Archive for June, 2010

One of the questions writers get most often is, where do you get your ideas? Now as much as I’d like to be a smartass and answer that I get them from my local tea shop with biscuits on the side, cream and two sugars, I know that’s not right. It certainly doesn’t help you understand what it’s like, which for whatever reason, is fascinating. The truth is that writers’ brains are rather like Tesla Coils.

Sparks of ideas are everywhere in the air. I’ve talked with many writers and while we’re all different, we’re all the same in the fact that anything can generate an idea. Reading the back of a cereal box, a snippet of conversation in an elevator, stumbling across an interesting fact in a magazine article or during a visit to a place on a child’s field trip. Heck, I even got an idea once for a novel while sitting in a college botany class and I found out aphids are born pregnant (which started me on a whole story set of messing with cross-DNA hybridization and what would happen if you crossed aphid DNA with human DNA for an easily reproduced, cheap source of workers.) But I digress. As a writer you simply look at the world differently.

Our brains are somehow wired at just the right frequency to pick up that spark of idea out of the ether and created an electrical connection with it. (Which, I believe, is a valid reason why so many writers can pick up the same story idea at the same time, and yet each story will turn out differently.) From there the light and intensity of those ideas grows to such a degree that it is perfectly obvious to those around us if we don’t release those ideas we might potentially explode. Hey, it’s either that or talk these stories and characters out of our heads to a therapist which would require us to take on yet another day job just to pay for the numerous sessions. It’s simply much easier to write it down!

The pulse of energy and light you see is the resulting book. It’s the result of amplifying those ideas, letting them bounce around, connecting with other particles of ideas until they are finally released. While I tend to plot, like Marie-Claude does, I usually only have bits of the ideas. The book isn’t fully formed in my head until I begin writing it only because as the characters grow and change they add extra things that I didn’t think of before which deepen the story. In some ways I discover things about the world I’m writing in (regardless of how much research I’ve done previously) that I didn’t know before.

For instance, in my current book, The Hunter, I didn’t realize the whole historical dynamic of the Hunter/Darkin relationship. Sure my characters are modern Victorian Hunters, but when I started peeling back where they’d come from, how the Book of Legend they are seeking came to be and why it was scattered across the globe, a whole history (which you may never even see in the stories) started to emerge. It’s a legacy that impacts my three brothers and echoes the past relationship of the three brothers back in the Dark Ages who originally scattered the book to protect it.

So you see, in many ways, writers’ brains are like Tesla Coils. We store ideas, gather them from the air and release them in short, powerful bursts people can actually identify as books. But the proces of gathering those ideas, storing them up, working with them is always ongoing. That’s why writers often carry something to jot notes down because ideas can hit anywhere and any time. I even knew one writer who had a waterproof diving tablet so she could take notes in the shower.

And while writers can convey those ideas in a brilliant display of light called a book, we also need a receptor, a reader to make the transfer of those ideas complete. So see, you the reader are an integral part to how a writer’s brain is like a Tesla Coil. What can I tell you? Writers are just on a different frequency.

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Someone recently asked me about my forthcoming novel Innocent Darkness and a) whether or not I plotted it out and b) why I chose Steampunk.

Oddly enough Innocent Darkness wasn’t originally Steampunk. It was originally set in present day Sylmar, California. It was the first story where I had actually plotted out the entire story, on paper before I ever wrote it. (Granted, by plotted I mean I had a four page summary from start to finish so i wouldn’t forget my ideas).

I’d been really wanting to write a Steampunk YA and but was having trouble thinking of ideas. So, I thought about the ideas I had in development and went “hmmm, I bet I could Steampunk that.”

I got the idea of Noli’s flying car and started working out basic details in my head, since Steampunking the story changed a lot of things right off the bat. Then, I sat down and began to write, trying to follow my basic story, but make it Steampunk as I wrote.

I already had a working knowledge of Steampunk and had read a few Steampunk books. Still, I did a lot of research as I went along, because every Steampunk world is unique and I needed to decide what elements worked for my story.

Flying cars, evil headmistresses, and opium dens all seemed to easily find their way into the story. These elements help to bring out the “Steampunkyness” of the story. Steampunk is also all about the gadgets, so I had to create my technology as I went along, in addition to creating the “rules” of the world that any paranormal romance or urban fantasy has.

It’s always fun to bring in familiar Steampunk archetypes–air pirates, mad scientists, inventors, etc). But the trick to making your story fresh is to give it your own twist.

Steampunk can take place anything, anywhere. Instead of modern day, it now took place in an alternate version of Victorian California. I had to create an explanation as to why there were now flying cars and different technology. Every alternate history has some sort of reason as to why it differentiates from our own.

The Victorian elements were fun to add and a lot of them simply fell into place–others I had to really search for and think about to find something that was just right. Googling Victorian torture methods gives you interesting results.

I’m a pantser by nature, but I didn’t find operating with this basic outline to be stifling because I used it as a guideline, not a template. It wasn’t detailed so there was a lot of room to add twists, turns, and even surprise characters. A major character from the outline never “appeared” in Steampunked version, but a new, very vibrant character very naturally took her place and had her own interesting quirks and back story. I discovered a main character had a dark and painful past and a character I hoped to include never made it past a mention or two (hopefully he’ll make the next book.)

It was an interesting experience for me, working from an outline that was very modern and adding the Steampunk elements as I went along. The basic plot and the main characters are the same, but two stories are wildly different. One thing I did like was when I got stuck I got go “where am I in the outline?” and figure out how I was going to get there. If i found something didn’t work, I simply changed it.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a hard-core plotter. But it was a fun experiment.

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By Marie-Claude Bourque

So with all the good news of publication around, I remain the one blogging Lolita unpublished in Steampunk (but so so thrilled for Liz, Theresa and Suzi- can’t contain my anticipation for these releases!)

Yes I got my first gothic paranormal book out with hopes to continue the series but for this steampunk novel, I’m back to square one, in completely uncharted territories.

And if you think being published elsewhere helps you sell, I’ll tell you this. It may help get you read faster but in the end it comes down to the same think as everybody else who is unpublished. Does the editor like your book? Does she love it enough that she wants to read it many times and think about it a lot and want to read more books by you. Does she think she can sell this to the public?

So here I am, back to square one and guess what? I love it!

Somehow not having this pressure of performing, not thinking of reviews and sales, is totally liberating!

I’m having a ball!!! Because I’m trying to build a carreer, my steampunk contains elements from my gothic paranormal series: mysticism, sex, action and strong characters. But they are having an adventure and I’m currently in this mode where I’m throwing in everything but the kitchen sink! Airship, mad scientist, Victorian lady, oriental courtesan, inventors and cryptozologist, desert travel, steam train, a grand society ball and a sinking island, home to a coven of witches.

Just plain old fun. Once I decided that this was my “hobby” book, I started to free myself and the writing flowed. (see the plotted scene list pictured here)

I have a plan though, I am an organized hobbyist! I write a minimum of 500 words every morning. As a mom with kids at home, I need to wake up an hour before everyone to do so.

My goal is to finish it this summer and pitch it at the Emerald City Writers Conference in Seattle early Oct. (we all need a goal right!) so far so good, I’m more than one third in and the book is entirely plotted. I could write the proposal in a couple of day!

Wish me luck!

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I had the opportunity to interview Ben Winters, author of such mashup novels from Quirk such as Android Karenina and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

Here’s the book trailer for “Android Karenina.” In case you missed our recent book review, it’s a “mashup” where Ben has taken the text of Tolstoy’s classic and Steampunked it.

Q&A with Author Ben Winters

Lolita Suzanne: Hi Ben! Thank you so much for agreeing to visit us.

Ben Winters: Oh, my pleasure! Thanks for having me!

LS: So, Ben, have you always wanted to be a writer?

BW: Oh, sure, although my original ambitions were mostly geared writing for performance. I was always in bands, writing lyrics, and after college I spent some time doing mostly mediocre standup comedy; eventually I ended up as a journalist, and spent half a decade or so writing for the theater. These days my primary focus is on fiction.

LS: How did you get into writing mash-ups? What are the unique challenges to this particular genre that you wouldn’t find in say…urban fantasy?

BW: I got into mash-ups by the most wonderful serendipity imaginable. I was living in Philadelphia for one year, about four years ago, for reasons having to do with my wife’s career. Our little apartment in Old City, on Church Street, was across the street from a small publisher called Quirk Books.

I pitched one thing they didn’t take; edited a book for them that never got published, and finally ended up writing a bunch of the Worst Case Scenario Survival Guide books for them. So when Quirk needed a writer to follow up on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, they brought me in to do Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. It was such a blast to write, I was delighted when they were interested in having me do another.

LS: But Steampunk Tolstoy? Really? How did you come up with that? They seem to be worlds apart. What came first–the Steampunk or the Tolstoy?

BW: Actually, Tolstoy is more steampunk than you might think. At least, his work is obsessed with the ways the new technologies of his time were changing the landscape of society. Interestingly, at one point in Anna Karenina, Anna refers to her cold, uncaring husband as “a machine.” So all I did was amplify an existing theme of the book: how technology is this powerful, violent force, which can make our lives vastly easier and/or destroy us all.

LS: Are you a Steampunk fan? A Tolstoy fan? What research did you have to do in writing this book?

BW: Oh, I’ve always loved Tolstoy. I first read Anna as well as War and Peace while in college. My favorite is a smaller book, one of his first, called Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. It’s one of those books where you read it and feel like everything he’s describing — about growing up, about family, and first love, all of it — he somehow got into your head and plucked out directly.

Before this project, i was familiar with steampunk more as an sartorial/design concept, rather than as a literary genre, but I’ve now had ample opportunity to study and appreciate the whole incredible culture. I went to the Steampunk World’s Fair to do a reading, and I was just blown away by the range of imagination on display, from the gleefully silly to the grim and dark. I’m a big fan of speculative fiction in general — the idea of tugging on one strand of history and seeing how the tapestry is altered.

LS: How long did it take you to write Android Karenina?

BW: Oh, about a year. Including months of — sorry, this was actually your last question — reading: reading and re-reading the original text a lot, but also immersing myself in great sci-fi, everything from Isaac Asimov to Philip K. Dick to Iain Banks to Battlestar Galactica.

LS: Can you tell me about how (and why) you conceived the “Iron Laws of Robot Behavior?” I have to say those made me very happy. 🙂 Did you come up with them before you wrote the story? Or did they emerge as you crafted it?

BW: Hmmm — I think they emerged as I was writing. The Iron Laws are obviously an homage to Asimov, who was (like Tolstoy!) deeply interested in the relationship between man and technology.

I was interested, as legions of sci-fi writers have been before me, in the question of how we can create super-intelligent, human-like machines, without running the risk of rebellion. With all the corollary questions such as, How do we treat them humanely? How much responsibility can we give them? What does it do to our own “humanness” to rely on human-like machines? And etc.

LS: So…how much has Asimov influenced you? What other authors do you admire? What sort of books do you read?

BW: Allow me to be totally obnoxious and answer with a link; I did this blog post for Quirk about my influences in writing the book

LS: Can you tell us what’s next? Cyberpunk Dickens perhaps?

BW: Well, I know Quirk has plans to continue the series, but I’m taking a breather from mash-up land. My next book is a young adult novel about a punk-rock Band and a Chorus teacher.

LS: Congrats on the YA book. It’s always nice to have other young adult writers on.

BW: And for the record, I wouldn’t mash-up Charles Dickens with a ten foot masher-upper stick. His work is already so heightened in so many ways, it would be foolhardy to add a new, over-the-top concept to it.

LS: Hmmm….I keep having visions of Fagin and his thieves with green mohawks, motorcycles, and bionic limbs….

Thank you so much for visiting Steamed!, Ben. We appreciate you taking the time to visit us.

BW: Happy to be here! Please let your readers know how much I’ve enjoyed getting to play in the steampunk universe.

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Hello my lovelies–I have some exciting news to share!

My steampunk erotic, ‘Steam Heat’ sold to Harlequin for their Spice brief line in a two book deal! They will be releasing back to back in 2011! I am so excited! Seriously, I am still passing virtual rum around to everyone! I will keep you up-dated as I get more info! I will give you the little blurb to keep you entertained for now!

                                                                   Steam Heat – Blurb

   What does a half succubus, a scientist and a feisty female steam engineer have in common? Not a lot. Until, they are thrown together in a race against time to re-power the dying crystal that purifies the earth’s air. Suddenly it is up to Angel, Nick and Jezebel to save the world. The only way to supply the energy needed to power the crystal, is to find out exactly what makes a half succubus tick……

Now on to other exciting news of the day! My steampunk romance novella ‘Love in a Time of Steam’ is available for pre-order! It is just $0.99! To order click here!

Love in a Time of Steam – Blurb

Ashlyn hasn’t seen Gray her former lover in five long years. Not since the day he believed her to be a traitor to the military cause they both served.

   Now as the volatile nature of their planet is reaching a fevered pitch, and the war over water to run their steam-powered technology is threatening all beings, she must face him once more.

   Despite her intense hatred towards Gray, Ashlyn can’t let the father of her child be murdered by General Dagnus, the leader of the opposing army. Risking her life, Ashlyn lays everything on the line to save the man that betrayed her once. As they work together to survive, will they be able to rekindle the passion they once shared?

Have a steamy day! ~Elizabeth

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Steampunk Lady Adventurer corset by Harlots and Angels, England

Let’s face it, breasts are ponderous things at times, and woefully inadequate in others, yet women have always had to find away around them to do what they wanted to and accentuate what they wanted seen. How? Stays, laces, bands, corsets, bras and a variety of interesting adaptations in between. From ancient times to modern, they’ve been part of our fashion. Today we’re going to take a brief tour of this staple of women’s steampunk finery.

In their earliest forms corset-like garments were worn by the Greeks and a type of underbreast corset used by the Minoans. More common use for the corset as a lacing, boning and fabric construction to flatten the breasts and shape the silhouette came into vogue during the 1500’s when they were used by the Tudor courts to create a cone-shape to the body (and continued into the 1700s).

1770s Italian Stays, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Often called a pair of bodies or stays, they sometimes featured small tab-shaped edges around the pointed base to keep them shapely under voluminous skirts. Some featured soft rolls at the base to pad out the hips (making those wide farthingale skirts flare out even further). Some tied at the sides, some tied over the shoulder.

1803 Corset Elastique, French

The cone-shaping of the corset stayed the norm up until the Regency era, when it became a shorter form of stays that could be laced up (looking like a lace-up bra) to be worn with empire waist style gowns. This fashion was replaced in the 1830s when exaggerated sleeves and skirts made the tapered waist more fashionable once again.

1891 Corset, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

As the Victorian era progressed, a gradual slimming of the sleeves and pulling back of the skirts meant that tighter lacing was required to get the same visual hourglass shape to their silhouettes.

They remained in use until through the 1920’s to flatten and give a slimmer shape, but were replaced as a mainstay in women’s undergarments when rubberized materials came out that were capable of sucking it all in.

1927 Barcley corset

In the 1980’s Madonna brought wearing the unmentionables on the outside into vogue and Steampunk fashions have kept the trend going strong. Today the corset is as much a fashion item as a supporting one, finding new expressions for this long-time favored garment.

I know it’s been a whirl-wind tour of corsets. But you’ll understand if I’m a bit tied up at the moment. <g>

What’s your favorite corset look like?

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Happy Monday everyone. To all you writers out there, I’m begining a “Book in a Week Challenge” today on my other blog. You don’t have to write middle grade, just be committed to try to write 20-50k this week. Details here. Come join the fun.

I’d like to give a special shout out to Lolita Elizabeth who just sold two Steampunk stories to Harlequin Spice Briefs.

Today I have a book review for you all–a YA Steampunk from Scott Westerfeld.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

In a riveting and entertaining alternate history, early twentieth century Europe is on the brink of war. The “Clankers” with their advanced mechanical technology are at odds with the British “Darwinists” who’s machines are actually made from genetically engineered beasts.

Deryn Sharp is assigned to the British airship Leviathan for her very first assignment–a dream come true. The giant airship is made from a conglomeration of animals, including a whale. The only problem is, women aren’t allowed in the air service. She disguises herself as a boy and fears being discovered.

Prince Aleksandar Ferdinand is rousted from his bed one night and sets on a mad-dash across Europe with only a few men, his enemies hot on their trail.

When the Leviathan crashes, Deryn and Aleksander find themselves in an unlikely friendship and in the middle of a daring adventure. Most of all, even though they should be enemies, there’s a lot they can learn from each other.

Westerfeld has created a vibrant alternate history full of fabulous flying machines, engineered beasts, and grand adventure. The whole idea of the “Darwinists” and manipulating DNA on such a grand scale is a fresh and original and paints a stark contract to the iron beasts of the Clankers.

Deryn and Aleksander are both bright, brave, strong characters, who being so young, have a lot to learn in life. Their innocence keeps getting them into trouble, but its fun to see their friendship develop in spite of cultural norms.

Not only is Leviathan entertaining, but the illustrations are amazing bringing forth memories of classic adventure books. If only more books had illustrations now days.

Leviathan is an adventurous romp that will delight both kids and adults. I’m looking forward to the sequel, Behemoth, which will be released in October.

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