout their work. For those of you who want to be writers, it's important to have some cohesive ideas in the central story. Nearly every book has thematic material, even if it's unintentional. It's very common for readers to find themes that weren't consciously made by the author. That's completely okay. It happens all the time. On the flip side, many authors commit a lot of effort to their themes, but it might not seem obvious to the readers. That part is a bigger problem. Authors can be very meticulous with their thematic material and it's unfortunate if the audience doesn't recognize anything. Honestly, it means the author wasn't very clear. Most literary work has multiple themes. It's normal to have many themes in a book, but try not to go crazy. Stuffing twenty or more themes in a story can make a book seem convoluted, pretentious, and confusing. Make sure your themes fit the plot, characters, and conflicts. Your themes should make sense and support everything that's happening in the story. Readers might disconnect from your book if the thematic material seems out of place or random. I don't think it's difficult for authors to create thematic material. Writers simply need to find themes that are interesting or valuable to them.
What types of themes are common in steampunk literature? Notable themes include industrialization, science, moral ambiguity, societal conflicts, and anything regarding the punk element. Victorian and fantasy driven themes are also typical in steampunk. Some themes focus on the characters. Let me give you a couple examples. If your protagonist is a strong, rebellious female character, readers might pull out feminist themes. Perhaps, your story focuses on a major conflict between two social classes. That means the thematic material will focus on different types of societal conflicts like status, privilege, money, corruption, etc. Individuality would probably be a significant theme for a protagonist who is the lone wolf type with a lot trust issues. There's no limit to the thematic material. An author can create any themes they find appropriate.
Steampunk can also include themes that are not specific to particular genres. Common thematic material includes love, ambition, vengeance, hope, forgiveness, despair, truth, lies, honor, greed, etc. The list could literally continue forever. If you're incorporating a lot of romance in a steampunk tale, love will be a major theme. What if your protagonist is on a quest to avenge someone they lost? At that point, you're looking at vengeance and possibly forgiveness. You'll always have a lot of choice for thematic material. That's why themes are so easy and approachable. Granted, it also means to you need to pick and choose the most important themes.
What are the challenging elements about thematic material? Many authors begin with a list of specific themes to include in their work. The story begins with a specific set of themes, but then it might venture away from them. At the end, you wind up with completely different themes. Suddenly, you lost the plot's consistency and main ideas. If this situation happens, readers will probably feel confused and frustrated. That's partially why I think a basic outline can be helpful. Outlines don't need to be complex, but they can help a writer stay on track and remember important themes.
I include a variety of themes in The Post-Apocalyptic Society. My characters try to include a lot of Victorianism and Romanticism from the 19th century in their culture. The series is both dystopian and post-apocalyptic, so you'll see themes about survival. I try to include the concepts of genetic engineering and industrial revolution. You could probably find retro futurism and an unconventional view on evolution. My characters place a strong value on family and allies, so you should also spot loyalty as a big theme too. Perhaps, you could find other themes in my work.
That concludes my post about thematic material in steampunk fiction. I foresee more writing topics in the future. Leave a comment if you want to say anything about this post. Next week's post will probably be another film review. There are so many fascinating movies in 2017. It's almost time for Halloween too! I hope you guys have time to party, but try not to get in trouble. Have fun Trick or Treating with the kids and stay tuned for next week's post.
Interview: Barbra J. Dillon
Q: Thanks for checking out my blog again! I had excellent viewership last month and hopefully the trend will continue. We have another special guest. I’m having a Q&A session with Barbra J. Dillon, the editor-in-chief of Fanbase Press. They’re an independent publisher of fantasy, science fiction, action/adventure, and horror comics. Many of you know I took the self-publishing route. This is the most typical option for most writers because traditional publishing is so competitive. I thought Barbra could give us insights about the publishing industry along with helpful tips for potential authors. Thank you very much for joining us today, Barbra.
A: Happy to be here, Stephanie.
Q: First, would you mind telling us some information about Fanbase Press?
A: Hi, Stephanie! Thanks for allowing me to chat with you and your readers about our company. Founded in 2010, Fanbase Press is a comic book publisher and an online community supporting other creators and fans through daily reviews, interviews, and podcasts. At Fanbase Press, we like to say that we’re “celebrating fandoms and creating new ones!” Throughout our run, we have published a number of comic book series and graphic novels appealing to readers of various genres – from horror to all-ages superhero tales.
Q: What makes your company different than other publishers?
A: I think that our company sets itself apart by providing hands-on, personalized support to our creators throughout every aspect of the publishing process (from developing the material to marketing and selling it at conventions), as well as by providing promotional support and guidance to creators as they work to find new audiences, no matter their experience level. We want to provide a platform for all creative individuals to share their work with the world.
Q: Fanbase Press has a wide variety of services for indie writers. What kind of help do you provide?
A: We offer promotional assistance to creators of all entertainment mediums (e.g., comics, movies, TV, games, theatre, etc.) by way of reviews, interviews, and guest spots on our flagship podcast, The Fanbase Weekly. Fanbase Press has an incredible team of staff members and contributors all across the country who volunteer their time to provide thoughtful and constructive reviews. Creators are always welcome to contact us for review requests, and the instructions for doing so are listed under the “About” section of our website.
Q: Let’s compare and contrast traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Which option do you recommend for budding authors?
A: Ultimately, choosing between traditional publishing (i.e., submitting your work to a publisher for publishing consideration) and self-publishing is a decision that may differ for every creator. Each option has its own pros and cons. Self-publishing allows a creator complete control over their content, how it is marketed, to whom it is marketed, and how it is sold; however, it is imperative for a creator to be aware of the amount of work (and various “hats”) that will be taken on when choosing this route. By self-publishing, you are not only the creator, but the editor, the sales team, the website administrator, the convention coordinator, the marketing director, and so on. Alternatively, by submitting your work to a publisher (if accepted), some of the responsibilities will be lifted from your plate, given that you will have an experienced team helping you with the editorial and pre-press (i.e., preparing the layout of the book for print) processes. In addition, you may lose some creative control and/or ownership of the work, depending on the publishing deal offered by the respective company. It is important to note, though, that even when publishing through an established or small press publishing company, more often than not, creators will still be responsible for the bulk of marketing their work and selling it at conventions. This can be an aspect of the traditional publishing process of which creators are not aware, leaving them surprised when a publisher does not put its full weight behind promoting a project. There are many factors to consider when choosing traditional versus self-publishing, and it really does depend on the creator’s available time, resources, and bandwidth to take on either approach to publishing.
Q: How competitive is the industry for writers? I don’t mind if you’re brutally honest.
A: Most entertainment industries (e.g., literary, comics, movies/TV, etc.) are inherently competitive, but there are so many incredible resources and opportunities at this time for creators to be able to publish, market, and distribute their work. No longer are creators restricted by financial resources or traditional publishing/production avenues. For comic book creators, you can utilize the internet to post webcomics without having to worry about printing costs. For those creators who may be in need of capital, there are several crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Seed&Spark that provide opportunities to both reach new audiences and garner funding. Creators looking to publish books and/or comics can utilize print-on-demand services through Amazon or similar platforms. In addition, the plethora of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and deviantART provide opportunities to spread the word about your work at no cost. The great takeaway for me is that if you are a creator who wants to share their passion and creativity with the world, there are so many opportunities for you to do so that are inclusive of creators with limited resources.
Q: Would you say the fan base for science fiction and fantasy is growing or shrinking? It can directly impact book sales.
A: I think that the science fiction and fantasy genres are alive and well, not only in literature but throughout all entertainment mediums. Intellectual properties are no longer bound by a singular medium, which allows for new fandoms to grow and expand – and for those new fans to seek out the content in as many forms as possible. Plus, with the popularity of properties like Game of Thrones, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Blade Runner, and more, there is no shortage of fans for fantasy and science fiction.
Q: Marketing is very difficult and important for every author. Do you have any marketing tips?
A: Marketing is a very important aspect of the creative process, but it can prove challenging for those who may struggle with promoting themselves or engaging with others in a social setting. My recommendation is always to be planful in every step of your process and to create a strategy and timeline for when you want to begin marketing, what it will look like, which platform(s) you will utilize, the types of promotional materials you may purchase (e.g., business cards, postcards, etc.), whether you will visit bookstores/comic book stores/etc. to introduce store owners to your work, and more. If you can plan ahead and anticipate where you may have questions or when you may need assistance, you can allow time to reach out for help, if and when it may be needed. Aside from the mechanics of marketing, my biggest recommendation when it comes to marketing is to always be kind. This may sound like a simple piece of advice, but it cannot be overstated that kindness and genuineness will always endear you to colleagues, prospective customers, review outlets, and other business professionals.
Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen from writers?
A: As both a publisher and an editor (who oversees review requests from outside creators), I am grateful to have a shared perspective of both sides of the publishing process. In my experience, when it comes to creators submitting review requests or submissions for publishing consideration, there are a few practices that I encourage creators to avoid. First, when reaching out to a publisher or reviewer, please avoid sending mass emails to a number of outlets; if you do not take the time to personalize your email to a specific person/outlet, the outlet will not take the time to consider your request. Second, the creators at many (if not most) review outlets work on a voluntary basis, and they may receive hundreds of similar requests on top of balancing their own personal lives and jobs. Please remember to be patient when corresponding with review outlets, and please provide as much information about your project as possible at the outset rather than putting the onus on the reviewer to garner information from you. (You are essentially asking a reviewer for free promotion. Please do not make their job more difficult by making them guess as to who you are, what your project is about, how it can be purchased, etc.)
Q: I see a lot of writing competitions. Are they actually beneficial for writers?
A: I have not had a great deal of experience when it comes to writing competitions; however, I would always encourage writers to participate, if only to gain further experience in honing their craft and also to open additional opportunities to have your work be seen by a larger audience.
Q: What are the top three most important elements for potential authors to know?
A: I would recommend:
1) Practice, practice, practice. Sometimes, the hardest step can be to begin writing. Even if your early work never sees the light of day, it’s okay; the important thing is to practice getting your thoughts down on paper. You can have a million ideas in your head, but if you do not start writing, in your head they will stay!
2) It’s okay to ask for help. There are so many wonderful resources, writers’ groups, and even friends and family members who will offer support to both new and seasoned writers. If you are unsure of something or an aspect of the writing process, feel free to reach out to friends, colleagues, or other writers to ask questions and learn from their advice and experience.
3) “There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” Fred Rogers
Q: Every author has a motivation behind the scenes. I love writing and science fiction in general. Writing is also a fun way to make bold statements. Why do you think many writers want to publish their work?
A: That is a really great question, but I feel that it would be disingenuous for me to answer on behalf of other writers’ motivations. As you said, I think that every author has their own motivation or drive behind why they write. It could be because of a genuine love of writing, it could be a need to share a story or stories with the world, or it could be with the hope of fostering a career in the creative arts. No matter the reason, if you love writing, I would encourage you to give it a try or to stick with it even when it becomes challenging. Creative outlets can be extremely fulfilling and rewarding in their own right.
Q: Do you have any exciting news to tell us?
A: I am excited to share that the printed trade paperback of the bilingual comic book series, Quince, will be released on October 23. Quince is a 15-issue series that follows a year in the life of Lupe, a 15-year-old girl who discovers that her quinceañera brings with it a super cool party . . . and superpowers. Her quince powers only last as long as she’s fifteen, so over the course of this rollercoaster year, we follow the adventures of Lupe as she figures out what it really means to be a hero. All issues of the series are currently being released digitally through ComiXology in both English and Spanish. More information can be found at www.quincecomic.com.
I would also encourage readers to check out our website (www.fanbasepress.com) for the amazing content generated each day by our extremely talented staff and contributors. We truly do love celebrating fandoms and creating new ones, and we hope to offer a safe and welcoming space for creators and fans to celebrate what they love.
Thank you again for allowing me to participate in this interview and for the opportunity to share our work at Fanbase Press!
Q: This was a really fun and interesting interview. I definitely learned some things today and hopefully, other writers will listen to your advice as well. We’ll probably meet again at future Comic Cons or events. Thanks for creating so many unique comic book series and bringing a variety of services to writers. Keep up the good work and we’ll see each other another time.
A: Best wishes, Stephanie!
That's the end of my interview with Barbra J. Dillon. I met her at a handful of events and she's always very friendly. In fact, she's quite helpful to indie authors in general. You can visit the Fanbase Press website to find out more about their services and publications. Their publication are very diverse on many levels. If you want to try something different, take a look at their comic books. I'm going to leave additional links for Fanbase Press. Go ahead and explore anything that strikes your fancy. I haven't decided on next week's blog post yet. Maybe it will be a surprise for all of us! Thanks for being a great audience and have a fabulous week.
Online Store: http://fanboycomics.ecrater.com/
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