I enjoy steampunk for its creativity. I love all the clothes, backstories, and especially the music – Abney Park anyone? Steam-Powered Giraffe? – so I’ve wanted to write a steampunk story for a long time. I didn’t know where to go with it initially. I didn’t want to do the war story or airship pirates. Sure, those are great fun, but they are almost expected of the genre. I wanted to do something a little different.
The steampunk is the backdrop for the story more than the driving force. It is, at its heart a mystery with a fantastical setting. Getting the steampunk to even out with the mystery was a balancing act. I didn’t want to give the detective too much technology that wouldn’t have been around at the time. I wasn’t out to write CSI: 1890 (besides The Artful Detective already does a fine job of that). Nicolai Tesla’s and Abraham’s little toy at the end was really about the only weapon that wasn’t period. And how could I pass up the chance for Abraham to know Tesla? Tesla is one of my heroes.
While I don’t want to spoil the fun weapons at the end of the novella, I can talk about Victor being an airman before he went into the police force. So there are airships, and Abraham makes engines for them, which is part of his wealth. He’s also busy making his own personal small airships for fun. Steam-driven automobiles are slightly more prevalent and advanced than they would have been at the time mostly, because as a wealthy inventor would have one, and the police department has a couple and it made it easier to move Victor around where I needed him to go.
I wish I had more time to play with Abraham’s inventions, especially Cerberus, the mechanical dog he created for his son. There were more domestic scenes I would have liked to write but I didn’t want to take away from the tension of the mystery. Cerberus is the invention I liked the best, (one of my first readers likes the mechanical butler best), and I hope you will, too.
Thanks to Jamie for having me over!
“I’m Detective Victor Van Voorhis. I need to speak to the master of the house.”
“He’s expecting you. You can give your coat to Justin.” She waved her hand to indicate what looked like a tree stand with hands. She pressed the brass dogwood flower-shaped button in its center and the thing rumbled.
It wheezed and hissed little puffs of steam, and the arms extended as the contraption lurched forward on its wheeled base, startling Victor. He studied the machine, having never seen anything like it. He wondered how the mechanical butler worked, but it didn’t seem to work without someone there to turn it on. Was it more than a mechanized coat rack? Victor would have to ask.
“Do you like Justin?”
The male voice dragged Victor’s attention away. A tall, almost overly thin man stood in an interior doorway that led deeper into the home. He was surprisingly clean-shaven, though his walnut hair was mussed. Grief pinched his otherwise fine features.
“You named a machine?”
The man offered a wan smile. “It’s a quirk of mine, one of many. I name all my inventions. I’m Abraham Westbrook.”
To Victor’s surprise, this wealthy man stuck out his hand to shake. Victor felt nicks and calluses he hadn’t expected to find on a rich man’s hands. “I’m Detective Victor Van Voorhis. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Abraham nodded. “Thank you. Her children are upstairs with mine and their nannies. They weren’t here when it happened. Will you need to speak to them? They’re naturally very upset.”
“Later,” Victor said, handing his coat to Justin, who rolled away back to its corner. “Just briefly about the morning, before they left. You can be present, of course. However, I have questions for you, sir, about your sister-in-law. I understand your brother is in the city. Were you and your wife at home this morning and afternoon?” Victor had no real idea how the rich spent their days. Why wasn’t this man at work? Did he even work?
“I was here in my workshop.” Abraham gestured toward a hallway. “My wife passed over five years ago.”
“I’m sorry.” The generic words of sympathy tumbled out of him. Victor was used to saying them several times a day when working a case.
“It’s fine, Detective. Come with me. We can talk in my library. It will be more comfortable.”
Victor followed him through a living room roughly the size of Victor’s house, then down a hall with carpeting that ate all the sounds of their passage and felt like walking on a cloud. The scent of old books, slightly musty and even dustier, hit Victor’s nose as they entered the library. A large marble fireplace dominated one wall, with comfortable-looking chairs and a table with a whiskey decanter and glasses set out in front of it. Rows of books lined every other surface, along with more knickknacks and other memorabilia than Victor could easily take in.
Author’s Bio: Jana Denardo’s career choices and wanderlust take her all over the United States and beyond. Much of her travels make their way into her stories. Fantasy, science fiction, and mystery have been her favorite genres since she started reading, and they often flavor her works. In her secret identity, she works with the science of life and gives college students nightmares. When she’s not chained to her computer writing, she functions as stray cat magnet.
Jana is Queen of the Geeks (her students voted her in) and her home and office are shrines to any number of comic book and manga heroes along with SF shows and movies too numerous to count. There is no coincidence the love of all things geeky has made its way into many of her stories. To this day, she’s still disappointed she hasn’t found a wardrobe to another realm, a superhero to take her flying among the clouds or a roguish star ship captain to run off to the stars with her.
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