If you are a fan of speculative fiction, you have likely already heard of steampunk. The term was first coined by author K. W. Jeter in 1987 to describe retrofuturistic fictional worlds that used steam rather than electricity as the primary driving force of their technology. While steampunk has gone on to consume fashion, movies, and other off-the-page artistic pursuits, its roots are buried in books. Many modern steampunk creators find inspiration in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, for example, titans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.But the steampunk genre isn’t only dominated by such big names. We have several steampunk authors located right here in Michigan. I, for one, have had several short stories published in steampunk anthologies and presented at local steampunk conventions. That is where I met fellow Michigan author Lori Alden Holuta, who was kind enough to share with me how she became a steampunk author with a focus on kids and young adults.
Crysta: What is steampunk to you? What do you consider its hallmarks?
Lori: There are so many ways to define steampunk. I like to think that anyone who enjoys the steampunk esthetic can define it in a way that makes them happy. For me, it goes like this: Picture yourself living in the Victorian Era. Somehow, the technology of the modern age is given to the Victorians. So, now they have computers, advanced weaponry, medical equipment, musical instruments, whatever gadget you can think of. But the thing is—and here’s what makes it steampunk to me—the Victorians need to supply their own power source to this technology. And they use what they know best. Steam!
This opens up endless possibilities for experimenting within the steampunk world. As for hallmarks, I’d have to point out body modifications, such as steam-powered mechanical arms, and military weaponry. Beyond those though, I’ve seen marvelous “steam-powered” laptop computers, a trio of Ghostbusters with steampunked proton packs on their backs (who’s Queen Victoria gonna call?), impressively armed airship pirates, and so much more. My definition also meshes well with my writing. So far, only I know my fictional universe’s origin story, but it does fit this definition.
Crysta: Fantastic! What first drew you to steampunk? And what keeps you with it?
Lori: From an early age, my father encouraged me to be creative. Thanks to his guidance, I became an avid reader, had my first poem published in a school anthology in third grade, built a weather station on the roof, built working rockets fueled by firecrackers, studied insects under the microscope I got in 5th grade… I could go on and on. This resulted in my curious, creative nature. When I first heard of steampunk, I was curious. When I learned more about it, I knew I was amongst family. It’s the creativity and camaraderie that hold me here. And I gotta admit, I do love the costumes, too.
Crysta: I love that. Sounds like a great childhood. Why did you choose to write in this genre?
Lori: That’s a long twisty story, but let me try to tell the short version. In 2007 I created an avatar for a steampunk city called New Babbage in a virtual reality called Second Life. While writing a short biography for her, I got a bit creative and described how she’d been orphaned and ran away to join the circus to avoid being placed in a foster home by the local authorities. I was just trying to give her a quick, quirky backstory. After I posted her biography publicly, other Babbagers got interested in hearing more about her life. So, I wrote a little more. More pestering. I wrote more. And then I realized that I was writing a book. I took down everything except that first simple biography post, told everyone that I seemed to be accidentally writing a novel and would let them know when it was done. They kept me honest with continued pestering, and I published The Flight to Brassbright within the year. It was the most fun I’d ever had writing, and I couldn’t wait to write another story set in the world I’d just created.
C: What kinds of things do you write, and what elements of steampunk do you incorporate into your books?
L: I write steampunky adventure/comedies for Young Adults and Kids. My world is called BrightHope, and the country where my stories take place is called Industralia. Industralians love time-saving gadgets and anything clever. Their doormen, elevator operators, hatcheck girls, and room service waiters are all “tikkerbots”: clockwork driven robots. They range from competent and elegant to wacky and addlebrained, depending on the situation and my sense of humor. There’s also a thriving airship travel network, pneumatic tube mail system, steamcars and steamwagons, and countless small household and industry timesavers. The settings include floofy décor-cluttered parlors, cutting-edge airship terminals, a seedy tavern, a grocery/sundries store with way too much inventory and a surprising history, secret doors leading to secret places. And I keep things light with humor—puns, plays on words, homages to things in our modern world… I just love words so much I can’t resist toying with them.
C: Do you find there are differences between writing YA versus writing for adults? Why choose YA?
L: Writing YA and KidLit just feel like my comfy zone. My humor seems to work for those readers, and the characters I enjoy writing the most tend to be teenagers or pre-teens. I’ve written adult characters too but being a grown-up means being saddled with more responsibility and problems than I usually care to tackle. Although, the book I’m currently working on, Down the Tubes, has more adults than young people. It’s a good mix of both. I’d still call this one YA, but it’s also edging into adult writing.
C: Who would you say your books are for? Why should our readers buy them?
L: Are you tired of monsters and demons? I’ll give you wonky tikkerbots and malfunctioning gadgets instead. Do you like food? I’m a foodie and so are my characters. In fact, I published a cookbook featuring all their favorite foods. Do you like to laugh? I’ll give you puns, eccentric characters, and comical situations. Do you like sincerity? In spite of the silliness, my characters have depth. They have their hopes and dreams and fears and joy, and may even inspire the same in you. In short—do you like to feel optimistic and happy? You’ll probably like my books.
C: Sounds delightful! Where can people go to learn more?
L: My website, named after a newspaper my characters read in my stories, is the Brassbright Chronicle at brassbrightcity.com. Information about the books and about myself is there, of course, plus lots of fun stuff, because I’m all about the fun! Want to crochet an octopus, watch a steampunky movie, color a corset, or an airship with crayons? Read a free story or some of my poetry? Laugh at silly pictures of Victorian-era antics? It’s all there.
Thank you so much, Lori, for sharing your world with us!
Featured in July 2021 newsletter