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Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Steampunk Aesthetic

I think the look of Steampunk is likely the first thing to draw a person in. Unlike fantasy or mystery or romance, the aesthetic of the Steampunk genre is a defining characteristic that, though open to interpretation, is pretty firmly rooted in some general concepts. Victorian era clothing, steam- and coal-powered technology, goggles, bustles, faded leather work gear, bowler hats and spats: these are all things that come to mind when I think of Steampunk. Granted, offworld Steampunk is likely to take considerable license with the imagery, but there’s still a pretty good chance for a corset to show up.

The illustrators of the genre have put out some really impressive pieces. This particular piece by PReilly is one of my favorites and, considering his collection, it was hard to pick just one. The brass and copper, almost sepia, tones of the image lend an air of history to it that transplants it firmly into a time since passed before you even note the top hats, walking canes, and the fine hat and bustle on the woman in the bottom left. The tremendous automaton, reminiscent of The Iron Giant, looks harmless and functional – just how I like my giant, mindless automatons.

http://www.deviantart.com/ is solid place to go image hunting for more Steampunk art and, really, almost any sort of art you’re looking for from yiffing furries to Bob Ross tribute landscapes. The search feature is pretty solid. Use it or ignore it as you see fit. It isn’t always safe for work, but you could probably get a few good searches in before something you shouldn’t be looking at in a grade school computer lab pops up.

 

The costumes people put together for conventions or gatherings or whatever other reason they’re using as an excuse to go about dressed as a dirigible pilot are quite impressive. This fellow is VladislausDantes, another deviantart member. The goggles on the top hat are pretty characteristic of the Steampunk aesthetic, but that’s just the tip of the coal-driven, clockwork iceberg. A brass breastplate, artificial and articulated robotic limb, and what may or may not be shoulder mounted flamethrowers. A must have for any Victorian-era gentleman.

(I have a friend who has recently started piecing together his own Steampunk-inspired weaponry for fun and I don’t doubt that he’ll soon be tailoring waistcoats and knickers.)

Whatever the reason that people have found themselves interested in or inspired by the genre, I think that the look and feel of Steampunk is more important to its essence than would be true of any other genre. Fantasy and Science Fiction can develop the same sort of fan base, but it tends to be specific to a single author or his/her environment. Lord of the Rings junkies and Trekkies are certainly out there, but they exist as tribute to one world and one created reality. Because the imagery of Steampunk is so prevalent, the art and costume inspired by it more easily spans a multitude of Steampunk environments. Eventually, I will make my way to one of the many Steampunk conventions. Once I’ve crossed that threshold, I fully expect the first bowler hat to appear in my closet.

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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Wormfall

Yesterday was the beginning of something we call Wormfall in our house.

Best as we can tell, the neighbor’s enormous old tree is infested with thrips. Whether they’re actually thrips or not is still up for debate, but our best Googling suggests that this is what the little beasties are. Every year near the earliest part of spring, when the tree is budding, a shower of wee little worms begins and lasts for nearly two weeks. You don’t know it’s started until you’ve spent a minute outside and suddenly find your clothes and hair dusted with tiny squirming things much smaller than a maggot, but no less repulsive. By time Wormfall has ended and someone (not me, oh no, not me) has taken a broom to the back patio, easily thousands of the things have died on the concrete. Even the birds eventually give up on trying to make a meal of the minuscule monsters.

I took the horrifying event as inspiration for an encounter in Heart of the Realm, the sequel manuscript to my first fantasy tale. Following is the passage that first introduces Wormfall:

“Wormfall,” he said in awe. He felt both Eloise and Lira take opposite hands and drag themselves up from the ground. The girls clung to him with a desperate strength as the trio took in the awful sight before them.

Jutting from a gaping hole in the earth, a giant mass quivered and shook, knocking back trees and crushing men with its astounding weight. As big around as a covered wagon, the worm was a sickly yellow-white stained by dirt and raw ore. Rather more fat than segmented, its body bulged and roiled as it flailed about blindly. The surfaced end of the weirding beast tapered off into a puckered hole the size of a melon, the only sign that the monster had a head at all. No eyes or nose or feelers, just a mouth like an enormous ass. As they watched, the beast recoiled in on itself then stretched upward, vomiting up a virulent green mass that flew through the air and caught a frantic stallion in the chest.

The wet globule stuck to the horse’s flesh, igniting the poor beast with caustic acids. Even as its hide caught fire and it reared backward in terror, the projectile uncoiled, revealing a puppy-sized replica of the adult burnworm. The newborn spawn writhed against the dying horse’s burned skin, burrowing its way into the poor beast’s body even as it screamed in agony and collapsed to the ground.

“That was Sunny Day. I rode him when we left Canon.” Lira’s tiny voice was flat and hollow. Rane felt her grip loosen before she crumpled to the ground in a dead faint.

“Wormfall,” Eloise repeated Rane’s word, awestruck. “The burnworms rarely come this far north to birth their clutch.”

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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What’s in a Name?

I recently added a @tobiaswrites account on Twitter and an interesting tweet by Jonathan D. Beer got me thinking about naming characters in a manuscript. He tweeted “I hate inventing names!” and I got on the Google machine to bring up some name generators as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for him. I’ve come across these things nearly since online billboards and 2400 baud modems were the norm. For the most part, they have always provided awful concoctions like Lily Night and Enoch Trueblood (courtesy of the Vampire Name Generator) or Alfmir Matmar the White and Wyraryradas (thank you, Random Name Generator). Quite by accident, I found this Random Name Generator that managed to spit out quite a few reasonable and generally usable names providing you aren’t looking for otherworldly names.

In writing up my Steampunk manuscript, I worked a lot with websites that list popular 19th century baby names such as babynamesgarden.com as well as sites that provide the names of historical figures from the same era such as famouspoetsandpoems.com. From there, it’s really a matter of flavor.

In writing my fantasy manuscripts, the effort was considerably less reliant on existing websites. Some names belong to characters that share specific traits with people I know in real life. When these characters were inspired by people I actually know, I tended to pay some vague homage to that person without it seeming contrived. So, for instance, a key character in Blood of a Godkiller was written to display the same social ease and indefatigable good nature that a friend has. Beyond that, they don’t share too entirely much, so I didn’t want to make an obvious reference. Instead, the character and the actual person share the first and last letters of their name and everything in between was determined by what sounded good, fit with other names I had created, and read easily in the mind without too many possible variations by reader.

As a reader, fantasy names can help to develop the world I am experiencing or they can be an enormous lodestone. If I have to wrap my brain-mouth around ‘Wyraryradas’, I am likely to nickname the character something like Wormhat or Wordy-Word-Ass because I can’t for the life of me imagine what the author intended. If Wordy-Word-Ass is supposed to be a strong, silent barbarian from some mythic wasteland, the essence of the character loses a lot because of his ridiculous name. Although not absent in fantasy, the damnable apostrophe tends to make a mess of so much science fiction in the same way. I’m sorry if I can’t feel for the poor alien orphan named A’gli’zzt’tig’tig, but she reads like the coffee maker just blew a fuse.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Recent Reads

I try not to read much when I’m writing because I fear accidental inclusion of someone else’s ideas in my own writing. The last thing I need is to throw myself into editing and find out I’ve incorporated a hobbit or a warrior polar bear into my story line without realizing it.

That being said, while I work on edits I’m less likely to incorporate new components into the manuscript, so I read. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, so I take to these opportunities as if the only sustenance that will keep my withered heart beating is book after book after book.

Much like everyone else that was not currently in the know, I read The Hunger Games trilogy. I haven’t put much effort into reading other reviews, however, because I have plans to see the movie on Wednesday. Since one wrong Google could lead me to a movie review, I feel safer in waiting until I’ve seen it to see how other readers received the books.

For my part, I was initially very put off by the first person, present tense narrative. I get this feeling that someone, somewhere decided this was a good idea and I couldn’t agree less. Even so, I thought the book was very well written, the characters easy to love or hate as required, and the world so easy to envision that I almost suspect our own world tip-toes a fine line with that conjured up version.

The second and third books were good and I didn’t find myself liking the characters any more or less than I had, but the change from personal story to epic struggle was less endearing to me. I love a good epic adventure tale, but the stark shift from one life to all lives in balance created a bit of discord in the series for me.

Afterward, I tore through Shelley Adina’s first two novels in her Magnificent Devices series. Lady of Devices and Her Own Devices are available now and the third, Magnificent Devices, is expected this year. I found these books to be the best sort of thing to satisfy an afternoon with little else to do. They read very quickly.

Unlike the American Steampunk that I’ve been gravitating to more recently, these are unapologetically British. True, the third promises to take place in the Canadas and the States, but most traditional Steampunk fans will be pleased with the class structure, ever-present bustles and corsets, and a power struggle between the Wits (educated class) and Bloods (nobility). If you lean more toward the gritty and dystopian brand of Steampunk, there is an almost cartoonish underworld of crime central to the story. It isn’t exactly believable, but it didn’t diminish what was really just a fun read anyway.

 All in all, I do not count the time spent reading either series as time wasted. I expect that I will not purchase another NOOKbook until I have completed a short story or two to submit somewhere, but I am thankful for the respite they gave me.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Age of Content

One of the difficulties I’ve had in writing a young adult manuscript was determining age appropriate content. As I don’t have children of my own and play Bad Uncle to my nephews and nieces, I’m not able to use much of our interactions as a basis for determining story lines. I have a soft spot for reading young adult fiction, but that includes generally benign content like Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted to the much more intense Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

Given that my (still) untitled Steampunk story takes place in 1878, there were very delicate subjects to either deal with or neglect as possibly unnecessary to the plot. The Civil War is still a fresh memory and the Reconstruction Era has barely passed. Add to that the inclusion of an African American girl as one of the three protagonists and I knew I had to determine how much or how little I wanted to deal with the cultural atmosphere of Saint Louis in 1878. Moreover, I needed to decide what segment of the extensive range of ‘young adults’ I was writing to and what amount of historical accuracy they expected in a novel.

The three main characters (Oscar Tumblety, William ‘Billy’ Lemp Jr., and Constance Scott) are ages 11 and 12. I decided to look at the young adult fiction released in 1986, when I was 11, as well as some more contemporary young adult books. 1986 included Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold by Terry Brooks, and Her Majesty’s Wizard by Christopher Stasheff. I have a pretty strong memory of each and don’t recall any of them touching on anything too dark or disturbing. In comparison, today’s holy grail of young adult fiction, the Harry Potter series, is practically built around death and abandonment as concerns central to the main character. Current Steampunk authors that, I think, are feeding the same age group I’m aiming for include Cherie Priest and Shelley Adina and they deal quite differently with the problems on different continents.

All in all, I didn’t get anything solid to go on because as would be expected, book content is as variable as the authors that write them and the readers that read them. For my own purposes, I decided that I wouldn’t completely ignore the bigotry and politics that come with writing in the period, but I also didn’t dwell on it as central to the plot. It isn’t. Constance is referred to as a Negro at one point, and the kids give an interesting bit of commentary on the difference between Hasidic and Reform Jews, but in general the story is about adventure, exploration, and discovering internal strengths rather than adjusting to a new world in the wake of a war. I’ll just have to see if my beta readers feel that I handled it appropriately.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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An Excerpt from Untitled Steampunk

A little teaser from my young adult Steampunk manuscript:

“Yeah, yeah he did. A bad one this time, too. Pop had to call in Dr. Adolphus.” This time Oscar shot his eyes upward and caught Constance’s startled look. Billy stood facing away, peering out over the shimmering expanse of the Mississippi.

Dr. Adolphus was the alchemist Billy’s father kept on payroll at the brewery. He was a forbidding man that stood twice as tall as anyone had a right too, German or not. Even in a summer as unforgiving as this, the bushy-browed man wore a long, thick coat that swung around his ankles and a fine bowler atop his hairless head. He carried a stout cane with a cut crystal head that shone with rainbow colors even in the dark and he spoke with an accent so thick that even the Lemps had a hard time understanding him. And Billy’s father was first generation, born to a full-blooded German father.

Alchemy was hardly forbidden in medicine – the nuns at the Convent of the House of Good Shepherd might actually have a Philosopher’s Stone if the rumors were true. The Jews were rumored to use alchemy in both medicine and the creation of their hulking Golems, and the Old Italian stregas on The Hill concocted potions and poultices in the shadow of the Social Evil Hospital despite protests from the Archbishop. Even so, alchemy was the last hope for most folk. Coalminers coughing up black bits of lung, dirigible pilots burned and broken in explosions, and the mothers of stillborn babes are the sorts that look to alchemy for a cure.

“Oft as not, that sort of cure is worse than what broke you in the first place.” Oscar heard Constance repeat the old saying right alongside him. Their voices sang in a creepy unison that brought them both up short. All this talk of alchemy and Billy’s ailing brother was getting depressing.

“Well, he’s hardly going to just let Ick die. His pride and joy and all.” Billy kicked at the loose rock, sending a stone skimming across the surface of the Mississippi to disappear in the murky water. “And besides, he can hardly get out of bed this summer. If it means he can get a little sunlight, let the old alchemist pump him full of whatever he’s got.”

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Tobias writes…about Tobias.

There are enough sites out there suggesting that any would-be author have a built-in platform that I’ve decided to give it a go. Consider this your induction into my platform. From here out, I will consider you part of my ability to sell my manuscripts to an agent or publisher. Thank you for that.

Since I was laid off in March 2010, I’ve pushed myself to write. Not just the sort of cleansing writing I started out with that illustrated violent scenarios involving former employers and creative makeshift weaponry. No, I actually put a lot of effort into creating something that I think readers will enjoy reading. That said, I have neither succeeded nor failed so far. I have written. A lot. I have not, however, sold anything just yet.

I have three manuscripts in various states of edit right now that are not currently being shopped out to agents because I don’t think they’re ready. My first, an epic fantasy involving a dead god and an apple farmer, was sent out to a total of ten agents. Of those, four emailed with replies to my query letter. Of those, one was simply not interested and the other was not currently taking on new projects. The other two both asked to read more. After submitting larger excerpts, both of those agents wished me well and sent me on my way. I put it to the side while I started on a sequel manuscript.

As I plowed through the second manuscript, November 2011 rolled in and I decided to use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to get my feet wet elsewhere. Specifically, wet with condensed steam and sooty coal runoff. While I did not complete the project in a month, I did well enough to finish my young adult, Steampunk manuscript in February 2012. It is currently in the hands of my beta readers, hopefully accruing considerable constructive feedback.

While I wait for Untitled Steampunk (working title is Unititled. How avant-garde) to return for edits, I am doing rewrites on Blood of a Godkiller, my original fantasy manuscript. I also have designs on some short stories I’d like to work through and, of course, I’m going to take a stab at this blog. For now, I’ll spend a minute getting familiar with WordPress and see how much customization I’m truly interested in doing.

Blood of a Godkiller (84,588 words)
Heart of the Realm (80,372 words, unfinished)
Untitled Steampunk (42,814 words)

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Uncategorized