Western Steampunk Comes into its Own

The March issue of True West Magazine has a strong Steampunk component. I am proud to say I contributed a 7-page article to this, reporting on the increasing interest not only in the Steampunk phenomenon as a growing subculture, but a rising tide of Western focus within the larger movement.

While many still insist Steampunk does not truly exist outside the fantasy parameters of Victorian London, we westerners can rightfully claim that the first modern expression of the Steampunk esthetic was born in the 1960’s CBS television show, “The Wild, Wild West.” This unique show highlighted the actions of James West, a dapper 1870’s Secret Service agent who traveled the West in an elegant train car and used amazing scientific gadgets to fight crime and protect President Ulysses S. Grant.

The March issue is on sale now
The editors of True West Magazine apparently agree in that they have added an interview with Robert Conrad, the actor who portrayed James West in the TV series, to the March issue.

The True West issue also includes a beautiful 6-page Steampunk fashion spread, not to be missed by anyone loving modern reinventions of Western Victorian style. March will also see the debut of Wild Wild West Con Steampunk Convention in Tucson.

Viva The Victorian West!


Solomon Spring: My "Accidental" Mystery Novel

Available on Amazon Kindle now.
I have just given a new lease on life to my second Eden Murdoch novel, Solomon Spring. This book was first published as a hard cover  by TOR/Forge in the fall of 2002. A mass market paperback followed in 2003. Last month the rights reverted to me and I have now released a digital version of the book on Kindle.  You can purchase a download for $2.99 here.

Read an excerpt on my website.

A trade paperback will also be released soon. Solomon Spring is a sequel of sorts to An Uncommon Enemy, though it can be read as a stand alone novel as well.

This book has always been very special to me for a variety of reasons.  This was the most critically acclaimed and widely reviewed of all my novels, which pleased me, of course, but it also marked a new direction for  my writing in that I first began to explore the mystery genre--but did so almost by accident.

The story had been originally conceived as an exploration of two very different child custody battles. The "Solomon" in the title was an intentional reference to the Biblical story of King Solomon deciding the custody of a baby, though the real mineral spring portrayed in the book did exist at the fork of the Solomon River.  

I had every intention that the book would be a traditional historical novel in the same vein as its predecessor, An Uncommon Enemy. The story wove diverse threads that would include a naive experiment in social disobedience, a bittersweet love story, and a struggle to stay true to one's principles when a hard won career hangs in the balance--all played out against real life events of Great Plains history.

The original cover. The "label" features
an actual photograph of the spring
taken in 1879.
As the story began to take shape, though, I realized I truly hated my heroine's estranged husband so much I decided to kill him off.  This placed Eden in the awkward position of being the most likely suspect since the warring couple had been engaged in a nasty custody battle over their son. At about this time, the notion began to dawn on me that this plot was veering into the province of a murder mystery.

My chosen setting also played a role in this transformation. The place I called the "Solomon Spring" was actually named the Great Spirit Spring, or Waconda Spring. This natural wonder was situated in north central Kansas. I refer to it in the past tense because the Glen Elder Dam was built there in the 1960's which flooded the area and, sadly, this amazing formation now sits at the bottom of the resulting reservoir.

I first learned about the spring while researching An Uncommon Enemy. Its mineral waters were thought to hold wondrous healing properties by the Indian tribes who made pilgrimages there for centuries. Once white populations moved into the area, they bottled and sold the waters as a miracle elixir. A health spa was opened at the site in the early 1880's and continued in operation until the 1950's.

When the Spring was dredged in 1895, they found countless Native American offerings and artifacts, plus one item they did not expect: a human skull. I longed to invent a story that would explain the presence of that skull! 

The excerpt below, from Solomon Spring, is a historically accurate description of the Great Spirit Spring. The photo shown above was an actual photograph taken there in 1879, the same time period as my novel.

"A longing for happier days had drawn Eden back to the fork of the Solomon River after a decade’s absence. She had followed the Solomon once again to find the Sacred Spring. The last time she had made a pilgrimage to the Spring she had been carrying Hadley in her womb and had prayed there to be delivered of a healthy child. Her prayers had been answered and so she had given her the Cheyenne name of Maheo Maape, Medicine Water.

The natural–or supernatural–wonder that was the Spring never failed to amaze her. The silvery blue circle rose out of the prairie like an ancient remnant of the primordial sea that had once covered the vast plain. Why the sea vanished and left in its place only this round well of salty water perplexed and confounded innocents and experts alike. The Spring never froze in winter, nor flooded with the torrents of spring rain, nor did its surface recede in times of drought.

 It mineral-laden waters seeped over the edges of its circular bank in steady and even proportions year after year, decade after decade, slowly increasing its own basin. Higher and higher it grew above the prairie floor surrounding it as the minerals laid down their deposits for centuries to create an imposing and enormous limestone dome."