Friday, 16 June 2017

Steamgoth and Dreadpunk: How a Goth makes her way in Steampunk Circles



I’ve been drawn to Gothic themes in literature since childhood. Edgar Allan Poe was revelatory to me. His exquisite, inimitable style led me down a 19th century Gothic path in my interests, art and style. I began writing in the style from an early age.

As a teen, my interest broadened as an understanding of "Goth" emerged and I fully immersed myself into the scene in the late 90s. When I first began dressing in my own distinct style it was fully and unapologetically Victorian Gothic and I haven't looked back or changed that style now in decades. (Am I officially an "Elder Goth" yet? ;) )

After years training in classical theatre and trodding the boards across regional American theatres and Shakespeare companies, I traded in auditions for Query letters. After a long and arduous journey of revisions and rejections, I finally landed an agent and a New York publisher, my debut The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, came out in 2009, dubbed as a "Harry Potter meets Jane Eyre" kind of saga, a Gothic Victorian, aka Gaslamp Fantasy where Greek Mythology entwines with brooding, quirky mortals and a retinue of ghosts and paranormal dealings collide during the terrifying reign of Jack the Ripper. 

Perilous Prohecy book cover, part of the Strangely Beautiful series

Once published, I was told that my Neo-Victorian style, sensibilities and the settings of my books would be welcome in the emerging Steampunk crowd. Once I learned that Steampunk existed, I realized I'd been running near to and parallel that aesthetic my whole life. While Steampunk is Victorian Science Fiction and my work in Victorian-set Gothic and Fantasy is technically termed Gaslamp Fantasy, it is related and readers embrace the genres as included under Steampunk's wide parasol.

I never gave up Goth to 'become' Steampunk, I was just myself in Steampunk circles, where many Goths found a bit of refuge as many of our clubs and hangouts closed and our community options became more limited. A love of regalia, finery, innovation and DIY “maker” culture remains a welcome fusion between Goth and Steampunk. The great thing about RetroFuturist circles like Steampunk and other eras of Punk is that there are a lot of extensions under the vast parasol of reinvention.

A few years ago Derek Tatum, director of the Horror Track at DragonCon, an enormous Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention in Atlanta every year, broached the idea of what a more Gothic centered word would be to run as a parallel term to Steampunk, and between us and acclaimed author Cherie Priest, the term “Dreadpunk” was coined. The emphasis remains on “Dread” being the animus and crux of a literary Gothic narrative, hoping to claim certain things as uniquely under the auspices of Victorian Gothic and Horror rather than Steampunk, such as the Showtime show Penny Dreadful and Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. To call those examples Steampunk would not suit as the Victorian Science-Fiction, technological focus and aesthetic of gears and airships does not apply. Just because something is historically inspired does not automatically mean it has the technological and reinvention aspects that Steampunk features so prominently. Dreadpunk keeps the focus on the entertaining shadows. https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/dreadpunk-dragoncon-gothic-horror-fantasy/

SteamGoth is another word I’ve heard and utilized in terms of fashion and aesthetic, and I see that style on full, proud display at every Steampunk event I do. While Goths who sided more with Punk and Cyberpunk aesthetics of vinyl, spikes and blinking lights might not at first glance feel as welcome in the 19th century specific Steampunk circles, check out the role playing game Unhallowed Metropolis, a fantastic system created by amazing artists and creative forces, as an example of a way that every style of Goth and Steampunk have the possibility of being entirely interwoven. 

In terms of the era that inspires Steampunk, Dreadpunk and SteamGoth, I'm not interested in Romanticizing the 19th century. In my own exploration of Gaslamp Fantasy and the Victorian Gothic, I do not replicate outmoded ideas of gender / racial /societal roles in my fiction, but I do let my characters operate in and chafe against the ‘system’ (that’s where the Punk comes in: if there isn’t an element of Anti-Establishment than it isn’t a part of any of these genres, really). It's important to understand that those who gravitate to historical Goth and Steampunk aren't there for historical reenactment, we are here for a reimagining. 

Eterna and Omega book cover, part of the Eterna Files series

I've met some of my favorite Goth bands working today doing Steampunk events, sharing the love of reinventing long lost time periods in our own image. Talented groups like The Long Losts (https://www.thelonglosts.com/ ) I met thanks to the Nightshade Society (https://www.facebook.com/TheNightshadeSociety ) at Steampunk World's Fair, a Society committed to keeping Goth undead and darkly vibrant forever. Having first met on panels about our mutually beloved Edgar Allan Poe, Valentine Wolfe (http://valentinewolfe.com/ ) has become one of my favorite band through the years, a brilliant pair of highly trained musicians who describe their music as “Victorian Chamber Metal” and an evening of their music is to be impressed and delighted by everything that makes Goth kick-ass and revelatory. We talk Dreadpunk a great deal and support one another’s work heartily. We talk about welcoming spaces, and the places and ways in which we can continue reaching for beautiful things from the past to transform in this modern world.

Folks like us that you'll see at Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Steampunk conventions around the US represent the fusion of the Goth and Steampunk worlds as mutual places where fashion and exploration of other times and fantastical themes are core to our interests and identities as we present our own unique take on the world past, present and future. Adding more agency, diversity, ingenuity, inclusivity and feminism into the 19th century vibe, a vital, critical distinction, is a trait Goth and Steampunk share. We hold dear a love of dressing up and creating art, music, fashion and alternative culture together, so many welcoming fusions, but it only lives and thrives if it is an open and affirming space for all people.

While clubs and shops, music and buildings may come and go and change, there will, if we allow the space and imagination for them, always be spaces for beautiful reinvention, because old souls will always find ways to come together, in or out of the shadows. 

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L R Hieber - Author photo by C. Johnstone

 Actress, playwright and author Leanna Renee Hieber is the award-winning, bestselling author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels for adults and teens. Her Strangely Beautiful saga, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists and garnered numerous regional genre awards, with new revised editions from Tor Books now available. Darker Still was named an American Bookseller’s Association “Indie Next List” pick and a Scholastic Book Club “Highly Recommended” title. Her new Gaslamp Fantasy saga, The Eterna Files and Eterna and Omega, is now available from Tor Books with the conclusion, The Eterna Solution, releasing 11/2017. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies such as Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, Willful Impropriety, The Mammoth Book of Gaslamp Romance, featured on Tor.com and she writes for Criminal Element. A 4 time Prism Award winner for excellence in the genre of Fantasy Romance, Leanna’s books have been selected for national book club editions and translated into languages such as Complex Chinese, German and Polish. A proud member of performer unions Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA, she lives in New York City where she is a licensed ghost tour guide and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire. She is represented by Paul Stevens of the Donald Maass agency and is active on social media, more information, resources and free reads can be found at leannareneehieber.com

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