This interview was originally published in issue 53 of Prim Perfect in December of 2014. The complete magazine can be read online at http://en.calameo.com/read/0000042340c2f1c8164cc
by Saffia Widdershins
Imagine that you have the ambition to be a writer. Then imagine that you have the ability to immerse yourself in the world about which you’d like to write. Second Life, of course, provides you with the perfect opportunity.
One of Prim Perfect’s own did just that – with fabulous success and we’re thrilled!
It’s always exciting when a friend writes (and publishes!) a book, and here at Prim Perfect, we are thrilled that our ex-Deputy Editor, Ceejay Writer, has her first book out – available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other platforms, under her real life name of Lori Alden Holuta. We caught up with her to find out all about it!
“The Steamkettle Kids Save The Day” is a short story for pre-teens: twenty-one pages, 99 cents! It’s available as an eBook in Kindle from Amazon (US and UK!) and it’s currently climbing up the genre best-selling lists (No. 6 in its category on Amazon when last checked!).
What’s it about? Well, the blurb gives an excellent outline:
“Welcome to the busy, industrial port city of Steamkettle Bay, the second-largest city in all of Industralia. It’s filled with manufacturing factories, airship docks, inventors, artists, and lots and lots of streetwise, clever kids. It’s a warm Saturday in the summer of 1872, and somewhere in Steamkettle Bay, bad things are happening. Can Paisley Pockets and Christopher Cogan stop a crime in progress? They may be just a couple of kids, but where there’s a will and, some smarts, there just might be a way.”
“One of the main characters, Paisley Pockets, is based on one of my Second Life avatars who’s been running around as a kid by that name for quite a while now,” explains Lori. “Both inworld and in-story, she’s been a fun outlet for building a personality I can carry over to my children’s stories.”
In real life, Lori Holuta lives with her husband Ken between the cornfields of mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs, when she’s not playing games with a cat named Chives. She’s fond of activities from the past, including canning and preserving, crocheting, and cooking. She’s learning how to make her own wines and cheeses.
Her lifelong fascination with the Victorian era dovetails nicely with articles she has written for The Primgraph, a magazine focusing on historical eras in virtual worlds, as well as movie and book reviews for Steampunk Magazine. The Flight to Brassbright is her first novel and is set in a quasi-Victorian era. She also serves as Editor-in-Chief for Penny Gaff Publications, a small independent publishing house which produces serial adventures in the old penny novel style.
Ceejay Writer is Lori’s pseudonym and an existential being (avatar) in Second Life. Ceejay is the author of many articles for Prim Perfect and Primgraph magazines, has also written (and performed!) a variety of whimsical, word-wrenching burlesque acts, and has a reputation as a punster. She built and barista-ed the CocoaJava Cafe, a Steampunk coffee house, and the Java Jive, a coffeepot-shaped Prohibition Era jazz and burlesque club. She’s currently a marooned pirate, lounging on a tropical isle, where she’s built the grid’s first and possibly only Pirate Library, the Mary Read Stealing Lending Library. She has a digital Siamese cat and a scripted talking parrot.
So where does her interest in steampunk come from? According to Lori, it goes back a long way.
“I think I was born a steampunk,” she says simply.
As a child, her favourite books were Sherlock Holmes stories and Nancy Drew mysteries, seasoned with a large dose of Ray Bradbury.
“My grandmother had a bookshelf hidden from view by her rather large television,” she says, “but I’d squeeze behind the big box and sit on the floor, wedged between the telly and the shelves, which contained nothing newer than the 1948 edition of Cheaper by the Dozen, which introduced me to the brilliant work and inventions of Frank Bunker Gilbreth Sr. I also fell in love with a 1917 surreal story called The Poor Little Rich Girl by Eleanor Gates. I still have that book.”
Beyond what Lori calls “that hodgepodge of reading influences,” she attributes her attitude to life to her father. “My father has always encouraged me to be whoever and whatever I wanted to be,” she explains. “He praised my creative writings in school, helped me build a weather station on the roof (to the horror of my mother), and showed me how a microscope works. We built model rockets and fired them into the skies. We tore apart old radios to see how they worked. We restored a 1929 Ford pickup truck. We built rabbit hutches, fired clay pots in our own kiln, and had lots of dangerous-for-my-age fun with soldering irons and woodburners.”
So when the term “steampunk” came along, Lori just smiled and nodded. Her tribe had finally gathered.
Discovering Second Life was also important in her development as a writer, and the steampunk communities there had a huge impact.
“Other residents of the steamlands have broadened my view of potential characters, inspired by their crafting of their own personas,” she says. “And, while other writers must content themselves with photographs for visual inspiration, I can, quite literally, run through steampunk city streets, hear the sounds of industry, relax in the pubs, socialise, explore, even crawl around in New Babbage’s sewer system if I so please. Immersing in a collective vision of steampunk feeds the imagination, and from that, the writing.”
Ah yes, the writing for The Steamkettle Kids Save The Day is just the first of Lori’s planned publications.
“I’m planning two paths for my stories, both of them travelling within my fictional country of Industralia,” she says with enthusiasm. “The Brassbright Chronicles are young adult/new adult full length novels, mostly set in Brassbright City, which is a steampunked version of New York City. I’ll also have more short stories aimed at pre-teens, in the ‘steampunk adventures for kids,’ which really could use a snappier theme name, right?”
Right now Lori has three novels in the works for the Brassbright Chronicles. The Flight To Brassbright will be released for sale on or before January 31, 2015. It will be followed by Down The Tubes, an adventure involving the misbehaving Brassbright City pneumatic mail system, and The Hidden Doors, in which we will explore Brassbright’s early days and uncover many secrets. Dozens of other stories are jostling around in her head, she tells us, and we shall just have to see see how many of them escape from there and land in a book!
Lori feels strongly that steampunk offers opportunities for a new form of imaginative fiction, seeing it as a genre which contains unlimited genres!
“Romance, adventure, war stories, post-apocalyptic situations, comedy, fantasy… and anything else you can think of can all exist in a steampunk reality,” she declares. “And imagination is the key – reinvent history, or make you own. Dinosaurs piloting airships? Sure. I’ll buy that if it’s written well.”
One issue that she has thought about a great deal is the role and depiction of women in steampunk literature.
“It’s a question that could spawn an entire thesis,” she says – and then grins. “Wait, it has! Prim Perfect readers may enjoy this Masters thesis by Cassie N. Bergman, Clockwork Heroines: Female Characters in Steampunk Literature.
“As for me,” she continues, “what I’ve noticed a lot is the ‘girl from an unlikely background who’s more than meets the eye’ type character. I’m a fan of the Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina, in which Lady Claire Trevelyan is taken from ‘riches to rags,’ which gives her the opportunity to stop thinking about the frivolities of society and indulge her passion for engineering. Oh, and there’s urchins. And a chicken. Which leads me to admit that my favourite ‘steampunk genre’ tends to be lighthearted, often funny steampunk adventures. Needless to say, I absolutely adore Gail Carriger and her tilted view of supernatural steampunk society.
But, of course, the genre of steampunk also raises questions about its basis in a Western-centric privileged society that was dependent on the exploitation of non-Western (and non-white) societies through colonialism. This was an issue that was discussed at this year’s WorldCon with various distinguished steampunk writers – and Lori too has thought about this.
“I just finished reading a yet-unpublished novella set in the American West, which centers on scheming, privileged white men (Americans and British) taking huge advantage of the native cultures in Arizona. I thought the story was well-done, with a very satisfactory outcome that took us deep into the native cultures, beliefs and feats of engineering. So, that’s encouraging. But overall, the real events of our world can place a heavy burden on steampunk authors. We can choose to exploit these events, mock them, rewrite them, or ignore them, all of which has been tackled in various books.
“There’s other issues that are being addressed in steampunk books, as well. Gail Carriger manages to address sexuality and gender roles without losing her lighthearted tone or belittling the issues. She strikes a good balance. Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris love to take history and turn it on its ear. No one is safe, even if your name is Edison, Tesla, or Wright. Their main characters, Books and Braun, aren’t afraid to tackle gender issues either.”
Returning to Second Life, Lori feels that one can take inspiration from a steampunk world that is populated by every possible sort of being. “I can’t say ‘person,’ as the population includes plenty of animals and clockwork residents, as well,” she points out. “For the most part, everyone is simply accepted at face value and becomes a thread in the tapestry that covers the Steamlands. Prejudice does exist, sadly, but it’s in small (yet vocal) numbers.”
In her own books, Lori is not personally interested in rewriting history. She picks and chooses the elements of our world that appeal to her, throws them into a satchel and transports them over to another reality, one where the Victorian era’s aesthetic elements exist, but the Queen herself didn’t inspire them. “I’m building Industralia’s history on its own merit,” she explains. “With this fresh slate, I’m able to have a society without racism, a world where women are free to be as feminine and demure as they wish – or not. Some oppression exists, mostly the typical sort of struggles between the working class and their employers, but I pull most of my drama from the ever-present struggle to create. I think my inventors and artists suffer the most!”
Above all, it’s the diversity of steampunk that attracts Lori.
“Steampunk isn’t limited to a small slice of society – it’s for everyone. And, to echo something I said earlier, steampunk is a genre containing many genres. Cosplayers love the elaborate wardrobe possibilities. Craftspeople dazzle us with contraptions that work. Parents dress the kids up and enjoy outings as a family. The range of literature is vast! And face it, we live in a complicated, stress-inducing age. It’s relaxing to step back in time and take a deep breath (assuming your corset allows it) of air in an era when conversations weren’t texted, manners were important, and everything possible was crafted to look wonderful. What a marvelous escape hatch we’ve discovered in the floorboards of modern society!”