Guest Blog: Karen J Carlisle: Rewriting Steampunk

Today, I’m pleased to welcome yet another guest blogger. I’m in good company alongside Karen J Carlisle, whose excellent new short story All That Glitters is featured in the upcoming Den of Antiquity steampunk anthology.


Karen writes speculative fiction including steampunk, Victorian mystery and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, Hunted, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales.’


Rewriting History
(or why I write Steampunk)

Karen J Carlisle

Bryce asked if I would write a blog post – possibly on writing or steampunk. I thought: Why not both? So here is my bit on why I write steampunk.

When researching historical events, I am fascinated by the people involved and often wonder: what if?

What if Jack the Ripper worked for a secret society trying to take over The Empire? What if he genuinely thought he was working for the greater good? What if Madame Tussaud’s wax-works mannequins were facsimile automatons in a plan to replace England’s aristocracy? What if vampires were bored and entertained themselves by…? (Spoilers! You’ll have to wait for The Wizard of St Giles for that one.)

I find the possibilities of alternative history fascinating, and fun. I never know where my initial research will take me.

On his webpage, Richard Harland describes steampunk as ‘doing history and getting it wrong.’ He advocates the ‘do little research’ route, preferring do-it-yourself history. (Or perhaps ‘redo-it-yourself’?) Other authors recommend intense research. I guess it’s a bit like plotters and pantsers. There are intense-researchers and dip-their-toes-researchers. Neither is wrong. It is up to the writer.

I prefer to immerse myself in research – the culture, the houses, the social order, the clothing. This possibly stems from my experiences with historical re-creation, costuming and world-building in role-playing games. In fact, I can get a little anal with my research. (The funny thing is I’m more of a pantser when it comes to the actual writing.) For me, the research and re-building of my alternate world is part of the fun and a major attraction to writing steampunk.

I get to twist history. I get to decide how (and if) I mash genres. In Morlock Nights, KW Jeter mashed Victoriana with Arthurian legends and Atlantis technology. Tim Powers’ Anubis Gates combined time travel, dark magic, in a re-imagined alternate Victorian London ruled by murderous Egyptian Gods, played out in the London sewers. The Adventures of Viola Stewart are Victorian steampunk mysteries – I mix Victorian steampunk with mysteries and alternative history.

Once I’m in the appropriate headspace, I get to play. I get to decide what stays in my world and what changes. I can tinker with timelines and how this affects the characters within an altered timeline. This is where the pantsing happens. I let them play in my world.

Steampunk often cameos iconic historical or fictional characters. Some cameos in existing steampunk novels include: Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Tesla, Thomas Edison and Sherlock Holmes.

Possibly one of the most common cameos in alternate history steampunk is Queen Victoria herself (as early as Queen Victoria’s Bomb by Ronald W Clark in 1967) Even I have been beguiled by Her Presence. Her Majesty plays a significant part in my next series, The Department of Curiosities, due for release in late 2017.

Steampunk is a fantastic genre to play in. It is vast, with few constraints. If I want a lot of gadgets – voila! There they are. If I want a world where the use of gadgets is controlled by the Crown (as in The Adventures of Viola Stewart), then so be it. I can mix in mystery, adventure, romance, gaslamp, paranormal, horror, political intrigue. I can choose a setting and story to match my mood.

Steampunk covers such an eclectic and vast array of subjects and characters, with so much history to play with!

So, why do I write steampunk?

Because there are so many possibilities in the words: What if?


To learn more about Karen J Carlisle, visit

Twitter: @kjcarlisle


Find her books on Amazon and Smashwords.