From HebrewPunk to Steampunk

Today The Travler’s Steampunk Blog welcomes its first guest author, Lavie Tidhar, check out his site, who will soon release his first Steampunk novel The Bookman,  which was hinted at in an earlier post and for which a review will go up on this blog soon.

For his first post, Lavie explains how he came to writing a Steampunk novel, so, without further ado, let’s listen to Lavie:

Lavie Tidhar:

Back in 2007 I released a collection of four linked stories, given the somewhat tongue-in-cheek title HebrewPunk. My intention with the four stories inside was simple: I wanted to take the kind of traditional pulp fantasy story and put a different spin on it – to use Jewish elements in tales that always saw, for instance, vampires turning back in horror from holy water and crucifixes. I never understood that about vampires. The underlying assumption in these tales, of course, is that Christianity is the one true religion – which is why holy water and crucifixes work in those stories.

I wanted to do something different but, also, I wanted to have fun.

The longest of these stories, “The Dope Fiend”, is also the closest to being steampunk. It takes place in 1920s London, involving ghosts, flappers, opium dens, the sewers, secret societies and much more besides. And I’ve always loved steampunk.

How do you get from one to the other?

The truth is, I didn’t initially set out to write a steampunk novel. I set out to write an ambitious, secondary-world fantasy trilogy that was, like HebrewPunk, based on Jewish – rather then Western European, or Celtic, or Nordic – mythology. Like HebrewPunk, I thought it would have dybbuks in it – and golems – and kabbalists. It would also have chases, and adventures, and a quest of some sort. It would have been great…

Only, somewhat to my surprise, it sucked.

It wasn’t the Jewish element, of course. To a large extent, it was me. I was trying to take on too much – too soon – and to do it, moreover, without joy. I didn’t enjoy it. and if the writer doesn’t enjoy the book they are writing, why expect the readers to?

So I left it. Maybe I’ll go back to it one day. There was a good story in there, somewhere. And so there I was, rather low in spirit, having just abandoned – a book and a half into my trilogy – the entire thing. What to do?

‘Write something fun,’ an editor friend told me. ‘Write something you enjoy.’

And that was the problem, you see. I forgot I was supposed to be having fun.

And so, not worrying about selling, not worrying about markets – all the things I was doing with my aborted trilogy – I began writing The Bookman.

For fun.

It would have all the things I love, I decided. Automatons and airships, poetry and magic, the underworld – and the London sewers. It would have chases and escapes! And a quest, of sort, done for love.

And so I wrote it. Like my hero, Orphan, I did it for love. And I had fun doing it…

It was the sort of book I could research by drinking in pubs. Old pubs. Old pubs that made it into the book! Great research!

And then I finished the book, and wrote The End, and that was that. I left London and moved to a remote island in the South Pacific, travelling by boat, climbing volcanoes, living in a tiny bamboo hut on the beach, planting tomatoes, speaking the pidgin English of that place. London seemed very far away… and I was writing other things, at least when I had electricity (which wasn’t often).

But in the meantime I got myself an agent, and my agent loved the book – though he ruthlessly made me cut it and chop it and re-shape it, to remove all the fat, and the self-indulgence, and make it as good as it could be – and the he sent it to Angry Robot, the new genre imprint from HarperCollins that was just starting up – and they liked it enough to offer to buy it, and two more books set in the same world.

And suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly, I had a book deal.

And two more books to write!

So here I am. As I write this, the second book – Camera Obscura – is nearly finished, too. And I had fun with that one too – lots of fun. There’s a girl with a machine gun for an arm, and a murder on the Rue Morgue…

But it’s not to say I left HebrewPunk behind, either. In 2010 Apex, the same publishers who did HebrewPunk, will be putting out my very strange novel Martian Sands, an unlikely mix of Total Recall and Schindler’s List.

It looks like, for the moment, I get to do both.

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