We are at it again! Kicking off the year with a brand-new campaign: Full Steam Ahead!
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 Doc Coleman, 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?
DC: Well, most of my writing has been built around my Adventures of Crackle and Bang series. When I’ve been asked for short stories, I usually find a way to insert Crackle and Bang into the theme and come up with a vignette. With this story, the constraints didn’t allow that. I needed to make the story shorter than I usually write, and my usual narrator’s voice didn’t work for that. But this also became an opportunity. If I couldn’t bring in Crackle and Bang, I had the chance to explore some of the things that happen when they’re not around, which opened possibilities for a much darker story. That fit well with the Poe theme, so I got to play with a storyline that was more magical.
eSB: As an author, what drew you to participate in a collection of Poe-inspired steampunk?
DC: Well, it’s always nice to be asked. But I’ve been asked to participate in other anthologies and had to turn them down because a story just didn’t come to me in time. I think part of it was the chance to do something a little more gothic horror in terms of steampunk. I don’t really do a lot of horror, but I have noticed that a horrific element usually sneaks into my stories. This became a chance to play with something dark and to do something that was less technology-driven, and more fantasy driven. One of the things I love about steampunk is that in the Victorian era, anything was possible, so it all goes into the pot. In this case, I got to dip into something a little different for me.
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?
DC: I think I did a bit of both. As I mentioned before, I couldn’t do my usual Crackle and Bang tie-in, so I started to write something that was disconnected. Something in a completely Poe-like world. Then I realized that even if I couldn’t use my main characters, the World of The Eternal Empress was big enough to have all kinds of dark corners to explore. And from the outset I made magic just as much a part of that world as technology, even if my main characters don’t really see it. You kind of have to when you start with Queen Victoria being an immortal. But this was my chance to play with the hidden magics. Smaller magic users who avoid the spotlight and just want to live out their lives in their own way.
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?
DC: Well, I was told the story had to contain a crow, and we were given a list of names to choose from, and an element that went with those names. As it turned out, one of the names on the list was the same as a good friend of mine, and to me she did kind of embody that element. So you could say that she was the inspiration. Then I tried to look for a twist. Something that would give the story a different angle. The only real Easter egg is the setting, and some of the phrases used because of that setting.
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 reveals in the period-appropriate technobabble, or do you dig deep into the research to include period-accurate touches?
DC: Normally, I like to play with the technology, and dig up creative ways to describe getting futuristic effects from the more primitive period-appropriate tools. But this story didn’t have room for that. This one is much more about people who live simply and close to the land and how it stirs things up when a stranger blunders through. I did get to dig into ancient beliefs and a little witchcraft to try to give it the right flavor.
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?
DC: Oh, now that’s an interesting question. My favorite part of this project is the relationship I set up between the woodsman and his wife. I’d go into more detail, but I’m afraid it would be too spoilery. Let’s just say that they each have their own secrets, and those secrets keep them together and keep them apart. When I came up with the story I just thought of it as a one-off, but now that you’ve asked the question, it might be interesting to have one of these characters show up in a Crackle and Bang story. I think we’ll all have to just wait and see.
eSB: 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?
DC: This is actually the third time I’ve written for a themed anthology. The first one was The Way of the Gun, a Bushido Western Anthology, edited and published by Scott Roche. That one was fun because we got to play with western gunplay using the code of Bushido, and because Scott included a group of pacifists into the world known as the Followers of the Clockworker. I got the chance to flesh out a steampunk religion based on the idea of a clockwork world built by the Great Maker. It was great fun weaving threads of different cultures together and seeing how well they came together. By the time I finished that story, I’d laid the framework of at least four different philosophical religions.
The second time was a charity fundraiser called Paradise Found: Tales from the Library. That was intriguing because the setting was Paradise City, a city that is at the intersection of all possible afterlives, and because the library in question is the Library of Alexandria, which was not destroyed, but was taken up into the afterlife to preserve it. This story was fun because I got to play with gods as characters, and because I pulled Crackle and Bang into the afterlife. And this particular story has hooks into stories I haven’t published yet. When they’re all out there it will be a fun easter egg for my readers.
Anthologies are great fun, and a challenge as an author. You have to fit the constraints of the theme, but at the same time they let you explore aspects of culture and worldbuilding that usually get bent in service of a larger narrative. It is freeing to write a short where you’ve got enough background to build, but other than that you’ve got a blank slate and can do almost anything.
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)?
DC: I love the endless possibilities. I mentioned earlier that one thing that attracts me to the Victorian era is that people believed anything was possible. It was a time when you could have a man build a rocket to the moon in his garage so he could fight off Venusian invaders, while his brother is stalked and killed by a mummy’s curse so that his poor widow would have to take solace by visiting with the fairies in the bottom of their garden. People considered themselves worldly and educated, but would take all of that together without blinking an eye. It was a time when people did great and terrible things. By adding steampunk to the mix, you can make all the stories true and see where that leads you. It is a setting that creates opportunities for endless conflict, and endless wonder. There are just so many stories to be had there.
eSB: What advice would you give aspiring authors considering participating in a themed anthology?
DC: Don’t worry that you’re not good enough. Writing stories is how you get better. Don’t be afraid of someone telling you “No.” Most rejections from open calls to themed anthologies aren’t because of the quality of the stories, it’s from the sheer number of quality applicants. And even if your story is bad, it is a chance to learn how to write something better. Get to know the editors. It won’t get you into an anthology, but it may help you learn what they’re looking for, and that can spark your creativity. Most of all, don’t give up.
eSB: What other events are you doing this year—steampunk or otherwise?
DC: My schedule still hasn’t firmed up yet, but I’ve got a few things I’m planning on for this year. I’m planning on going to the Tell-Tale Steampunk Convention, of course. Then come Memorial Day Weekend, I hope to be back at Balticon. I’m also going to try to get a table for the Gaithersburg Book Festival this summer. In August, I plan on returning to the Key City Steampunk Festival. I’ve also got a couple renaissance festival book signings in the works. Hopefully, this fall I’ll be back at the Maryland Renaissance Festival for a signing at the Page After Page bookstore sometime in September or October, and then in November I’ll be down at the Carolina Renaissance Festival for Time Traveller’s Weekend on the 11th an 12th. Who knows, I may be able to add another convention to the list.
eSB: Could you tell us about one of your most amusing experiences promoting your books?
DC: One of the things I like about doing a signing at the Maryland Renaissance Festival is that I can people-watch. Steampunk is popular with a lot of the renaissance crowd, but not everyone, but I can usually pick my customers out of the crowd. The top hats and corsets tend to be a giveaway. But the people who are just there for the day, they’re a little harder. My big advantage there is the cover of my novel, The Perils of Prague. It is eye-catching. Mostly because there is an eye staring out at you from the broken face of an automaton. I can watch people walking along and see them get a glimpse of the cover and do a double-take. Most of the time, if I can get them to come over and take a closer look, I can tell by the second or third question that I’ve got them hooked. Sometimes it is enough to just describe the books as “Steampunk Comedy Adventure.”
eSB: What is one thing you would share that would surprise your readers?
DC: I hated writing as a kid. I especially hated it when we had to write stories for English class. I didn’t start writing until I was in my 40’s. Now I’ve got ideas for about a dozen novels in my head and no time to write. Writers should really have patrons. Having to work a day job really takes up a lot of good writing time.
eSB: What are some of your other works readers can look for?
DC: My first novel The Perils of Prague, Book One in the Adventures of Crackle and Bang is out there, as is Paradise Found, mentioned above. I also have a collection of short stories, The Shining Cog and Other Steampunk Tales. There are also a couple stand-alone short stories out as ebooks: The Gift, and Welcome to Paradox.
eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
DC: Later this year, I’ll be releasing The Kindred of Kali, Book Two in the Adventures of Crackle and Bang. As you’ve no doubt guessed, this will see Crackle and Bang heading to India, and trying to track down a kidnapped princess. It’s a little more intrigue, but still a lot of comedy and adventure. It’s a story where nothing is ever quite what it seems. I hope people will enjoy it. I’ve just a got a few more tweaks to make before it is ready…
Doc Coleman never dreamed of being a writer. He dreamed of being an actor, of making movies, and telling stories. He dreamed of going to space. He just didn’t work hard enough at it. So he ended up going into IT.
But he always had a way with words. He still wanted to tell stories.
One day a friend told Doc that it takes 10,000 hours to master a new skill. He didn’t know how true that was, but he did see something in that was true: You don’t get better at things you don’t do.
So, he set about getting better at writing.
He started a blog, writing about something he did know about: technology.
About six months later, he started writing short stories. And submitting them.
Doc’s stories have appeared in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences’ Tales from the Archives, the Way of the Gun Bushido Western Anthology, the Steampunk Special Edition of Flagship magazine, and in the charity anthology Paradise Found: Tales From the Library. In 2017 he published his first novel, The Perils of Prague, the first book in the Steampunk Comedy/Adventure series The Adventures of Crackle and Bang. In 2018 he published The Shining Cog and Other Steampunk Tales, a collection of Steampunk short stories. In 2023, he plans on publishing the second Crackle and Bang Adventure, The Kindred of Kali.
Doc has been a perennial guest at Balticon, RavenCon, Capclave, and Continual. He is also known as a narrator and a voice actor.
When he isn’t juggling projects, making a living, or mainlining podcasts, Doc is a gamer, an avid reader, a motorcyclist, a home brewer and beer lover, a fan of renaissance festivals, and frequently a smart-ass. He lives with his lovely wife and two cats in Germantown, MD.
Learn more about Doc Coleman here:
Website * GoodReads * Amazon Author Page
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