Rob Mancebo's Sirens & Skullduggery is a series of steampunk adventures about related characters. Its general flow follows a streetwise young woman who gets involved with a pirate. Muggings, robberies, sabotage, and a lot of narrow escapes from soldiers and police follow. Mancebo describes his stories as "action & adventure as told from the anti-hero's view", and it's set in a pseudo-Victorian world. of clumsy and artistic mechanical marvels. They're set in UK and Paris built more through the character's observations, manner, and expectations.
Mancebo says that he usually writes from the 'good guy's' POV, but with this batch of stories, he indulged in the exact opposite. Whether picking a pocket, robbing a sadistic millionaire, dodging cannon-fire from a defending fortress, or escaping from an army of police, these are men and women of action. They all just happen to be wanton criminals instead of heroes.
Interview with Rob Mancebo
Why did you decide to write from the perspectives of criminals, thieves, pirates, and anti-heroes?
Writing from the criminal perspective was mostly an accident. I wrote 'The Clock is Ticking' for an anthology that never got off the ground. It was a story about a sharp, ninja-like airship captain who was raiding an English bank. Instead of following the ship to the robbery though, the tale follows the captain on his round of sabotage of the local fortress to facilitate their escape. It established the characters of Molly, the girl off the streets, and Jeff, the cool and calculating master criminal. Even though the anthology was cancelled, I had so much fun writing about them that I went on to write 'Springtime in Paris' as their next adventure and then went back and wrote about them meeting and their adventures in London. Other stories followed and, when it looked like it had become a book, I added Mae into the mix because I had to think up someone that even Jeff and his professional pirates couldn't handle.
What does "Steampunk" mean to you? Is it more than just "Victorian science fiction"?
Steampunk to me, is the melding of art, science, and adventure. It's from a time of masterful creativity. Steampunk tales should be filled with high art, high science-- even mad science-- and rough-n-tumble adventure. The world is still a big place in these times. There can still be lost civilizations and despots trying to build their own empires. There are oil-smudged heroes who work hard for a living to make amazing machines for the world.
What kind of unique technology and devices do your feature in your stories?
Steam-powered cars, airships, Gatling guns, I've even got an automaton in one story. Technology is the heady seasoning of Steampunk. Without technology and mad science, Steampunk would simply be Victorian era stories.
How do you manage to write action/adventure without going too dark?
You walk a fine line. I don't mind having characters going all 'Conan' and piling up a heroic sized body count, however, this is not that sort of a book. The way to walk that line is to make the characters smarter and more creative. So, when faced with any challenge, even a lethal one, these characters have to be professional enough to get out of it without just killing a bunch of people. They have to chase people off before blowing up a building, shoot to wound instead of kill, and be trained to face overwhelming odds without flinching. These are not simple thugs and bullies, these are highly trained professionals in the art of mischief and mayhem. You can tie them, lock them up, guard them, or bring your army to capture them and they'll still figure out a way to come out ahead.
Why is your collection of stories called "Sirens & Skullduggery"?
It began as 'Skullduggery' but the women kind of took over the book. They deserved to get first billing so I renamed it. (Mae certainly wouldn't put up with 'Skullduggery & Sirens'.)
Are the stories interconnected? What motivates the woman in your Steampunk world of criminals ?
All the stories are interwoven through the characters. They are just a variety of adventures happening to different characters. Each of the women who took over these stories are motivated by something different. Where Molly is a part of a highly trained team, Mae is coldly self-serving. As for Ceili, she's fought and schemed her way to the top. She's at large and in charge and will do anything to stay there.
Did you have to research about the cultures, fashion, and societies set in that time period?
Since it is set in a fantasy Victorian era, I get to use any hardware I want, steam-power, magic, whatever. However, yes, most of the hardware is researched. I have an advantage with that because I've already written so much historical fiction over the years this is simply an extension in a different direction.
Sirens & Skullduggery is available on Amazon now.