You never know where an idea will come from. I’m always on the lookout for things I can use in my stories and when I listened to an episode of Lore (Episode 22: Over the Top, to be exact), I was given the kernel of an idea. I’d been listening to the podcast for a while, by that point. It’s one of the many I like to have on in the background while I’m engaged in tedious work. If you haven’t checked out Lore, I highly recommend it. This particular episode was about a mysterious entity who plagued London and England in the 19th century. His name was Spring-heeled Jack.
There are many stories about Spring-heeled Jack. Reported from the 1830 until the 1880s, most of the sightings centered around London and its suburbs, though some occurred in the north of England as well. In these sightings, a demonic-looking man would burst out of the shadows and accost someone, usually a young woman. He was usually described as a devil, or devil-like, with sharp claws at the tips of his fingers. Sometimes he was also said to be wearing a helmet or a black cloak. In other descriptions, he had red, glowing eyes. And he almost always made his escape by leaping away, hopping over tall obstacles as if it was nothing, hence the name.
The podcast episode was an interesting one, and it stuck with me. It was about the same time that I was working on plot and character development for Demon in the Machine. I knew Isabella was going to be a cat-burglar, and I knew I wanted her to have some mechanical leanings. The legend of Spring-heeled Jack was suddenly too good an opportunity to pass up.
I decided to work it in by having Isabella accidentally contributing to the urban legend. One of the items she invented to aid in her burgling was a jump rig. The device allowed her to easily get to roofs and to scale the sides of buildings. It also made traveling through London at night much easier. However, in her pale canvas suit and helmet, making long bounds through various neighborhoods, Isabella also created a bit of a scene, one that was remarked upon perhaps more than she was aware of. Still, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as no one could trace the legend back to her.
A couple of the details aren’t exactly right. Demon in the Machine takes place in the 1890s, by which time the scare had mostly died down. I considered moving the timeframe back a bit to take advantage of the period during which Jack was historically most active, but decided against it. The main thrust of the plot has to do with the rise of the automobile, which happens later in the 19th century. However, given that 19th century English inventions weren’t enhanced by demonic magic either (that we know of), I decided the liberties I was taking weren’t too terrible.
Making things up out of the whole cloth is great, but I do enjoy it when I can take something that existed and borrow part of it for one of my own stories. Steampunk as a genre works well for that in general. In particular, this strange little urban legend helped me add a lot of flavor to my story.
Demon in the Machine, out June 15, 2018
At the height of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, steam power and magic join forces to create wonders the world has never seen. But those wonders have a dark side—one that will soon force a reckoning few could have anticipated.
Half-demon Briar is content with her structured life as an archivist, a far cry from the chaos of her background and upbringing. Briar’s simple and predictable existence is rocked when she discovers something sinister powers one of the grand, new inventions of her era.
Isabella Castel, the only daughter of Viscount Sherard, is far from the brainless socialite she pretends to be. Isabella is everything Briar is not: passionate, creative and impulsive, but with secrets to rival even Briar’s own. Two more unlikely partners should not exist, yet if the women cannot find a way to work together, they will lose far more than their reputations.
Can a half-demon and a debutante work past their secrets before all hell breaks loose?