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K.W. Jeter on a Steampunk Summer--With Shadows


K.W. Jeter has always been an idiosyncratic writer, so it’s somewhat ironic that he’s become so associated with Steampunk due to his novels Morlock Nights and Infernal Devices. It’s true he did come up with the term “Steampunk,” offered half-humorously in a Locus Magazine letter to the editor in 1987 to describe those novels and the work of Tim Powers and James Blaylock. However, his work before and after Morlock and Infernal has been decidedly darker and more transgressive.

Recently, Angry Robot’s gorgeous reissues of Morlock Nights and Infernal Devices placed Jeter back at the center of the current Steampunk craze, recently documented in books like The Steampunk Bible and 1,001 Steampunk Creations. But Jeter has also published a new novel, The Kingdom of Shadows that shares another side of this hard-to-pin down writer. Omnivoracious caught up with Jeter recently to talk briefly about his current fiendish schemes… What are you working on?

K.W. Jeter: Right now I’m working on the long-delayed sequel to Infernal Devices. Titled Fiendish Schemes it’s contracted to Tor Books. Hopefully, people should be able to read it sometime next year. Of course, there’s an intimidation factor involved in picking up a subgenre that I’ve let lie fallow for nearly a quarter-century; in that time, there have been a lot of really good writers who have been working in that particular Victorian retro-fantasy field, and they’ve produced a lot of entertaining, interesting books. So the competition has definitely upped its game, so to speak. How do you perceive your role in creating the Steampunk subgenre?

Jeter: I don’t believe I did any more to get the ball rolling than just to fortuitously come up with a word that works as a more or less convenient label to slap onto a bag that already is splitting down the seams with all the crazy stuff that’s coming out of it. How has steampunk influenced your work in general?

Jeter: One of the biggest benefits that I’ve derived from my association with the whole steampunk thing is that working along those lines clued me in on the whole value of historical material. My new novel The Kingdom of Shadows isn’t steampunk--it’s a lot darker, set in my take on the rather sinister and glamorous worlds of the film industry in 1930s Hollywood and the Third Reich. It’s the most ambitious thing I’ve attempted, and took several years of research to pull together.

Kingdom-of-shadows What are the advantages of this kind of approach?

Jeter: Just as the best steampunk books play as references to the time and place in which the stories are set… while the details of the plots and characters are of course fantastically different from what happened in so-called reality, I tried to do something similar with The Kingdom of Shadows. That is, take history and fuse a horrific story element into it, as a way of cutting a different, revealing angle into a very dark, dramatic period. How close to reality is the novel?

Jeter: There are real historical figures who feature prominently in the story, such as the infamous Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who was then also the de facto head of the German film industry, plus a totally fictional female character, an actress for whom I lifted some of the details of Marlene Dietrich’s career, plus those of a now more historically obscure Romanian actress with whom Goebbels had a notorious affair. So as I said, The Kingdom of Shadows is much darker, more of a thriller than my steampunk stuff, but in a roundabout way it hooks up with the whole world of getting inspiration from different historical periods.


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