steampunk detective

Once again, I have been blessed by the cover gods for this. I began this book by naming the file “steampunk Sherlock,” and it morphed and became something that’s more. A homage to my love of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, yes, but also my own tale of adventures and love in a world where the creation of mage coal has led to a steam-powered technological revolution.

Caught in the middle of magic and murder is Jewish seamstress Joan Krieger, who life and livelihood are at stake in resolving the mystery. The consulting detective is one Gregor Sherringford, half-Indian scion and black sheep of a noble house.

Fun story about the dress–it wasn’t originally in the book but my editor and I received the cover while in the midst of edits. So I added in the dress and the gun. There’s one thing you can’t see on the top image that I wanted to point out:

steampunk, Sherlock Holmes, historical romance

Coming April 22

Joan’s sewing needle and thread, which plays a part in the mystery, both literally and figuratively.

I’m working on the final edits now and it’s a BLAST.

Can’t wait for you all to read this.

Gregor Sherringford by Fabian Cobos

In my excitement over selling The Curse of the Brimstone Contract yesterday, I neglected to mention there is a short prequel that’s going to be published first, a four-page comic tale in Greyhaven Comic’s all-steampunk issue.

Last night, I received character concept sketches from the artist on the story, Fabian Cobos, and he’s done a marvelous job. He even inked this portrait and sent it to me.


I will never get tired of seeing art of my characters. 🙂


It seemed a good idea to give a sneak preview of the book. Yes, I end on a cliffhanger. Because..evil?


Joan Krieger had never liked going in the side door. It was necessary, of course. Certainly no mere seamstress would be greeted at the main entrance and receive the courtesies due a lord or lady.

“Chin up, be ready to charm the client, dear,” her mother said. “The happier we are about how the clothing looks on her, the happier she will be. You know how much rests on this.”

Her mother did not need to say it out loud. All rested on today’s efforts, both the future of their shop and her dreams of moving beyond their small business to a much higher level. (more…)

I’m pleased to announce the sale of The Curse of the Brimstone Contract to Samhain Publishing.

This novel my first foray into steampunk romance and I’m thrilled to have the contract. It will be published sometime in the first half of 2014.

What drew me to writing steampunk? First, it was the idea of writing a Sherlock Holmes-inspired story. Holmes was one of my first literary crushes, and I have both annotated versions of the Canon, though my William S. Baring-Gould edition is much more well-worn than the recent one published by Barnes & Noble.

I have these volumes, two of my most cherished books

Aside from being able to write a detective inspired by Holmes for the first time, I also wanted to explore how technological advances affect people emotionally. And then there were the class and gender issues in Victorian society. It seemed a really ripe and complicated (i.e. fun for the writer) setting and storyverse. So complicated, in fact, that my attempt at making this only a novella failed. This story was novel-sized.

While the explorers and lords of the Victorian world are fun, I wanted to come at it from the point of view of the working people of London. Thus, my heroine became Joan Krieger, a Jewish seamstress with a long and honorable family history, who has visions of changing society’s fashions and perhaps change the role of women in society as well.

My hero is Gregor Sherringford, consulting detective.

If you’re an intense Sherlockian, you might recognize the origin of Gregor’s last name. But Gregor isn’t quite a Holmes-analogue. Rather, he’s more Holmes-inspired. He’s an inventor and investigator, but he’s also the youngest son of a powerful ducal family. He’s in semi-exile from that family because he’s the son of the previous Duke and  a woman of no means from India who the late Duke rescued from the streets of Calcutta and raised to the heights of English society.

Why would a powerful Duke marry an woman from a different race and class?


In my storyverse, the steam revolution has been fueled by mage coal, a type of stone that is created when a mage wields their magic. Mage coal is far more precious than gold. It lasts much longer than regular coal, burns more evenly, and burns hotter.

Those who possess mage coal, possess enormous wealth. And those who possess the magical abilities to produce mage coal are highly prized, such as Gregor’s mother. The upper classes like to believe they are the only ones gifted with natural magical abilities. They want to hold onto power.

They’re about to learn that denying the existence of lower and middle-class mages will cost them dearly.

Especially since Joan, aside from being a ‘radical’ in the field of fashion, is a highly gifted but untrained mage, though she’s unaware of this at first. Gregor is willing to throw off the rules of his father’s class and train her. They find more in common than ever expected, though I have to admit, it took me an entire novel to get them to the point of, well, you know. 🙂

So I have a Jewish seamstress with the natural ability to take on the ruling class, a consulting detective who’s half-caste and somewhat estranged from his older brothers, and, together, they solve the mystery of magical murders committed by a foe of unknown but vast abilities.

Thus, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, or as it says in the introduction, “the first of the adventures of Joan Krieger, radical seamstress and Lord Gregor Sherringford, consulting detective for special problems.”


Note: I  published this over at GeekMom last week but I thought it was relevant to my writing, so I’m cross-posting it here too. And, btw, if you missed GeekMom’s steampunk week last week, it’s not too late. Go look. Still awesome articles on steampunk books, music, crafts, and even the French side of steampunk.

I first heard “steampunk” used in connection with William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which was published in 1990.

At the time, I thought adding tech to the Victorian Age was a fascinating idea but I was much more interested in reading space-based science fiction and gave it a pass. I didn’t think much about steampunk until last year, when I started hearing that steampunk, particularly romantic steampunk, was the next big thing.

My response was, “Wait, how can it be the next big thing when it’s over 20 years old?”

Intrigued, I attended a workshop on steampunk at the Romance Writers of America national conference last summer.

At the workshop, I learned that steampunk is all about the gadgets. And the presenters did have the coolest steampunk costumes with a number of gadgets, including steampunk wrist-watches and, of course, goggles.

But still I wasn’t really connecting to the genre. The retro look is very cool but it seemed to me that regular science fiction has plenty of futuristic gadgets. I wasn’t sure what the point was of creating more cumbersome and less efficient gadgets and placing them in the Victorian Age.

Gradually, though, I began to see the appeal. Part of that is due to my love of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. The main planet in that series, Barrayar, is a backwards society loosely based on Russian society around the time of the end of the Czars. The contrast between the Barrayaran culture and the ultra-futuristic gadgets that they’d adopted from the rest of the colonized planets was a great way to show that while society may be technically advanced, similar advances in cultures and mindsets take far longer.

And that’s what I find the best part of steampunk. On the one side is a culture that is extremely constrained by rules and on the other side are technological advances that are leaps and bounds ahead of where people are emotionally. It’s a great way to explore the changing role not only of technology but also the class and gender differences of the time period. In some many ways, the Victorian era was at the crossroads of change. Adding technology to it would just accelerate that change, causing as many problems as it solved.

So when my lovely editor, Sarah Hansen of The Wild Rose Press, challenged me a few months ago to write a steampunk story, I was interested but unsure of where to begin.

I started thinking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. That story had Professor Challenger and his gang of intrepid explorers discovering a hidden world where dinosaurs survived. It’s not quite steampunk but Professor George Edward Challenger is certainly a steampunk-style scientist.

Thinking of Doyle naturally led me to Sherlock Holmes. I’m an utter Holmes geek. I devoured the Canon as a teenager. I have both annotated editions. I’ve practically got the stories memorized.

Thinking of Sherlock Holmes led me to Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories, which are set in an alternate world where the Plantagenets still rule Britain and magic works. The Watson of these stories is a forensic sorcerer. That led me to another Holmes-style detective, Simon Archard, the main character in the comic book Ruse. Archard also exists in a Victorian-style age on an alternate word and his assistant is another magic user, female this time.

The answer to my question became blazingly obvious.

I would write a steampunk detective story with a Sherlock Holmes style character and turn my Watson-inspired character into a woman and possible romantic interest. I figured I’d just add some steampunk gadgets to the flavor of a detective story and I was all set.

Eh, not quite.

The mystery came easy. But I couldn’t just “throw in some gadgets” because that didn’t make sense. It’s never good to just throw in anything to meet a particular genre in any case and certainly it wouldn’t work in this story.

In order to create the gadgets of my steampunk world, I had to find a reason why these particular Victorians would be using steam power as part of their daily lives.

So in order to write a 24,000 word story, I had to create an entire alternate history for my world. Eventually, I followed Ruse’s lead and added some magic to the mix. The main idea is that the humans in my alternate world have discovered a talent similar to photosynthesis in that they can convert sunlight to energy. The by-product of this talent is a substance called mage-coal, which burns cleaner and far longer than regular coal and thus created a reliance on steam power.

Once I had the technological issues settled, I had to sort through all the implications of having magic users and what it would mean in term of gender and class issues in Victorian society. It could go either way but I felt there was a great deal of conflict to be had if the upper classes decided erroneously that mage power was something gifted only to them. They would feel that they were superior and that the lower classes would naturally not share such a gift. That would leave the class structure in place but also create untrained mages who would have little love for the current system and might use their raw powers to cause a great deal of trouble.

As in the real Industrial age, I had a conflict brewing between those responsible for great technological advances and those left behind to either be untrained labor or used up by the new system.

It was only until I had these world-building issues were settled that I was able to create the main characters, Lord Gregor Sherringford and Joan Kriegerson. They’re Holmes-inspired but definitely a product of this strange new world. (And if you’re enough of a Holmes geek, you might spot the Easter egg in my detective’s name.)

Having finished the story and sent it off to my editor last week, I was left with two main thoughts about steampunk.

One: it is really, really hard to write well and required far more research than I ever thought.

Two: it’s a whole lot of fun.

We’re doing a steampunk week over at GeekMom, so pop in this week and check out the articles.

I’m particularly taking notes on the Steampunk tea post that we’ll be running but we also have a giveaway going all week as well.

Steampunk Week on GeekMomI
And just in time, I finished my steampunk detective story and sent it off to my editor. Wish me luck.

I learned a few things while writing it:

1. Doyle was a genius at creating mysteries. They are *hard.*
2. World-building is needed even in a short story. That took the longest to sort out.
3. Why did I wait so long to write a Sherlock Holmes-type story? That was So. Much. Fun. Even the title was fun. “The Case of the Brimstone Contract.”

So I downloaded some new songs and burned them to a disk for working out.

I just realized that they’re all inspirational songs of one sort or another. Huh. My subconscious is smart.

The songs:
“Raise Your Glass,” Pink.
“Hit Me With Your Best Shot” –Pat Benetar
“Runaway Train”–Soul Asylum
“A Change is Gonna Come,” Aretha Franklin version
“Walk of LIfe”–Dire Straits
“Ooo..Child”–The Five Stairsteps
“Don’t Stop Believin'”–Journey
“Need You Now”–the much awarded Lady Antebellum
“I Hope You Dance”–Lee Ann Womack
“Bitch”–Meredith Brooks

Well, that woke me up this morning. Off to finish the steampunk story.

And I wonder what kind of music would come from a steampunk Victorian universe.

For your enjoyment, Pink:

Morning all,

I just look outside at my deck. The snow there is piled up to my waist, at the least, and the fence in the backyard has snow covering 2/3 of it.

We’ve had a lot of snow. 🙂 And a lot of snow days from school which is keeping me busy and putting me behind in many things. But, happily, I’m at least about done with the steampunk detective story I’ve been working on.

It’s tentatively entitled “The Case of the Brimstone Contract,” and I have put the big confrontation with the villain and the romance aftermath to finish. I also have to go back through the story and layer in the world-building that’s sprung up as I was writing. I’ll top off at about 20,000 words or so, I think.

To make my life difficult, I put magic in the story but I didn’t know how it worked until this morning.

Then I was watching “How the Earth Was Made” while drinking my tea (loose tea, from Fortnum & Mason, yummy) and learned about the microscopic algae things at Shark’s Bay in Australia that basically convert sunlight into oxygen and exudes rock as part of the overall process.

Basically, the buggers convert light (energy) to an actual substance.

This seemed, I don’t know, somewhat magical to me.

So I thought a version of this would be a good basis for magic powers.

The magic users in my alternate Victorian world can convert energy to something else, with a by product as well.

So the steampunk machines are run on coal but the coal would be produced by a spell cast by a magician that converts energy into coal. Of course, it’s a little more expensive than actual coal, magicians being rare, but it’s more reliable and runs the machines much more efficiently.

I know, I know. It doesn’t make real science sense.

But it does make magical/imaginary science sense, at least I hope it does when I’m done with it.

So my magic users would basically have this plant-like talent for converting energy and it comes out in various forms.

My heroine does it unconsciously. To a talented magic user who can see the process, she walks around with somewhat of a glow as the sunlight is converted to radiance around her. But she has no idea she has it or how to use it.

The hero, my Holmes character, basically has a slight of hand talent, in which he can get rid of light/energy and thus can appear surrounded or hidden in blackness.

Which comes in handy for a sneaky detective.

So my Big Bad, the devil-type, can basically take energy from *people* if they agree to the process. It’s just another form of conversion of energy to something useful. But the process requires the person to agree. So the Big Bad learns how to tempt them into agreeing.

All this evolves into the legend of the devil tempting people in order to steal their souls.

And I think I can go forward with this in the short stories that come next after this tale and develop and overall Big Bad that takes a few adventures for my Holmes & Watson to solve.

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