Molding a Sub-Genre

What genre you write in isn’t as important as knowing what genre you write. Sounds like a joke, but actually I’m quite serious. I’ve had times when I had my doubts about what I was doing. Okay, still do.

Last week I shared my preference for setting my fantasy stories in an alternate world where settings, cultures, and characters carried no baggage from the world we know. In other words, a new and different world for the reader to immerse themselves in.

This week I’ll share the fantasy niche I’m discovering.

I started out writing epic fantasy, and on occasion I still dabble in it for short stories. I was a devoted Tolkien follower and spent years developing a world and magic system. Over time, though, I tired of the medieval setting and was drawn towards something more modern, becoming enamored of adding technology and the potential for Sherlock-like mystery.

Quite a switch.

Steampunk, as I understood it at the time, placed considerable emphasis on technology while I stressed societal issues. I’d also noticed how Steampunk usually took place in our world, often London. What of my world, creatures, cultures, and magic system?

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

I was convinced there was an answer and played around with short stories, even attempting a couple of hybrid novels that kinda sorta worked, but didn’t.

Still, a few scenes hinted at a possible path, like the one where a character entered a Curiosity Shop blending Victorian setting with Ontyre creatures and magic. That was the beginning, the moment when I knew I was on the right track.

Meanwhile, I discovered a few Steampunk books set in alternate worlds and others where the alternate history was barely recognizable as our world.

Recently, I ran into a unique definition of Steampunk put forth by Marcy Kennedy. Her supposition was that the genre, depending on how it was presented, was a sub-genre of Science Fiction OR (important part!) Fantasy. Steampunk has long possessed fantasy elements, but the stress on science often placed it in the sci-fi camp. Setting the story in an alternate world, on the other hand, more meant fantasy.

Too, how could I have forgotten the difference between sci-fi hard science and soft science?

More pieces settling into place.

H’m, Fantasy Steampunk from a soft science perspective. I could introduce technology like devices and airships, but retain gargoyles, gryphons, potions, and my entire magic system. Keep in mind, though, this required fitting technology to how my magic operates, no easy feat given the properties of natural and raw magic in my world. Still, it was intriguing.

I even went so far as to write a short story addressing the problem of developing a functional engine in such an environment.

Ontyre Map: CA Hawthorne

Ontyre Map: CA Hawthorne

But what of Ontyre’s history, its backstory? Most important, what of Carrdia, the isolated nation at its center? How did it all fit together in this new environment?

I revisited what I had, examining from a new perspective and it couldn’t have gone better, despite the challenges. In the end, the new elements added additional layers to the country’s conflict.

Long before Carrdia there was the Emprensen Empire that became technologically advanced, but those advances were lost during the horrific events separating its demise and Carrdia’s rise. Over the following centuries Carrdia approached its own mechanical (Renaissance) age only to have it snatched away following an overthrow that thrust the country into its own Dark Ages, a transformation much like us stepping from 1890 to 1090 overnight.

But the knowledge of what was almost gained remained with a few, and if someone could recover it they might reverse what was reversed…

So, that’s where I am, taking my Speculative Fiction to a new and different place, a place a bit familiar, but at the same time, well, fantastic. That’ll do.

5 Replies to “Molding a Sub-Genre”

  1. Pingback: Molding a Sub-Genre | Christina Anne Hawthorne

    • Been debating how I’ll move forward from this point. The novels are in the editing stage. The short stories are intended for going out into the marketplace. Am considering sharing a couple on Wattpad along with some exerts on the website.

  2. Awesome post! I love how you integrate both fantasy elements and technology to make your own blend. Do you feel that this makes it hard finding a publisher since it doesn’t neatly fit into an established genre?

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you were intrigued. More than likely publishers would frown on my fantasy/technology mix, especially where it also takes place in an alternative world. Sci-fi steampunk more often (from what I’ve seen) is presented as alternative history and likely set in London to capture a Victorian/Gothic feel. I admit to dabbling in that, but I also draw off the American West (I wrote a fantasy steampunk short story that takes place on a stagecoach).

      Unless there’s a large shift in traditional publishing I view my path as going through self-publishing. That’s the risk, and opportunity, of being a niche writer. I’ve never been one for following the more beaten path anyway. I may pay a huge price, but I’m having more fun than I was following the crowded trends.

      Genres (and niches) are born because someone dared and then did it so well people took notice. Self-publishing enables that (and enables falling flat on our faces, too). Whatever your path, I hope it’s a purpose and a passion dear to your heart.

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