March 14, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
“It’s been marvellous fun. This is a subject that I’ve been wanting to develop for quite a few years and the experiment of doing it open to the community, that’s been far more rewarding and and tons of surprises involved with it”
From looking at the cover of Frahnknshtyne fun isn’t a word that would come to mind straight away. Dark,terrifying, gothic maybe. Based on Shelly’s story of Dr. Frankestein’s monster but remained in a Steampunk world it’s the latest project from Kevin Mowrer, a metastory developer base in Rhode Island. But he’s trying to be a bit different with this project.
“I don’t want to call it an open project because it’s not a collaboration, this is still something I’m creating and doing myself. But it’s transparent in the sense that it’s an experiment in letting every see the steps as I proceed.” The experiment kevin is talking about is blog. This is where Kevin shows the steps of creating the art of Frahnknshtyne and reveals some of the story alongside. It’s not something he’s tried before. “Everything I’ve done up to this point has been very careful and quiet, it gets landed when it’s completed.”
kevin’s not aware of anyone doing this before, the inspiration for this project comes from close to home. “I have a wonderful wife who is a brainstorm partner and a very dear friend who a professor, and both had been encouraging me to go ahead and try it as an open project, rather than hold it close to the vest. I’m not modelling this after anyone else.”
Doing something like this is bound to cause interest online and kevin is more than pleased with the results. “Feedback has been just absolutely marvellous!” He says enthusiastically.”I’ve heard from a tremendous amount of people from the worldwide Steampunk community who have made contact as a result of finding this project.
Kevin says that the most interest is being generated by Aether. “In Victorian writings Aether is everything from this strange unseen medium that the deceased can communicate through to the power that made the brain work.” Kevin has repurposed Aether in his own way. “I’ve defined it as human life force. It’s part of the sociological and technological underpinning of the story. It’s an Aether economy.”
Like all good stories, the symbolism is a reflection of what’s going on in the real world. “It’s a metaphor for the issues I believe the world has with what has happened to money. What money means, how it flows, who controls it. Theres even an addictive element to [Aether] much like credit is addictive.” It definitely seems like an issue every can get to grips with. “It’s a modern metaphor for a modern problem that is showing no signs of going away anytime soon.”
But fixing the world’s ills isn’t on the agenda. “I think sometimes stories can get too bogged down with try to solve a gigantic Socio-political issue. I’m going to stay focused on the hero how he has to face this. The metaphor will bring that issue down to a very personal set of stakes.” Kevin continues. “Through that I think we get to examine that much bigger issue because it’s not caused by a bunch of bad guys as much a much a wholesale adoption of something that is an unhealthy economy.”
Those familiar with Shelly’s version will be aware hero isn’t a term you readily associate with Dr. Frankenestein (In Mowrer’s version his name is Wyctor) or his monster. “That’s gotten a lot of attention and the fact he ends up inside his own monster rather than the brain of a criminal.”
Many of you may be asking why mess with an established story in such a way? “Because I’m writing the story, and I have a great deal of interest in pressing characters who end up becoming heros who didn’t want the job in the first place and will have to sacrifice something in order to take on that mantle.” And Wyctor seems to be the reluctant hero in the centre of the story. “He doesn’t start out as a noble character, he starts out as a maker, trying to solve things by making. Makers do that even today. And what it does is it draws him in quite quickly into a role he didn’t sign up for.”
And why get drawn into such a role in the first place? Simple, love. “It’s the primary motivation at the beginning of the story, for Wyctor to really try to exceed the things he’s been asked to do by the people that are paying his bills.” But love isn’t a simple thing once you’ve been drawn in. “It ends up being a little bit classic Romeo and Juliet in the the sense that the parents don’t want him to fall in love with this girl. I’m not going to give away the story but it is an initial driver and it fuels part of the tragedy when he has to go inside the clockwork being. It puts him out of reach of the relationship.”
Characters such as Wyctor and the monster and the artwork involved has generated quite the buzz in the Steampunk community. Interviews with the Bazilian Steampunk Council and some notable Steampunk blogs have followed and helped boost Kevin’s profile. “I’ve become a member of the Steampunk Writers and Artists Guild (S.W.A.G), a marvellous organisation that has a number of talented people and I get involved with some rich conversations there.” All this attention hasn’t just generated some banter,
Steampunk’s DYI ethic has come knocking. “There have even been some members who’ve been interested in actually making a number of the things that they see.” He says that suggestions of making replica gun and models of the vehicles and ships of all shapes and sizes as well as other prospects. “There have been offers of collaborations and I’ve been picked up now by several books that are coming out soon that are all about the art of Steampunk.”
All this attention has had an effect on Kevin and how he plans to release Frahnkenshtyne. “At least for the first publishing it’s actually going to be published as an interactive E-book, rather than a classic book.” Kevin says he wants to publish it a chapter at a time because this has been so interesting and so fun for him to do.
Outside of Frahnknshtyne he works on metastories. “Metastories use both story and art, it’s a craft and process that builds on classic story-telling but it also brings into that some of the exciting changes that are occurring to the story-telling formate.” These changes are one of the reasons behind Kevin’s decision to experiment with the story’s release, as part of “Our ability to share and experience them in constantly expanding ways.”
“It’s a wonderful and very inclusive thing to reach out to the community in a way that they can access as deeply or as tangentially as they wish, when they wish to do so.” So while a traditional book will be published in the future, Kevin is focusing on his relationship with his audience. “Part of how I publish this, without getting into the details, will be your ability to take side trips within the story itself that you can’t do in traditional publishing.” Kevin describes this method ‘bringing it to them in some ways that are more fluid, more matrix, perhaps even more nuance.
And ideas are already being formed about the future. “The book’s ending is a beginning” Kevin says. “The book itself is a self- contained narrative, but at the end of it I will birthed a hero, and he will not have solved what are huge issues and challenges. He’ll only have barely taken on the mantle of being the hero.”
Kevin is thinking big, and seems to want to create a whole world, starting with this story. “I’m not trying to create a Star Wars. But if you look at Star Wars part of what’s so exciting about it is you can follow the story of the main character that you meet in the movie, but even since then there’s been so much that’s been done that plays to the world because it establishes a very authentic sense of reality that will support other characters and stories. And that’s part of what I do.”
For kevin this is has been a project in waiting for sometime. “Broadly from the 1700’s to the 1900s has been an interest of mine. Retro technology, older time periods that had technology but still had rich and layered societies, these have been interests of mine.” The research gone into Frahnknshtyne has doubled as a sort of hobby. “It’s been sort of a 20 year process of gathering the information that’s going into this story.” And this research is having an effect on everything that goes into Kevin’s work for this project. “If you look at the Victorian era they were interested in all things exotic and historic. There was an enormous interest in things that were Egyptian, Japanese, and Chinese so you’re going to see some of those influences in the book.”
But whether or not this book is actually set in Victorian times is a difficult one to answer. The people dress like it’s the 1800s, but ride in motorbikes and some live an a floating city above the slums. “There’s three levels of technology that exist within the story, the third is really quite sophisticated albeit in a baroque style. It’s hard to tack it down as a particular time because it is an alternate history.”
No so based on history are the people within the story. “That’s part of my process; as I think about characters I tlike to think about who they remind me of. It helps me to ground them.” But there’s no set rule for how Kevin approaches this. “Occasionally that will e a single character, some will be a mixture or pure invention.” The other influences are clear to see as well. An Aether-based Medusa comes out of greek mythology to turn people into stone by absorbing their life force, and Kevin has promised Aether-based werewolves to also make an appearance. “The Royals,” Kevin says,”have a vampiric role. There will be characters that do come from the genre of Gothic Horror that will be brought into Steampunk, into my world.”
Kevin’s explained already the politics and Horror, but there’s plenty of action too. “It isn’t precisely Horror, it’s certainly borrowing a lot of it’s dressings from Horror writings. Personally I really enjoy experience as well as creating stories that have a great deal of action. For me it’s a part of the way to externalise and create really strong metaphors for the struggles that we’re facing.” Already on the blog are pictures of Wyctor in a fighting arena and the monster fighting a dragon shaped airship. “There will be a number of facing things that are metaphors for our fears, in the midst of an environment that is a remaining of Victorian Gothic, full of technology and threats.” So it’s obvious Kevin knows what he wants from the story. But it’s not finished yet.”I can’t say precisely in terms of months [how long] there is to go but my goal is to certainly complete it by this year.” He seems very sure of what he is doing and confident he can do it. “I know who the main characters are and I understand what it is they’re doing in the story. Im in the process of structuring the narrative as we speak”
For the immediate future, more art and story tid-bits are going to be revealed on the site for you and everyone that wants to get involved. “I’m very thankful for the energy that has come from doing this. Stay tuned.”
See more of Kevin’s work at ” http://mowrerart.blogspot.com/