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Middle Grade, Young Adult, Confused Gen Xer

Yesterday was a big day for me. I completed all the edits on my Untitled Steampunk (yes, I know) and considered it ready to shop to agents. It’s been about a year since I last shopped out my Blood of a Godkiller manuscript to agents and I’m ready to get back to actively trying to sell a book. The elation, the pride, the self-satisfaction. I had a solid, worthy manuscript on hand.

For about 10 minutes.

Some little brain worm burrowed itself into my grey matter within moments of giving myself an internalized huzzah. The completed manuscript is 43,504 words. Prior to really getting involved in writing this story, I reread some of the books I read growing up. I needed a little experiential instruction on the YA format, so I read these familiar stories with a different eye. I looked more closely at character development, pacing, and content. I even looked at word counts. I felt confident. So where had this insatiable brainworm come from and why was it siphoning off this newfound confidence with such gusto?

Careful dissection of the nefarious beast revealed two things. First, is this manuscript intended to be YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade)? Second, does the admittedly sparse word count greatly affect which category this manuscript can be considered for? See, I’m not overly familiar with the MG classification as I had intended this story to fall into YA. Now that I wasn’t so certain, I had to do a little research.

According to Colleen Lindsay at the swivet, my manuscript falls just shy of expectations at the lowest end of YA (45k) and just over the highest end for MG (40k). Okay, that isn’t entirely disconcerting. It is acceptable to have some variation, I’m sure.
Well, then I read at www.fromthemixedupfiles.com that  YA generally starts around 55k words. Even so, they still classify MG as topping out around 40k, so there must be some shady grey area where anything between the two resides.

Naturally word count is hardly the defining factor in classifying a book. The writer at The Mixed-Up Files and Michelle Schusterman at YA Highway take a closer look at content as the dividing factor. Subject matter, naturally tops the list. The overarching theme in my Untitled Steampunk manuscript is self-discovery which, in both cases, seems to best fit into the MG category. However, being an American Steampunk tale, there are issues of ethnicity, class, and politics that are largely linked to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Someone dies. So, unfortunately, I fear that this particular designation is a bit murky as well.
Romance is quite disparate in MG and YA. In MG it would typically involve hand-holding and maybe a first kiss. In YA it can go so far as intercourse and could potentially deal with such subjects as rape and abandonment. Well, I’m not much for romance as a reader or, really, as a writer. Even so, I did include an unspoken adoration between two of the three protagonists. As it is neither central to the theme nor important to the story, it never progresses beyond furtive glances, lingering touches, and the like. So, does this mean it falls squarely within MG?

Finally, and most easily adjusted to suit my needs, is intended readership. While an 8 year-old would not be put off reading about a 13 year-old, it might be less likely that a 13 year-old would read about an 8 year-old protagonist. At present, my protagonists are 11, 11, and 12. Technically, that would place the book into the MG category. If I (or an agent or publisher) felt more keenly that the book should fall into the YA category, I could probably push the characters into the 13 and 14 range, but not much further. I wrote them to be independent and worldly and they are self-sufficient with little interaction with their parents. If I push the 1878 setting to 1880, I may have to change some of the historically accurate names and realign the timeline in reference to events, but I don’t think the characters would be forced to change much. It had always been my intention to give them more responsibility, freedom, and capability than might be expected of children.

So, yeah. I am somewhat deflated in comparison to my brief joy at having completed edits because it seems more work may need to be done. “More work” could include adding another 30-40k words if I decide the manuscript does not easily fit into the YA category.

I think I’ll go ahead and put together a query letter and let the responses I receive determine how much more work I may need to put into it, if any.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Perdido Street Station

“The polymorphous four-way wooing became fraught and competitive. Stroking, touching, arousing. Each moth in turn spiralled moonward, drunk on lust. It would split the seal on a gland hidden under its tail and exude a cloud of empathic musk.” China Miéville, Perdido Street Station

The first I’d heard of China Miéville was when I’d found by accident and voraciously devoured King Rat. It was Miéville’s first novel and I was enthralled. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this was before the Nook. I tried to remind myself to read more of his work, but prior to ebooks shopping for books tended to be more chance than planned. I was a faithful used book shopper, so the titles I picked up were limited to what I found. The good thing is, I still have a good paperback copy of King Rat that I will likely re-read soon. Don’t get me wrong, I love real, truly physical books. It just wasn’t as easy to follow up when it required a trip to the bookstore as it is now that I can look it up the moment I finish one.

At any rate, the release of his latest, Railsea, put his name back out into the æther. It tickled some dusty trapdoor buried beneath the old and mildewed cardboard boxes of my memory. So, naturally, I went to Google to solve the problem of my malformed memories.

Almost the moment Google spat out its many and varied responses, the rusted hinges of my locked away memories flew wide and scattered motes of dust and cobweb elsewhere in my sadly misused brainpan. Oh yes. I remember him now.

China Miéville is this sexy, left-wing, British Socialist usually counted among the New Weird. I spent a good few moments with his image search results before getting back to whatever it was I had googled for in the first place.

Rather than go straight for his latest release, I decided to stick with his own patterns of growth and publication. I had already read his first novel, so why not move on to his second. Perdido Street Station was quickly purchased and on hand for my leisure. A leisure that I put all else aside for.

This novel is not for the casual skimmer. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs of descriptive narrative to the next bit of dialogue, this is not for you. If you require that every element of a new and fantastic world be carefully described and explained with context, you can move on. In fact, if you require that a person, beast, or amalgamation of both be described so fully as to paint a picture for you, you need not stop here. Miéville draws Bas-Lag with both fat and fine pointed brushes, but leaves the sentient bits for you to design according to your needs. Most people/creatures are given a fair enough assessment that you can place them in your brain-movie without exacerbating any existing strains or fractures. Some are so indescribably beyond reference that any image of it limited only to the artistry of your own grey matter.

The city. The city-state of New Crobuzon is where the intricate details are laid out. If you’re familiar with Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar, you know exactly what I mean. If you aren’t, you probably don’t. I don’t even know that I can explain it without watering it down with insulting low-brow comparisons. Just know that Miéville knows grit and grime and urban sprawl and social dysfunction and architectural discord and decay like no other. I wanted to move into New Crobuzon just so that I could complain about it.

If you are a fan of fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, steampunk, or anything that skirts the mainstream, you will enjoy this book. No, enjoy isn’t even fair. You will eat this book with your fingers and face and suck the juices from its pages.

Next up for me, keeping a narrow eye on his own growth and progression, comes The Scar.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Beta Readers, Beta Reading

As is probably common with most writers, I have not had the best success in finding willing and able beta readers. More often, I can find willing people who are not exactly able. Well, able to actually ever offer up feedback anyway. It is a boon to find someone who can or will take the time to read a work in progress. It is, unfortunately, far worse when the best you get from that person is, ‘I liked it’ or, worst case scenario, you never hear from them again.

I am not too proud to mention that my mother (yes, my mother) has been my most effective beta reader for the purpose of pure editing over content editing. She is my mother, so I tend to fear that her lack of plot or story input is based in uterine muscle memory rather than a critical eye. Even so, she has the keenest eye for grammar and sentence structure that I could ask for. So good, in fact, that I don’t look for other beta readers in that area. What I hope for is a reader that can give me feedback about character development, plot momentum, setting, background, and all of the other various and sundry elements that are far less clinical and far more esoteric.

Jami Gold offered a pretty clear illustration on beta readers in her blog. The point she made that resounded most with me is this: If I want quality beta readers, I’d probably better start offering myself up for some beta reading as well. I had a dear friend who is an accomplished short story author ask me to beta read for her first full length, YA novel. Within two chapters, I confessed that it was getting in the way of my writing and I wouldn’t be dependable. Well, that is no longer an excuse. With three completed manuscripts in the editing process, I can safely allow myself to read now.

So, here it is: Writers, I am willing and able to be your beta reader. I confess, my tastes are limited to Steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, essays, and various YA genres. Anything else may find a hard time maintaining my attention, but I am willing to offer up brutal and constructive criticism if it means I might be able to call on you later. Feel free to contact me here and we can work out something based on your timeline.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Prologue Problems

I recently had a feedback coffee date with a couple of beta readers for my Untitled Steampunk novel. For the most part, there were no great concerns and only a few small points that needed addressed. One of which was how appropriate the use of Rapture in conversation is in a novel taking place in 1878. I’m sticking to my guns on this one not because I’m certain it’s the best use of the phrase, but because the Rapture has become culturally relevant even to young adult readers and I think it will have much more impact than the lead characters joking about transcendence.

At any rate, the other big idea I walked away with was the possibility of incorporating a prologue. See, the main story line includes massive golems crafted of technology and alchemy and put to work at the Orthodox Temples. While golems only appear a couple times in the story, they are a major driving factor behind the actions the main characters take. What my beta readers brought up was how little information about these golems is actually shared with the reader. It hadn’t even occurred to me that there might be more interest in a golem backstory.

Certainly I could sprinkle bits and pieces of golem history throughout the novel without interrupting the flow, but could a prologue better serve to provide this information and completely avoid any risk of reading as last minute thoughts poked into the story line? So I walked away from our meeting with the idea that yes, indeed, a prologue will best serve me. However, being who I am, I decided to do a little Googling to see how prologues are generally received.

From Foremost Press, I found this:

“A prologue is used mainly for two reasons.

1. To outline the backstory quickly and economically, saving the author from having to resort to flashbacks or ruses such as conversations or memories to explain the background to the reader. This is commonly done in science fiction and fantasy to show why a certain quest is being undertaken or what will happen in the future. The prologue is a better option than a first chapter bogged down in detail.

2. To hook the reader and provide the story question right up front, giving them a reason to keep turning the pages to find out the answer. Quite often the prologue relates to a scene near the end of the story, and the story itself then shows what has led up to this moment. When is this justified? Perhaps when you want to introduce your characters in a more leisurely fashion, and your reader’s experience with ‘meeting’ them will be enhanced by some sort of foreshadowing of what is to come.”

And from Writing-World.com, this:

“Any workplace has a list of dos and don’ts; the prologue is no exception. Here are some:

-The prologue should always be an integral part of the novel, written in the same spirit and style. Otherwise it’s a personal preface rather than an opening chapter.

-The prologue should read like a short story in every aspect, except for its ending. Rather than resolving all conflict, the end should leave the reader intrigued. Any conflict created in the prologue, however, must be resolved somewhere along the plot.

-The prologue should start with a strong and intriguing hook as if it were the only beginning of the novel. This does not exempt Chapter One from beginning with an equally strong and intriguing hook.

-The prologue must stand out from the body of the novel in at least one fashion: the time of the events (which should be stated both in the prologue and in the first chapter), the POV character, and so on. The reader should feel a distinct switch in his mind when he begins reading Chapter One. And just as important, he should never experience the same switch again within the novel. For example, if the difference between the prologue and Chapter One is an interval of five years, you may not fast-forward time again within the novel.”

Beyond that, there were blogs like this one from Pens and Swords that really makes a person second guess any inclusion of a prologue:

“Another pitfall that writers fall into is turning the prologue into a dumping ground for backstory on the world. I did this myself with Maiden and the origin of Saestra Karanok. Instead of weaving the depth and richness of the world into the story, the writer crams it all into the beginning and promptly forgets it. Prologues set an expectation for the reader that the information revealed will have significant relevance later on in the story. Fail to do this and you let the reader down.”

So more than anything, I am now convinced that I’m going to have to pay extra attention to creating this prologue so that it isn’t just a dumping place for information I didn’t have the foresight to include the first time around. Sometimes I wonder if my compulsive need to Google isn’t as self-destructive as other people’s need to WebMD every occasional symptom and consequently blow seasonal allergies into a migrating calcified fetus.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Steampunk and Steampunk Accessories

Because I am no different than anyone else, I thought it important to include goggles in my Steampunk manuscript. I wouldn’t leave a dragon out of a story about St. George and I wouldn’t leave sex from a vampire novel, so here you have it, Electro-sensitive Nightlight Goggles:

“I figure that we’re going to places they might not have light and my pocket watch isn’t going to do if we get separated,” he said. Oscar’s stomach sunk a bit at the suggestion that he might end up separated from the others, lost in the winding dark of the Coalslides. Even so, the nightlight goggles Billy had brought back were just intriguing enough to put him off his worries. They were typical of an airship pilot’s goggles in that they were held together on a thick band of treated leather. The eyepieces were pink-tinted glass set in metal casings and included a spare set of lenses in light blue hinged to the sides.

Oscar fastened the goggles to his head and felt around the edges of the eyepieces. Without much trouble, he located the on switch and gave it a push. Light blossomed from the outermost edges of the lenses, lighting the area before him without hampering his sight. They were in a well-lit corridor now, but it seemed likely that these were quality nightlights and would serve them well enough in the dark. Experimentally, he pushed on the extra lenses, sliding the pale blue lenses over the pink ones.

With the inclusion of the new lens, faint blueish lines appeared all over, running alongside the corridor, the length of the ceiling, and even the floor. He peered closely and saw that the lines were, in fact, several of the wires and thicker rubber tubes that ran endlessly throughout the Coalslides. He noted that the bare electric light bulbs clinging to the ceiling had taken on a similar blue glow.

Oscar pushed the goggles up onto his forehead and blinked. The bulbs and wires ceased glowing. He slid the goggles down again and the faint blue lines reappeared. Pushing the goggles back up on his forehead again, he looked to see his friends doing exactly the same thing.

“What is it?” Constance asked in awe. They both looked to Billy. He was grinning from ear to ear and staring up at a swinging light bulb directly above their heads.

“Electro-sensitive lenses,” he said in a low voice full of wonder. “He said they let you see electricity.” Billy jerked a thumb in the direction of the peddler he’d purchased the goggles from. The soot-stained man waved at them, grinning in appreciation of their astonishment.

“See electricity?” Constance repeated. “That’s marvelous.” Oscar could only nod in agreement. If such a thing existed aboveground, he’d never heard of it. “These must have cost you a fortune.”

“Nah, not at all. It did cost my Pa a few bright pennies though.” Billy grinned and they grinned back. It was no secret that the Lemp family had as much money as anyone could imagine. They even had great steel vaults inside their opulent mansion to keep it in. If Billy spread the wealth around a bit, he was never proud or arrogant about it and he always made it very clear that he had no particular attachment to it anyway.

 

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Busy Busy Busy

I’m actually on a very nice roll with the editing today, so rather than spend time deciding on a topic, I’m going to give you another excerpt from my still untitled YA steampunk manuscript:

“That hatch up top inside her gullet there is the coalslide, namesake of the whole of the undercity. Folk aboveground dump the coal and we open the slides up to let it in as we need it.” The Furnacemaster paused with a twinkle in his eye. “But there’s a better reason everything got named after them chutes, of course. And I suppose the fastest way to get you where you need to be will help explain that.”

Furnacemaster Joseph Locklear led Oscar and his friends to the room across the hall. If he closed his eyes and gave it a second, Oscar could imagine that this room was identical to the last minus the actual machinery. A black scorch outlined the spot where a furnace used to sit and several open holes in the wall and one in the ceiling marked where the missing furnace had connected to the rest of the system. The most obvious difference other than the missing equipment was a metal track running at an angle from the coalslide to the ash chute cut in the floor. A line of what looked to be upright leather mattresses sat against one wall, looking very out of place.

“First time tends to give folks the shakes, but seeing as how you rode an air duct down here, I think you might enjoy this.” The towering Lamplighter strode to the line of leather mattresses and grabbed one. Walking back to the center of the room, he stopped and yanked on a beaded chain hanging alongside the iron track. A red light flickered on inside the coalslide and was reflected by a second inside the ash chute. Joseph Locklear set the mattress against the tracks. Oscar saw then that the bottom side was fixed with a line of adjustable clamps and small, inset wheels. Moving his large hands with surprising dexterity, the man snapped the clamps loosely over the tracks and gave the whole of it an experimental jostle. It moved smoothly up and down the tracks.

“Now, who’s first?”

Completely clueless as to what exactly he’d be volunteering for, Oscar stepped back slightly, putting himself behind both Billy and Constance. Constance merely shook her head and set her face back to the unreadable mask she’d worn since they met the man. Billy, naturally, stepped forward excitedly. If there were times that Oscar envied him his courage, and there were, this was certainly not one of them.

“Aright then, listen close. Once I’ve got you strapped in, you’ll be moving fast. Keep your arms in if’n you want to keep them and try not to get sick all over the place. The rest of us have to slide through anything you leave behind.” Joseph Locklear gave Billy an earnest look and then a lopsided grin when he realized that Billy was fidgeting in excitement. “In you go then, feet on the brakes and hands on the lights.”

While he spoke, he pointed out the particular pieces of the slide. At the bottom, jutting out from the base of the leather sled-bed, was a pair of peddles intended to slow or stop momentum. He assured them they’d have no need for those as they were going to the last stop where springs and lock-stop gears would slow and halt them. Even so, he pointed out, if someone was hopping in below them, they’d want to slow themselves rather than let the safety stops engage. Just as he’d done when he lit the red lights here, anyone hopping in below would light red lights which would set a stop at the slide above them. If they didn’t brake to slow, the stop would be abrupt. When he said abrupt, he said it with the sort of gravity that strongly encouraged using the brakes.

The lights were a pair of pressure activated electric torches set in either side of the sled, very much like handles. When Billy stepped up on the base and grabbed at the smooth copper grips, twin beams lit at their bases, shining downward toward his feet. It was that moment that it dawned on Oscar exactly what Billy had so readily volunteered for. Constance seemed to arrive at the same conclusion in the same moment. The grimy Lamplighter had just finished strapping broad leather belts across Billy’s chest, waist, and thighs as both Oscar and Constance opened their mouths to protest. A moment too late, their tongues caught as he stepped on a release set in the floor alongside the ash chute.

Both Billy and slide disappeared into the hole with a creak and a hum. As the wheels on the slide carried him along the tracks, further away and deeper into the Coalslides, the low hum slowly faded into nothing. Oscar felt his stomach sink into his knees.

“You’re not getting me on that thing,” Constance said matter-of-factly, verbalizing Oscar’s particular feelings exactly. “There’s no way that is even remotely safe.” At that she set her fists into her hips and furrowed her brow. She looked immovable.

“Ah, well, there’s always the corridors.” Joseph Locklear grinned at the two of them. “If you aim yourselves down and start walking, you’ll find your friend at the bottom come morning. It really is a long walk, though I’m happy to let you make it.” He planted his own considerably larger hands on his hips, mimicking Constance’s own stalwart pose. For a moment, Oscar wasn’t sure who he was more frustrated with, but that settled itself soon enough. It wasn’t the Lamplighter’s fault that Billy had a tendency to leap into dark holes without thinking it through. Even so, he wasn’t excited about what he was preparing to do. Swallowing hard, he stepped to the line of leather-wrapped slides and selected one that looked as sturdy and safe as he could hope for.

“Alright, I’ll take this one,” he jerked a thumb at it and walked back to the tracks. He gave Constance a wry smile that felt like a grimace. “Look, he’s right. We can’t let Billy go in alone. There are displaced folk down there with belowground dispositions.” He emphasized the words the Lamplighter had used to describe some of the Peddlers, hoping that Constance would understand. Not that she wouldn’t understand his meaning, of course. No, he hoped that she would understand why he wasn’t taking her side in this. He was, ultimately, forcing her to take the slide as well.

Constance surprised him with a brilliant smile that lit her eyes.

“Right on, then. I’ll take that slim one at the end; it should get a bit more speed than that old dump Oscar’s picked.” Her wild grin dropped his stomach past his knees and into his ankles. Constance had never had misgivings about the coalslides at all. She’d merely put on an act to give him the opportunity to take the cowardly way out. And he’d fallen for it so completely that he was almost surprised to see himself already strapped against the slide with his hands clenching the grips and his feet already poised to push on the brakes.

“You’re a rat, Constance Scott,” Oscar started when the bottom fell out from under him and his slide rushed into the ash chute at an impossible speed.

If the slide down the airduct had been fun, the coalslide was awful and wonderful and impossible all at once. The moment Joseph Locklear hit the release, Oscar dropped straight into the darkness with gut-wrenching speed. He reflexively grabbed at the handgrips, summoning up the forward lights to illuminate the narrow chute. What he saw in those twin beams was breathtaking.

The rails ran down the center of the chute, twisting and angling their way at a fast clip downward. At irregular intervals, a burst of green light would flash past his head, presumably bulbs meant to mark the route as clear. When he came to the first turn, his heart nearly stopped in his chest. Below him he could see the sharp turn of the track and the flat surface of metal that marked where he would collide if the sled failed to make the curve. He instinctually smashed his foot down on the brake to slow into the turn and the sled slackened its pace to slide around the bend.

Impressed by the clever mechanisms that gave him control over the sled, Oscar grinned and whooped wildly, letting loose the brake. Whatever misgivings he’d harbored before were lost in the pure joy of the reckless ride.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Deliberate Distractions

This morning was the first in a week that I woke up and had nothing specific that I had to do, nowhere in particular that I had to go, and no-one I absolutely had to see.

So, predictably, very little got done. I did manage to make it through the first two chapters of my Steampunk manuscript and tease out whatever little errors or inconsistencies I could find or had been pointed out by the one (and only) beta reader that has finished it and given me feedback. Unfortunately, I had pretty much vivisected that same 24 page portion over and over while I was waiting for feedback, so there wasn’t much to do. I think I added stripes to a hat and split a maybe-too-long sentence into two maybe-too-short sentences.

Then I did a bit of work-work which, admittedly, means I switched windows and Facebooked and Twittered and Google+’d for a bit. That is what I get paid for, so it isn’t as shiftless as it sounds. Then I decided that maybe I needed to go in to work for a minute. I had some pictures I wanted to take to post on their social media sites and it’s just around the corner, so why not? And, well, since I was out I might as well meet a friend for lunch, right? Naturally, I got home and got to uploading, labeling, and sharing the photos.

So there I am, done with work-work for the time being and already sitting at the computer, so I should have gotten back to the editing. Well, sure, but it isn’t going anywhere and I did have some comments on this blog to respond to. A few new posts from blogs that I’ve started following. Probably new blogs to find that I might eventually want to read. Part of blogging, I am told by the very inspired insider resource of WordPress itself, is creating and developing community by participating in the ‘blogosphere’ which, if I’m being honest, I think looks like this.

Well, I was on WordPress anyway, so I didn’t have any good reason not to go ahead and write about how I’m not getting anything done on the thing I most want to get done. My brain has recused itself on the grounds that any testimony it provides will only further complicate its own participation as both prosecutor and defender in the case that is my procrastination.

So. Tonight: phone off, pointy editing hat on.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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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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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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