Q: Good evening! Welcome to another steampunk interview. Today, I’m speaking with Karen J. Carlisle, a steampunk author and one of my peers. Thanks for visiting, Karen.
A: Glad to be here, Stephanie.
Q: Why did you become a writer?
A: I think I’ve always been a writer at heart. I won a school poetry competition at age nine. I returned to writing in high school (there’s a 210 page typed copy of a SF/comedy book in the shed somewhere). At University, the urge surfaced in the form of D&D campaigns. Then real life hit. I suppressed the urge. I dabbled again in the mid-90s, but was actively discouraged from pursuing it (long story); I had a sensible, well-paying job. Why should I want to give that up? In 2013, I began writing in earnest to relieve work anxiety. I quit my job in 2014, due to increasing health issues, and have been writing full time since then.
Q: Are you traditionally published or self-published?
A: Self-published at this stage. I would consider hybrid publishing in the future.
Q: Do you find writing therapeutic, stressful, or some of each?
A: Definitely therapeutic. There is some stress when facing a blank page or when struggling with low confidence – though I’m told there are many writers who doubt themselves. I am happiest when I am creating.
Q: You have several collections in the Adventures of Viola Stewart series. Would you mind telling us some information about your protagonist?
A: Viola Stewart is a widow, in her early thirties. She studied medicine in Edinburgh, where she met her friends Doctor Henry Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle, and her first husband, Donell. Unfortunately, she graduated in the nineteenth century when women weren’t allowed to register as doctors. She works as an optician, occasionally assisting her friend, Doctor Collins in the Police morgue. She is independent, curious and an avid reader of mysteries. All of which get her into situations not ‘suitable for the fairer sex’. Her penchant for detectiving is fuelled by Doctor Conan Doyle, who supplies her with a continual source of mystery and detective books. She inspires others to join her: Henry and his friend, Sir Archibald Huntington-Smythe (a biomechanical surgeon). Even her maid, Polly, joins in on the fun. All the while, Viola is struggling against society’s expectations on what a woman should, or should not do.
Q: I’m under the impression that your stories have a component of mystery. Am I right?
A: Yes. They are effectively murder mysteries. Each story delves into a different aspect of Victorian life or interest, from which a new mystery surfaces (usually involving a murder). If you read carefully, you will find each story is influenced by a different nineteenth century novel or short story. Oh, I’ve given away a clue! I grew up reading Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Sherlock Holmes. I devour mystery/detective movies and television shows. I always hope to be surprised. Some make for a great mental workout.
Q: It also seems like steampunk and romance often go together. In fact, some readers call this combination gaslamp fantasy. Are you a fan of this subgenre?
A: Ah, the Gaslamp fantasy I know is a darker Victorian fantasy, often with paranormal aspects, reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley. I see the romance as a minor component in the genre, not an integral part of it. I don’t read romance genre novels specifically. I do like Jane Austin. I am a romantic. I think everyone deserves to be loved. When I started The Adventures of Viola Stewart series, I didn’t expect it to have a romance component – but Henry Collins had other plans.
Q: Every steampunk fan has his or her views on the genre. What does steampunk mean to you?
A: It is not just a fandom or a cosplay genre. It is a community of like-minded individuals who revel in the culture. It is fun. It is whimsy. It is inspirational. It is science meeting art, celebrating imagination, creativity, and individuality, with a maker’s ethic.
Q: Steampunk continues to change and evolve. What are some changes that you noticed during the past few years?
A: I’ve been involved in the local steampunk community for a decade now. Our local group has a family-friendly atmosphere, with picnics, charity fundraisers, zoo excursions, LARP-like events and, more recently an annual steampunk pirate ball. Possibly the biggest changes I have seen parallel those seen in cosplay and fandom. As steampunk has become more mainstream, there has been a sexing-up of steampunk, and an attempt by big business to commercialize and homogenise the genre. This isn’t always consistent with the basic ethos of steampunk individuality, equality, and creativity. If you can channel your passion into a living, that’s fantastic (hey, I write steampunk books), but trying to cash in on the trend and exploiting the community is not on. I recently had to send a ‘cease and desist’ to a commercial steampunk clothing website as they had stolen some event images from my webpage. It seems it wasn’t the first time they had done so.I do think the community will continue to survive and thrive when the mainstream discovers its next ‘new thing.’ In the end, our community will be slightly bigger and invigorated by the injection of new members and ideas.
Q: What’s your favorite type of steampunk setting? Victorian, Wild West, post-apocalyptic, or something else?
A: I love science and I love art. I think that’s why I like the Victorian era – it sits on the cusp of old beliefs and superstitions and the dawn of science. There was a sense of wonder and excitement. Anything is possible, and encouraged. I can ‘punk’ the social norms of the era and create a (better) alternate world. For me, the Victorian setting inspires more positive ‘feels’ than a post-apocalyptic setting. And the clothes are gorgeous.
Q: Be honest. Do you think the steampunk subculture is growing or shrinking?
A: There was an increase in numbers with the growing mainstream attention. As steampunk is becoming less ‘trendy’ the numbers are settling down but, in general, there seems to be an increase in core group numbers – at least locally. There also seems to be more people travelling to events, and an increase in the number of steampunk events throughout Australia. I also play internationally (at least when it comes to writing steampunk), and have a lot of steampunk writer friends in New Zealand, UK and Europe.
Q: Aside from your own work, what’s your favorite steampunk book series or individual novel?
A: I like ‘Soulless’ by Gail Carriger. I love her whimsical gadgets, her writing voice and the way she integrates the supernatural into her world.
Q: Cosplay seems to be an important part of the steampunk subculture. Why do you think steampunk fans enjoy cosplay so much?
A: I came to steampunk by way of costuming. For me, it is the challenge of researching and making period outfits – and then adding a fantastical twist. Dressing steampunk instils a sense of whimsy. I need more whimsy in my life. And, face it, the outfits are cool!
Q: What’s next for you?
A: A new challenge – a full length novel – the first of a new trilogy, with new characters and a new protagonist, Tillie Merriweather. (So I need to find a cover model.) This time it’s a steampunk adventure. The series, The Department of Curiosities, is set in the same steampunk alternate world, five years earlier than Doctor Jack. Then there’s a planned fantasy series and a few stand-alone books…
Q: I really enjoyed our conversation. It’s always nice to connect with other steampunk authors. You brought some interesting points to my attention. Good luck with your book series. It takes a lot of determination and effort to be a successful writer. I appreciate your hard work. Best wishes and hopefully we can talk again soon.
A: I’d love that.
That's the end of another fun interview. I hope you guys will support Karen's work. All of her work is available on Amazon and Kindle. I haven't decided on the topic for my next blog post yet. So, you'll have to wait and find out. I promise it will be equally interesting, fun, and weird as my other posts. Karen gave me some extra info and I'm going to post it below. Happy reading and enjoy your weekend!
Viola Stewart returns for a third set of adventures, The Illusioneer & Other Tales:
Viola needs a holiday. But, even at the beach, or while partying on the grand tour of Europe… there are things afoot.
Seeing is believing… or is it?
The Illusioneer & Other Tales: The Adventures of Viola Stewart Journal #3 is currently scheduled for release in late October/early November.
For more information, sign up for Karen’s newsletter: http://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/
Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, Hunted, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.
Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.
She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.