by wjw on October 10, 2010

About ten years ago, I was shopping around a proposal for a novel about Benjamin Franklin.   Though the friends who read the initial chapters loved them, and one went as far as to say it was the best thing I’ve ever done, the proposal never sold, in part because editors were puzzled by it.  There didn’t seem to be a category to which the book belonged.

It wasn’t fantasy, it wasn’t science fiction, it wasn’t a thriller, it wasn’t a mystery, and it wasn’t straight historical fiction, though it had elements of all of these.

If the editors couldn’t categorize it, they didn’t want it, and they didn’t buy it.

Talking with Kathy the other day, I realized what category the book fits into.  It’s steampunk!

Dang.  Ahead of my time again.

Maybe now that it has a category, I can sell it.   How about that?

Patricia October 10, 2010 at 10:43 pm

You are right! It’s Steampunk!

Matt October 11, 2010 at 12:14 am

Interesting. Franklin has just come up in my class on Unitarian-Universalist History. I also found out that that Joseph Priestly was an Unitarian minister, all I knoew about him was his part in discovering oxygen from science class many decades ago.

Maybe you should add something thoroughly scandalous about Unitarians or Universalists, if you can get your book demonized from the pulpti, I’ll bet at least 100,000 UUs will go buy a copy.

Sean Craven October 11, 2010 at 1:01 am

Hey, Walter!

Damn. Dude, that is not just Steampunk. That is Young Adult Steampunk. And since it’s YA…

I jest, I joke.

Honestly, when I think of what was in The Rift and Days of Atonement, not to mention Red Elvis, this sounds incredible.

And you know what? I ain’t proud, I’ll let it out. When I got back your critique of my first submission at Taos Toolbox, you referred to it as horror. And my heart fell. You know the state of horror in recent years. And it is totally reasonable to describe that story as horror. It started out as an attempt to do a garage-band M.R. James.

But the Nancy said it was Urban Fantasy. And I felt a sense of relief. I’ll push it as literary fiction right up until I get my nose smacked with a rolled-up newspaper, but I’d rather call it ‘urban fantasy’ than ‘horror.’ If it comes down to it. Which it probably will.



Ralf T. Dog October 11, 2010 at 8:59 am

I like to write zombie dog fiction. That and books about people who think they are talking dogs and win the lottery. I never write any absurdest humor.

Lektu October 11, 2010 at 10:42 am

Well, to be nitpicky about it, steampunk has been around for twenty years or more. “The Difference Engine” is from 1990.

Patricia Mathews October 11, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Wait a minute! If Neal Stephenson could sell a 4-book series that crossed categories in exactly that way, you can – now. Hey! Go to it!

Foxessa October 11, 2010 at 5:11 pm

We have just had the J. A. Leo Lemay library moved into our C’town house — he was a primiere early America scholar, whose specialty was Benjamin Franklin.

This book shift happened while we too this 8 days away (going back tonight), so I have seen the books yet, but I’m thrilled to have such a thing, with such access.

Love, C.

Tori October 11, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Do it, Walter! Steampunk is so in vogue right now, I bet they’d snatch it right up! Plus, I want to read it.

Dave Bishop October 12, 2010 at 8:40 am

Have you thought of adding some sexy vampires to your Benjamin Franklin novel? That might go down well with the publishers!

Ralf the Dog October 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Dave, I think he should target the conspiracy fringe. Benjamin Franklin was an alien sent to Earth be part of an evil secret organization and control our development. Over time, he began to like humans and started a counter conspiracy. (Both sets of aliens have this thing about geometry. It is how their brains are wired Their language is based off of trig.)

Go with a Dan Brown approach and you could be a trillionaire. Don’t forget to include a British school where kids learn to do magic.

Dave Bishop October 12, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Yeah! And the aliens could be vampires!

Sorry, Walter – you would be perfectly entitled to ban me and Ralf from this website …

Ralf the Dog October 12, 2010 at 10:18 pm


You might want to have Steve Stirling do the British bits. I don’t know how well you can type in a British accent.



wjw October 13, 2010 at 1:16 am

No, Dave, I won’t ban you. I’m taking notes!

(the . . . aliens . . . are . . . vampires . . . )

Lektu, I know that steampunk first appeared in the mid-Eighties with stuff by Waldrop, Powers, and Blaylock, but I seem a lot wiser claiming that I anticipated the current vogue, which has little or nothing to do with Waldrop, Powers, or Blaylock.

Ralf, I thought you knew— Steve Stirling only types in a Canadian accent.

Ralf the Dog October 13, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Stirling speaks Canadian; noted for future reference. I just got the opportunity to live through one of your novels. It was only a 4.3, but it was a big enough quake that I thought a truck hit my house.

Following your advice, I will drink water from the swimming pool. I will not try to set up a futures market for food.

Jason November 19, 2010 at 7:34 pm

To my ears a WJW penned mashup of this type sounds incredible. I can only hope somebody agrees to publish it!

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