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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

Yes.

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

http://clayandsusangriffith.blogspot.com
http://twitter.com/clayandsusan

 

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

http://bonniedee.com

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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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