Delphine Dryden's latest tale, "The Lamplighter's Love", has RT's Dawn Crowne raving, "This novella is steampunk erotica at its best!" What inspired the story that has heroine Mary Cross monitoring the steam engines that keep Victorian England running? Delphine Dryden answers our questions in this exclusive author interview.
For such a short story, there is certainly a lot happening in “The Lamplighter’s Love”. There are steampunk mechanisms, a historical setting, a power driven villain and the blossoming love affair between your main characters Mary and Nicholas. When you were first pitching this story to your editor, how did you explain it?
This actually started out as a much shorter piece that was rejected for a steampunk erotica anthology, so I spent some time lengthening it to a novella to submit to my editor at Ellora's Cave. She knew it was coming because I'd been discussing it on Twitter with some other writers, so I just told her it was steampunk erotica and she was perfectly fine with that! The politics and villainy were just a bonus.
Reading “The Lamplighter’s Love” was a bit like seeing what The Matrix would have been if it were set in Victorian England. Take, for example, what Mary sees when she gets into the Chair in the underground engine rooms so she can remotely view the happenings of London:
“[H]er vision was obscured by the reflections of a thousand equations and terse messages. The figures ticked by in endless rows and columns, revealing all that was important in the city’s daily workings … Mary found her place, orienting herself mentally within the world of the engines as she interpreted the screens. In her mind a picture of London emerged, with herself in the middle of it, sending invisible lines of control out to every intersection of the city.”
Was The Matrix indeed an influence on the story and if not what were some of the stories or ideas that were?
I have to confess, until I read this question the parallel hadn't even occurred to me. But that's brilliant, and I can absolutely see the connection. I think The Matrix is just one of many movies/books/other media that have heralded or influenced the current trend toward "punked" work, all this stuff that's grounded in the notion that technology can take us in directions we don't expect, and we don't use it with nearly enough caution and wisdom. Centrally controlled traffic lights, prosthetic sewing-machine-attachment hands, predictive crime fighting... It all seems like a good idea at the time, then BAM! Dystopia.
As far as specific influences, I'd say aside from Mr. Babbage's difference engine itself, the idea for this book came mostly from a series of stock photos I ran across one day while working on a trailer video. Two guys and a girl, all in Victorian dress, and they were strapping her into something that vaguely resembled an electric chair on steroids. There may or may not have been goggles involved. That was the inspiration for the original one-scene story the novella was built on (obviously, the scene where Mary is strapped into the Chair).
There has got to be a feeling of great power that comes along with being the master Lamplighter and literally controlling the movement of the people in London. Yet your hero, Nicholas, has had the duty for a decade and doesn’t seem overly concerned with giving up his position. What makes him so willing to leave behind his Lamplighter status?
As I envision it, the job is extremely wearing, physically and mentally. The power rush wears off after a few years. The Chair is a recipe for repetitive motion injury, so Nicholas is already suffering the effects of that in his hands and upper body, while his lower body is relatively weakened due to the sedentary nature of his job. He can expect to suffer long-term health consequences as a result, such as early-onset arthritis and a high probability of some vision loss. Also, to say he's stir crazy is an understatement of epic proportions. The story is short, so I didn't dwell too much on his perspective, but he's very eager to be done with the job. He's over it.
“The Lamplighter’s Love” showcases your knack for writing steampunk. In this novella you are able to create a whole world with only short bits of well-written description. What are the hallmarks of steampunk that you adhered to and how do you feel your story is different from others in the genre?
Of course all steampunk starts with steam power, or at least an emphasis on technology that hails from the era in which steam power was still supreme. Hence, the difference engines, which are a favorite of steampunk writers everywhere. I also played with the Victorian social mores typically found in steampunk, though I tweaked that by positing a world in which women had gained a certain amount of additional freedom and power through the guild structure. There's still a lot of institutionalized sexism, though, which is seen not only in the guild dynamics and Mary's social predicament, but in other factors like fashion and manners. In "The Lamplighter's Love" and in the longer steampunk series I'm currently working on, I tend to adhere as much as possible to technology that's actually feasible, without relying on supernatural forces or aether power to get around the strictures of physics, strength of materials, and so on (although I adore reading steampunk stories that incorporate those elements). Even I get pretty far-fetched with the steampunk-y elements, though, I freely admit.
You recently self-published story “Love With A Chance of Zombies”. You also have a story in Girls Who Bite which is lesbian vampire erotica and, releasing soon, is what you call a “plain vanilla novella” in Ellora’s Cave Volume IV of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Needless to say, you are not an easy author to categorize. What draws you to all these different types of stories and are there any common themes/threads that weave themselves through all of your writing?
And don't forget all that kinky, BDSM erotica I'm primarily known for at Ellora's Cave! That's actually why it's so funny that I have a vanilla novella coming out there — it isn't my norm at all. Not that I really have a norm, as you point out. I think the common theme in all my writing is geekery. My characters tend to be nerdy (my books have been referred to by one reviewer as "nerdmance"); they are over-thinkers, who are their own worst enemies when it comes to love. Obviously, this is because I'm a geeky nerd myself, and I write stories that appeal to my areas of geeky, nerdy interest. So in one book, I might have college professors playing MMORPGs and having cybersex, while in another I have human calculators hooked up to the Victorian Matrix and engaging in steam-powered shenanigans. An upcoming work involves a Dominant who is an actual rocket scientist. In all my stories, sex is an experience that allows these overly cerebral characters to connect to the visceral, immediate, "real" side of themselves. To simply act and be in the moment, instead of thinking.
The lesbian vampire erotica, well...that was just for fun.
Desperate for more Delphine Dryden? You can download her latest e-book, "The Lamplighter's Love", and check out her website to learn more about all of her upcoming projects. And for the latest genre news and a look at some of this month's hottest releases be sure to stop by our Everything Erotica Page!