Bad Wizard is my most recent novel, and something of a curiosity in my bibliography. It’s not part of a series; at least, not part of one of my own series. It stands alone, but it’s also a sequel to a novel I didn’t write, the original L. Frank Baum Wizard of Oz. It’s the only book I’ve ever written using characters created by someone else. Finally, it’s my only novel-length attempt at writing steam punk.
As a literary genre, steam punk has always confused me. A lot of steam punk offerings strike me as favoring aesthetics over historical accuracy. Of course, most steam punk takes place within alternate histories, so a lot of the mismatch between fiction and reality can be forgiven. It’s fantasy, after all, not a documentary. But, steam punk also has a surface reverence for technology. It’s right there in the name, paying homage to the steam engine, the driving force of industrialization. Gears and pistons, valves and dials are defining elements of steam punk artwork. The archetype hero is a man in a dapper suit and goggles wielding a large wrench. (Or, a woman inexplicably wearing her corset outside of her dress, also carrying a wrench.)
Yet, for a technology defined genre, the springs and sprockets of steam punk are usually gifted with magical properties. Sometimes it’s overt magic, sometimes it’s the magic of the author not really understanding how older technology works. But, is the abuse of technology in steam punk any worse than the liberties taken with technology in modern popular culture? I’m a big fan of Arrow, but Felicity is more of a wizard than a hacker; she waves her fingers at a tablet or a cell phone and miracles happen. A sizable proportion of American’s drive cars and have a good idea of what they can and cannot do, but we still watch movies where cars launch themselves off speed bumps to crash into helicopters. For some writers, technology will always play the role of magic in their fairy tales.
Of course, in Bad Wizard, I have actual magic to play with. The original Oz lore overflows with witches and spells, magical men and enchanted clothing. Perhaps because I had access to magic, I tried to keep my technology appropriate to the period. I confess to taking liberties with glider designs. Even with today’s technology, a spring loaded glider that could fold down to fit into a back pack and deploy like a parachute would be a challenge to build. Still, for people who know something of the technology available in 1904, I hope my book would pass muster as based more in fact than fancy.
The truth is, Bad Wizard’s steam punk elements are mostly there as a matter of historical coincidence. The Wizard of Oz was published in 1901. I’m making the assumption that the actual events described took place a few years before, around 1894. Now, it’s ten years later, and Oscar Zoroaster Diggs, the man who used to be the Wizard of Oz, is the United State Secretary of War under Teddy Roosevelt. Diggs is a man in love with technology. This is a trait carried over from the book, where he uses his mechanical prowess to pass himself off as a wizard. To have him be well versed in the technology of his era, from electric lights to diesel engines to rigid airships seemed appropriate. The fact that the technology of his era frequently shows up in steam punk was unavoidable.
My real draw to writing a sequel to the Wizard of Oz had nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with characters. More importantly, there was a big moral question to grapple with, built right into the original Wizard of Oz, yet oddly overlooked, or outright ignored. The thing that bothers me about the original book is that Dorothy is an eleven year old girl, lost and afraid, who goes on a dangerous journey to find the wizard in hopes he’ll send her home. When this lost girl wanders into his palace, Digg’s doesn’t run out and say, “Oh, you poor thing, let me fire up my balloon. “ Instead, his first instinct is to get rid of her by sending her off to get killed by a witch. It’s obvious when Dorothy and friends return that Digg’s never expected to see them again. He sent a little girl off to die a horrible death rather than allow himself to be inconvenienced with helping her. When he’s exposed, Dorothy tells him, “You’re a very bad man.” He defends himself, claiming he’s a very good man, just a very bad wizard. And… he gets away with it! He hands out some flim flam gifts to Dorothy’s companions and all is forgiven. True, he does make an attempt to take her home, in the end, but… is there any reason to trust that he had Dorothy’s best wishes at heart at this point? It’s more likely he planned to dump her in the desert and head back to his palace, proclaiming, “Mission accomplished!”
The fact that Diggs could commit such a reprehensible crime, then weasel his way out of it with fibs and baubles, make him, in my mind, an utterly fascinating villain. While Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion are all major players in Bad Wizard, Diggs is the real driver of the story. He’s a very bad man, but a completely wonderful character. He’s charismatic, smart, and driven. He’s well-read and witty, with an ear for poetry. He earns the loyalties of his followers with praise and generosity. While the original book gave little hints to his motives, I spend a good deal of time developing his back story, grappling with how a man could become so morally twisted he’d willingly sacrifice the life of a child to protect his secrets. He’s a monster, but sometimes it’s fascinating to stare at monsters.
While Diggs is the star of the show, I develop Dorothy into a fully formed character as well. At twenty-one, she’s a reporter for the Kansas Ear, using her magic silver slippers to secure secret documents in an effort to expose Diggs as the villain she knows he is. She’s found the files that prove he’s constructing a fleet of zeppelins, and knows what he plans to use them for. But how can she convince her editor that the United States is about to invade an invisible island in the sky ruled by witches? When the power of the press looks like it might not be enough to put a halt to Diggs’ schemes, Dorothy isn’t afraid to try to stop Diggs first hand. Dorothy is a match for Diggs in wit and willpower. Unfortunately, he’s got an army, and all she has are a little dog, a trio of old friends, and a flying monkey. It’s an unfair fight; but, all the great fights pit unlikely heroes against giants.
Dorothy’s quest to stop the Wizard takes her to the darkest, most dangerous corners of Oz. It’s high adventure above the clouds, with the fate of both Heaven and Earth at stake. And… for five days only, it’s FREE! The publisher, Antimatter Press, has graciously agreed to make the book a free Kindle download from April 7 until April 12. Grab your copy today!