One of the things that really stuck out to me during my interview with indie Steampunk author Rebecca Diem was her gratitude. And her joy.
Diem has seen quite a bit of success in the year since she started publishing her steampunk novella series, The Tales of the Captain Duke, and yet there is only joy and humility when she talks about her work. She freely acknowledges that she’s “a baby author” and that she’s got a long way to go, but she “loves the idea of bringing readers along for the ride as I get better and better.”
Her newness to writing also played a part in her decision to start out in indie publishing instead of going through traditional publishing channels. As did the novella format she ended up choosing. Numerous reviews compare her books to the old-style adventure serials, and Diem agrees that the novella format really suits The Tales of the Captain Duke. And she “found I could make it a stronger story if I kept it at the novella length.”
This, of course, presented a huge obstacle for Diem because traditional publishers have word count minimums, and novellas aren’t known for selling particularly well. In a book-glutted market they can be slow movers, which makes big publishers wary. Diem admits that the extra control over things like cover design and layout didn’t hurt her decision to go indie: “this is my little story, my first book” she said, talking about The Stowaway Debutante in the same tones other people reserve for pets and children.
“It was initially a very different story and as I wrote it it became so much more complex,” she gushed, clearly in love with the characters, the story, and the world.
That love shines through in how she treats her characters: very carefully. Diem already has non-white characters in the books, as well as women and other minorities, and has plans to move the series from Victorian England to a Steampunk Toronto, where she wants to introduce Canadian First Nations characters. Always a tricky subject to tackle, Diem acknowledges that it’s going to be difficult and that she’ll have to do a lot of research because she firmly believes that “if you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to do it right.”
Healthy relationships are a big thing for Diem as well. It’s obvious from very early in The Stowaway Debutante that Clara and the Captain Duke are going to end up together, and Diem doesn’t deny it. She does, however, point out that, having just run away from home to join a crew of airship pirates, Clara has some stuff to sort through before she’s ready for the relationship. As does the Captain Duke.
This changes the emphasis of the relationship; “will they” or “won’t they” becomes “how will they” and “when will they?”. The interesting part of the story, according to Diem is “see[ing] them grow together and rely more on each other, supporting each other.” (For the record, I fully agree with her.)
But what–or who–does Diem rely on to keep her moving forward? Neil Gaiman. A fan of his work (Stardust is her favourite, followed by Neverwhere), Diem got to meet him on his last book tour, before she’d finished The Stowaway Debutante. When she told him about her story “he had this moment where he sat back and looked at me and said ‘you know, I think you’re gonna do just fine.’…And when I was doubting myself or wondering if it was really worth it to put out this silly little story of mine, I was like ‘well, Neil Gaiman told me to finish it, so I gotta finish it.’ And now people really like it.”
That last is said with a little smile, like she almost can’t believe that there are people out there who want to read her story. I’m not surprised though: you can see how much she loves it, and it comes through in the book itself, probably because “as a reader, these are the kind of stories I want to see and they weren’t out there yet, so I figured I’d just write them.”
And if Diem’s success is anything to judge by, readers are as hungry for new, innovative stories as they’ve ever been. Much like the societal breakdowns Diem features in her books, “the distinctions between indie authors and traditionally published writers…are breaking down in a really beautiful way as we move forward.”
It’s that breakdown that’s allowed her career to get off to a great start, but it also shows how hungry audiences are for nuanced, diverse stories. Deliver them in any form, and they will come.
Diem will be appearing at the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exhibition September 25-27 at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-lake. Stop by and say hi! If you can’t make it, you can still buy Diem’s books on Amazon: The Stowaway Debutante, and From Haven to Hell and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
//Top image by Nelson Phillips; cover courtesy of Rebecca Diem.