Archive for January, 2011

We have a special treat for you.  February is “Fantastic February” and we will be having some fantasy-themed posts, some great authors, and featuring some fantastic books.  Come join the fun.

Last weekend was the annual Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball, which is part of the Riverside Dickens’ Festival.

Every year the hubby and I go. It’s a chance for us to actually go on a real date and hold hands and dance all night.

It’s also an excuse for me to dress up in a Victorian ball gown.

This year I didn’t make a new dress. I have two perfectly good gowns, the one I “made” last year and the I “made” the year before from two old prom dresses. The hubby thought I should wear the cream prom-dress one, which is the more steampunky one of the two.

Our usual group of friends didn’t make it this year, but another one of my friends came, which was fun.

It also meant I had no hotel room to get ready in so I had to get ready in the bathroom  (I was *not* driving two hours in a corset and ball gown).   Getting into a corset, a bustle, a petticoat, and a lace-up ball gown in a restroom stall isn’t very fun.

Because my dress was cream-colored and I wore my gold clockhand tiara, I got *a lot* of people asking me if I was a bride while I was getting ready.   I told them I was Cinderella getting ready for the ball.

I did discover that I’d brought one white glove and one cream glove, both of different lengths, so I went without, even though it was a little unladylike.

It did bring forth the idea what might happen in a movie or a book where a young woman looses one glove and does everything one-handed, hiding the bare arm behind her back (you know, like when Jo March spent the ball with her back to the wall because of the patch on the back of her dress, only with gloves…)

The venue was different this year and instead of being in a lavish dancing hall, we were in a room at the convention center which lacked the same ambiance.  Still, the ball was packed and so were the “observation seats.” People come just to watch the dancing and the pretty dresses (or, as the Hubby says, watch the parade floats go by.)

The dresses are always fabulous from period-correct custom dresses (down to the underpinnings) to girls in prom dresses.  There were also bustle gowns, prairie dresses, several day dresses, and a few really amazing hats.  There was also a couple where the wife made both the costumes and the fabric of his coat matched her dress.   And of course, the king of Siam.

I do have to say I loved this blouse/skirt outfit.  Why?  Because it’s almost exactly what my character Noli wears in the opening scene of Innocent Darkness, only Noli’s doesn’t have a hoop skirt, and wears a leather apron on top.  This sweet girl (whose name I didn’t get), even has Noli hair!  (Only Noli doesn’t wear glasses).  Even though she probably thought I was strange, she gladly posed for a picture.

Like a true Victorian Ball, it starts with couples being “announced” to the room. This is the first year we actually got there early enough to be announced. We’ve never come up with a persona. The Hubby decides that we’re “Lord and Lady Lazear from Paris, France,” since apparently that’s where the name came from (I didn’t know that.)

Everyone has dance cards and there’s live music. I ogle the pretty gowns and make the hubby waltz, polka, and do the occasional set dance. We did get to dance briefly with the Queen during one of the sets, which delighted the tot to no end. She’s to little to go, but she loves hearing about mommy going to the ball.  The set dances are always so much fun, both to dance in and to watch.  Some of them are very pretty (some are very long.)  I think I need to invent a steampunk set dance — Airpirate’s Fancy anyone?  I also have the urge to write a ball scene in the Innocent Darkness sequel.

Like always we had an amazing time.  In fact, the hubby said this year was the most fun yet.  (That’s what I love about the hubby, I can take him anywhere and he does just fine.)

I can’t wait for next year, only maybe this time I won’t forget my gloves.








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Today we welcome  Clay and Susan Griffith authors of THE GREYFRIAR: VAMPIRE EMPIRE Book1, which came out from Pyr Books, in November of  2010.  Yes, Steampunk Vampires.  (I need a little fanged smiley face to put here.)  TWO lucky posters (yes, two) will win a copy of the book (US only please)

So You Wrote a Steampunk Novel?

By Clay & Susan Griffith


Well, no.

Sort of.

First of all, Hello. We are Clay and Susan Griffith, authors of The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book 1. Thanks to Suzanne for inviting us to submit a guest blog. We’re frequent visitors here, and we want to take a few minutes of your time to talk about how we came to publish a steampunk novel when we didn’t really write a steampunk novel.

Since the time The Greyfriar was released in November 2010, it has been placed in a lot of categories and genres. Vampire. Fantasy. Paranormal romance. Pulp. Adventure. Alternate history. Young adult.

And, yes, Steampunk.

It seems like almost every reader starts with different assumptions about the book’s genre based on the title or the cover or what they’ve heard about it. Countless reviews begin with –

“I was tired of vampire novels, but…”

“I don’t read young adult, but…”

“Romance isn’t my thing, but…”

“I’d never heard of steampunk, but…”

Fortunately, the vast majority of those reviews have ended up at the same spot – with a book that surprised and pleased the reader. However, the category confusion over The Greyfriar is not surprising. The book was never intended to be just a vampire novel or a romance novel or a young adult novel, or even a steampunk novel.

The genre blending in The Greyfriar was purposeful. We did it because we love all those genres and wanted to work with those story elements. We’ve been very fortunate that it has been well received. It’s been gratifying that so many readers have found what they sought in our book (action, romance, horror, politics, cats, etc.), but they also discovered things they didn’t know they liked before (action, romance, horror, politics, cats, etc.), and particularly steampunk.’

We originally conceived Vampire Empire many years ago before the term “steampunk” was quite so well known as it is now. We didn’t set out to plot a “steampunk” story back then. Our book was meant to be an alternate history rooted in the Victorian Era. We were huge Victoriana buffs, and that was the period that best served the story. While writing, we always referred to the book as “neo-Victorian.” However, over the years, steampunk reached genre consciousness and, by the time we pitched the novel to agents in 2010, steampunk was not just a subgenre buzz word, it had become a bona fide target demographic.

So, just as we were finishing our neo-Victorian vampire romance pulp adventure novel, the neo-Victorian subculture became part and parcel of steampunk, and that genre achieved social critical mass.

So how does The Greyfriar qualify as steampunk? The book is set in a recognizable, but altered “Victorian” world. We were careful not to just write a fantasy novel and throw goggles on characters and darken the skies with airships. Never fear, there are airships and goggles, but they serve a purpose based on function, technology, and economy. We extrapolate new global technologies and geo-politics, given the realities of our vampire-altered world.

Here’s the background on the plot: In the 1870s, vampires destroy the industrial states of the northern hemisphere. Human refugees flee to the tropics (vampires abhor constant heat) and struggle to integrate with the indigenous societies they encounter there. The tropics experience more than a century of cultural tumult as cultures collide and coalesce and recreate themselves. The Greyfriar actually begins 150 years after the Great Killing, when the new human states of the equatorial regions have finally built their technology and societies to levels equivalent to the late 1800s. They are now prepared to wage war on the vampire clans of the north. Or so they think.

The Greyfriar is very much a neo-Victorian fantasy. But it is also a vampire novel. And a romance. And a pulp adventure. And, apparently, young adult.

We didn’t set out to write a steampunk novel. We wrote The Greyfriar, and the steampunk happened.

So, what’s the take-home message of this blog? One, if you like steampunk fiction (or adventure, vampires, romance, etc…), we certainly hope you’ll pick up The Greyfriar and give it a shot. Two, if you’re a writer, don’t write a “steampunk novel” by taking your detective story, or monster story, or romance story and throwing in all the brass gizmos and be-goggled archetypes you can think of. It won’t ring true. It’s like putting a cape on a cowboy and calling him a “superhero.”

Steampunk can give you a rich and marvelous worldview. It has a lot to offer setting, story, and characters. But let your world rise organically from the story you want to tell, and the characters you create. It may end up being as steampunkish as you’d hoped, and you’ll create some great steampunk police procedurals or steampunk horror or steampunk romance.

But, who knows, it may go in directions you didn’t expect, and you’ll have to come up with a new genre label.

With that in mind, what genres would you most like to get a steampunk treatment? And what are your favorite types of genre blending in general?

~ Clay & Susan Griffith



Two lucky posters will win copies of The Greyfriar (sorry, US only please.)  Contest closes Sunday, February 6th.  Winners will be announced February 7th, which will also kick off Fantastic February…More about that Monday.  

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There’s long been a debate among those looking at steampunk from the outside if steampunk can really be anything but Victorian England.

I, for one, would argue YES. (And really this has nothing to do with the fact that my steampunk books in The Legend Chronicles are set in some part in the Wild Weird West–honestly.) If Jules Verne can write about being 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, then that isn’t Victorian England, is it? If H.G. Wells can write about the New York of the future in his work The Time Machine, that isn’t exactly London either, is it?

I choose to espouse the view that steampunk is more of a time period than a particular setting. You can write about or design costumes from any area of the globe (and a few beyond our own stratsophere) during that golden age and still be steam. The punk comes from being your own little creative mad genius self.  So why not have dragon ladies, courtesans of the far east? What about appearing as a Maha Raja or one of his veiled lovey wives? Certainly you could even been a Plantation owner from the Caribean or a Cattle Baron from South America. Truly the combinations are endless.

But I digress.

What really has me excited is the steampunk movement into the Wild Weird American West. If you haven’t already heard about the Wild Wild West Steampunk Con going on at Old Tucson Studios in Arizona in March, you should check it out. It’s the first large steampunk gather in Arizona. Not only will Abney Park and the League of S.T.E.A.M. be there, but there’s nothing quite like venturing into Arizona to get the authentic feel of the old west. (I lived there for nearly a decade–trust me.)

Not only do you get the Miner ’49er, but the cowboy, the saloon girl, the rancher, the townie,the gunslinger, carpetbagger and cardshark; so many new and fun ways to express all the goodness that is steampunk. I don’t know about you, but I have a LOT of sewing to do to prepare for the con. And Lolita Elizabeth will be there as well!

If you were going to be one character from the Wild Weird West, what would it be?

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This weekend was the annual ball at the Riverside Dickens’ Festival.  As usual the hubby and I dressed up and had an amazing time. When I finally manage to get the pictures off the camera I will blog about it. 

However, right now I’m just too tried.

I’m to tired to come up with anything coherent.

So, when all else fails, fill the silence with cupcakes.

Many of you know I’ve been on a quest for Absinthe cupcakes, because when Innocent Darkness *finally* comes out, I want to have a big party, and what better to serve at a steampunk book release party than Absinthe cupcakes? 

But no one — not one person — has sent me recipes for Absinthe cupcakes.

So, I decided to Google it. 

As it turns out, there are recipes.  Now I just have to a) make them to see if I like them or b) find someone to make them for me.

Some of the recipes I found:

The Boozing Baker has cupcakes that not only have Absinth in them, but has two different types of Absinthe frosting.  However, the frosting is very, very green…

from "the Boozing Baker"

The Cupcake Project’s version also has Absinthe in it and an Absinthe glaze.   But it contains cornmeal…not sure what I think about that…

Coconut and Lime has a recipe with Absinthe in the batter and frosting (notice a theme here?) and garnishes them with sugar cubes, which is very cute, methinks. 

from coconut and lime

Sara’s Vegan Kitchen of Wonder and Discovery did a Vegan version.  Some of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had have been Vegan.  I also liked how she blogged about her trials and tribulations.  I always find that helpful.

So…who’s going to make these and tell be what’s best? ~grin~

Maybe it can be a challenge on Cupcake Wars?  Can they have little fondant (or marzipan) gears on them? Please?

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Today we welcome Steamypunk Author Bonnie Dee. Her steampunk romantic adventure Like Clockwork is now available from Carina Press.

Tic-Tok of Oz, or What Turned Me on to Robots

By Bonnie Dee

Mechanical people fire our imagination from I Robot to the Stepford Wives. The concept of what it means to be human and whether synthetic life forms can develop humanity was explored in great depth in Battlestar Galactica. Is the quality of humanity judged by the ability to reason or is it necessary to feel emotions? If a mechanical being develops emotions such as love, does it also require a certain spark—call it the soul—to be more than a replicant?

When I was a child, I avidly read whichever books from the Oz series I could get my hands on from the early Frank Baum books through the continuation of the series by Ruth Plumly Thompson. Sidenote: I still remembered her name without looking it up because it’s so unusual. I actually liked Thompson’s books better—The Hungry Tiger of Oz, Kabumpo in Oz and Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz in particular—probably because her stories always had a romance element which Baum’s books lacked.

Anyway, the character Tic-Tok of Oz was a mechanical man who was rather cold at the beginning of the story but developed personality through interaction with humans. What does this have to do with my new steampunk novella Like Clockwork? Not so much except that reading about Tic-Tok as a child started a lifelong fascination with synthetic life forms and the question of where humanity lies.

Like Clockwork, available as an e-book from Carina Press and at other online stores such as Amazon, B&N and Kobo, is a tale of murder, mayhem, espionage, inventions, romance and steam.

Victoria Waters is a woman ahead of her time, part of a team of scientists that created working automatons. She intended the machines to replace human laborers in dangerous occupations, but the original project idea mushroomed beyond her expectations. The mechanical people have replaced all types of workers, putting much of the lower class out of work.

Dash is a man who has lived a life of poverty in one of the worst slums in London. Only the intervention of a kindly mentor taught him to use his keen mind. He is part of a subversive group called the Brotherhood which speaks against the influx of automatons. To draw attention to their cause they plan to kidnap Victoria and hold her ransom until their demand for representation on the Commission for Animatronic Affairs is met.

Dash soon finds his captive is on the same page in her beliefs and willing to help the Brotherhood reach their goal. But when the Southwark Slasher strikes again, murdering a woman who was close to Dash, he and Victoria’s relationship abruptly changes. They become close very quickly, sharing personal history and discovering a mutual attraction.

Danger looms as Victoria learns more from a colleague about the Commission and their long term agenda for the automatons. Romance blooms as Dash and Victoria grow closer. And death threatens when Victoria comes face to face with the Southwark Slasher.

To whet your interest, here’s the prologue of Like Clockwork:

London, 1898

If he slit the body from sternum to groin and peeled back the flesh, he could see what made a woman tick. If he probed a little deeper into that steamy, sticky mess, he could remove her pulsing heart and examine it. Maybe at last he could understand what made him different.

Precision. That was the key. Each cut, each motion must be meticulous, following a careful order he’d designed for himself. It was akin to a schematic, an exquisite plan. Unfortunately the insides of a woman were so messy. There must be a way to suction off the blood. He should figure that out. It would make his work so much easier.

He watched the woman’s eyes as she beheld her beating heart in his hand and continued to gaze into them until they went from wide and horrified to blank and glassy. Then he knew her workings ticked no longer.

He positioned her body in his pre-arranged pattern, keeping her heart for himself. Removing his gloves, he packed them into his black satchel and clicked the latch closed. He rose, removed his smock and stowed it too in the case. Then he checked his overcoat for traces of blood—wouldn’t do to take the messiness away from the scene with him. After brushing away a spot of dirt from the broadcloth, he decided he was in as pristine a condition as when he’d arrived. He strode away from the sprawled body in the alley, swinging his satchel lightly and whistling a tune.

It was a pleasant night and he had accomplished much.

~Bonnie Dee


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It honestly doesn’t take much to make someone into steampunk gush enthusiastically about a fantastical hand-crafted ray gun or stunning hat, but when it comes to reading, there is a comic that combines the best of steampunk with the best of entertainment – Girl Genius.

Now, if you are into steampunk, you probably know all about it. You probably even know that their inventive comic series has now spawned a delightful novel that hit the top 20 on Amazon on Girl Genius Day, Jan. 12th, but what you might not know is that from a writer’s perspective, Girl Genius is damn brilliant writing.

What makes it work? First you’ve got a fun, smart, quirky main character who is an underdog. That makes Agatha Heterodyne sympathetic from the start. But add into the mix that she’s enamoured with the son of her deadliest rival for control of Europa (not that she knows that in the beginning when she meets Gilgamesh Wulfenbach), that she’s being hunted, and that she discovers her role as the last heir to a great mad-inventive legacy and you’ve got a character mired in a great bundle of internal and external conflict. Story developer Kaja Foglio further amps up the tension by adding in a third main character/love interest who competes with Gilgamesh (and has known him from the past when they were in school) and a coniving blonde cousin to Agatha who wants to kill her and take over as the fake Heterodyne heir.

The action is packed to the brim. The visuals, courtesy of Phil Foglio, are dynamic and fun. The inventions are mad and brilliant. And every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they post up the next page (which is not nearly enough for we true addicts of the Girl Genius). And every page ends with a fabulous hook that lures you on, keeps you addicted and makes you want to flip pages faster than a steam-powered airship engine could.

But what really makes it all hang together better than super rubber bands, is the inventive world the Foglio’s have created. It’s familiar (set in a Europe-like fascimile of the Victorian era) and yet it’s very otherworldly with airships, creatures and villians enough to make this a very bumpy ride for our characters. (Conflict is essential to good story-telling, btw.)

I first found Girl Genius when I was doing research on steampunk, because I didn’t really realize that’s what I’d been writing. I’d just been toodling along in my own story in my own little Victorian world.

The comic has ever page posted since Monday, Nov. 4, 2002. WARNING: These are addictive. And I mean that sincerely. I spent four to six hours a day for three days straight reading them all. I then had to invest in the entire series of comic books for my children who were reading them over my shoulder…once you drink of the genius tea, you will not be able to walk away. And if you wish to indulge, you have been amply forewarned (and encouraged). They are at www.girlgeniusonline.com (click on the comic to get to the latest installment. If you wish to start at the beginning click start and it’ll take you to where it all began.)

I adore Girl Genius because it’s smart and fun. I adore the characters because they are flawed and delightfully human (even if they are cartoons). There is romance and adventure as promised, and definitely lots of mad science. And I can’t wait to read their novel Agatha H. and the Airship City.

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I’m going to be teaching an online class on writing for Young Adults Feb 14-Mar 12, 2011.  More info here if anyone is interested.

Innocent Darkness is now on Goodreads. I also have a tentative release date of 8-8-12.  ~insert happy dance here.~  I’ve also joined up with the Apocalypsies, the 2012 debut YA authors.  If you’re curious about what five things I think are necessary for the apocolipse find out here.

Okay, enough chatter.

Today, I want to talk a little about Steampunk Archetypes.

Archetypes are stereotypes or epitomes of personalities, a generic or ideal personification if you will.  They often serve as a basis for characters.  Folklore has archetypes, art has archetypes, even Jung has archetypes.

Steampunk has archetypes as well.  One trick to using archetypes in our story without making them seem too stereotypical or stale is to turn archetypes on their ear or even combine them (though not all characters will be based on these archetypes, and that’s okay.  Original characters are just as fun).

Just a few archetypes sometimes found in Steampunk stories:

Air-Pirate – one of the quintessential Steampunk characters.  Airpirates and bad, bold, and armed to the teeth.

Adventurer/Explorer—they’re reason for being is to boldly go where no one has gone before and to experience new things and discover new places.

Aviator—weather roguish or military, whether they’re flying a bi-plane, a zeppelin, or a space ship, they they’re tough, brave, and a can even a bit gallant, especially in contrast to Air-Pirates.

Dandy/Femme Fatale—they use their wiles and charms to get what they want, sometimes at the expense of others.

Mad Scientist/Inventor—another quintessential Steampunk character, they embody the steam in steampunk, discovering new things, solving problems, and occasionally blowing things up

Mechanic/Tinker—a bit of a twist on the Scientist/Inventor.  Where the Inventor is creating things from scratch, the tinker is improving on things, often on the fly, or perhaps just trying to get things to work, making due with what they have.

Philosopher/Scholar-they like old books and wax poetic about the classics, they could also be trying to learn new things and discover new ideas—or uncover the ideas of old.  They may talk too much about things no one cares about or prefer books to people.

Socialite/Lady/Gentleman—Often based on Victorian aristocracy, they can often embody the refinement and social norms we associate with the upper class of that era.  Many times they serve as patrons for the scholars, adventurers, and inventors.

Street Sparrow/Scrappy Survivor—These are the street urchins, your pickpockets and beggars.  Hungry and dirty, they do what they need to do to survive.

Reformer –They could be suffragettes or seeking to get rid of child labor or protesting imperialism, they are working to make the world a better place, often loudly and not always peacefully and without scandal.

I’m sure you can think of all sorts of variations.  A Scientist doesn’t need to be mad, perhaps they’re naturalists or cryptozoologists.  Tinkers could work on Airships.  Airpirates might be reformers in their own way.

What would happen if you mix these archetypes up, either as a whole or as your character’s life progresses (the street sparrow grows up to be a reformer, or a lady is secretly a tinker…)?  You have characters that are familiar yet different, with potential for depth and interesting backstory.

What sorts of Steampunk folks populate your world?

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Today we welcome Victorian costume expert Karlee Etter who’s going to tell us how during the Victorian era fans were used for far more than keeping the bearer cool.


The Secret Language of the Fan

by Karlee Etter

For much of the nineteenth century and well into the early decades of the twentieth, women were expected to conduct themselves in an even-tempered manner. A woman’s deportment or behavior, especially in public was expected to be gracious, courteous, and respectable.  Any demonstration of the contrary was frowned upon not only by parents and potential suitors, but from contemporaries, as well. Vocally rejecting a suitor was deplorable, even if a woman believed him to be unacceptable. Likewise flirting with a desirable suitor was equally appalling. So, while in attendance at a Ball or other social gathering, what was a woman do to when faced with numerous men, all vying for her attention; how was she to express or communicate her “choice” or “choices” without violating those stifling rules of etiquette?  With visual clues, of course; although simply using facial expression was often too subtle.  Therefore, the secret language of the hand-fan might be employed to clarify a woman’s acceptance or rejection of potential suitors.

However, if the language of the fan was a secret, how did young women learn the various silent gestures of the fan?  If such a language really did exist and some historians will argue that it did not, others believe the language of the fan was passed down from woman to woman. Each gesture of the hand holding a fan contained a powerful hidden meaning.

If a young woman was unavailable, she might gesture in the following manner:  Fanning slowly meant, “I am married”, or, fanning quickly, “I am engaged.” Twirling her fan in the right hand meant, “I love another.”  Or, if the young man was of interest as a friend rather than a suitor, she might drop the fan, which communicated, “We will be friends.”  Then, by placing the fan behind with a finger extended meant, “Goodbye.”

Now, let’s imagine a young woman is available (not spoken for); she might begin her secret discussion with a new acquaintance and appropriate suitor in the following manner:

1)       If she holds the fan in her left hand in front of her face, “I am desirous of your acquaintance.”

2)       By touching her finger to the tip of the fan she would be gesturing, “I wish to speak to you.” Or carrying the fan in her left hand, indicates, “Come and talk to me”.

3)       Responding to a cue from her suitor, she might continue with, “Yes” by letting the fan rest on her right cheek.

4)       Or if she rests the fan against her left cheek, she is saying, “No”.

5)       A closed fan touching her right eye, “When may I be allowed to see you?” Or, a partially open fan showing the number of fan-sticks indicated the hour at which she agreed to meet her suitor.

6)       Opening the fan wide, “Wait for me.”

7)       Placing the fan behind the head, “Do not forget me.”

8)       Fan in her right hand in front of her face, “Follow me.”

9)       Of course, using the silent language of the fan didn’t always mean the two sweethearts were succeeding in their covert communication – there was always the risk that some busy-body would spy the young couple’s interaction.  With that, the young woman might twirl her fan in the left hand, which meant, “We are being watched.”

10)   Covering the left ear with an open fan, “Do not betray our secret.”

Once the couple had an established relationship, there were still rules of etiquette and spoken phrases of love that were never to be expressed aloud, unless in the privacy of one another’s company. Rarely would an unengaged couple be alone, especially within a strict New England community. So, even in such a setting, the secret language of the fan was useful – especially if the young couple was chaperoned by old, Puritanical, spinster, Aunt Bitty. Then their “secret” communication might unfold in the following manner:

11)   Drawing the fan across the eyes, “I am sorry.”

12)   Hands clasped together holding an open fan, “Forgive me.”

13)   The fan placed near the heart, “You have won my love.”

14)   Presenting the fan shut, “Do you love me?”

15)   Drawing the fan across her cheek or hiding her eyes behind an open fan, “I love you!”

16)   Half-opened fan pressed against her lips or putting the fan handle to her lips, “Kiss me” or “You may kiss me.”

17)   Shutting a fully opened fan slowly, “I promise to marry you.”

Not every form of communication with the fan was intended to encourage or continue a relationship.  The fan’s secret language might also be used to discourage or kindly reject a potential suitor, or communicate the absolute offensive nature of a young man toward a young woman.

18)   Drawing the fan across the forehead, “You have changed.”

19)   Carrying the open fan in the right hand, “You are too willing.”

20)   Fan held over left ear, “I wish to get rid of you.”

21)   Threatening movements with a closed fan “Don’t be so imprudent.”

22)   Opening and closing fan several times, “You are cruel.”

23)   Drawing the fan through her hand, “I hate you!”

Whatever the historians say, I trust that the nineteenth century language of the fan was a form of communication fundamental to the romance of America’s Victorian Era.  Not only did it afford a bond between generations of women, but it also offered a form of communication enabling young women an outlet to express sincere feelings towards suitors in an acceptable manner and within the confines of the Victorian Era’s oppressive etiquette.


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Steampunk has its own set of ideology, some of it extending from the Victorian era.  For all that was unpleasant in the Victorian era there was also a spirit of optimism, idealism, of the idea that anything could be possible, and the spirit of trying to make the word a better place.

Some of the following ideals really capture the spirit of Steampunk and can add color, conflict and depth to your Steampunk story, though this isn’t an exhaustive list:


Makerism is taking a closer look at something, from a pocketwatch to the government, and to see how it’s made, understand that, and use it in other aspects of life.  It’s a spirit of applicability and adaptability, and of taking things into your own hands.

The Maker Culture is alive and well today.  You see it in many subcultures, including the Steampunk subculture, where there’s a huge emphasis on DIY/handmade things.  All you have to do is search under “steampunk” on etsy.com to see the wide variety of beautiful one-of-a-kind things.

Here’s an interesting article on Maker Culture.


Innovention goes hand-in-hand with Makerism.  It’s not just making things yourself but making things better through science and invention.  Of trying to figure out how to fill a need in society and take things to the next level.  It’s the spirit of scientific advancement and discovery, invention, and dreaming big, of realizing that all things are possible then proving it.

Of course, this Innovention, like all science, can go horribly, terribly awry (or be used for evil/misused), which is a theme to many a story, including steampunk ones.


Idealism and romanticism were very much a part of Victorian culture.  It also encompassed a sense of optimism, that we can take control of our world (big or small) and make it a better place.  Poet George Elliot expresses it best in her poem O, May I join the Choir Invisible.

We must have the courage to cast off the self-protective irony of modernism, to rebuild trust, to think of the word again as something to be given and kept.

In Steampunk, these ideals continue to be present, even in grittier stories.  Your villain (or hero) may be blowing up parliament, but they truly believe that by doing so they are helping to make the world a better place.

For example, The Clockwork Guild in The Hunchback Assignments attacks parliament, but they are doing to make a statement about what they think is wrong with the government.

Idealism can also go awry as well, such as governments imposing ideals to better society or holding people (or oneself) to impossible ideals resulting in mental illness, eating disorders, suicide, or even crime.


There’s been a bit of discussion recently as to whether or not Steampunk stories need to have rebellion themes and still be Steampunk. I think most Steampunk stories do have rebellion themes of some nature because it’s in the very nature of Steampunk itself.

Unlike Cyberpunk and Biopunk, rebellion in Steampunk isn’t as dystopian/anarchist.  There can be outright conflict, like the Clankers vs. The Darwinists in Leviathan. But it can also be much more subtle, like in Soulless where Alexia is rebelling against the expectations society presses upon her. 

It could also be not quite rebellion, but a sense of challenge.  It could be challenge to the social order, to society, to science, or to oneself.  Clockwork Heart has many themes of challenging the social order from the organization the Torn Cards to the Clockwork Heart program itself.

This sense of challenging oneself and finding ones place despite what society dictates can makes for a good story, especially in coming of age stories and YA, which is also about pushing the limits and grey area.

What are your favorite  rebellion themes or ideologies from Steampunk?

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Goblin Market has been one of my favorite poems for a long time.  I actually quote part of it in my upcoming YA, Innocent Darkness. Goblin Market is an incredible Victorian poem full of double meaning.  Today I have invited my friend Cassandra Joffre, antiquarian book dealer for Dragon Books to tell us more about it.

“Goblin Market” — a booksellers point of view

by Cassandra Joffre


“She cried ‘Laura,’ up the garden,

‘Did you miss me? Come and kiss me.

Never mind my bruises, hug me, kiss me, suck my juices,

Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, goblin pulp and goblin dew.

Eat me, drink me, love me;

Laura, make much of me…”


My first encounter with “Goblin Market” was in my AP English class in high school. I was about 16 or so – just old enough to realize that there was some deeper meaning to the poem, but not quite old enough to really grasp what that meaning was. It left me uneasy – I had a vague notion that something sexual was being hinted at, and that they weren’t really talking about fruit and goblins, but my sixteen-year-old self just couldn’t believe that we would be reading something sexy in English, especially since the last book we read for class was the Odyssey.

It has been seventeen years (really??) since that English class, and I now find myself working as a rare book dealer- the absolute greatest job I can possibly think of (besides being an astronaut maybe). All kinds of amazing books and manuscripts pass through my hands, ranging from medieval illuminated manuscripts and Shakespeare folios, to signed first editions by Charles Darwin and Ernest Hemingway. I literally see and learn something new everyday, and when I am eighty I may just have learned enough to finally get the nerve to audition for Jeopardy! I never know what new books I will find, and I had pretty much forgotten about “Goblin Market” until about three years ago, when we purchased a collection of books on drugs and erotica that included a first edition of Goblin Market and Other Poems. In the original blue ribbed-cloth binding with gold rules to the covers and gold lettering on the spine, the book runs anywhere from $1,200-$3,000, depending on the condition.


First printed in London in 1862 during the height of the Victorian era, it became Rossetti’s best-known book of poems, the book is now considered one of the most important nineteenth century volumes of poetry to be written by a woman. To the modern reader, the subject matter seems shocking given our view of the Victorian era as prudish and repressed. With its subtly erotic undertones, its thinly veiled allusions to drug addiction and rape, and its at times confusing themes of sisterly love and sacrifice, it truly is one of the most seductive and haunting poems of any period.

Born in 1830, Rossetti was the daughter of the Italian poet Gabriele Rossetti and the sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, poet, artist and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. At the age of fourteen, she had a mental breakdown, which some biographers believe was the result of sexual abuse, possibly at the hands of her father. She was plagued with debilitating bouts of depression for the rest of her life, and often sought solace in religion. She became increasingly devout, and even turned down two marriage proposals because of religious differences. She wrote Goblin Market when she was thirty-one years old, unmarried and living with her mother.

Since its publication, there have been over twenty-two different illustrators for “Goblin Market”, including Laurence Housman, Hilary Paynter, Willy Pogany, Dion Clayton Calthrop and Margaret Tarrant. The first, and my favorite, was Rossetti’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His illustrations are still what I picture when I think of the poem, with his slightly masculine but strikingly beautiful and sensual women, and his goblins in the shape of little animal-men.

Probably the most famous and collectible illustrator for “Goblin Market” is Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). Rackham was extremely prolific, illustrating numerous books of fairy tales, but also the works of Shakespeare and Wagner’s Ring Cycle. His illustrations have an ethereal quality, the result of a special three color printing technique he was fond of using. They truly are beautiful – you can expect to pay around $3,000 for a signed limited edition (1933) – $36,000 will get you a deluxe limited edition with an original watercolor by Rackham laid in.

Prior to Rackham’s edition of “Goblin Market,” the poem was never really intended for  children, and in fact Rossetti said as much in a letter to her publisher. Perhaps because most of Rackham’s illustrations had been primarily for children’s books, the “Goblin Market” has apparently ever since been considered a children’s poem! I didn’t really believe people when they told me this, until recently. At a bookfair a few months ago, I found (and bought for $35) an edition of “Goblin Market” illustrated by Ellen Raskin. The illustrations are definitely intended for children, and while Raskin edited many of the verses (including the one I quote at the beginning of this post), I still find it ridiculous that anyone would consider this to be a poem for children!

Whoever the intended audience is, the influence that the poem has had on poetry, art and film (Guillermo Del Toro is said to have drawn inspiration from it for his films “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy”) are undeniable. The poem’s ongoing popularity proves that sex and drugs never go out of style!

~Cassandra Joffre


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One of the things I love best about writing steampunk are the opportunities for research. Take this, for example: did you know that during the 1870s and well into the 1900s there was a all-female crime syndicate in opperation in London?

Oh, yes, dear reader. It’s true! And it’s the fodder for a steampunk imagination like mine run rampant.

In his new book, Gangs of London, author Brian McDonald reveals details of one all-female gang, who rule the underworld of London for nearly two centuries. The Forty Elephants–or Forty Theives–was a well-run collective of cells who opperated across London and in other cities as well, headed by a formidable “queen”, which was responsible for most of the largest shoplifiting syndicate ever seen in London between the years of 1870 to 1950. Police records indicate that the gang, which was first mentioned in newspapers in 1873, had in fact been in operation even longer, since the late 1700s.

The ladies of the syndicate dressed in specially tailored clothing, coats, cummerbunds, muffs, skirts, bloomers and hats, sewn with hidden pockets. They raided the West End shops of London, pocketing, literally, goods worth thousands of pounds from diamond rings, to ranksacking employer’s homes after providing false references, to blackmailing the men they seduced.

“The girls benefited from the prudish attitudes of the time by taking shelter behind the privacy afforded to women in large stores, ” McDonald said. While the women rarely wore what the stole, choosing instead to fence it through a series of contacts in north and south London, they did use their ill-gotten gains to dress in legitimate high fashion, which they used as a coverup for their dealings. “…they threw the liveliest of parties and spent lavishly at pubs, clubs and restaurants,” he said. “Their lifestyles were in pursuit of those of glamourous movie stars, combined with the decadent living of 1920s aristocratic flapper soceity. They read of the outrageous behaviour of the rich, bring young things and wanted to emulate them.”

The gang guarded their territory fiercely, demanding percentages from others caught stealing from the stores in their turf. If the money wasn’t paid, they showed no mercy, arranging beatings and even kidnappings until it was paid up. If caught, they knew they could be sentenced to between three to 12 months’ hard labor, or three years in prison.

McDonald came upong these fascinating women while scouring the official birth and death redords, marriage indexes, newspaper archievs and out-of-print books in the British Library. An example of one such individual was Annie Diamond, born in 1896 in Soutwark, who became queen of the gang when she was but 20 years old. Thanks to a fist studded with diamond rings and a killer punch to back it up, she earned her name of Diamond Annie. With military precision, she could mount simultaenous operations in a series of shops across the city and the police called her “the cleverist of thieves.”

“Many a husband lounged at home while his missus was out at work, and many an old lag was propped by by his tireless shoplifting spouse. Some of these terrors were as tough as the men they worked for and protected,” McDonald added.

How could you not be intrigued by ladies who buck the system with such panache?

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Happy New Year, Everyone.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?


For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll have a sip of brandy now,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy yourself a cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine !
we’ll have a sip of brandy now,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the skies,
and seduced the strumpets fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary day,
since auld lang syne.


We two have fought air pirates bad,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


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Happy New Year

Everyone at Steamed! wishes you a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!





However, for you pessimists out there, I leave you with this “steampunk curse” courtesy of GeekWrath :

“May your steam forever be un-punked. May your brass cogs fall off your top hat, and may your goggles rust and decay!”

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