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Archive for August, 2010

Okay, so it’s a horrible pun. But really, if you’re looking at the historical development over time of the bustle, could you resist? The fact remains that one of the classic elements of refined lady steampunk wear is the bustle. But what people seem to forget is that the bustle wasn’t always part of Victorian fashion and actually changed in style during the course of the Queen’s reign. If you’re going to use a bustle you might want to know exactly what decade (or in some cases as little as five year span) your character is from.

In the early Victorian era, women’s dresses didn’t even sport bustles. From the period of 1837 to 1860, skirts were still the wide-hooped variety you’d see in the costuming of the movie Gone With the Wind. It wasn’t actually until between 1865 that skirts, though still wide with extra crinolines, thank you, started sporting extra fullness toward the back, with an overskirt pulled back over an underskirt.

US patent 131840 circa 1872

Closer to 1870, this had developed into a padding placed beneath the skirt to accentuate that fullness toward the rear. From 1870 to 1875 you begin to see skirts of enormous volumes of fabric (like those designed by Worth) that is in cascades, and bunches, drapes, folds and dragging trains, augmented by a low-placed bustle (that actually would have hit about at the back of your knees – oh joy) to provide fullness to the fabric arrangement.

Dimity bustle of 1881

By 1875 to 1880 the skirting becomes more fitted to the form and nearly cylindrical in the front, yet still gathered in trains toward the back, with low fitted bustles that are more padding to augment the long-curved bodices in fashion. Ruching, pleats, full draping of fabric is still in vogue as are slightly smaller trains.

From the height of the bustle's glory

In 1880 to 1885 the bustle begins to emerge as more of a necessity as the gowns, nearly now all floor length unless you happen to be dragging about a train for an evening gown), sport even more of the overskirt gathered to the back in ever elaborate arrangements, which are so heavy that they drag the skirt down without proper support. The look of a shelf off the back of your bum is at it’s height and bustles come in any number of arrangements from collapsible wire cages, to ruffled, many layer long bustles meant to run the length of the skirt and be secured about the waist.

While still part of fashion, the bustle begins to shrink a bit in 1890 to 1895, probably in response to the enormous ballooning of the tops of ladies’ sleeves (in what’s called the Gibson girl or mutton sleeve look). The skirts still have also widened out a bit into more of a bell shape and are not so confining as they were in the 1875-1880 period, leaving room to wear a bustle without it being too evident, yet allowing it to make the waist, which is nipped in, look smaller. And really, by about 1893, the bustle has been reduced to just a pad.

A variety of mesh bustle designs

In 1895 to 1900, the sleeves shrink back down, big hats take center stage and the bustle is more of a remnant designed to add fullness, as the silhouette slopes forward in a changing corset style which also forces the rear to stick out.

The bustle still remains a fashion item up until about 1905, in the Edwardian period, when waistlines and the silhouette begin to meld together into a more tubular type skirting.

Like fashion, bustles were an evolving item. Knowing just how much to put behind you, and how to make it look, can peg you character from early to late Victorian. So, how much bustle will you be sporting?

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Okay, before I bring you this week’s  post I have the winner of the Gear Ring from Kinekt. And the winner is…

~drum roll please~

*~*~*gabby sullivan*~*~*

Gabby, please email me at suzannelazear (@) hotmail and I’ll tell you how to claim your prize. Congrats!

You just might be Steampunk when…

  1. You own a ballgown, a bustle, and a raygun…and wear them together
  2. You replace your computer keyboard keys with those from an antique typewriter
  3. You have “day wear” and “evening wear” brass goggles
  4. You brass-leafed your cellphone and glued gears on it
  5. Your child points out things she thinks are “steampunk”
  6. Your next major clothing purchase involves boots, a corset, or a bustle-gown
  7. You’re helping your child build a time-machine for a school project
  8. You own multiple top hats
  9. You buy broken pocket watches for the gears
  10. You read Jules Verne to your children as bedtime stories
  11. You try your hand at corset making
  12. You own jewelry made of clockhands and/or gears
  13. Seeing a blimp is an exciting experience
  14. You can’t wait to see  The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec even though it’s in french
  15. You feel you’ve missed your calling as an Air Pirate
  16. You have a made science lab set up in your basement
  17. You covet Alexia Tarabotti’s parasol
  18. You have the urge to restore an old Victorian home or redecorate your house in Victorian furnishings
  19. You’ve made your own ray gun and can explain how it works (in theory)
  20. Your other car is an airship

What are your suggestions?

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It’s interesting what happens when you begin to write a story. In some ways you discover something about yourself. For instance, I never knew about steampunk as a subculture until I went to the Steampunk Univeristy in Seattle last year. Up until that point, I hadn’t realized that my childhood and teen fascination with sewing up victorian clothing for myself and designing victorian oddities actually had a name.

Then I thought about it really hard. I’ve always been a steampunk person at heart. One of the most favorite places of my childhood was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. If you’ve never been there, may I say, you are missing out on steampunk perfection. Although I’m not exactly sure that’s what Mrs. Winchester intended.

Sarah Winchester, who was married into the family that invented the famous Winchester repeating rifle, dealt with the untimely loss of her daughter in 1866 and the premature death of her husband in 1881 in a very interesting fashion. She built a house. And kept building it.

Well to be more accurate, she purchased an unfinished eight-room farm house and turned it into a sprawling seven-story mansion with 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 52 skylights, 950 doors, 2 ballrooms, 2 basements, 17 chimneys, 3 elevators and 10,000 windows that spread out in an estate covering 161 acres. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm

The reason? A spirital medium in Boston advised her that the deaths of her loved ones were due to angry spirits – those deceased American Indians, Civil War soldiers and such – that had been killed by her husband and father-in-law’s invention which had made her unusually wealthy. At the time of her mother-in-law’s death in 1889 she owned just under 50% of the stock in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, bringing her in an income of over $1,000 a day in interest on her over $20 million dollar fortune (and this was in the days before income tax when you could still buy things for pennies and the average daily wage for a worker was $1.50).

She was told to build. She had shifts of workers, going 24-hours a day for 38 years. They built staircases that ended in the ceiling, doors that fall off into a several story drop to the outside, windows that look at a wall. Huge wall-sized cabinets with shleves an inch deep. There are windows in the floor (so you could see down into the kitchen). A senace room with only one entrance and one exit (which are not the same door and both hidden). There are priceless Tiffany stain-glass windows that will never have sunlight pour through them, windows that were optically ground to Mrs. Winchester’s eye prescription so she could view the gardens and stair cases that rise and fall in the middle of a hallway like a style over a fence. Perhaps most haunting is the phrasing written in the stained glass of one of the ballrooms that tour guide say was part of a vision Mrs. Winchester had that thousands of people would be walking through her home.

It is reported that Mrs. Winchester never slept in the same bedroom two nights in a row in order to confound the spirits that might be searching for her. She is said to have refused President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt entrance at the front door and made him come around to a side entrance because she refused to allow people in the front door after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. On the day of her death, by heart-failure in 1922, the building stopped. There were even half-driven nails the workmen did not finish hammering in when they heard of her death.

In short, it has everything to make it the perfect steampunk place – oddities, creativity, incredible detail, hand-crafted workmanship, Victorian, mystery, history, and paranormal spunk.

If you can’t visit there yourself, I encourage you to check out the extensive video archive at the website where there are many episodes you can view for free. http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/videogallery.cfm and all kinds of pictures at http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/photogallery.cfm

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Another important issue came up during the Steampunk panel I was part of at the RWA 2010 National Conference in Orlando–the darker side of Steampunk.

It can be very tempting to idealize and sanitize the Victorian era in our Steampunk stories. Depending on your world building, this approach could work. But the Victorian era wasn’t all balls and bustles and where I’m not saying we should scrap any sort of idealism, I’m saying that we shouldn’t always gloss over the grit.

The Victorian era could be a dirty, smelly, place full of illness, poverty and despair. There was colonialism, imperialism, classism, child labor, and the oppression of women, among other things. Depending on the particulars of your story, many of the darker issues during that time can add dimension and grit to your world, plot, and characters, not to mention bring up some of the very real obstacles those who lived during that era faced. That’s not to say that you couldn’t play with these concepts, just like we play with everything else when writing any sort of alternate history, but it’s also important to not forget these themes in addition to the usual ones we’ve embraced so heartily.

These themes can bring up interesting plots and subplots, taking the reader into places they have never been and allow them to explore issues they may not have thought of before. What would it be like to have your village invaded…or to be the invader but not sure of the cause? What was it like to be a doctor at a charity hospital, to work in a factory, or live in a slum?

It cause also allow us to meet new characters from varied backgrounds who also have stories that need to be told. Who knows what the conquered child might become when they grow up and what lengths they may go to for revenge. What could a simple act of kindness–or acts of cruelly or antipathy–ignite under the right conditions? What of the street sparrow, the night flower, or the child who toils in the factory to feed their family? What was it like to be an actress, a seamstress, or a member of the fallen gentry?

Like with anything else, you don’t need to necessary force these concepts into a story for the sake of inclusion, but it’s good to be aware of them. Don’t think you have to shy away from the darker side of Steampunk. Who knows what stories could these characters tell or what they could they teach the other characters…and us?

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When I recently was part of a panel of Steampunk at RWA 2010 we got some very interesting questions from the audience. One of which was “What roles can women play in Steampunk stories, given the traditional roles of Victorian women?”

My answer was somewhere along the lines of “In Steampunk women can do whatever they want.”

Women and girls can be anything in Steampunk–from ladies to air pirates. They could be pushing social norms or they could be the norm. In Leviathan, Deryn works on an airship (though she pretends to be a boy). In the Girl Genius comics, Agatha is the one inventing things and going on adventures. In Clockwork Heart Taya is a winged courier.

A woman in a Steampunk story could wear *trousers* like Madame Lefoux in Changeless or could be like Captain Octavia Pye in Steamed who captains an airship in a skirt and corset.

Steampunk women can still be ladies. Perhaps she doesn’t defy society at all–but that doesn’t have to mean she’s sitting at home drinking tea. Alexia in Soulless is a lady, granted she’s a spinster and a bluestocking, but she’s a lady. She also makes it work for her, going on adventures, solving mysteries, and whacking Vampires with parasols. Percy in The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is a student. Lyra in The Golden Compass gets into all sorts of trouble.

She could also be chafing under social norms. In my Steampunk YA, my main character doesn’t want to take the path her mother, and society, has laid out for her. The themes of coming into your own in a society (or family) that frowns on your choices can make for a great read–especially in YA where it’s all about grey area, pushing the boundaries, and finding where you fit in the universe.

Maybe she’s stuck in a situation that she feels powerless to get out of–or she’ll fight tooth and nail to improve her situation. The Victorian era has a darker side that I think could be explored a lot more in Steampunk stories. She could have been forced into a loveless marriage, perhaps she’s a prostitute, she could be a child who works in a factory, a “street sparrow”, or a victim of Imperialism. These, too, could make for stories with great character development and tell stories that aren’t yet being told. Darker stories have a place in Steampunk, too.

She could be plucky or permissive, a fighter or a nurturer, turning life on it’s ear or making the system working for her, dreaming of a better life or giving up everything to go after what she wants. She could be wealthy, poor, or self-reliant, should could live anywhere, anytime, anyplace. She could be driven around in a enabled carriage or be building an airship. She could barely read or be a professor.

That is the sheer beauty of Steampunk. So go ahead, tell the story that needs to be told of whether it’s the tale of a bold air pirate, a scrappy street sparrow,or a fine lady.

Women in Steampunk can be anything. They can be anything at all.

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by Marie-Claude Bourque

STEAMPUNK WORD OF THE WEEK:  Abbess – Brothel Madam (from Steampunk Lexican for iPhone)

Doing those workshops with Lolita Theresa gave me lots to think about, especially when we started to talk about steampunk archetypes.

Since I’m writing an adventure, I was pretty much focus on plot, looking at my 3 acts and the main conflicts both internal (my mystic witch heroine confronted with characters that are not quite human) and external (fighting the bad guys).

But then, as I always do, I dug out my good old Donald Maass workbook to fill up the questionnaires, mostly those about characters, and especially the secondary ones.

And a funny thing happened, I fell in love with them. I already love my hero and heroine but now, I feel for my “fallen” Victorian lady and her love of beauty, my witch/widow/emporium owner who believes in love and also for my silent chief engineer who sacrifices his life to give a good future to his orphan niece.

I realize that all stories are mostly about characters (and you do want to see them sort stuff out, i.e. plot). Loving our characters is the true solution to writers block because you can’t wait to spend time with them!

So tell me, writers out there! Plot or characters or both?

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There’s only a few days left to enter to win the gear ring.

Today we welcome debut YA Author T.K. Richardson, author of Return the Heart, which is now available.

Return the Heart is T.K. Richardson’s debut novel, and like much of her writing, is subtly influenced by her love of Russian history and literature. Raised on the West Coast, she improves the lives of children near and far by advocating for abused and neglected children in her community, as well as sponsoring a Christian based orphanage in India. She lives with her husband and children in California where she is at work on her next novel.

To a casual passerby, Lilly Paige is anything but special. As a seventeen year old, she is faced with all the complications of a teenager, but deep down there is much more. Lilly has a gift, though sometimes it seems to be a curse.

Lilly can peer into the hearts of others – their deepest, darkest secrets are there for Lilly to see – but to what end? Raised by aloof parents, Lilly has been independent her whole life, but soon she will need to rely on her friends to evade an evil that has sold her gift to the highest bidder on the black market. Lilly and her four closest friends are immersed in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, that will not only reveal more about Lilly’s gift, but also her link to an old Russian prophecy.

Can Lilly and her friends escape the danger that is so close they can practically feel it? Where will their perilous journey lead them – to darkness or light?

Lolita Suzanne: Welcome, thank you so much for visiting us here at Steamed! today. Congratulations on your first release. Can you share the story of “the Call”, the “email” or how you broke through into publishing with us?

T.K. Anderson: Like so many other writers I queried for what seemed like forever. Finally, when I felt the manuscript and I were both ready I sought out different publishers to submit to. I’m very happy with my publisher and the work they have put into Return the Heart.

LS: The cover is absolutely beautiful. Now, can you tell us what your book is about?

TKA: Return the Heart is the story of 17 year old Lilly Paige who has the secret gift of reading the heart. When that gift is exposed and sold on the black market she discovers her gift is more than the target of criminal obsession – it’s somehow linked to an old, Russian prophecy.

LS: Ooh, who doesn’t love a good prophecy? What inspired this story?

TKA: Return the Heart was inspired by my children, my love for Russian history and literature, and a desire to create a captivating story that would delight teens. What followed is a story filled with action, secret gifts, a seedy underworld, and more twists and revelations than the reader expects. Toss in a Russian element and Return the Heart is like an action movie about teens and for teens.

LS: I confess, I am an utter and total folklore nerd. What genre would you characterize this story as and why?

TKA: The book is intended for young adults, but I’m finding that people of all ages, from 10 to 92, are reading and enjoying the book. As an author I am very excited that the story is reaching so many different people and age groups.

LS: That’s really great. I love finding stories everyone can enjoy. When it comes to actually writing a story, are you a plotter or a pantser?

TKA: Oh, I’m definitely a panster. I’ve tried outlining before and I’ve tried plotting the story, but I work better when I just wing it and let the story take on a life of its’ own. It’s more fun that way, too. Of course, it probably makes it harder when I’m editing, but it’s the price I’m willing to pay.

LS: Hehehe, I’m a pantser, too, and seeing the story and characters take on a life of their own is half the fun. Do you have a favorite character?

TKA: Hmm… Well, I really love all the characters, so I don’t have a favorite. Each has qualities that I find admirable and that I love.

LS: If your characters went on summer vacation where would they go?

TKA: They might go to Disneyland, or the beach, or somewhere most any other teens would enjoy going.

LS: Do you have any writing habits/quirks/superstitions?

TKA: I don’t think I do, but my family may think differently. I do like to write at night, though. I love it when the dark surrounds everything and blankets my world in mystery and shadows. It’s my ideal time for writing, and it’s quiet.

LS: Quiet can be a good thing, especially when there are kiddos around, lol. Did you always want to be a writer?

TKA: No, I never dreamed of being a writer and it was never something on my list of things I wanted to be. One day the main character, Lilly, “appeared” and I rushed to write her down. Six weeks later the first draft of my first novel was complete, and I’ve been writing ever since. I love it, and I wouldn’t change the way it came about. Although I never dreamed of being a writer, I can see that my love for reading and history really prepared me and opened the door for my writing.

LS: Those dang, pushy characters, lol. Where would we writers be without them? You mentioned your love of reading, what authors inspired you growing up? Who are your favorite authors now?

TKA: Growing up I was really inspired by history and biographies. Corrie ten Boom and Chaim Potok were probably my favorite authors and very influential as a kid. As an adult my favorite authors are Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Gogol –all Russian authors from the past. To me their work is the pinnacle of writing, outside of the Bible.

LS: Okay, last question. If you could be stranded on an island with one fictional character who would it be and why?

TKA: Oh, that’s a tough question. I think it would be Prince Andrey from War and Peace by Tolstoy. I always had a secret crush on him and I wished his story was happier. He’s one of my very favorite characters and one that has stayed with me.

Thank you so much for joining us today, and we wish you the best of luck on your release.

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