Tales of the Captain Duke Author Rebecca Diem Talks Steampunk, Writing, and the Joys of Airships

Tales of the Captain Duke Author Rebecca Diem Talks Steampunk, Writing, and the Joys of Airships

My behind-the-scenes job at this year's Fan Expo Canada didn't leave me much time to visit the show floor, but in a fortuitous moment, someone from the show floor happened to drop by. This is how I met steampunk aficionado and writer Rebecca Diem and soon after that Clara and the Captain Duke with whom

My behind-the-scenes job at this year’s Fan Expo Canada didn’t leave me much time to visit the show floor, but in a fortuitous moment, someone from the show floor happened to drop by. This is how I met steampunk aficionado and writer Rebecca Diem and soon after that Clara and the Captain Duke with whom I quickly fell in love.

Rebecca Diem at Fan Expo | RebeccaDiem.com

Rebecca signing for fans at Fan Expo

You see, Rebecca is the author of the Tales of the Captain Duke, and this was her very first Fan Expo Canada experience. Even for a seventeen-year veteran like myself, the four-day event can be extremely overwhelming, whether you attend as staff, patron, or professional guest. Fortunately, Rebecca had the support of her friends at the Toronto Steampunk Society, with whom she tabled in order to promote the first two books in her adventure series about airships, pirates, and secret identities.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect [at Fan Expo] and spent all summer researching and preparing,” says Rebecca. Her preparation paid off. Not only did she have an amazing time getting to talk to fans, chat about steampunk, and introduce her books to new readers, she sold 113 copies of the Tales of the Captain Duke. The first book, The Stowaway Debutante, introduces us to Clara, the titular stowaway, who finds herself on an airship filled with gunpowder. Her discovery by the crew unexpectedly leads her to become one of them under the watchful eye of the mysterious Captain Duke. Clara has her own secrets that she is not quite ready to share, but she is also a smart girl who quickly fits in among this pirate family.

If Rebecca’s readers are like me (I bought my copies of the first two books later online), they are already clamoring for more airship goodness. Thankfully, Rebecca is already writing the third book in what she intends to be a four-part series that will later include a graphic novel and then a turn of the century Toronto installment where we’ll meet the characters again at a later time.

Rebecca had always wanted to be a writer but never considered it a realistic possibility until she started playing around with different story ideas and decided that, instead of waiting 20 or 30 years to put in a serious effort, she should start now. That alone is excellent advice for anyone who dreams of being a writer, though Rebecca can offer a lot more. When she made the decision to put her thoughts to paper, she put just as much time into researching writing as she did into researching the independent publishing industry. She attended workshops and read many books and authors blogs in order to absorb as much information as she could about how to become a better writer.

Her progression in writing her own stories moved through NaNoWriMo, where she wrote a significant story that included serious issues such as mental health, but she determined she still needed to be a much better writer to pull off a book of that caliber. She moved on to a near future dystopia concept she had that featured glow-in-the-dark bikes. Somewhere along the way, the Tales of the Captain Duke snuck in and distracted her from her other works.

“The tale grew in the telling and I fell in love with the characters,” she says, and we can see the results. Her digitally published work was originally intended just for friends and family, but Rebecca was surprised to find complete strangers showing interest. She initially decided to publish 50 print copies, but that wasn’t enoughand word continues to spread about the Captain and Clara’s adventures.

The success of her books and her experience has allowed Rebecca to give back to the writing community. At Fan Expo, she participated in a panel called “Words Driven by Steam.” Before heading in to do her talk, she met a young woman who was busily writing story ideas in a notebook. Rebecca chatted with her a bit and shared some writing tips before being called in to speak. “That [girl] was me a few years ago,” Rebecca explains,”camping out in workshop tents, wanting to learn everything about the industry.” Her best advice to aspiring writers is to “do your research” as she did, and now Rebecca can eagerly “shine the light on the path to great writing” by sharing her own experiences and inspiring others.

Rebecca Diem at Fan Expo | RebeccaDiem.com

Rebecca and company at Fan Expo

As for her passion for steampunk, Rebecca writes at She Does the City:

“I was drawn to the steampunk genre precisely for its ability to resist definition. Steampunk has been described as Victorian futurism or the greatest era that never was; its forms are many and varied. Grounded in its association with the age of steam power, the ‘punk’ in steampunk allows the practitioner to disrupt the historical narrative, inserting their own take on the tech, and of course, the fashion.”

As a history student, Rebecca is intuitively aware of the parts of the past that have been left out and washed away. She is pleased that this century has seen a reinsertion of those stories where female scholars and scientists are finally being recognized for their work and that the contributions of First Nations people are finally coming to light, but there is so much more history still waiting to take the spotlight. These are the kinds of things that attracted Rebecca to the steampunk genre because, what started out as a story about a girl on an gunpowder-filled airship, has become “an opportunity to explore and turn history upside down and make it her ownwith airships.”
“One of the elements that I really like playing with in my universe is intersectionality,” says Rebecca. She explains that one of the characters in the third book is a professor of biomechanical engineering. She is a genius in her field and has been able to use her research and determination to transform her world to suit her needs as a disabled person. Through this character, Rebecca is able to “reimagine gender equality and mess around with colonialism and reshape how people in that society view disability.”
“Steampunk gives you this whole big sandbox to play in and reinvent the world. It’s not a perfect worldit still has problems and challengesbut if you can write about airships, then you can write about anything.”
Rebecca’s event schedule is keeping her very busy over the next little while. Next up is the Great Canadian Steampunk Exhibition where she will be reading from The Stowaway Debutante in the Monstrosity Tent. The following day, she’ll be at Word on the Street in Toronto.
Wendy Browne

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