We are at it again! Kicking off the year with a brand-new campaign: Full Steam Ahead!

Kickstarter image

This one is unique in that A Cast of Crows, one of the collections being funded, has been created in conjunction with a first-year steampunk event called Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival, in Hunt Valley, MD. Excerpts from all of the stories in the book will be used for an interactive scavenger hunt at the festival. We hope you’ll check out both the Kickstarter and the convention. Many of the authors will be in attendance, some of them coming from as far away as New Mexico!

The other two books funding through the campaign are Grimm Machinations – the sequel to Gaslight & Grimm, bringing you even more steampunk faerie tales; and Grease Monkeys: The Heart and Soul of Dieselpunk, our first foray into dieselpunk.

Over the course of the campaign, we will be featuring these spotlights so you can get to know our authors—and the projects—better.

eSpec Books interviews Ef Deal, a contributor to Forgotten Lore Volume One: A Cast of Crows, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

eSB: This collection is unique in that it is a key part of the upcoming Tell-Tall Steampunk Festival, a first-year event kicking off with a Poe theme. What challenges did this present when choosing what to write?
ED: I think Kolleen Kilduff and Donna McClaren came up with a wham-bang idea of a Great Conjunction of fiction, questing, and conning. What an exciting event that’s going to be! I didn’t feel challenged so much as inspired to dig deep. The odd coincidence is that for years I had been tossing around an idea for a story about the raven complaining to Poe about some of the phrases in the poem not making any sense. What made the days of yore saintly? At first, he calls the bird “stately” and then later says it’s “ungainly.” These were old arguments from a variety of literary critics, the most damning of which was “Quoth” since the Raven isn’t quoting anyone. I had a lot of fun using those commentaries throughout the dialogue.

eSB: Did you base your story on your own previous literary setting or did you embrace the Poe connection? Or hey, did you do both?
Proof-Esprit-de-CorpseED: I did both! Some of the later theories on Poe included the possibility of petit mals, the treatment for which was electroshock therapy, which was also used to treat melancholia, Poe’s notable failing. Once I saw electricity involved, my mind automatically went to Jacqueline Duval, my heroine of Esprit de Corpse. In Book 2 of the Twins of Bellesfées, Jacqueline reveals she is a lover of Poe and recommends his work to Charles Baudelaire, who later did get involved with translating Poe’s works. It just felt natural to bring Jacqueline into a story about Poe looking for electroshock technology.

eSB: No spoilers, but what was your inspiration for your story and did you introduce any easter eggs for either the Poe aspect or your own body of work?
ED: Lots of easter eggs for those who know their Poe inside and out. I had to double-check my memory on specific quotations from a full array of his works both before and after The Raven, so they might be seen as thoughts floating in his mind waiting to be used in a future work. I’m not going to give away any clues because that would defeat the purpose of an easter egg, but I’ve quoted several different Poe works as well as incorporated details that have only recently come to light.

eSB: Are there any interesting details that you incorporated in your story to harken to the historic aspect of the genre? Are you the kind of ’punk who revels in the period-appropriate technobabble, or do you dig deep into the research to include period-accurate touches?
ED: My goal in writing steampunk is to stay within the boundaries of the historical setting. That’s why you’ll find the reference to the odd goggle-eyed spectacles rather than the word “goggles” since they hadn’t been invented yet in reality. Then, in doing research on electricity of the 1800s for my novel, I discovered the first experiments of electroshock therapy were conducted (hehe, pun) by a man named Golding Bird. Seriously, how could I pass that up?

eSB: What was your favorite aspect of this project and does it inspire you to continue writing with the characters you created, or in the same universe?
ED: No spoilers, but I had a crazy idea midway through chapter 3, and it took me days to nail down what I wanted in there. I’m not sure I could pull off something like that again, although when I was writing Book 4 of the Twins of Bellesfées, I did compose an entire sub-chapter as lyrics to Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude. If you know the piece, you can hear Angélique’s thoughts roiling to the famous melody, ending the finale with her shout, “I am Angélique Laforge, the finest pianist who lived! And no one has the right to make me feel that I am less than who I am—NOT THIS TIME!” If you listen to the recording, you’ll see what I mean. I do love writing parody and alternate lyrics. I’m no Weird Al or Allen Sherman, but I have my fun.

Ef Deal Dangerous WaterseSB: Is this your first time writing for a themed anthology? If so, how did you find the experience? If not, what draws you to them?
ED: What I like about themed anthologies is that I have so many ideas from years and years of writing I need more focus, and the themed works force me to do that. As I said, I had already thought about Poe arguing with the raven, so this anthology forced me to put the argument into a context. Once I did that, the story flowed. Another anthology, Dangerous Waters: Deadly Women of the Sea, made me think of a flash piece I had written some 30 years ago, so I fleshed it out into a full story, and it was accepted. Similarly, I was coming home from one of my monthly trips to Nutley, and as always, the three lanes got blocked by cars doing 64 mph on the Jersey Turnpike. I said out loud, “It’s a conspiracy. They always know when I’m on the road.” When I got home, there was an invitation to Charles Barouch’s anthology Conspiracy and Cryptids. I was up and rarin’ to write that one, I was so mad!

eSB: What is it about steampunk that you like most as an author? And what do you like about it as a reader, (presuming the answer isn’t the same)?
ED: The historical details dovetailing with out-of-the-box visions make for the most fun. In the case of my writing, much of what Jacqueline can accomplish could have been accomplished in her time period if the engineers had had the financing or a broader vision. The Paris-Orléans railroad, for example, was brand spanking new in 1843, but the idea of a locomotive wasn’t new, and Jacqueline had already built her own steam-powered rail coach and a private track. I try very hard to make sure there are no anachronisms, other than Jacqueline’s visionary flights of fancy. Clockwork figures had been around for centuries, but once Jacqueline spoke with Ada King, the Countess of Lovelace, she could use the basic theory of the Analytic Engine to create autonomous androids, even though Lovelace’s publication, the foundation of computer programming, was ignored by the scientific community until the 1980s.

I also love doing the research. I meet amazing people. In Book 4, Jacqueline has to blow up a huge ship while she’s in a submersible boat. I needed to know how far away the sub had to be for her to survive the blast. Every Google search I made brought me back to an RPG and told me to roll a 4-sided die! Digging deeper, I learned about the Hunley, a Confederate sub. The mystery of how the men aboard died in the explosion they created defied all logic until Rachel Lance, a grad student, was assigned the task of solving it. Her book, published in 2020, supplied what I needed, but more importantly, I wrote to her and asked more detailed questions. She was so gracious to write back and chat with me about the novel.

Awareness of the historical language is another aspect of steampunk I enjoy. An early critique pointed out that I used the word “unconsciously” when it should have been “subconsciously.” The only problem is, the word “subconscious” had not been coined yet. I reworded the sentence, but I refused to budge on using anachronisms in language. When writing about the East End of London, I couldn’t use the word “slum”; the term was “back slums.” I knew doughnuts were invented in England, but I was surprised to know they were originally called “dimsdales.”

That awareness of historical settings is central to my reading as well. I have thrown steampunk books across the room when they break protocol with anachronisms both in setting and details. Imagine a woman in 1888 saying, “You’re so uptight.” or “Oh my god, that’s gross!” I shudder. To me, it’s indicative of sloppy research and disregard for both the genre and the reader.

eSB: What advice would you give aspiring authors considering participating in a themed anthology?
ED: I would say, don’t force it. It should be a theme that you feel you can address comfortably. There’s nothing worse than trying to write a story that just doesn’t fit, unless it’s reading one. When I began writing, it was all high fantasy or sword and sorcery. I had never written a zombie story, although I loved zombie movies. Then at Philcon in 2003, I heard Gordon Van Gelder say, “We don’t get enough humor, and we don’t get any innovative zombie stories.” Boom. Since most zombie stories are pretty bleak, I figured I’d combine zombie and humor. The result was my first pro sale to F&SF, “Czesko.” On the other hand, I still can’t write urban fantasy, and when I tried my hand at it for a call, I failed utterly, and that piece remains in the drawer. Even I don’t like it!

eSB: What other events are you doing this year—steampunk or otherwise?
ED: Well, beside the Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival, I’ll be at Heliosphere at the end of April. I’m really looking forward to the New Jersey unveiling of Esprit de Corpse. I’ll also be coordinating the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading, and I’m hoping to have a Horror Writers reading as well. Then in September, I’ll be back in Maryland for the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Con. This is a wonderful con for authors and fans organized by Austin Camacho. The unique thing about it is that authors and fans all share meals together. The dialogue is heady; I always come away from C3 supercharged and ready to dive into the work again.

eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise your readers?
ED: Probably that I play a soprano bugle. When I was growing up, the Audubon All-Girl Corps, the BonBons, were a nationally ranked corps. I joined when I was ten, and by the time I was twelve, I was winning medals in individual contests. I went on to become a soloist, then left to join Blue Rock, another top contender, where I was part of an amazing lead line. In 2013, my husband (also a Blue Rock soprano) and I joined the Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights Alumni corps. Unlike the modern DCI performers, we are an old-school drum and bugle corps. Jack and I play on the valve-rotor bugles of the early 1970s. It’s absolutely thrilling to make music.

eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?
ED: I have a delightfully wicked short piece “From the Bridge” in Dangerous Waters: Deadly Women of the Sea from Brigid’s Gate, available now on Amazon. Christopher Ryan invited me to submit a story to the upcoming Soul Scream Ef Deal - Soul ScreamAntholozine with a “female protagonist confronting the supernatural,” which gave me a chance to bring my first series to light featuring Gwynna Lionshadow, a minstrel-mage, in “One More Ghost Story.” She is my favorite protagonist, and it’s sad my novels with her never found publication. Finally, I have another bloody wicked short “Passing Thoughts” coming in an anthology from Charles Barouch called Conspiracies and Cryptids, Vol. I.

eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
ED: I’m pursuing the Twins of Bellesfées series with Book 2 submitted and Books 3 and 4 completed. I’m starting work (meaning research and planning, not yet writing) on Book 5. I am utterly drunk on the Twins, and they just keep coming up with more adventures for me to chronicle. How can I refuse them? Even though Book 1 Esprit de Corpse has a limited release so far, many readers have commented how much they love the Twins, their story, the whole thing. They already want more, and so do I.

Deal 3 x 3Ef Deal is a new voice in the genre of speculative steampunk with her debut novel, Esprit de Corpse, but she is not new to publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in various magazines and ezines over the years. Her short story “Czesko,” published in the March 2006 F&SF, was given honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, which gave both her and Gardner great delight. They laughed and laughed and sipped Scotch (not cognac, alas) over the last line.

Despite her preoccupation with old-school drum and bugle corps ~ playing, composing, arranging, and teaching ~ Ef Deal can usually be found at the keyboard of her computer rather than her piano. She is Assistant Fiction Editor at Abyss & Apex magazine and edits videos for the YouTube channel Strong Women ~ Strange Worlds Quick Reads.

Esprit de Corpse from eSpec Books is the first of a series featuring the brilliant 19th-century sisters, the Twins of Bellesfées Jacqueline and Angélique. Hard science blends with the paranormal as they challenge the supernatural invasion of France in 1843.

When she’s not lost in her imagination, Ef Deal can be found in historic Haddonfield, NJ, in a once-haunted Victorian with her husband and two chows. She is an associate member of SFWA and an affiliate member of HWA.

Learn more about Ef Deal here:

Website  *  Blog  *  GoodReads  * Amazon Author Page

Follow Ef Deal on social media: 

Facebook  *  Twitter  *  Instagram

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s