I have been involved in the burgeoning Steampunk movement for the past three years and when friends find out I have a newly released book, they immediately ask if it is a Steampunk novel. I have to reluctantly sigh and say, “No, but I consider it to be ‘Steampunk adjacent.’”
Now some of you are undoubtedly asking right now, “What the heck is a Steampunk novel?” A shorthand answer is: Victorian science fiction. At least, that is the seminal idea that inspired the group and still sparks the fiction carrying this label. Another interesting and more descriptive phrase is a Neo-Victorian Retro-Futurist Techno-Fantasy, but that is a lot hyphens to cope with.
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While Steampunk novels all tend to have a science fiction or fantasy element attached, I would like to make the case that the premise of SÉANCE IN SEPIA could and should be considered Steampunk, or at least a cousin of the genre, because its focus is spirit photography which represents, at its heart, the merging of two major obsessions of the Victorian era: technology and the occult.
With these two elements present in the novel, its sensibilities are definitely Steampunk in nature. However, since none of my novel is fantasy—all elements really happened or could have taken place—it probably does not qualify for the Steampunk moniker. Thus, I rely on calling my story “Steampunk adjacent.”
The novel begins in the present day with a woman named Flynn buying an old photograph at an estate sale. She takes it to an antique dealer who tells her he thinks it might be a “spirit photograph.” During the heyday of séances in the last half of the Nineteenth Century, some photographers claimed they could photograph the departed during a seance.
Flynn starts researching the history of the photo and learns that the three people pictured were involved in a notorious Chicago murder trial in 1875 that the press dubbed the “Free Love Murders.” A young architect was accused of murdering his wife and his best friend in a love triangle gone very wrong.
Real life feminist, Free Love advocate, and practicing spiritualist, Victoria Woodhull, soon gets involved in the case when the husband asks her to conduct a séance to discover how his wife and friend really died. Victoria quickly finds herself involved in a web of intrigue that will take much more than a séance to resolve and by the conclusion, both Victoria and Flynn find their views on love and life have changed.
If I have piqued your interest in Steampunk fiction, or better yet, Steampunk Adjacent fiction, you are invited to read the first two chapters of SÉANCE IN SEPIA found on my website: www.MichelleBlack.com