Infrequently Asked Questions...
What is steampunk?
It's sort of like cyberpunk, only with airships instead of computers. Or, to put it another way, it's science-fiction and alternate history set in the Victorian era. Or something like that. Often involves goggles, for some reason. Probably because of all of that steam.
In some ways, steampunk is closer to fantasy than to science fiction, and is to the Victorian age what fantasy is to the Medieval age - a literary form that draws upon elements of an historical era without being bound by historical accuracy. Fantasy, though, has a greater tendency to create secondary worlds, whereas steampunk more often sets stories in a version of our world (or an alternate history of our world). The Victorian world being a highly industrialized one, the fantasy is often given a technological form.
Occasionally one comes across Isidore-of-Seville-ish etymological gobbledegook about how steampunk is about... well... steam, and about, um, punk (usually with the 'punk' part explained as some sort of puritanical mania to right the wrongs of the 19th century through propagandistic writing). Fie! I say. Also, pshaw! and egad!
As I once said elsewhere, generally steampunk is associated with Victorian-style things (technology, clothes, stories, etc) rather than steam-powered things specifically. The steam in the name was originally a reference to the dominant technology of the era (and a play on the "cyber" of cyberpunk), but wasn't meant as a sine qua non. Anything that looks like a Victorian could have made it (especially a Victorian who's a tad eccentric) probably has a place under the steampunk umbrella, particularly if the umbrella has a sword inside and a mechanism that plays Rule Britannia when you open it.
In Sporeville, Elliott uses some big words, like "heterochromia iridium". Isn't he too clever for a 15/16 yr old?
Occasionally, this objection is expressed by a reviewer (for example, Anne Hutchings, who said in Canadian Book Review Annual that
"The portrayal of Elliott is less than believable. At just 15, it would seem unlikely that he would act as his father's assistant. Certainly, his use of vocabulary such as heterochromia iridium and blepharospasm is highly unusual."
Keeping in mind that (for the most part) Elliott is merely cleaning up and lending a hand, I would point out that Edward Jenner, one of the founders of immunology, began his career as a surgeon's apprentice at the age of 14. The poet John Keats became a surgeon's apprentice about the time of his fifteenth birthday. As for the idea that a reasonably intelligent teenager living with a physician would be incapable of picking up some medical terminology (particularly the medical term for a condition he himself has), I won't attempt to cite historical examples, but can only say that it is rather sad, in the 21st century, to find that there exists such an attitude. Perhaps if fewer of those involved in education held such low opinions of the abilities of young people, students might not so often find schools insulting and pointless, and would instead pursue studies that interested them.
This insidious tendency to limit expectations - to complain when anyone displays anything other than acceptably average behaviour - is perhaps one of the more pernicious habits in education, and in society at large. The writer Terry Pratchett has a nice metaphor for it: the crab bucket. It describes very well the situation where anyone who rises a little higher gets dragged down by the rest of the crowd:
"That's why you can keep them in a bucket without a lid. Any that tries to get out gets pulled back"....It's so nice and warm on the inside that you forget that there's an
outside. The worst of it is, the crab that mostly keeps you down is
you...They put up all kinds of visible and invisible signs that say 'Do not do this' in the hope that it'll work. - From Unseen Academicals
In Elliott's time, paradoxically, people lacked some of today's prejudices. They assumed that kids could learn things, that boys could read, and that hard work resulted in useful skills. It's certainly true that many at that time (for example, girls) faced prejudice in regards to their abilities. It is interesting that today the roles seem somewhat reversed - no-one has so far commented on Paisley's broad reading and literary allusions as lacking credibility, but a few reviewers have found Elliott (the same age as Paisley, but a boy) unbelievable because he is reasonably intelligent and competent.
So, some of the artificial limitations imposed on children today are a result of biases that did not exist in Victorian times. In some schools 100 yrs ago, teenagers debated philosophy and politics in Latin, and performed classical plays in Ancient Greek, believe it or not. Now, you're lucky to find anyone with a Ph.D. who can do things like that. Advances in education, eh? Not having TV, instant messaging, or cell phones probably helped. txt msgs r not so gr8 if u want 2 b liter8. Sort of like telegrams. Stop.
Why is Sporeville misspelt all through your book?
It isn't. Spohrville is the town's real name (named after a Colonel Spohr, relative of the composer Louis Spohr). The title's a play on words.
Why is misspelled misspelt in that last question?
It isn't, it's a strong verb past tense. Like dreamt, or dove. Or snuck. Though "snuck" never really caught on for "sneaked". A nice thing about English is that no one ever succeeded in forcing everyone to use it the same way.
How's the Etheric Explorers Club of your short stories connected with Sporeville?
They're set in the same world - in Knights of the Sea (the sequel to Sporeville), the two lines of stories intersect when Elliott joins the Etheric Explorers Club, and meets the founder.
I'd like to visit Spohrville. How do I get there?
You take the Intercolonial Railway past Easter River as far as Truro, and then ask directions. If your luck is anything like the Gravens', this will probably result in you getting hopelessly lost. Also, people will look at you strangely if you make inquiries about eel festivals. Best if you just go to Wolfville and pretend it's Spohrville. Even if they're not alike in any way.
So you're an author.
Does that mean you're rich, like J.K. Rowling?
Ha ha ha! Oh, that's good... Next question.
Have you ever eaten an eel pie?
Almost. But it was made with mackerel. We couldn't find any eels. There is a lamentable lack of eels in our great Dominion. In fact, I think I'll write a letter to the editor about this matter...
Are there more verses to the Sporhville Fair song?
Yes. But since some fans gave me a verse two of their own invention, I'll provide that instead:
The cold and slimy eel
Tastes great in every meal.
You can mix it into cake,
Though it's difficult to bake;
You can stir it into stew,
Though it's very hard to brew;
But this is not a lie:
Eels taste their best in pie!
-by M & S
Do people really bob for eels?
II wouldn't have thought so - and certainly didn't think it likely when I wrote Sporeville. Imagine the surprise I experienced, then, when I was browsing a Venetian cook-book in January of 2012 and read that people in the Serenissima used to have a festival where they... bobbed for eels!
Do you base your characters on real people?
Very rarely, and then only for revenge.
When are you going to write more books about Elliott, Paisley, and the Wellborn Conspiracy?
Just as soon as I finish answering all of these questions. (Update: see Knights of the Sea, the sequel to Sporeville).