Local authors self-publish steampunk anthology in Ann Arbor

These aren't your grandma's fairytales

By Sarah M. Parlette - Associated Producer

"Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales." Credit | Crysta K. Coburn

ANN ARBOR - It takes a lot of work to write a book. It takes even more work to edit and self-publish. Add multiple contributors plus a niche genre to the mix, and you’ve got over a year's worth of work. Luckily for steampunk and fairy tale readers, seven writers took on the challenge and published "Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales."

The brainchild of author and editor Crysta K. Coburn, the collection weaves together the steampunk genre with fanciful fairy tales - think Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, but with gears grinding, metallic mermaids, copper connections and more. The anthology retells some well-known tales but also introduces readers to gear-and-cog versions with industrial automatons and steam-age action.

Ann Arbor gets to claim four of the seven contributors to "Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales," each of whom lives or works in the area:  Crysta K. Coburn, Thomas Gregory, Aaron Isett and K. Gray.

Coburn, who has been a book buyer, community journal writer and library clerk among her many other literary-leaning positions, has been working on the anthology since July 2017 when she casually pitched the idea to fellow writers at the Motor City Steam Con. We asked her what she found difficult about self-publishing and why she made the decision to self-publish over traditional print publishing.

“Deciding to self-publish was a lot easier being surrounded by a community of self-publishers. I used to attend some of the Ann Arbor District Library's Emerging Writers Workshops, and one of the hosts is a successful self-publisher while the other is a traditional press published author. Hearing both of their positive experiences side-by-side also gave me confidence that each route had its benefits and neither was superior…” Coburn said.

Ultimately, she chose to self-publish thanks to her experience in the writing and publishing world.

“So when I was looking for a place to self-publish, I wanted to look beyond Amazon. I know several authors who successfully publish through Amazon, but that effectively shuts them out of the indie bookstore market (I have yet to find a bookstore that will order from Amazon), which I was not willing to do.”

Coburn decided to use Ingram, a content group specializing in publishing and a very well-known book supplier. Using Ingram, despite its submission qualifications, was more profitable for her and the other authors and also put "Queen of Clocks and other Steampunk Tales" on websites like Barnes & Noble and Book Depository. Using Ingram also allowed the authors to have the book available to libraries and independent bookstores, like Think Outside the Books in Ypsilanti and Crazy Wisdom, which do (or soon will) carry physical copies of the collection.  

“And because Ingram is international, I can sell to customers in Australia at normal book prices because the book is printed there in Australia rather than here in the United States and shipped overseas,” Coburn said.

"Queen of Clocks and other Steampunk Tales" is also available on Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Audible, and in most other ebook formats due to help from U.K. writer Paul Hiscock, who helped Coburn format for ebook publishing.

Coburn said “the most frustrating part for me of self-publishing, as Bess [Goden] and Paul [Hiscock] can attest, was getting the cover and the ebook into formats that Ingram would accept. They are ridiculously, mind-bogglingly picky. Bess [who created the cover art] and I went back and forth probably a hundred times with the cover, her formatting it, me submitting it, having it rejected, then back to Bess for another tweak, then me re-submitting it, being rejected again... It went on for weeks! The same with Paul and the epub format.”

A look at the cover of a "Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales" digital copy. Cover art by Bess Raechel Goden

Regarding how each author got started on the project, Isett, Gray and Gregory all said that Coburn just asked. They were already familiar with her work as an editor and writer, were interested in the concept and excited at the prospect of publishing.

We asked them about their interest in the niche genre and their involvement.

A4: Have you always been interested in steampunk and fairytales? What inspired you to retell the tale you chose?

Aaron Isett: “Pretty much everyone grew up with fairy tales, folktales and legends. My grandpa told tall tales, including traditional ones, quite a bit, and I grew up around great storytellers, and developed a fascination with legends at a young age. As far as steampunk goes, I don't have nearly as much experience, but the retro-futuristic vibes and the aesthetic are right up my alley.”

K. Gray: “I am much more interested in Steampunk than I am fairytales, but when it comes to writing I am open and willing to do nearly anything (except maybe poetry!). I've been into Steampunk for quite a few years now, and writing it was just the next logical step of my interest."

"I had the hardest time finding a tale to retell. I'm not completely well-versed in them, I will admit! But once I reread the Little Mermaid, I realized the potential in it. The witch, or in this case the Inventor [a character from her story], fit into the world of Steampunk incredibly easily. Once I had the concept, I rolled with it. ”

Thomas Gregory: “I'm a huge William Gibson fan and his book, 'The Difference Engine,' was one of the early steampunk novels and probably the first one I read. That and Cherie Priest's 'Clockwork Century' books were what first got me into steampunk. Not long after, I found the World Steam Expo - a now-defunct convention that used to be held in Dearborn where I was living at the time. Southeast Michigan is pretty rife with steampunk, probably due to the area's industrial background."

"As for fairy tales, I probably have more of a background in deconstructing them than anything else. In my academic days, I ended up studying a lot of Propp and Campbell and their methods of breaking down folk tales. Like them, I think folk and fairy tales hold something universal that transcends cultural boundaries.”

"I first came across 'The Poor Miller's Boy and the Cat,' which was the basis for 'The Queen of Clocks' [Gregory’s tale] through a version that Poppy Z. Brite wrote in his short story collection 'Are You Loathsome Tonight' and it's a story I've been fascinated with ever since. It's one of the Brothers Grimm stories that most people aren't familiar with though many of its elements are recognizable, operating as a sort of Cinderella in reverse. When I'm working on an adaptation like this, I usually try to find something readers don't know quite as well to work with."

Currently, Isett is working on dieselpunk story that will be submitted to an anthology. This was Gray’s first publication but they have some ongoing projects, like an urban fantasy novel as well as some short stories. Gregory is also working on another steampunk story based on “Koschei The Deathless,” as well as a stage musical with Neighborhood Theatre Group in Ypsilanti.

*This article has been annotated, edited, and is a compilation of email-based interviews.

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