I first found out about steampunk when my friend and fellow author James Bassett suggested I submit a story to his and Stephen Antczak’s steampunk fairytale retelling anthology Clockwork Fairy Tales. I did, and they rejected it, which goes to show that having friends in the industry doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere, but I was hooked. I started reading more of the genre, got a little horrified at the number of head injuries the heroes of early works like Infernal Devices sustain, and stumbled into Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. I went from hooked to in love.
So of course, being a writer, if there’s a genre I love, I’m going to give it a shot. I penned a short story The Clockwork Boy to submit to Buddhapuss Ink’s 2012 Mystery Times Ten contest, which I’d won the previous year, and didn’t even final. That goes to show that being a contest winner doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere in future years, either. Can you see the theme? But this one did get accepted to ezine Abyss and Apex and came out this spring. You can read it here.
After that acceptance, I was ready to write a novel. I love archaeology and independent women, so heroine Iris McTavish was born. I also get annoyed by overly perfect heroes, so I decided to give Professor Edward Bailey some Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder aspects, which he developed as a defense after his heart was broken. I also named him after my beloved cat Bailey, who died last year. As for the title, it’s the thing they’re after, the Eros Element, which they think will help harness the power of aether. Of course there are problems, as you can see through the blurb:
If love is the ivy, secrets are the poison.
After enduring heartbreak at the hands of a dishonest woman, Edward Bailey lives according to scientific principles of structure and predictability. Just the thought of stepping outside his strict routine raises his anxiety.
Adding to his discomfort is Iris McTavish, who appears at his school’s faculty meeting in place of her world-famous archeologist father. Worse, the two of them are to pose as Grand Tourists while they search for an element that will help harness the power of aether.
Iris jumps at the opportunity to prove her worth as a scholar—and avoid an unwanted marriage proposal—while hiding the truth of her father’s whereabouts. If her secret gets out, the house of McTavish will fall into ruin.
Quite unexpectedly, Edward and Iris discover a growing attraction as their journey takes them to Paris and Rome, where betrayal, blackmail and outright theft threaten to destroy what could be a revolutionary discovery—and break their hearts.
Warning: Allergen alert! This book was produced in a facility that handles copious amounts of wine, tea and baked goods. May contain one or more of the following: a spirited heroine, a quirky hero, clever banter, interesting facts both made-up and historical, and lots of secrets. It is, however, gluten free.
If you’re local, you can find it at Eagle Eye Books.
And here’s a brief excerpt:
South of Huntington Station, 10 June 1870
Edward looked up when the compartment door opened and saw a white-blond fairy with a reticule and valise followed by Johann carrying a trunk. No, it’s not a fairy, it’s Miss McTavish with her hair down. Why are her eyes so bright and her cheeks flushed? He looked down when an answering blush bloomed hot in his own cheeks. It’s not proper to see her so disheveled.
“Look what I found,” Johann said. “This young lady arrived in Parnaby Cobb’s personal racing steamcart.”
“That’s remarkable,” Edward said. “How did he bring a racing steamcart into town without my knowing? What model is it?” He twisted around, but the station and the vehicle had long disappeared from view, and now they rolled through the south part of town.
“Didn’t get a chance to check the number. But even stranger—Miss McTavish was being chased by a handsome coach and four perfectly matched chestnuts. Do you have any idea who that might be?”
“I don’t pay attention to horses,” Edward said. “I imagine it was one of the gentry. You almost missed the train,” he told her. “We wouldn’t have waited for you. But how did you enjoy the racer? My brother only has a standard steamcart.”
“I’m afraid I didn’t have much time to take notes on the experience,” she told him, and he wondered if she would have taken notes if given the opportunity. Perhaps he had underestimated her. “But I believe it was the Prancer 457. That’s the only explanation for how fast it went. I didn’t know they had them outside the States.” She twisted her hair in her fingers, and a few metal objects fell out with pings. The hairpins seemed to disappear into the variegated surface of the coach floor. “Oh, no, now I’ll never find them.”
Edward couldn’t stop looking at her. Was this the same prim and proper miss he’d met a few days ago, the one who hadn’t been cowed by the dean or that strange American? And a Prancer. He’d often dreamed of seeing one in person and wanted to examine its engine to see if he could adapt it to run on aether someday, once they’d discovered the crucial steps to stabilize and harness the energy of the substance. He twisted around again like he could wish the rumbling miles between him and the steam-engine driven coach away.
“Don’t you have something in your bag that could help the young lady find her hairpins?” Johann asked, bringing Edward back to the disappointing present.
“I might,” he said. He rooted around in his valise, pulled out a cloth, set the cloth on his lap and the valise on top of it, and with the case now stable, felt around in the reinforced pockets along the side. His fingers closed around a hard rectangular object, which he handed to Johann.
“What is it?” Johann asked.
“Surely you musicians aren’t that dense. Don’t you recognize a magnet?” Edward asked. “If the hairpins are metal, this should attract them. Just be sure you clean it off after. No telling what’s on this floor. And you’re not going to put those dirty pins in your hair, are you?”
Miss McTavish looked at him with a similar expression the duchess used when he said something that demonstrated how little of children he knew. “I have to put my hair up, and I don’t have any other options.”
“Oh, wait a minute,” Johann said and reached into his trousers pocket. He drew out a handful of women’s hairpins. “Will these work?”
Now Miss McTavish looked wide-eyed at the musician. “Dare I ask why you’re carrying those?”
“I spent yesterday evening with an actress of my acquaintance. She prefers her hairpins to not end up in the bed—they prick you at the most inopportune times—and she was, well, she forgot to ask for them back this morning.”
Now Edward felt his face flush, but he wasn’t sure if it was darker or lighter than Miss McTavish’s blush. “Really, Johann, there’s no need to be crude. And how clean could those hairpins be?”
“They’re fine, I’m sure,” Miss McTavish said and held out her hand.
“Allow me,” Johann told her. “I’ve done this for my friends. It’s part of a musician’s life, having to step in at performances when a singer’s coif goes askew.”
The thought of his friend’s fingers tangling in Miss McTavish’s hair made Edward’s cheeks heat again and an uncomfortable tension come to his chest. His mind wanted to interpret the sensations and attach a label to them, but he stopped it. He’d long ago given up that part of him, the piece in the middle that wanted to connect with the piece in the middle of someone else like two complementary elements that combined to form something new and exciting. No, his was an existence best left to himself. Relationship-driven change hurt, particularly if the other person wasn’t interested in the results.
If you liked the excerpt and are interested in the book, here are the links again: