Monday, February 18, 2013

My, How Times Change

There was time in my life when I was stone cold traditionalist. I'm extremely conservative (removeth the political meaning from thy mind). I like things done one way and one way only, time after time. Don't touch my stuff because it's where it is because I like it there.

Photo by Fishdecoy
When I was just getting into western novels, watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and writing Play-By-Email western stories, I was wholeheartedly into maintaining the tradition of the American West. Mind, while I was flunking History of the American West in school. It's not my fault, I had two classes with that teacher and she was mercilessly hard. Besides, the American West is not the-dull-and-very-long-history-of-what-happened-right-after-the-War-of-1812. To me, it starts with the Oregon Trail. I thought I would like HAW class. I was wrong. Thank God my GPA recovered from that before graduation.

The west, to me was gunfights, Louis L'Amour, cowboys (sans range wars--boring!), Indians, and pioneers, all wrapped up in bloodshed and fierce determination.

So when Wild, Wild West (1999) came out, I was horrified. Yes, I watched reruns of the original and I was okay with it, but I preferred Gunsmoke. More than the bad script and less-than-stellar acting, the cheesy Southern bad guy, it was the technology that bugged me. I liked the idea of simple times where people relied on stuff that was handmade and had to get by using their wits rather than throwing machinery into the mix. I hated history after the Civil War, where there were cotton gins, steam trains, and factories everywhere. I wanted cowboys pushing cattle into vast stretches of prairie and mail-order brides who traveled by stagecoaches.

And yet . . . I was enamored when I sat in the theater and watched The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) brought us the Nautilus, the flashy car, and especially the silver-plated Winchester repeaters. I went with a friend and as soon as I saw the rifle I whispered, no doubt a gleam in my eye, "A Winchester. It's beautiful." Because like some kind of weird-o, I was fascinated by historical guns.
Photo by Ben41
Photo by Gunmaster45
Especially repeaters. To this day, one of the prettiest guns I believe was ever made is the Henry Golden Boy, featured in Silverado (1985). Although I'm also partial to the Winchester Mare's Leg  like Vin Tanner carried in the television version The Magnificent Seven. I saw a version of this in Academy Sports & Outdoors and I keep trying to convince my husband I would look badass if I had that strapped to my leg while I'm out walking, but he's reluctant to shell out that kind of dough. It was also featured in Firefly as the gun Zoe carried. According to the Internationl Movie Firearms Database, it was also (the same gun Zoe used) in the TV show The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Okay, this post wasn't supposed to be about guns. It was supposed to be about why I strayed from traditional westerns into steampunk. The tipping point.

Well, it was LXG that did it. Something about that gung-ho American 'cowboy' Tom Sawyer and the way Quatermain was told by a witch doctor that Africa would never allow him to die. You can see how this fed my special brand of crazy, inspiring me to write a novel with legends and steampunkery. When I began The Treasure Hunter's Lady, it surfaced around Romy, the tomboy daughter of a famous British adventurer. Couple her with a devil-may-care cowboy, which stuck to my western-loving roots, and breathe a little magic on it. It very much took me away from conservative stand on westerns and opened a whole new world.

I brought in airships, designated a band of law enforcement that watches over the airships, named some electromagnetic guns of my own (the Bennett Special, a character favorite called the Lighthouser .745, and the MacAvoy rifle), invented an automobile called Eidolon, and much more reliable than the mail system, created a wireless telegram machine referred to as a 'gram. All of this before the last novel, which is set in 1890.

I have difficulty imagining that I'll ever return to straight historical romance, but I once said I'd never write any kind of novels where there was impossible technology in the 1800s. You see how that turned out.

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