... John Theesfeld on Steampunk, Dr. Monocle and modern ways of promotion
: Well, Dr. Monocle is a man of the world, an explorer, an adventurer, a historian, a scientist, a philosopher, always a teacher and forever a student. He's an elderly man, by our standards, at 76. He's from this steampunk/steam-fantasy world which is essentially an alternate reality of our own during the time period of 1860 and 1910.
: I decided to write the book as narrated by Dr. Monocle through journal entries, lecture notes, and as a memoir, simply because I really wanted to have fun with it. I wanted to have an accessible character guide the reader through this strange fantasy world. As for the lecture to be learned? If I tell you what is to be learned, then you'll learn nothing.
: Little old me? I'm a film nerd and movie geek. I have a degree from Arizona State University in theatre/film. I'm 32. Grew up in New York. I now live in California with my wife and kids. (I'm not terribly interesting.)
: Bachelor of Arts in Theatre with an emphasis of study in writing. I studied all aspects of theatre/film though: lighting, set construction, sound design/editing, acting, and directing, etc. Also, theatre and film history and critique. And there was always subjects not related to my major that I took interest in, as well (science, philosophy, etc.). As a writer I took plenty of acting classes because it was a good way to study the text and study character. A good actor can do away with the 'self' and allow a character emerge (and it depends on the director and the writing, as well). And I think a lot of those lessons helped me write as Dr. Monocle. (Which was why I couldn't really answer as both Dr. Monocle and myself, it can get mentally tiring.) A lot of focus goes into the process because I have to essentially 'remember' this fantasy world from the point of view of a 76 year old man. I'm still carrying over a lot of Dr. Monocle's writing habits into my daily emails and text messages, though.
: I think a lot of things stuck with me through childhood into adulthood: The original, unaltered Star Wars movies. The Indiana Jones movies. The Goonies. Spielberg's movies. Tim Burton's early movies. Terry Gilliam's movies. Old Disney and Warner Bros. animation. Old black and white comedy like Chaplin, 3 Stooges, Marx Bros, Laurel and Hardy. Comic book heroes were always around, too; especially Batman. This all before the age of 10. The list could go on endlessly. There was a lot of fantastical adventures, strangeness, and whimsy. I was an only child and rather shy and introverted, so I watched a lot of television and movies. Later in life (maybe 98 or 99) I saw a French film called The City of Lost Children (this from the same director who did Amelie years later). When I saw this film it really had an impact on me. At the time, it was unlike anything I had ever really seen. It mesmerized me. It was based in this steampunk/dieselpunk styled world that blew me away. And Monty Python has always been an influence (each of the members, as well, like Terry Jones' or Michael Palin's documentary series they've each done for television since). I loved their absurdities and their use of language and timing. I could really go on and on about this kind of thing.
: I think it's his sense of adventure and awe in the world. Wanderlust. Something I notice on the blog is people who reply to pictures/art with "That's where I want to be!" Or, "I want to go there!" And I think that sense of wanderlust is within all of us and Dr. Monocle lives by that feeling.
: Actually, I just liked the way everything sprawled out like a photo album. With each item added, everything shifts, keeps the page dynamic.
: I think it must have been in the summer of 98. Maybe? I always did a lot of writing in my free time during university. I had written a short story about a big game hunter who hunted monsters in this other-worldly land. Prof. A. Monocle was his name at first. And I think his original name was Anderson, not Arthur. He rode around in his own airship/hot-air balloon. He had a goofy assistant. It was very British-inspired. It was probably more influenced by the movies of Terry Gilliam, because I don't think I was really aware of 'steampunk' as a thing at the time, but that's what it was. That was the basis of the Dr. Monocle idea. After I wrote the short story I didn't touch it again. The idea stayed in the back of my mind until about 2009 when I started playing around with those ideas some more.
: I really don't know. It just came back to me. Maybe I wasn't ready for it and I just subconsciously filed it away for a decade later?
: In Sept of 2010 I decided, when I really started writing the book, that I was going to put it all out there on the internet. Instead of keeping all my files and brainstorming work to myself in a folder somewhere on my hard drive, I figured, "Why not just do it as a blog publicly?" It was a place for research and for influences and inspiration. Also, a way to connect to other fans of steampunk. But, I'd write a piece, do some clean up on it, and post the first draft online. Usually it was just a random piece from my writings, perhaps something that wasn't even going to wind up in the final book. Then as I started getting the book together, I decided, Why not just post a new chapter each week in order? So that's what I did. And I figure, since it's going to be released as an ebook and it will eventually be available via 'sharing' through whichever means, I'll save people the trouble. They can just come to the blog and read it. If they like it and feel like they owe me ten dollars for the entertainment value, then they can buy it. I'm a firm believer that people who pirate things weren't going to necessarily buy it in the first place anyway. And with a book, it's no different than going to a bookstore and reading the first few chapters while enjoying a coffee and then abandoning it for something else. Coffee is expensive. Make your own coffee or tea, go to doctormonocle.com and read the chapters there. You can do it naked which you can't do at your local bookstore.
: I really like the mix of history and old technology and old styles with modern day ingenuity. I really don't know what it is exactly, though. It might just be a perfect storm of different ideas that makes it interesting: history, science fiction, fantasy, style, machines/engineering, technology. And the fact you're constrained by the period between 1860-ish to 1910-ish makes it a bit challenging and fun. During that period (from a western - American and European - point of view) there was Victorian culture, and reconstruction after the civil war and the old west filled with tales of cowboys and 'Indians'. There was the great railroad expansion and the gold rush. Science and medicine were rapidly growing fields. So many interesting characters came out of that era, as well, like Nikola Tesla and Alexander Graham Bell to Billy the Kid and Jesse James to Queen Victoria and Lincoln and Grant. It was some wild times. Frankenstein was published towards the beginning of the century, Dracula at the end. Jules Verne was doing his thing. There was Poe's work and Wilde's Dorian Gray. It's an era that I consider the birthplace of modern horror and sci-fi. There's all that history and those nifty inventions and preposterous notions of what was good for you and for society. And then on top of all that old-world craziness, let's see what we can come up with by infusing it with over a hundred years of what we know as pop culture. Some of the results have been fantastic and wondrous.
: It seems to be becoming more and more mainstream. There's a definite burgeoning interest as well as an already steady fan-base. There just isn't a definitive icon to attach to steampunk. There hasn't been a break-through piece of fiction that reaches a lot of people. There are a lot of pieces of fiction in popular culture that have steampunk aspects, but I can't really think of anything that is very well known. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen could have been something fantastic, but the movie wasn't so great. Same with the Wild, Wild West that starred Will Smith, Kevin Kline, and Kenneth Brannagh. Great concept, bad execution. The Bioshock video games have a lot of great steampunk and dieselpunk aspects, but they get labeled more as horror/sci-fi. Conventions, though, seem to be pretty big. I think between the costumes/fashions and tech aspect of creating things and art there's a little something for everyone. There are a few steampunk bands and burlesque show revivals seem to be gaining popularity, too. Steampunk is there, just not overly prevalent.
: I think you could probably say similar for many genres or sub-genres. The same stories can be told over many different genres. For me, I enjoy creating the world of Dr. Monocle. I like the idea of fantastical clockwork contraptions and steam-powered devices. I like the idea that the telegraph was the new form of long-distance communication and railroad was the quick way to travel. One thing that intrigued me greatly was that of 'automaton' devices. During the mid-1800's to late 1800's there was this "Golden Era of Automata" and some strange and interesting automaton devices were invented/created. Automatons are essentially wind-up or clockwork toys or machines. I wanted to take the technology a step further, which allowed me to essentially bring robots into this steampunk world. They're not smart robots, by any means. Just machines used for menial labor and whatnot. For me, there's a special kind of technological aspect to the genre that's important. Also, the PUNK part of steampunk... I understand 'steampunk' originally was a reference to an author referring to himself and a colleague as "the steampunks" (sorry I don't remember the entire tale off the top of my head, I could be entirely incorrect), but I think the genre needs a sense of rebellion. Dr. Monocle himself, even though part of the establishment, has a disregard for authority and royalty. He keeps a blade hidden inside his umbrella for safety. And he lives in a world full of airship pirates, scuttlers (thugs), brawlers, and all sorts of maldeviant beings (kind of like mutants).
: I keep it simple. Windows notepad. I have hundreds of .txt notepad files categorized. I use Google Docs for word-processing. Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter for the blogging/social networking/communication aspect of it all. As for the process? I like working at night. I usually write between 10pm until some time after the sun rises. Ideas or pieces are usually brainstormed on a notepad text file. I create a lot of these text files. These text files multiply. Some get reworked or combined. Others are expanded on. And in my head, for several months, the story just played out over and over again like a movie on loop. Sometimes I would just watch a scene in my head over and over, bit by bit. Other days it was the entire book played out in my mind over and over. It's where my mind would go when it was idle. I had to be sure I was always enjoying it and having fun with it. I'd write a piece here or there. The book was written completely out of order. Some nights I would just read and re-read things I had written and do a lot of editing and rewriting or reworking.
: I always wanted to write a book, but never had an idea that interested me enough to write more than story outlines. I had, in the past, written screenplays that always took interest, but never sold. I dealt with a lot of agents and a lot of rejection. I had pretty much given up writing. Eventually the most I was writing was doing was technical pieces and weekly reports for my job at a television station. One day it really hit me: I'll be dead someday and I don't know when, so do the things you need to do now. I decided I wasn't going to wait on anyone else with this project and made it a goal to do it all myself. With the state of technology today, I've built a great online following and will be able to sell my book the way I want it. Bought the domain name for the blog and an ISBN for the book. I like being independent. Corporate America makes me nervous.