Steampunk technology is the backdrop for author C.V. Madison’s new romance, With Proper Maintenance. In particular, she has focused on the powerful and complex steam-powered engines which drove the great iron steamships across the oceans from the end of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. In today’s article, guest author C. V. Madison shares how she carried out her research and how she wove the results into her new novel, With Proper Maintenance.
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When writing steampunk, the timeframe, clothing and sensibilities may be important, but without the induction of steam-powered technology, the genre would be nothing more than fanciful fiction. While some steampunk stories rely solely on the fanciful and fantastic, much like H.G. Wells, I like to add something to ground my stories in historical fact, give myself some limitations and then push those boundaries to the fantastic.
I began my steampunk story, Without Proper Maintenance, by first researching steam engines toward the end of the Victorian era and into the Edwardian era. This was the founding of the timeline for my story, simply for the mechanic abilities available at the time. I began by researching steam engines and their capabilities. I dug up diagrams for ship engines around 1900. From there I learned various engine part names and purposes and then moved into the names for parts of the ship. Since Ethan was delving into the gearworks of the engine, I did a great deal of research into the gears available as well. The engine room layout, the ship layout and the parts of the engine described were based on ships built during the late 1800s.
Steam-powered technology has been used since the 1700s. Thomas Savery designed the first steam engine using the steam cooker as inspiration. Savery later worked with blacksmith Thomas Newcomen to improve upon his previous design and create an atmospheric steam engine. The Newcomen engine was not reliant upon only the pressure generated by steam as the Savery design. Instead the Newcomen design created a vacuum when the steam condensed back into water. This was then further improved upon by Scottish inventor James Watt. He proposed a separate condenser that would be cool while the cylinder was hot. This advancement gave greater power to the engine through higher pressure in the condenser and led to the steam engine leading the way into the industrial revolution. The Wright brothers, using the Watt engine as a basis for their engine, flew their first powered plane in 1903.
I spent a great amount of time figuring when and where things could go wrong in an engine room not well maintained. It wasn’t difficult to find. In early engine systems, the pistons would spray fine amounts of oil and grease around the engine room. The engines were loud, especially if they weren’t well looked after. Most of the engine rooms were smoldering hot and the burning coal boxes had the potential for fire. Combine that with the oil spray around the engine room and you had potential for disaster. Not to mention the parts of the engine themselves seizing and leaving you grinding to a halt. The final conflict fairly wrote itself. All I had to do was throw in the players and add a little spice.
Named the youngest head engineer in the history of his company, Ethan Cole’s first voyage on the Platinum Bow is his chance to stand out from his father’s shadow. His dream is dashed by the roguish Cecil Goode, promoted to Ethan’s position just before the ship sets sail. When the Bow is hijacked by pirates, Ethan and Cecil have to work together to bring the pirates’ nearly wrecked ship to safety. Will they make it to port before the ship plummets from the sky? And what will become of the combustible passion between them? Will it outlast the pirate attack?
Ethan signed the bottom of the requisition form and gave the list another once-over. Accuracy was the key to a clean, tight, steam-powered airship. All forms were submitted in triplicate with neat, easy to read handwriting. Two copies would be on the captain’s desk within the hour, just as promised.
Three sharp raps brought him from his work as he finished the final pen stroke. Ethan set aside his quill, careful not to spill ink or make a mis-mark on the copied requisition forms, and pulled open the door.
Captain Quinn, a tall man with a head of thick black hair, a lantern jaw with a cleft chin and, presently, five-o-clock shadow, filled the doorway. He wore no coat and tie, his shirt was unfastened three buttons down and his trousers hung wrinkled. Ethan hoped he covered his shock at the captain’s attire.
"Good evening, Engineer Cole. I hope I find you well."
"Indeed. What might I do for you, Captain?"
"Have you walked through the engine compartment? Is everything satisfactory for departure?"
"I found a few pieces in need of attention. I am duplicating requisition forms now, sir."
"Requisition form?" The captain’s thick fingers pinched the corner and plucked the crisp page from Ethan’s grasp. "I can’t even read this."
Ethan’s cheeks heated. How could he have been so foolish as to keep the original in hand when he answered the door?
"I will make the submitted forms legible."
"Tut, tut, tut." The captain wagged a stout finger and leaned in, his cologne mixing with the bourbon on his breath. "You come highly recommended. I have no worry. Go, find what you need, stop off at the office on the way back and give them your forms. I can’t exactly allow them to see me like this and expect to keep my job, now can I?"
Ethan shook his head and took a step back. The captain weaved in the doorway and, thankfully, returned from whence he came. Once the pervasive odor of stale bedsheets and hair oil dissipated, Ethan drew a breath of relief. If the captain didn’t dry out, Ethan would be certain they wouldn’t leave port. A captain should keep his wits about him at all times. At any point a mechanical failure or invading ship could kill an entire crew. Ethan would not become another casualty of piracy.
C.V. Madison is a licensed massage therapist, author, feminist and gamer full of schadenfreude pie and Mountain Dew. She pens urban fantasy, horror and steampunk with a side of heavy romance. Her characters are straight, LGBTQIA and some shades not on the spectrum. She has been published in both fiction and non-fiction anthologies.
Through the month of November, she can be found in local coffee houses, over caffeinated and armed with her trusty laptop as she strives to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days for National Novel Writer’s Month. She serves as a Municipal Liaison for Columbus, Ohio.
She is a writer for the Caffeine Crew and does book reviews and promotion for the Yeah Books! Blog.
If you buy your copy of With Proper Maintenance from the Jupiter Gardens Press website and use the promo code GAYSTEAM, you get a copy of Angelia Sparrow’s steampunk story Sky Rat for $0.99!