Featured image (above) by Jenn
The Evolution of a Steampunk Transmedia Experience
In my previous article I introduced you to steampunk and mentioned a couple of practitioners within the movement. This time I would like to delve a little deeper into the craft of one of these said practitioners, Michael J. Rigg. He is the creator of the Heart of Bronze fictional universe in which both his novel, Clockwork Looking Glass and The Steam Rollers Adventure Podcast are set. Mr Rigg, aka Storycrafter Mike, has graciously accepted the offer to be interviewed for Create Hub and so we’re able to uncover how he has gone from aspirational author to builder of a multi-media experience.
The Heart of Bronze Universe (HoB)
So Mr Rigg, how did you first get into steampunk?
By accident. I started writing this ‘alternative history’ novel that brought the 1860-1880s into the 21st century. I honestly didn’t realize it was called ‘steampunk’. It just sort of came together this way. Any time I needed something, I invented it. Transportation from the top of a tower? Aerocar! High-speed transportation anywhere in the world despite technology not advancing much past the airship? Tesla Net.
How did the Heart of Bronze universe develop?
The universe was born from the novel. A co-worker who read the novel told me I was ‘like George Lucas’, as I had seemingly created an entire universe out of one story. He said he could see avenues and pasts, etc. based on what I’d written. I decided to fulfill that destiny.
What are the main differences between our world on that of the HoB?
Well, not only did the Confederacy win the first Civil War in America, several others followed. The North became a corporate-run empire, and the Confederacy became its own collection of individually-run states. Texas grew and walled itself off from the rest of the world. Also, and to explain those elements that ‘couldn’t possibly have evolved’ from certain changes to history, there is a collective of ghost-like figures called the Clockwork Carpenters who apparently control everything in the universe.
Clockwork Looking Glass
Why did you decide to become an indie author?
A good friend of mine, and day-job co-worker, Parker Moose, penned a very sweet Neil Gaiman-esque novel about alien squid invading the earth during the stone age only to believe cows were our highest form of intelligence. He did all the legwork and research to self-publish. I merely followed in his footsteps.
How did you begin to build a community around the novel?
Clockwork Looking Glass didn’t begin as a novel, it was what I called a ‘blognovel’, a serialized story presented as a weekly blog (chapter per week). Periodically, I would open a blog entry up to ideas, like ‘should the bad guy live or die?’, ‘what would you name an airplane?’, ‘what is the name of Bryce Landry’s father?’. The biggest one of all came when I invited people to create a character for the story. A co-worker who loved the weekly entries gave me the idea for Pandora, a witch. And that’s how witchcraft made its way into the Heart of Bronze.
The Steam Rollers Adventure Podcast (SRAP)
Where did the idea for the podcast come from?
I love podcasts! I listened to dozens of them, including a couple of ‘actual play’ tabletop Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) shows. I always wanted to produce my own show and somehow tie it into my writing, but I couldn’t think of anything that would stick past a couple of episodes. Then it hit me: my friends and I used to play my own home brew version of D&D. Why not take this ‘world’ I created, develop a rule set for it, and produce it as an actual play podcast?
How is the podcast progressing as you move through the series?
The SRAP fills the huge ten-year gap between books one and two, and the epilogue of book one. In the epilogue of Clockwork Looking Glass, I dropped a lot of ‘history bombs’. There was another Civil War, the South had a female president, etc. I didn’t want to make smaller anthology stories to fill the gaps, so I decided to let the podcast be a way for fans of the book (or my GM [Games Master] style) to fill in those blanks.
Do you feel the players have had an impact on HoB?
HUGELY! It doesn’t seem like I give the players much leeway, but the truth is they’ve already done a lot to create new canon for the Heart of Bronze universe. One major example is the birth of the evil ‘Glass Witch’, a creature born out of a series of mistakes (planned or otherwise) by one of the player characters. The witch is now a major part of the lore, and has spawned a number of backgrounds and side-stories to add to the world.
You recently launched a Patreon, how has that affected how you communicate with your community?
The patrons for SRAP are amazing! One of the ‘rewards’ for a certain patron level is the ability to design a background character to make an appearance in the ongoing story. The contributions I’ve received are nothing short of wonderful! I’m having a lot of fun introducing fan-created characters into the ongoing stories.
RBY-2187, your robotic co-host, has been given a Twitter account. Do you plan for other characters in HoB to do the same?
After Clockwork Looking Glass I entertained the notion of giving the character Alice a Twitter account to talk about Steampunkery in the HoB universe from the point of view of her ‘reality’. That never developed, and when the podcast came up, I sort of put it on a deep back shelf. After 70-something episodes co-hosting with ‘Robbie’, and enjoying how his personality has developed, I decided to let him have his own Twitter account to help me build upon the ‘reality’ of the Heart of Bronze through transmedia.
Are there any other mediums you have considered expanding into?
I’ve mentioned videos to our patrons. My old friends (who are cast members on the show) recall how I used to make movies in high school. The production involved with making a realized steampunk movie is too much to even consider at the moment, but I will be looking into some behind-the-scenes stuff to do for YouTube, as well as setting up multiple camera angles to take the SRAP into SRAV (Steam Rollers Adventure Video) territory. Not everyone who is into podcasts is into YouTube, and vice versa. I’d truly like to hit as many avenues as possible.
The Steam Rollers Adventure Podcast is part way through its second season, wherein I feature as a cast member playing the clockwork android or ‘cogman’ Nigel Osbert Wintermann, and it updates every Tuesday. You can find it and more about Michael’s other works at Riggstories.com or on Twitter @SteamRollersPC. Now If you’ll excuse me it’s gone past four in the afternoon and I’m hankering for a cuppa.
Rupert is a Drama with Creative Writing graduate of the University of the West of England, who has been working on building his own business, Tea-Powered Theatre – an afternoon tea and theatre company – with the support of the Prince’s Trust for the past two years. His main product, “Teatre”, combines two Victorian traditions: cream tea and catching a matinée. As a Steampunk, he also believes in technology ‘having a form that derives its function and creative interpretations thereof’.