Friday, October 14, 2011

Steam-Powered II Roundtable! C.S.E. Cooney

C.S.E. Cooney, also Claire Cooney, lives at LiveJournal, and brings to us a piece reminding us of the source of steam power in C.S.E. Cooney on “The Canary of Candletown.”

A two-sentence summary: 
A burnt-out revolutionary’s kindness awakens the passionate devotion of a young mining laborer. But the Candletown Company is careful to stomp out any flame ignited underground. 

How did your characters come to be? 
It started with the name Kanarien, which is the German for canary. I’ve always been haunted by the idea of sending a singing thing into the dark, then waiting for it to stop singing. And I really like the name Dagomar. I didn’t necessarily want two German characters, so I played with the idea of a girl growing up in the mines without a name, and also what it would mean, suddenly, to be given one by the first person to care about her.
Why this setting? 
I share my morning commute with a very clever Belgian named Thomas. One day, we had this conversation:
Thomas: What are you reading?
Me: Steampunk’d. I have to write this story, and I'm trying to get a feel for the genre.
Thomas: What is steampunk?
Me: Still figuring it out, myself.
Thomas: (looking up the definition on his smart phone) Ah. I dislike the literature of the aristocracy. Where does steam come from?
Me: (getting goosebumps) Coal.
Thomas: Where does coal come from? Earth. Who digs it? The people. Children. This is the era when Dickens was writing Oliver Twist. Zola's Germinal...
It was at that moment I had an idea for a story that might have to do, rather than with the great inventions of air and industry that were possible because of coal, with the coal mines themselves.
You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting?
 These characters are the lowest of the low. They’re so far down the social ladder, they’re underground. Nobody cares about them, or what they do, so long as they get their work done and don’t raise dust. They have no one and nothing else to care about than each other. They’re best friends and lovers and family—and none of that matters in a world where they are already invisible. 

What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
I wrote mine at the same time, and in the same room, where Patty Templeton wrote her “Fruit Jar Drinkin’, Cheatin’ Heart Blues.” She was letting me sleep on her couch for the month of April, and she’d bring home these huge bags full of research material from the library. We were writing in sort of the same time period, in a generally similar geographical location, and we’d each discover these interesting (or sickening) things in our research and say to each other, “AAUGGH!!! If you don’t use that, girl, I’m gonna!” 

So that was fabulous. 

But then! Then, later, writer Delia Sherman offered out of the blue to beta-read my early draft. I don’t think I’d ever spent an hour on the phone talking about writing that blew my mind quite so far into the stratosphere. She has a way of making previously nebulous ideas diamond-clear. Her encouragement was incredibly heartening during the mire of the draft process. 

Two fabulous things. Both were the funnest. 

Whaaaat, a little under two weeks before Steam-Powered II comes out? How exciting! Didja get your order in yet?


  1. Ah man, I wish I got to commute with clever Belgians...

  2. I suppose we might manufacture a few out of clockworks.