What if William Shakespeare had lived in Victorian times? What would he make of mechanical engines and steam-power? That’s the premise behind The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter.
I discovered this contest by happenstance, trolling through the Twitterverse. The concept so intrigued me, I had to give it a go. Truth be told, this was the hardest story I’ve ever written. I had to balance good storytelling with accuracy to the Bard’s intent (and sometimes actual lines) while incorporating stempunk elements. It’s also the work I’m most proud of to date.
My contribution to the Omnibus was The Malefaction of Tybalt’s Mechanical Armature. I set a scene of Romeo and Juliet in post Civil War America. Why hadn’t anyone else ever thought to do that? Civil War is tailor made to the sort of family rivalry integral to the Shakespeare story. There were many possibilities, yet I opted to center my tale on Tybalt. He was an escaped slave whose sister was Juliet (still on the plantation). Romeo and the Montegues were the plantation owners.
Rather than take on the whole war, I set the story in Kansas (as state with leanings toward both side in the conflict). The town is run by the Capulets, who own a mining company. He’s also adept with mechanics and has built Tybalt a mechanical arm to replace the one that was sheared off in a cotton gin accident. (Romeo was running the gin, thus fueling Tybalt’s hatred).
I was incredibly nervous when submitting this story. What if the folks a Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders didn’t pick it up? Where else was I going to sell a story about a steampunk Tybalt? I couldn’t really even reslant it. It was them or nothing. Luckily, it sold and many revisions later, the tale will appear in the omnibus May 11th.
Writing this tale also helped me reimagine a manuscript I’d written (and rewritten) over five years. One agent read though it and finally passed. It had potential, yet I couldn’t stomach rewriting it another time. It was going to go into the drawer forever. That is, until I realized I could tweak the tale and set it as a steampunk tale. This not only worked, but revitalized my interest in the manuscript.
The power of the Bard shines through, even when he’s dealing with cogs and top hats. Be sure to check out The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, for sale May 11th.