I do hope you've been able to enjoy "The Case of the Soggy Carpet". I had a lot of fun writing it. Instead of getting overly political in this post, I thought I would just share some of my process in creating this new series.
Over the summer, I became more aware of some of the sub-sub-sub genres of steampunk, some of which interested me more than others. Part of this arose, when I realized that The Assassin's Table fit under the dome of dielselpunk, which is set in more of that global urban landscape of the time between the wars. Then I became aware of atompunk, of which the Happenings at the Half Moon Hotel are set, the post war era where jets screamed across the sky, and rockets became part of our reality.
A few other factors tipped in around this time. I began reading William Finnegan's Barbarian Days, a memoir of growing up and coming of age in the world of surfing. Then I stumbled on a terrific podcast called The Exotic Tiki Island Podcast, which is an absolute blast. Now, I'd never been into this music before. I can only describe Tiki music as another subgenre of jazz that is intended to evoke the feeling of living trouble free on the islands. So I really had Hawaii on my mind.
Right around then, I was about eight months deep into work on The Assassin's Table and felt it was time to take a break and follow a couple of creative paths to keep the writing fresh. So I've got this Tiki music rolling through my head. I'm daydreaming about Hawaii in the 1950s. Something, I really don't know much about. That's the beauty of wring genre fiction, as a writer, you're not overly bound by reality as long as enough of it fits the context of your story. But I got kind of jazzed.
The 1950s has always been an era I've idealized. Mostly because when you thin about the artistic output of the time, it was incredible. Rock n' roll was born, the bop movement in jazz was in full swing. Abstract Expressionism exploded. Hemingway and Faulkner and Arthur Miller were at the height of their powers. Science was refining the splitting of the atom and looking up toward the stars. Comics were everywhere, and were often banned. Cars and music. Oh, and this guy named Salinger was changing the American short story and offering the perspective of the pain that was being a teenager in this age of prosperity.
I wanted to take all this and put it in an imaginative context that also allowed me to write about one of my great loves, martial arts. The post war era saw the boom in martial arts study among Caucasian Americans. Much of this stemming form the asshanding the American Marines took at the hands of unarmed Japanese soldiers during hand to hand combat. Imaginatively, I had to think that Hawaii, being a place with an influx of immigrants from China, Japan, and many other places in east Asia had to be a melting pot of martial arts instruction. So that gave me a nice forum to include not just kung fu, but karate, kali and whatever else I wanted to toss in there.
The America of the 1950s was also a very imperfect place. The nation remained deeply segregated, even in cities that were supposedly integrated in the north. We had just finished a war where we as a free nation placed citizens into concentration camps. There was a deep fear of atomic annihilation. Women left the factories and went to adopt the subservient role of housewife, only finding rewarding opportunities in nursing or teaching. Noble professions with limited opportunities for advancement. And there was that scary House committee for un-American activities thing, too. While I want the stories in this series to be a fun nostalgic escapist adventure, I also feel it's important to acknowledge the imperfection that existed in the time.
And then there's that part of me that just can't write a straight science fiction piece. I have to have magic in my imaginative world. I always have and I think I always will. Why? Do I need a reason? For me, I guess that's just what spurs my imagination. The world can be a magical place. I think that when we read a piece of escapist fiction, it makes us more open to the magical things that happen in our every day, be it the smile of someone we love or the beauty of clouds floating across the sky.
So these were the things rattling around my head. It was a time of teenagers, so I made my protagonist a teen. I gave him a diverse set of friends and confidantes. I set it in a world of mermaids and jet-bikes. Because art is about entertainment, but there should be a context of responsible reflection in its context as well.