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Friday, September 30, 2011

GUEST POST: Abusing History by Lev AC Rosen

I have a hardcore BDSM-type relationship with history. I abuse it horribly, then I do some research, it abuses me, I abuse it back . . . and we both love it. At least I do. And history has never protested or used our safeword (nuclear) so I’m guessing she loves it to.

Seriously, here are some bits of history I totally abused while writing All Men of Genius:

1) Ada Byron died in 1852, 31 years before my book starts. She most likely died of ovarian cancer, but no one really knew what was happening at the time, so I prolonged her life by giving her a hysterectomy—we won’t even talk about how I’ve abused science—and then, to top it off, I killed her husband off before he actually died. Why? Well, Ada is just a fascinating character to start with—a mathematical genius, imprisoned in her youth by a crazy mother. But most importantly she was a woman working in the scientific world and doing so successfully. She was respected by her peers. So when I wrote the book I decided that having her there as this icon of ‘yes it could happen, but it so rarely does’ in regards to women in science would work in my favor. Plus, as I said, I just adore her. I tried to use her sparingly, since she’s something of an overused figure in steampunk. I’m not sure I succeeded in that. She’s just so awesome. She gambled and smoked and tried to run off with her tutor when she was a teenager. I’m not saying these are positive qualities — but they are interesting ones.

2) Matthias Forney, the American train engineer was a real person, a brilliant engineer. However, I couldn’t find a single photo or painting of him, so I completely made up his physical appearance. Awful, I know. However, I can share this, for those of you who have read the book; I did not make up Annie. And here’s a bonus happy ending. Awwwwww.

3) JC Adams, Violet and Ashton’s father, was a real person as well, and really was one of the people at the conference in DC who decided where GMT should start. That said, all I had was his name. I made only minimal efforts to find out anything about him because I had a character in mind already. I found nothing, so I went ahead exactly as I had planned. In fact, I chose Mr. Adams because out of all the British attendees of the conference, he was the one I could find out the least about. And I liked his surname.

And those are just the people. Of course there’s plenty of other actual history I abused—I invented a college and put it smack in the middle of the city over another college. I created several noble families which never existed and gave them roles to play in history, as well as reputations and land and all that. And as I said, best not to talk about the science—airships, talking rabbits—all of it is the sort of mad science that Victorian writers were theorizing about, but it never actually happened.

So when does history get her turn to abuse me back? When the research happens. Opening a book is like a smack in the face. You see, the truth is, I don’t like stretching history too much. I like using what’s already there — but that said, I do have plans and plots thought out. For example, I didn’t know Ada’s husband lived until 1893 (like a decade after the novel starts) — why would I? I didn’t care about him, I was focused on her. But suddenly, I needed a reason for why Ada was always alone, never mentioned her husband, and in fact was referred to as a widow in the book. Luckily, though history abuses, it also inspires: Her husband was also a scientist, so it wasn’t too difficult to have one of his inventions kill him off—especially as he worked with steam-presses. Gruesome, but effective.

This is the abuse-inspire cycle I often have with history—it presents problems, but offers unique solutions as well. And I love the solutions I come up with. Before I did research on Ada’s husband I was just going to kill him in an airship crash. How dull is that?

I wasn’t a big history buff in high school or college. I loved Victorian literature, and I got history through period novels—but opening an actual history book? They’re so boring, right? I have no idea when this changed. But somewhere, my research went from ‘oh, I have to read that now’ to ‘oh, I get to read that now!’ I think maybe it’s because I have a more interactive relationship with the history now. I see little pieces like a Persian shah who died of gout, or how in Bali people with dreadlocks are considered healers, and it inspires something (for future books, I’m afraid, not this one — but in the series). I see a problem in what I’m writing? I go research. Usually, I stumble upon another problem while researching, but I usually find a fix, too.

So I abuse history, she abuses me back and yet I manage to reach greater heights of inspiration. Everybody wins. I hope.

ABOUT ALL MEN OF GENIUS:

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, two of the most beloved works by literary masters, All Men of Genius takes place in an alternate Steampunk Victorian London, where science makes the impossible possible.

Violet Adams wants to attend Illyria College, a widely renowned school for the most brilliant up-and-coming scientific minds, founded by the late Duke Illyria, the greatest scientist of the Victorian Age. The school is run by his son, Ernest, who has held to his father’s policy that the small, exclusive college remain male-only. Violet sees her opportunity when her father departs for America. She disguises herself as her twin brother, Ashton, and gains entry.

But keeping the secret of her sex won’t be easy, not with her friend Jack’s constant habit of pulling pranks, and especially not when the duke’s young ward, Cecily, starts to develop feelings for Violet’s alter ego, “Ashton.” Not to mention blackmail, mysterious killer automata, and the way Violet’s pulse quickens whenever the young duke, Ernest (who has a secret past of his own), speaks to her. She soon realizes that it’s not just keeping her secret until the end of the year faire she has to worry about: it’s surviving that long...

ABOUT LEV AC ROSEN:

Lev AC Rosen attended Oberlin College in Ohio, majoring in Creative Writing & English, and received his MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. His short story “Painting” was the inaugural piece for Esopus Magazine’s ‘New Voices’ section. His work has also been featured on various blogs including Tor.com. All Men of Genius is his first novel. For more information, please visit the links below:

Order “All Men of GeniusHERE
Read Excerpts HERE + HERE
Read FBC's Review of "All Men of Genius"

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