By Cassandra Leuthold
Genre: Science Fiction/ Steampunk
Katya Romanova gave up everything to work at the one-of-a-kind Steampunk Carnival – her family, her home, her reputation. She wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. As a guide to the guests, Katya enjoys more freedom than most. She makes time to gossip with her best friend, Magdalene. She basks in the elaborate costumes that bring her awed attention, hoping they might also win her a husband. And no man pays her more attention than her boss and carnival owner, William Warden.
But in the summer of 1887, death threats against Mr. Warden break the spell. Katya knows he might be as underhanded as he is charming, but who would actually want him dead?
When Katya finds unexpected evidence about the carnival’s true origins, the stakes jump even higher. Not sure whom they can trust, Katya and Magdalene work to unravel the carnival’s mysteries. Who really invented the innovative rides? Is Mr. Warden protecting his employees or only himself from the looming violence? And will Katya cling to the better side of his nature or eventually turn her affections for him into a powerful rivalry?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cassandra grew up in the small town of La Porte, Indiana, exploring wooded parks and sparkling lakes. Making South Bend her home, the scenery hasn’t changed much - inspiring trees and a long, winding river. From the time she started writing in second grade up to the projects she works on now, the nature, history, and people around her inspire the stories she tells. You can find her work listed under many different genres, but the heart of each story remains the same. What keeps us together, and what pulls us apart?
She lives with her writer husband and their moody cat, Gaia, in a house three sizes too big. She holds a Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies and a Master’s in English. When she’s not writing, you can find her sewing, enjoying nature, listening to music, researching family history, and watching TV.
The Joys of Writing Historical Fiction
Writing Steampunk Carnival was a lot of fun. I love to learn new facts and stories, so even though gathering information for it took work, I discovered something fascinating every day. Once I decided to set most of the book in 1887 Indianapolis, I really had my work cut out for me. I spent countless hours researching the original street names, what kinds of people lived in different areas of the city, and some of the various real-life businesses that operated there. This was very personal for me, having visited Indianapolis dozens of times and spent five nights there as part of my honeymoon. It was amazing to not just see Indianapolis as it was 127 years ago but also recreate it for my book along with a colorful cast of characters who might’ve lived there.
I’ve learned from researching my family history how short a time it takes for information and stories to be lost. Even the passing of one or two generations can cover up a lot of struggle, comedy, and triumph. Looking into the 1880’s for my book was no different. I never knew how much technology the Victorians already had or were close to developing. I never imagined them asking the same social and political questions we talk about today: Should birth control be available? How should women act and be treated? Should a man with a complex past be elected into office? A picture emerged of people being people no matter what age we live in. We’re all trying to puzzle things out, make a difference, and find the best ways to navigate an unpredictable world.
The most unexpected thing about writing Steampunk Carnival as historical fiction was the effect it had on my characters. They had to look the part - men in top hats and suits, women in gloves and long dresses. But they also had to act the part. Katya might be more forward than most of the other women in the book, but she’s still restricted by decorum and not wanting to ruin her reputation completely. Magdalene possesses a sharp, discerning mind and the willingness to act for what’s right, but she hides them behind the humility and soft-spoken manner expected of her. Women had few jobs in the workplace, mainly cooking, cleaning, and running boarding houses, so that dictated most of the women’s work in my book. The character of Mrs. Weeks, who runs the Weekly Boarder where Katya lives, grew entirely out of learning that renting out rooms was a good way for widows to earn an income. Her story represents the way thousands of women must have lived after their husbands passed away, and my book gained a kindly matron standing in as Katya’s mom away from home.
History also played a huge part in how my characters react to each other. They’re living in a time before child labor laws. There were no rules governing how bosses hired employees or how employees could expect to be treated. This gave me new ways to represent my characters from when I write contemporary stories. Katya disagrees with Mr. Warden’s hiring of children at the carnival, but there’s nothing she can do about it. When Mr. Lieber, the head of security, takes his anger out on Katya in a frustrated tirade, she’s powerless about that, too. In a year when unions were fragmented and disenfranchised, the carnival workers are far from united. Mr. Warden hires and fires as he pleases, and Katya’s coworker Irina spends quite a few nights worrying about losing her job over issues beyond her control.
It surprises me I’ve come to write so many historically based stories, but it makes sense when I think about it. I gained an interest in history when I was a kid between hearing about my great-grandparents immigrating from Europe and going on family vacations to places like Gettysburg and Fort McKinley. I had a great history professor in college who further cultivated that interest in me for other times, places, and cultures. I think the trick with history, as with other subjects like science and math that some misrepresent as dull or boring, is to make it personal. Find the parts of it that are fun and useful to you. That’s probably the best thing about writing historical fiction. I get to choose what I learn about and how many details I want to get bogged down in. Then I get to make history fresh and vibrant for people who are living now. How can I ask for more than that?
“What I Wouldn’t Do,” She Swings, She Sways
The first chapter of Steampunk Carnival is different than the rest of the book. It’s narrated by someone whose name isn’t revealed for several chapters. The reason he’s obsessed with filling a journal with his ideas isn’t clear until we find out who he is, but the song gives insight into his situation. He’s a man driven by longing, loneliness, and desperation. It adds extra layers and emotions to what’s shared at that point in the book.
“Kill The Lights,” The Birthday Massacre
I’m a big fan of the movie “Moulin Rouge.” In the director’s commentary, Baz Luhrmann talks about the interesting difference between points of view in the climactic scene when Satine dies after the big, pulse-pounding performance. The audience applauds. They loved what they saw. But what they missed was a murder attempt, and what they can’t see after the curtain closes is Satine’s heartbreaking death. This song represents that for Steampunk Carnival. All the guests see are beautiful costumes, spectacular rides, fun games, and delicious treats. They don’t know about the death threats, the violence, and the arguments. They never find out the games are rigged.
“Common Reaction,” Uh Huh Her
As the story unwinds, Katya finds herself in deeper and deeper trouble. She acquires more to lose – friends, her safety, a boyfriend – and realizes there are fewer things she can be sure of. A lot she took for granted isn’t true. This song expresses Katya’s confusion and caution. She doesn’t know how much to trust her boss, William Warden. She hopes everything will work out all right, but she knows any ending is possible.
“Hold My Hand,” Mister Heavenly
This song reminds me of Maddox’s approach to Katya in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. If Maddox has one thing going for him, it’s persistence. He tries several different tricks to get Katya to go out with him, and she turns him down several times. She’s not easily persuaded to trade her love of money for appreciation of simple fun.
“Shake It Out,” Florence & the Machine
This song provides the perfect backdrop to the night Katya finally gives in to spending time with Maddox. She leaves her fear, her distrust, and her rigid ideas about dating behind. Katya and Maddox ride three attractions at the carnival, which thrills Katya more than she anticipated. But more importantly, they’re finally able to share more about themselves and build a solid foundation for their relationship.
“Baptized by Fire,” Spinnerette
The lyrics and driving guitar in this song mirror what Katya and her friends are feeling by the time they confront the forces conspiring against them. Katya has seen William Warden’s inner nature, and she doesn’t like it. His security guards, allegedly hired to keep the employees safe, have been watching Magdalene like a hawk for weeks. Katya’s tired of meeting in secret, worrying about how the carnival’s reputation will survive the truth about its origins. But true to the song, with going to battle against powerful rivals comes a new beginning for all of them.