Howdy everyone! I am super-bouncy and excited today, probably something like that little dog in the Kibbles & Bits commercial jumping back and forth over the big dog, and the big dog is my latest book release! Or something! YAY! *fires glitter cannon*
[Pause for shameless self-promotion: my new book is GOSSAMER WING, it’s steampunk romance with espionage, there is angst and boat sex and Paris and cool outfits and science and also other sex that does not take place in a boat, and more science-type stuff and action! Also feelings. And a friendly cow. And if this sounds appealing in any way you can buy it here, here or here, or in an actual physical book store such as Barnes & Noble! Anyway, that’s all I’m gonna say about that as such.]
But what this post is really about is writing wonk. Because I was working on this book around the time Wonkomance was first formed, and I remember joking once to Ruthie Knox in those early days that I didn’t really write wonky stuff like the other blog contributors. She’d just read the manuscript for this book. And she set me straight, because…well. Heroine’s a widow who loved her first husband, and had since the age of fourteen, so she is still grieving him and…well, you know, thinks about doing him, the first time she is doing the hero. Heroine is also a claustrophobic control freak with daddy issues, a little bit, and sort of has a death wish. The hero is one of those dudes who is neither alpha nor beta, genuinely nice and in love with the heroine. But possibly has a Peter Pan syndrome thing happening, because he knows from the start she’s off limits so it’s relatively safe to fall in love with her as he can’t have her anyway. And they’re technically married, for purposes of their mission, but the plan is to annul that shit as soon as they finish the job. Her dad arranged all that. Because he assumed she’d decline. Which is why she didn’t decline. Yeah.
At some point in there, recapping, I had to admit it was kinda wonked (Ruthie had also read an early draft of Theory of Attraction, and of course that was hella wonky too. But I digress). I hadn’t even realized how weird it was until this was drawn to my attention, which possibly says more about me as a person than me as a writer. While I was writing it, it all seemed normal…for a given value of normal. Some of us set out to write perfectly normal things, and somewhere along the way things inevitably take a turn for funkytown. I have no idea how this happens. But this steampunk book was the one with which my consciousness was raised and I learned to recognize this trait in myself. To spot my own wonky tendencies and not just accept, but celebrate them. Yes, celebrate. Because, although I’d been published for years before writing this…this turned out to be a milestone book for me. This would be the book that secured me an agent (Hi, Courtney! You’re awesome!). This is the one I got a big New York publisher deal with (Hi Berkley! You’re awesome!), and it is also my first stand-alone print release (Actual Bookstores! You are also awesome!). I’m reasonably certain I owe all that not to what’s “normal” in the book, but what’s not. To the stuff in there that makes you go 0.o, but then you keep reading anyway. And to whatever in my brain just naturally wants to start with a normal-seeming trope like arranged marriage, then can’t help but slather several extra layers of WTF on there.
I think steampunk lends itself to wonk, because it’s already sort of like taking a historical and a spec fic, then locking them in a room together until they breed up a freaky, hybrid love child that may or may not also be paranormal (mine is not, as it happens, but a lot of steampunk is). Writing steampunk is doing to an entire world what my brain already wants to do to my characters’ relationships and feelings. You know how it goes. It starts with a setting that is near the Victorian or Edwardian, but then something in you isn’t satisfied. “Hmm. This would be better with lots more Stirling engines and also universal suffrage!” You can never have too many Stirling engines, folks. Or nixie tubes, for that matter. And sometimes you just want to say, “Oh, screw those Victorians and Edwardians and their freakin’ rules. I’m putting my heroine in trousers and she is taking a lover, dammit!” Several chapters later, large parts of North America resemble feudal England, but your main character has decamped for Paris and is landing her airship on the top of the Palais Garnier, being chased by some villainous guy with a fancy claw hand. Shit just happens, okay? I have no idea why, I just know that sometimes a book is the result.
The takeaway for me here, though, is that there never is or was a normal, just as nobody is ever truly average. I was writing wonk without realizing it. And I think we are all writing wonk all the time, just to greater or lesser degrees, whether or not we realize it. The key is to learn to spot it–in others’ writing, in your own–and learn to just go with it. Embrace the fucked-up-ness. Celebrate it. It may well be where the extraordinary part of your writing lives.
Now, go read some steampunk! I would be so happy if you read mine, but you could also try Meljean Brook (brooding dubcon Duke!) or Gail Carriger (hawt Scottish alpha werewolf!). Steampunk-adjacent literary/spec fic by China Miéville! Or old skool H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. It is all good stuff. Shit will happen.