Kathleen Y’Barbo: Romance with a Dash of Steampunk

 KathleenWhen I was a kid, I fell in love with a television series (not the movie!) called The Wild, Wild West. Maybe you remember it. Lawmen with inventions? A smart hero with a gun and a gadget or two? Yes, please!  So, when I mention that my historical romantic suspense series, THE SECRET LIVES OF WILL TUCKER, includes a dash of steampunk (in the form of lawmen with gadgets!), I usually get one of two responses: a wide grin or a confused expression. For those of you who best identify with the confused expression crowd, let’s talk about what steampunk is.

Flora's WishWikipedia calls steampunk “…a subgenre … that typically features steam powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized western civilization during the 19th century.” Some are hybrids of science fiction and other elements, while many steampunk novels employ romance or mystery as their main theme. There are as many variations as there are inventions and elements to include. What unifies all steampunk tales is the fact that the characters have access to inventions that are ahead of their time. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were masters of this type of story. So were the writers of The Wild, Wild West television series, hence my early fascination with this type of story.

It is this element of creative inventions that I employ in my novels. Unlike the steampunk novels that are more likely classified as science fiction, my stories employ technology that was not yet in use when during the time period the story covers. Writing with an element of steampunk, giving a man the ability to create all sorts of interesting and practical inventions that aid him in reaching the goals set forth in the story, adds depth to the plot and brings a unique slant to his personality.

In order to keep the inventions created and used by my nineteenth century Pinkerton agents in the realm of possibility, I combed the files of the United States Patent Office to determine which inventions were patented within a few years of my story taking place. In that way, I could allow for my heroes to have a variation on an idea that eventually becomes reality.

millies-treasureAnother thing I love about adding steampunk to a story is how it adds a touch of whimsy to what would otherwise be a typical historical novel. In Millie’s Treasure, this whimsy appears first in the opening scene as Pinkerton Agent Kyle Russell meets bookish heiress Millie Cope on the roof of the Memphis Cotton Exchange Building. Kyle is testing a personal flying device that ends up being the means the pair must use for escaping the rooftop once they determine the door has locked behind them. In what other genre could an author write a first meeting that culminates in flying over the rooftops in the moonlight as celebrations rise up from below ushering in the new year of 1889? I used similar techniques in writing the plot for Flora’s Wish, the first book in the series, and Sadie’s Secrets, the tale of the female Pinkerton on the team which releases in February 2014.

Now that you understand the concept of steampunk a little better, are you ready to exchange your confused expression for a wide grin? I certainly hope so. Now what sort of invention should add to my next novel? If you were the lady Pinkerton heroine in my stories, what sort of gadget would you use to catch the bad guy?

I’ll be giving away a copy of MILLIE’S TREASURE to a lucky reader who posts.  Good luck in the drawing!



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29 thoughts on “Kathleen Y’Barbo: Romance with a Dash of Steampunk”

  1. Thanks for the explanation. I too wondered. I think the heroin should just handcuff him to herself. Get him close and get his attention. BUT, be nice and smile a lot. I would love to win your book. Thanks for the give-away.
    Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

  2. I would really love to read your book! I never watched The Wild Wild West series but I did see the movie. Thanks for the definition of the subgenre.@

  3. There MUST be something in her parasol (assuming she has one). Elegant and multi-functioning, lightweight but incredibly strong – it must be practical but within the realms of fashion; both a weapon and a tool, as need be. Lock picks amid the spokes, a hollow shaft wherein is concealed a narrow blade or length of heavy-weight fishing line, a projectile that shoots out the top end at the press of an obscure button, little packets of powders or useful substances hidden within the ruffled edging – the possibilities are endless!

    But she absolutely must take care to have a neutral colored parasol that goes with the majority of her outfits, or simply dress to match her parasol any time it may be needed, because she wouldn’t want undue attention drawn to her secret weapon by making such a horrid fashion faux-pas.


  4. I’ve been wondering just what steampunk is but didn’t think to Google it or anything, believing it didn’t have anything to do with romance novels. That’ll teach me! Maybe. 😉

    I’ve read some of your other books so would love to win a copy of this book! Sounds intriguing.

    BTW, I absolutely loved “Wild, Wild West”! Not sure if Jim was my favorite or if Artie was (with all of his disguises). Loved the train!


  5. I love the idea of adding steampunk to a story and am so glad to know more about this subgenre. I don’t recall ever reading a steampunk novel, but certainly look forward to reading one now that I know more about them!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  6. An intriguing and special post which captivated my interest. Steampunk is delightful. An invention of a talking pen.

  7. wow what a great new way to read books! I love your ideas, it gives the story so much more and I can just imagine when your hero unleashes one of their gadgets to someone else. my face is already smiling! I think it would be neat to see something like a women’s broach be a recording device or handbag could be a weapon of some sort. or a mans belt could be pulley system that they could use to get from one building to another.

  8. Love the idea of adding steampunk with historical romance!! Maybe the lady Pinkerton could have a decorative hair pin that unfolds into goggles and allows her to see in the dark. Ü

  9. Thank you for the definition of steampunk and I can relate to this kind of steampunk. Love the historicals especially in the western era. There’s no doubt it’s a great book. Thank you for sharing with us and please enter me in the giveaway.

  10. I have not read any steampunk stories as yet and I don’t know why. It reminds me of the TV show The Wild, Wild West which I loved. An I enjoy historicals and fantasy/paranormals so it seems like a wonderful match. I’m not creative enough to come up with my own gadget lol.

  11. I am so thrilled you are writing these! I loved Wild, Wild West and love the revival of steampunk right now. I even found a jewelry maker who is making steampunk pieces. Fun!

    I also love historical fiction so this is the best of both worlds. I’ll be getting your book as soon as I’m able, but I’ll try at this giveaway first! LOL.

    Lots of fun here!

  12. I have a few Steampunk books in my TBR pile, but I have not read them yet… thanks for sharing your post with us!

  13. Interesting post. I am not sure I have ever read steampunk books before but I am intrigued by yours. Sounds very interesting. Thanks for sharing with us and for the great giveaway.

  14. Thanks for the explanation of steampunk. I’ve seen it used to describe some of your books but didn’t understand what it meant.
    More creative readers than I have already suggested inventive uses of parasols or brooches (quite good ideas, I think). The only other thing I can think of is some special kind of glasses, perhaps like opera glasses, but then your agent would have to go to the opera and that would be quite limiting. Oh, dear, I’m sure you will figure out something. I’d love to win a copy of Millie’s Treasure, so thanks for offering a book to give away.

  15. Hi Kathleen, welcome to Petticoats and Pistols. Steampunk is a cool concept. Thanks for sharing the definition and how it can be fit into a historical story. Also thanks for a fun blog.

  16. I have heard a lot about the current steampunk books coming out and most do seem to boarder on science fiction. THE WILD, WILD WEST was a favorite TV show in our household. I don’t think we missed many episodes. A big part of the enjoyment was to see what new devices they would come up with next. They usually bordered on being possible. I never thought of it as steampunk, but then the name wasn’t used back then.

    As for a gadget for your lady Pinkerton agent, is there some way to design a taser style device that would help her take down big bad guys? You might be able to conceal it in a parasol.

    Good luck with the release of your books. I’ll be looking for them.

  17. I appreciate that your steampunk inventions are based on reality! It sounds like an interesting way to incorporate history.

  18. I love reading steampunk, thank you for the great definition! I think it’s so much fun that the genre evolves and has so many sub areas to explore, it opens up many possibilities 🙂

    For a Lady Pinkerton gadget, what about a darling bracelet that is surprisingly strong and turns into a grappling hook to enable our fair heroine to swing away from the bad guys?

    Looking forward to reading the book, it sounds wonderful! 🙂

  19. I was one of those who had a wide grin when I saw steampunk. I loved Wild Wild West when I was a kid. Liked James West but loved Artemis Gordon. Thanks for the great blog. As for a gadget, I’m afraid I’m not that imaginative. Maybe a bag that can be used like a parachute?

  20. Thanks for the explanation of steampunk books. I would like to read yours-sounds interesting.
    If I were the Pinkerton lady, I think I would use a big hat pen that was a serious weapon and held a bit of explosivs in it. I would also wear a necklace that held a bit of poison and maybe a high heeled shoe that doubled as a gun

  21. Now, I finally understand steampunk. Sounds fascinating and I’m sure I would enjoy your series. I don’t have any original ideas for something to include in another novel. I found this idea on an inventions timeline and wondered if you could use something like this: 1903 Wood’s glass

    Wood’s glass is a light filter used in communications during World War I. An “invisible radiation” technique which worked both in infrared daylight communication and ultraviolet night communications, it does not transmit visible light, leaving the ‘invisible radiation’ as a signal beam. Wood’s glass was invented by Robert Williams Wood in 1903.[105]

  22. When I first shred the cover for Maggie’s Journey on Facebook, a young lady contacted me and said she loved the steampunk cover. I quickly told her that the story wasn’t steampunk, and she answered that maybe it looking like steampunk would gain me a new group of readers.

  23. I’d not heard the term “steampunk” before! It doesn’t sound like it’s definition, but I found it pretty interesting. Thank you for the opportunity to win your book!

  24. Dear Kathleen,
    What a fun article! I rather enjoyed it and now I full understand what “steampunk” means Perhaps something with a ring or other piece of jewelry for an use with/as invention..idk..I think it’s marvelous and now I shall have to read a steampunk novel to satisfy my curiosity. Mayhap I have read one before, I cannot recall..I have, haven’t I…ha..Sadly,your story in To Catch A Thief is the only one that I have read, however, I have so been wanting to read more. Simply the title/cover of one was enough to make me laugh. I loved the excerpt that I read. I would dearly LOVE to win. Thank you!

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