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Archive for May, 2011

Hello darlings.

Yes, I’ve been away far too long. But Lolita Theresa has been working dilligently on a new steampunk novel for you. In the meantime, since you know how much I adore research, I thought I’d take you on a little trip into fashion.

I’ve always found it fascinating how our society and what’s happening in it can directly impact the way we dress. Today we’re going to look at the changing silhouette of the Victorian era as a mirror of the times. (Courtesy of http://lady-of-crow.deviantart.com/art/Victorian-Silhouettes-83666275 which provided the original artwork.)


In 1837, Victoria ascends to the throne. She’s young, only 18, and beautiful and the silhouette of the time reflects that ingénue-like frame. Times are changing, there’s research happening about dinosaurs in the Pleistocene epoch, Samuel Morse has exhibited his electric telegraph at the College of the City in New York, and there’s a Gag Law in place passed by the U.S. Congress suppressing the debate on slavery.

By 1842, Victoria would have been, 23, and trying to appear very grown up. The skirts are widening (as are the hips and bust line after bearing two children), and do so even more in 1847 when she would have already had five children.

In 1852, at the age of 33, Victoria is truly on her way to showing the world that the English are a world power. They control India, Tasmania, Australia, parts of Canada. Notice the amount (and expense) of ruffles and added lace in the silhouettes of both 1852 and 1857.

However by 1862 the silhouette changes drastically to more simple lines. Victoria’s beloved husband Albert died in December 1861. As Victoria grows older and more critical of the behavior of her wild son Prince Edward, you can almost see the stricture and behavioral mores of the Victorian era changing in 1867 as the skirts grow increasingly more tight and confining until 1882.

Know what surprised me most? Check out the difference between the first image 1837 and the third to last image of 1892. Not much difference is there? Ever hear how at the end we start thinking about the beginning. Makes me wonder if the same was happening with Queen Victoria. Or perhaps, like all fashion, they just started recycling things, and she just happened to be old enough for what was old to become new again *resurgence of 1980’s fashions, cough, cough*.

Notice that by 1902 the silhouette has become so relaxed there’s barely even a bustline anymore. It looks almost worn out and tired. Since Victoria died in 1901, I can see why. (Well that and Edward, who succeeded her, did tend to be a pretty relaxed sort of guy.)

These images also illustrates why it’s so critical to make sure you know precisely which decade (or in many cases which five year period) you are discussing in your steampunk writing. Sure you don’t have to be accurate all the time (as rayguns and dirigibles aren’t exactly accurate either), but if you put an enormous bustle fit for 1887 in your 1847 set book, you really ought to be able to explain why.

Next time you are writing a scene, ask yourself, what do you read into the changing clothing trends and how can it more aptly reflect your characters?

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It’s book Monday!  For those new to Steamed, Book Monday is an occasional feature where I talk about a (usually) Steampunk book I really enjoy and think you will, too. 

The Vespertine

by Saundra Mitchell

Review copy provided by Harcourt Children’s Books

The Vespertine isn’t Steampunk, it’s a Victorian historical.  I was attracted to it because it’s about Amelia, who goes to Baltimore for ball season in Baltimore in 1889 in order to make a good match.  I *adore* balls and fluffy Victorian dresses.  But this isn’t some light, fluffy story.  No, the balls and dresses simply set the stage for a  lush historical tale of longing, social games, forbidden love, and just a hint of magic. 

Magic?

Yes, I just used the “m” word.

I wasn’t expecting a paranormal element, but for me it added so much depth to the story.  Amelia starts getting dreamlike, and sometimes disturbing, visions at sunset.  At first, these visions skyrocket her popularity, as she only has months to meet the right people to make the right match.  But soon her visions start coming true, and when the darkest things she sees happen, there’s no turning back and could ruin everything she’s come to Baltimore to achieve.

The Victorians did love their visions and esoteric mysteries so this paranormal element meshes very well, making it really (to me) a historical with paranormal elements rather than a full-on Victorian fantasy or even Gaslamp…though the mysterious Nathaniel bring it awfully close to Gaslamp territory (and I do love me a good Gaslamp). 

Ah, Nathaniel.

Who doesn’t love a good story about forbidden love? 

Amelia meets Nathaniel at a party.  But Nathaniel isn’t there to make a good match, like she is.  He is an artist who hires himself out at a “fourteenth”, so there’s never an unlucky thirteen  guests.  Nathaniel and Amelia are instantly attracted, and of course, a poor artists isn’t the type of guy she was sent to find to marry in Baltimore.  But this isn’t as typical of a story-line as you might think.  There relationship is complicated, and even though the attraction is there from the start, they have to work  to develop it, making the relationship portions of the story very fresh and intriguing. 

Amelia is a great character, not an insipid Victorian socialite, but a rather plucky, independent girl who’s sent alone to her cousin’s to experience the wonders of the big city and the decadence of ball season, wonders she’s never seen before, which lends to some great moments.  Imagine what it might be like to see a big city for the first time, or go to your very first ball wearing a ridiculously beautiful, extravagant gown by the lkes you’d only seen before in magazines? 

Then imagine discovering you have abilities that could, if exploited right, help your social standing, brining you into contact with all the “right” girls?

And what about falling in love? 

Or the fear that one wrong step, like even being in the same room alone with a man, could lead to your ruin?

Or that the man you love is not one you could marry?

The whole tale is richly woven, textured, and decadent, like a really good chocolate truffle.  The tale very lyrical  and I devoured most of it in one sitting. 

There are no automatons or rayguns, and fans of action packed stories may find it oddly quite (but not boring, her attention to detail and compelling story see to that).  Overall, this is a very compelling read. 

And the end.

Oh yes. 

The end will take your breath away.

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Today’s the last day of Armchair BEA.  Thanks to them for hosting it.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts and I hope those new to Steamed will come back.  We always have something going on. 

Today we’re supposed to blog about blogging.  I’m going to talk just a little about running a group blog.  I didn’t start Steamed!, I joined up when someone else formed it.  Actually, I don’t know how I ended up being the defacto blog mistress, though I’ve always been “calendar keeper.”  I just do what I need to do to keep this blog running, since I believe in what we do. 

Group blogging can be a fun way to get into blogging without having to set up your own blog, blog all the time, etc.  It can also be a great way to be able to blog about other things that may not fit on your current blog.  For example, here I mostly blog about Steampunk and writing Steampunk.  But on my personal blog, I’ll get more into the general trials, tribulations, and craft of writing in general, not just Steampunk, and post silly things (like my Friday fun videos) that might not fit a Steampunk blog.  On Geekmom, another group blog, I’ll talk about more mom-type things, like misadventures in crafting or fishing–things that may not work on either blog. 

One thing to think about, whether starting or joining a group blog is the commitment.  Do people have a “day” where they blog, or do they blog whenever?  Is it okay when they miss or do you have to blog on your day?  If you can blog whenever do you still need to meet a minimum, like a post a week? 

We’re pretty lax here at Steamed since we’re all writers with things like deadlines, day jobs, kids, etc.  But it’s definitely something to carefully consider. 

How often are you going to have content?  If you want to have something going on every single day, it can be a lot of work.  Also, who’s going to be doing the scheduling/setting up posts?  Does everyone post their own thing or does someone pst it for someone?  Is there an approval/editor process?  Who keeps the calendar?

Here at Steamed, the Lolitas all post their own stuff, and I post a majority of the guest posts.  But at Geekmom I write my post and put it in a queue for approval and one of the editors checks over all our posts before making them live, she also manages the flow to make sure there’s not 10 posts one day and only 1 the next.  I keep the calendar here at Steamed, I also book most of the guests.  As I said before, I’m not really sure how I ended up sort of running the show, sometimes I wonder, especially when I start scheduling odd-ball theme weeks, if someone’s going to take my calender away, lol. 

Do you have a style guide or anything to ensure uniformity? 

We don’t here at Steamed, but at Geekmom they do.  I struggle with the “one space in-between sentences” since I naturally use two, even when I tweet. 

Also, what are the parameters?  Do they assign particular topics?  Have theme weeks?  Just have a general theme (like Steampunk) that you blog around?  Will it be hard for you to come up with topics?  Are there things that you can’t talk about? 

It might seem like a great opportunity to join a group blog, but thing hard about how difficult it will be to come up with topics.  For example, I struggle with posts for Geekmom and am grateful they give us lots of ideas.  I always feel like I’m just not geeky enough.  (Shhh…)

Are you going to have special events?  Who will be in charge of them? 

I adore running special events here at Steamed, and I’m the one who usually ends up doing them, though really anyone could.  I have to say, special events can be a huge time suck.  When I run Steampunkapalooza in April, it’s like a part-time job.  But, to me, it’s well worth it. 

Do you fit?  Not all group blogs are going to be good fits.  Can you meet the time commitment?  Do you mesh with the other bloggers? 

I adore all my fellow Lolitas and the Geekmoms are fabulous.  But not everyone would be a good fit for the different groups.  Having diverse viewpoints and personalities in a blog is great, but everyone should still be united around the central goal/theme of the blog.

Most of all, will it be fun to have/join this group blog, or will it be a stressor? 

Blogging should be fun!  If you’re stressing out about topics or time or blogging feels like a chore, then maybe it’s time to take a step back and see what you need to do to make it fun again. 

Thanks so much for joining me during Armchair BEA.  Come back soon.  Have you entered our contest just for Armchair BEA participants yet?

What do you think is something to take into consideration before starting a blog of your own or joining a group one?

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I’m excited to be a part of Armchair BEA as we continue our virtual conference.

Today we’re supposed to talk about relationships.  Although I love to get ARCs, I don’t get a ton of them since there’s just not that much Steampunk out there yet.  We also usually only feature books we’re in love with (but we always welcome author guest blogs.  Since the Lolitas are authors we  want to support other authors.  We also welcome guest reviewers.)  I feel guilty asking for non-Steampunk ARCs since this is a Steampunk blog, but if I really love a book, I might feature if even it’s not Steampunk and sometimes we have non-Steampunk theme weeks. 

But honestly, the relationships I want to talk about aren’t about with authors, publishers, or even other book bloggers.  It’s about the relationships I’ve built with my co-bloggers, my fellow Lolitas.  There are four of us (myself, Theresa Meyers, Marie-Claude Bourque, and Elizabeth Darvill) who post regularly, but there’s about a dozen of us all-together, most of whom only post once in a while (including my “sister” Leanna Renne Hieber, who is awesome.)  Having a group of co-bloggers is amazing.  It’s having a group of people who you can share things with from silly links to trials and tribulations.  I know if I go to a conference there will be people to hang out with–and people to conspire with for submitting panel and workshop proposals.  If I’m panicking about something writing-related or need a last-minute beta I know someone will answer my emails (Yes, Shelley and Deb, I’m talking about you.)   Sure, running a group blog is a ton of work.  Group blogging is also not for everyone.   But, to me, just being part of a group like the Lolitas is well worth the effort. 

To help spread the Steampunk love, I’m doing a Steampunk-themed giveaway open to all ArmChair BEA participants (even the international ones).  I’ll email you if you win. 

Just comment below on what Steampunk book you’d love to read most for your chance to win your choice of:

 Blameless, by Gail Carriger is one of the Parasol Protectorate books.  This series is my favorite. 

Or…

 The Brimstone Key, is part of the Clockwork Chronicles Series, featuring the popular Grey Griffins. 

So, is there some Steampunk book out there you’re dying to read? 

Contest open to all Armchair BEA participants (I’m going to trust you on this).  Contest closes Monday, May 30 at 11:59 PM PST.  Winner will be contacted by email.

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Today we have Jane George, author and illustrator of the YA book, The Mumbo Jumbo Circus. 

Sideshow, Burlesque and Circus

by Jane George

“STEP RIGHT UP! DON’T BE SHY. THAT’S RIGHT FOLKS, WHAT’S INSIDE MUST BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED!”

As a kid, I was exposed to such imaginative oddities as The Wild, Wild West TV show and The 7 Faces of Dr Lao.

These kinds of cultural influences wax and wane, and now the lure of the mysterious, the impossible, and the forbidden is stronger than ever.  The resurgence of interest in circus arts, sideshow and burlesque theater may be part of the same cultural backlash to beige-box consumerism that spawned Steampunk. Humans crave color, imagination and creative freedom.

Poster: Gemini & Scorpio

Intense explorations of cabaret/burlesque, circus, sideshow and Steampunk have popped up all around the country, from one night events like The Lost Circus Circus Meets Dark Cabaret With a Steampunk Twist in Brooklyn last year to on-going performances and dinner theater.  Just to name a few:

In Austin, Texas, The East Side Show Room serves up gourmet cuisine and vintage cocktails with a side of cabaret in a steampunky-circus atmosphere. For a Tim Burton meets the circus experience, there is Cirque Berzerk   in Los Angeles. And in San Francisco you can have, “Love, Chaos & Dinner,” in a tent with Teatro ZinZanni

While the delights of classic roadside attractions like The Thing are now few and far between, there are performers who are carrying on the tradition of Sideshow and the Ten-in-One.

Austin, Texas is also home to Noel Benedetti aka Ballyhoo Betty, a sideshow performer who specializes in fire arts.

Noel is blogmistress of www.HeyRubeCircus.com , a fantastic celebration of all things circus and sideshow. She is affiliated with 999 Eyes Freakshow, The Invisible Man Corporation, and The Surreal Sideshow.

Noel says this about her experience as a sideshow performer, “Aside from musical acts, people are relatively sheltered from live entertainment today and so people are typically unaware of the very visceral chemistry that can exist between performer and viewer. During a live sideshow, there is an interaction taking place, unlike the unidirectional consumption of most mass media, such as television. This dynamic often takes people by surprise, and you can see their eyes light up in response to this confrontation.”

In contrast to the hybrid theater/circus/cabaret blends that are gaining in popularity, Noel says this about her art, “While sideshow is often considered a radical or fringe culture, it is also heavily steeped in tradition. There are relatively few genuinely novel sideshow acts around today; people have been eating fire, swallowing swords and displaying anatomical oddities for centuries and tipping the hat to performers of the past has become a norm in the business.”

Photo: Jason Black

Noel suggested I look up a visual artist and sideshow performer named Jason Black, aka The Black Scorpion.  Among the venues he performs at is Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore

A poem by Black describes The Black Scorpion:

A winged, performance Anti-Artist.

He, born a naked baby boy with irregular hands, unlike any other.

When him you see, understand you will.

Witnessing his Anti-Act is the longest day you will ever live.

Remember he is breathing for something onstage, and living the rest for his life.

That last line stays with you, doesn’t it? I’ll bet his act does too.

Current circus and sideshow acts could be be said to be more about individualism and creativity than about “Hey, Rube” hucksterism. This is especially true in the modern world of burlesque. A revival in burlesque and the art of the striptease happened in the Nineties and has been gaining in popularity ever since. Partly driven by a nostalgia for old-time glamor, modern burlesque is also a feminine reclaiming of the “male gaze,” often in intelligent and hilarious send-ups of the medium. Burlesque is theater, cabaret and performance art rolled into one.

photo: RJ Johnson, Hot Pink Feathers

Hot Pink Feathers   is a renowned, award-winning San Francisco Bay Area troupe that performs World Cabaret Showgirl dance. Founder and head Feather, Kellita, told me why she feels burlesque is so popular, “The heart of the matter is that burlesque is an art and a craft that puts the woman front and center, as performer and as producer. Audiences today are more heavily female than they used to be. Content is almost exclusively created by a woman for herself, and it often parodies her personal insecurities, transforming them into mainstays of joy and inspiration.  Burlesque is an art form that deserves its due. When it’s done right, a lot of craft goes into the art of slf-expression.”

Hot Pink Feathers is performing a Sally Rand-type showgirl routine, with feather fans and dripping-pearl bikinis, in San Francisco’s Carnavale Parade on  Sunday, May 29.  Say hello to them at the staging area 9am-12 at Bryant between 21st & 22nd.  Parade starts at noon. They can also be seen on the 2nd Saturday of every month at Café Van Kleef, where they perform with the Blue Bone Express brass band. Next show is June 11.

For a while now, circus arts have been making their way back to the more intimate, single ring circus. When I saw an equine show produced by Cirque du Soleil called Cheval Theatre, I could practically reach out and touch the horses. I definitely felt the whoosh as they galloped past my seat.

Poster: Circus Flora

A circus dedicated to this connection between performer and audience is Circus Flora in St. Louis. Circus Flora weaves a theatrical storyline through their classical circus acts. From their site, “The artistry, magic and charm of Circus Flora’s performances have made it part of the vanguard of the “new circus” movement in North America.”The artistry, magic and charm of Circus Flora’s performances have made it part of the vanguard of the “new circus” The theme of their performances changes annually. This year it’s a Victorian-era riverboat theme entitled Vagabond Adventures.

“Circus Flora is about performance, not spectacle. Circus Flora concentrates on displaying the individual talents and personalities of human and animal performers highlighting their relationships to one another. It’s a circus about family, beauty, magic and inspiration.”  Ivor David Balding

That quote could have been written about my recently-released, young adult fantasy, The Mumbo Jumbo Circus. It describes the themes of my novel perfectly. One random commenter will receive a paperback of The Mumbo Jumbo Circus. Step Right Up! into the world of human possibility that is this writer’s imagination.

Freedom, creativity and individualism are hallmarks of modern sideshow, burlesque, cabaret, and circus arts. Just like the relationship between author and reader, the magic is in the point of connection. I like to think of a circus ring as a sacred circle of human possibility. Happy performing, in whatever you do!

 ~Jane George

What do you love most about the circus? 

Jane is giving away a copy of The Mumbo Jumbo Circus to one lucky commenter (North America only please).   Contest ends 11:59 PM PST  June 1, 2011.

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Apparently, I never signed up for an interview.   Oops.

Since a few people expressed surprise at the idea of a Steampunk book(ish) blog, I thought I’d share a few of them with you:

The definitive Steampunk book blogger is Mick Perschon, aka the Steampunk Scholar.  He’s a doctoral student doing his thesis on Steampunk and a professor who has his students read and analyze Gail Carriger’s books (among other things).  He’s got extensive reviews and reading lists on his site.

Matt Delman, who runs Dr. Fantastique’s Show of Wonders, also has a blog called Free the Princess which is “A practical literary guide to Steampunk and the Victorian Era” where he talks about books, features Steampunk authors, and talks about Steampunk.

Silver Goggles also reviews books but this is different from the usual book blog.  Jha reviews books from the view of a Steampunk Post-Colonist, analyzing them to “deconstruct narratives in steampunk, with a particular focus on the issues of colonialism, imperialism and politics, as they appear within steampunk literature and/or roleplay, in order to de-center the traditional Eurocentric focus” which can offer a very different perspective.

Do you know of a book blog that’s almost exclusively Steampunk?  I’d love to know about them…

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Armchair BEA is continuing (for those of us not at BEA in New York.) 

Today all of us participating in Armchair BEA were asked what we think the “Best of 2011” is.

I can’t even begin to fathom such a list, there’s a ton of great books that have come out this year and a ton more on the way. 

However, I will share the best new book 2011 I’ve read so far and the book I’m most looking forward to. 

 The Girl in the Steel Corset, by Kady Cross is the best new book of 2011 I’ve read so far.  It’s a Steampunk YA (but of course) and a debut.  I loved it because there are kick-butt heroines, action, adventure, very solid steampunk worldbuilidng, great gadgets, and pulls in themes from classics (Jekyll and Hyde anyone?)  My review of it is here.  I’ve got a different review and a giveaway of this book over here on another site I blog at. 

 Darker Still, by Leanna Renne Hieber is the book of 2011 I’m looking forward to the most.  It releases in November 2011.  It’s  her YA debut (she also writes the Percy Parker books, which are amazing.)    Darker Still isn’t Steampunk, but Gaslamp (think Victorian fantasy), but nevertheless sounds awesome.  What I love most about Leanna’s books is that they all feature unconventional heroines.  In this book Natalie suffers from Selective Mutism.  Yeah, totally looking forward to this book.

What are you looking forward to?  What’s been the best new book of 2011 you’ve read so far?

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