Ever since I first heard the word “steampunk” I had the idea to write a story where a man is turned into a steam-powered cyborg on a mission of vengeance. I wanted to set it in the Old West because, yeah, Hang ‘Em High with Clint Eastwood. Westerns are good for vengeance stories.
So it was inevitable that I would write the story, but I didn’t want to just write a typical steam-powered cyborg story. I mean, come on, how many do we need?
And think about that for a minute. Steam engines require heat hot enough to boil water. Putting one inside a human being is not a good idea. So yeah, this wasn’t going to be a happy story, and I wanted the voice, the characters, the whole thing to transcend what is normally done.
In essence, I didn’t want some white cowpoke going after bad guys, or even some British dandy. No, for this story, I wanted to go back to a paper I wrote in college, which was a long time ago.
In college, I studied slave narratives, and I wrote a paper mimicking the language the scholars used when transcribing their conversations with ex-slaves. So it’s like this. Back in the 1930’s, the former African-American slaves were dying, and scholars didn’t want their histories to be lost. So they went around and talked to the people and then wrote down what they said. Verbatim. Bad grammar and all.
That’s what I wanted to do with my Vengeance Creek story. I wanted it to be from the point of a view of a freed slave whose family was murdered. A brilliant blacksmith turns him into a cyborg to get revenge.
I knew I couldn’t go full-on slave narrative, or yeah, I might come across a wee bit racist, so I softened the language some. And I avoided using the ‘n’ word. Not my place to use that word. It’s funny, but some of the people who read it were worried that I shouldn’t be trying to write like a black man, but if that’s the case, do I only tell stories about middle-aged white guys in the suburbs? Kill me now.
No, I stuck to my guns. I submitted the story to Quincy J. Allen, who agreed to publish it in the fourth collection of Penny Dread Tales. Hurray! And I was given pole position, the first story baby, the alpha dog spot.
Funny, but Quincy thanked me for avoiding the use of the ‘n’ word. However, I talked with an African-American guy who said I should’ve used it, that it would have fit. But again, not my place. That is the true American curse word, and I don’t want to be a part of it. I did have to use it once in LONG LIVE THE SUICIDE KING, but man, I really tried not to.
At the big coming out party for The Penny Dread Tales Volume IV, we each read a part of our stories. I was soooo nervous to read mine because yeah, writing it was one thing, speaking it is an entire different thing all together. But I stepped up, and in my best black voice, I read the first few pages of the story. People were swept along. I was a big hit and no one was offended. Thank God. And now I am dying to read the whole thing! It’s such a fun shoot ‘em up and the ending is so righteous.
As a side note, I am loving this movement in the steampunk community toward more diverse stories from around the globe. The 19th century really was the start of globalization, and yeah, everyone has a story to tell.
And I have an idea for another multi-cultural steampunk story…this one in India, with a transgender spy working against the British empire. Oooooh, just typing those words gets me itching to start.
And yeah, that one I’ll send to Quincy as well. I am just loving his Penny Dread Tales anthologies. I’m in volume III and IV and I feel very fortunate.
You can find them online and all over the place electronically. If you want a physical copy, I have some. Just hit me up.