The Origins of SteamDuck (Part II)

MCMFriday, February 20, 2009

As you will recall from Part I of this series, I wrote Archimedes' Fish mostly as a means of breaking free from my G-rated "day job". I was prepared to let it go at that, but then I received an email I will never forget... it read, in its entirety: "That was the most offensive thing I have ever read."

"Ha ha ha," said I to myself, "We'll see about that."

So I began work on the next Archimedes-based book, of which I knew nothing except that it would be far more bloody and misdirected than anything I'd done before. When I'd started Archimedes' Fish, I'd begun with the concept of a naked duck and a fish, and worked from there. For this one, I wanted to challenge myself, so I came up with the most amazingly absurd opening line my brain could muster:

It was increasingly obvious that Thomas Edison’s tongue was not nearly as agile as he had suggested by mail, so Archimedes fed the sheep their biscuits and politely excused himself from the study.

From there, there was no place left to go but down. I tried my best to think of how to get Archimedes and Finley (the fish who now had a name) into as much trouble as possible. First, they run into a gimpy butler. Then they meet the butler's automaton. And then we discover that the automaton (named Elvis) is in love with a bar maid.

As soon as I wrote "bar maid", I knew where it had to go, so I wrote back to my aforementioned emailer and said: "The sequel will be worse. Stay tuned". For the rest of the book, the poor girl gets progressively more and more mutilated. All the reservations I'd had while writing Archimedes' Fish were melting away, and I was able to really enjoy the characters and the vicious world they were living in.

The only thing left to do was to think of a title, which I wanted to evoke a bit of the steampunk-esque quality the series was aimed at. After much deliberation, I went with The Dark Red Lacquer of the Heart, which was not entirely unlike The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, for which I apologize to the spirit of Douglas Adams.

When the book was released, I heard from all my old friends flamers, wishing pain and suffering upon me. Some criticized (rightly, I admit) that making very grown-up books with cartoon images was misleading and would entice children into things they shouldn't read. I admit that's a problem, but I DO have the big red warning labels on the back. So. Er. There.

As I was packaging the book, I decided to add a little note about the other books in this SteamDuck series, which was meant mostly as a joke (since there was only one other book at the time). I made up as many silly titles as I could, theoretically setting myself up for a horribly difficult future of back-pedalling and/or handcuffed writing. The next title was "Poke of the Titans", a title so intensely stupid that I remember thinking at the time: "Thank god I'm not going to actually write that..."

"Ha ha ha," said fate to itself, "We'll see about that."

Next week: Part III of the SteamDuck journey, where I finally figure out what the series is about.

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