Archive for July, 2012

One of the greatest things about the Steampunk community is that as an adherent to our modern throw-away culture, they make treasure from trash. At a panel recently at Comicpalooza on Steampunk Show and Tell, I saw and heard some examples of costuming accessories made form trash or garage sale finds.

Steampunk Rifleman

Steampunk Rifleman

Pictured here, Steampunk Riffleman holds his creation fashioned from an old bb gun and a garage sale erector set find.  Also the Lady Airship Captain on the panel made a period style hoop skirt out of coat hangers for under $5.00. Click here to see the hat, I found online, made out of a cereal box, with directions on how to make it.  Click here to see a wicked top hat with goggles made from can tabs, two beer cans, and two soda pop bottles.These pictures and these show and tell type panels and exhibits throughout the world at various conventions and conferences celebrate the amazing art and creativity that is Steampunk.

Never forget, it began as a literary movement. So many things begin with literary, with a book and then the movie or TV show springs from it and so many people forget about the book. Many of us who write Steampunk also have personas and create costumes and many of us are poor and need everything on the cheap so many of us have created our costumes from thrift store finds or from what’s already in our closet. I certainly have. But also we can apply the directive – when you can’t get what you want use creativity – to our writing.

Coming into Steampunk from writing historical, which I researched well by keeping up with the latest archeological finds and newest historical theories, and with years of studying the ancient Celts, I had to keep pushing my guilt aside when writing alternate history. I don’t think I should have felt guilty, instead I should have celebrated my creativity in finding a way to make my story better by changing history a bit. It’s similar to the directive of making what you can’t afford to buy. If we can’t make the history work then we create new history for the story. In Steampunk it’s not only history we are creative with, we often have to do the same thing with Science.


Victorian Ghost, watch out for my ghost debilitater machine

Victorian Ghost, watch out for my ghost debilitater machine

In To Love A London ghost I had to introduce a machine, a ghost debilitater, the entire plot rested on, and to invent this machine, knowledge of protons and neutrons had to be available, even though they hadn’t yet been discovered in the time period of my story. Of course I had my mad scientist turn out to be a genius who discovered protons and neutrons but never announced his discovery as he meant to keep if for himself and get rich off of it.  Then I had to describe them in a way that most people would understand without using the words protons or neutrons. To be honest, I had a moment of guilt and feared someone criticizing the way I fudged the science. Knowing this machine wouldn’t actually work to change a ghost into a human, at that part in the story I had three things going on, beams crossing on my machine, a druid chanting to the gods, and a witch casting a spell, so when the heroine is suddenly alive, more than 1500 years after her death, even my characters aren’t sure if it’s due to the science or the magic or the combinations of both. Instead of fearing someone will say that is the silliest thing they’ve ever heard of, I and all authors should take a lesson from the Steampunk community and celebrate our amazing creativity. Sometimes we can’t make our stories work in the actual world, with real science or real history, just like sometime Steampunks can’t afford to buy things they want for their costumes, but still they are proud of what they are able to make on their own that is usually better than what they wanted to buy.

Maeve Alpin

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Hi everyone!  INNOCENT DARKNESS releases in a week and a half — in fact, pre-orders are already starting to ship!  I’m busy, busy getting everything ready for the blog tour, virtural launch party, launch party, etc. So, I invited Vivian to guest review The Greyfriar for me.  

The Greyfriar, Vampire Empire, Book 1
by Clay & Susan Griffith
PYR 2010
Review by Vivian

The Greyfriar is a standout in the steampunk genre. Set in an alternate world, vampires have taken over much of
the world. In 1870, they emerged as a vicious outbreak and dominated the humans. These vampires aren’t your
friendly sparkling variety. They are omnipotent and diabolical. Having invaded the Northern territories, the
human survivors were forced to move South. The fight for territory would be bloody and deadly.

Princess Adele of Alexandria is set to marry the American Senator Clark. An arrangement the would unify their
people so they can engage is an all out war against the enemy. As her ship is attacked by vampires, Princess
Adele is rescued by a mysterious stranger. The Greyfriar is her savior, but soon the masked crusader is overtaken
and unfortunately, she is kidnapped by the infamous Prince Cesare.

The world building was just magnificent in this novel. There is a lot of it, but it really sets the scene. You can
just visualize the death and brutality in every page. Incorporating airships and weapons to give it a steampunk flair,
The Greyfriar becomes a refreshing vampire novel.

This book really surprised me. I just fell for the Greyfriar. He was mysterious and enigmatic but vulnerable at
times to really draw you in. He is a very complex man and I can’t wait to get past his more of his layers. Adele goes through
her own transformation. She starts off as a naive Princess who grows some spine towards the end of the novel.

The Griffiths really hooked me in creating a world that could mirror our own. Captivating from the start, the action and
adventure will keep you riveted until the end. Blending a budding romance, political conspiracies and vampires, The Greyfriar
is unforgettable.


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Today we welcome author Nick Harkaway. His new novel ANGELMAKER is a “blistering gangster noir meets howling absurdist comedy as the forces of good square off against the forces of evil, and only an unassuming clockwork repairman and an octogenarian former superspy can save the world from total destruction.”

Nick Harkaway was born in 1972, a distinction he shares with Carmen Electra (allegedly), a collection of indifferent wines, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album, and a company which makes guttering in Pietermaritzburg. He is tall and has a shaggy and unkempt look about him which even the best grooming products cannot entirely erase. His eyebrows were at one time wanted on a charge of ruckus and affray in the state of Utah, but this unhappy passage has now been resolved. He is the author of ANGELMAKER and THE GONE-AWAY WORLD, which was originally titled THE WAGES OF GONZO LUBITSCH– a name which still occasionally crops up on Amazon lists. The new title was adopted because no one could pronounce the old one, and because while he originally intended people to think of Gonzo the Muppet, it was apparent that a majority of readers defaulted to Hunter S. Thompson instead.

Hi Nick, welcome to STEAMED. ANGELMAKER sounds both fun and facinating. Where did you get the ideas for this story?

Nick Harkaway: Everywhere. I get ideas from everything around me, all the time. In this case there was my own criminal granddad and his bent mates, who were the subject of all manner of tall and hilarious tales when I was growing up (but who were monstrous in person and whose company in the real world I was mercifully spared). Then there was the broken clockwork toy on the café table in Primrose Hill, and – inevitably – Jules Verne’s submarine. There were Capra’s movies and my friend Tom’s observation that villains are more interesting than heroes because villains are always launching a revolution where heroes are proponents of the often-miserable status quo. There was Al-Mas’udi’s recounting of the history of Manfarqalas the war elephant of Mansura, and there was an article in the Independent about a despised and utterly blameless ethnicity in southern Europe.

Is ANGELMAKER more character-driven or plot-driven or both? How so?

Nick: The separation is a false one; in any story, you come to know the characters by what they do and feel in the context of the events which unfold. At the same time the more they become involved in those events the more they influence them and the whole thing unrolls together. Style is in there, too – the voice is derived from and partially constrains what can happen and how it can be told; it gives mood to the perceptions of the characters and determines whether we see them from within or without, whether we sympathize or mock. You can’t ultimately separate these things from one another – though it’s fashionable in some circles to try to snip one part away to look at it in depth, that approach inevitably misses a large part of what’s going on.

Here at STEAMED, we love to read book about awesome women. What kind of heroine do you have and how does she relate to the hero?

Nick: There are three central women in this story: Edie Banister, who when we first meet her is retired and 90-odd years old, but who in her youth was a full-blown James Bond-style secret agent for the British Government’s most clandestine service. Young Edie is dryly ironic, desperate to escape her boring existence, physical and smart. Old Edie is complex, her young self still burning inside her. Along the road she’s fallen in love, fallen out of love with her government and her previous profession, and won and lost a lot. I love them both: Young Edie would have broken my heart, Old Edie would inspire my delight and admiration.

Then there’s Frankie, the mathematician whose genius is at the heart of the drama, who is abrupt, wounded, and brilliant.

And finally there’s Polly the Bold Receptionist. Polly has the hardest job from a story point of view – she has to be a person despite having a lot of jobs in the narrative. She’s sexy, somewhat offbeat and unpredictable, dangerous and determined. I worried that she didn’t get enough time to show her colours in the book, but I got a tweet from someone this morning saying how much they wanted to be her, so I’m happy.

Since many of us here at STEAMED write romance, we tend to love a good HEA. How important is a happy-ever-after in your writing?

Nick: I like a story to come to an end in a way which doesn’t make you want to go out and throw yourself under a bus. I also don’t really get along with unresolved endings. I feel if I’m a reader I’ve invested a lot of time and emotional energy in a book and I’m owed some kind of payoff. I don’t really accept that doubt and angst are a payoff, though I know intellectually that some books are about those things and the ending must reflect that.

Even so.

So my stories have happy or happy-ish endings in general; I figure by the time they reach the end my heroes tend to have been through the mangle and they’ve entertained us and fought for us and made us care and they deserve a break. I don’t like things too pat, though, so it’s not so much happily ever after as happy now, more to do, which I think is all any of us gets.

That said, I don’t do sequels. I read a sequel once to a book in which the hero clearly died at the end of the first story, and the new book started ‘but he did not die’ and proceeded to mess up his life again for three hundred pages and I just thought: that’s mean. It’s just frankly unkind to the guy.

Do you have any villains? And how do they relate to your hero and heroine?

Nick: Oh, you’ve got to have a good villain. I have a couple, and they are villainous! The villain defines the action and the nature of the story at least as much as the hero. Who’s the main character in Star Wars? Luke Skywalker. Who defines the action? Darth Vader. He’s at the heart of it all.

So my villains are like that. They are the instigators, the hidden hands which must be revealed, the stalking scary bad which comes at you from the dark. How do they relate to my heroes? They hate them. They hate them with a burning, fiery passion.

It’s always so interested to hear about how people balance life and writing. Can you share with us your writing schedule?

Nick: Sure. It’s not complicated. My wife goes to her office at around 8am, and I write from then until when she comes home, with a break for lunch. I say “write”, but I don’t mean that I necessarily bang the keyboard all that time. It depends on how a book is working. Sometimes I read it back, edit with a pen, scribble ideas, stare into space, make tea… it’s all process.

Do you have any more projects in the work?

Nick: Of course! I always have more stuff in the works. I wrote a shorter novel while I was waiting for the edit on ANGELMAKER, so I have that to rework and sort out. Then I have a thriller in my mind which will be pretty scary. After that… there’s so much to do… we’ll see.

If readers want to know more about you and your writing, where on the web can they find you?

Nick: I am ubiquitous. The best thing to do is Google me and pick what you like. I’m on Twitter (@Harkaway) and Facebook – I have a professional Page there, I’m trying to wean people off my personal page because it basically doesn’t get used much any more and it doesn’t get the announcements and stuff – and tumblr (www.Harkaway.tumblr.com) and I have my own site, due for a revamp this summer – www.nickharkaway.com – and I’m on Google +. Heck, I’m on Diaspora* – I’d love to move all my social media stuff there, but it’s not quite ready yet.

So, yeah, not hard to find.

Actually, that’s a good thing for me to ask you – what’s your favourite way of interacting with an author? It drives me crazy that most author sites are basically like old posters at bus stations – they’re flat announcements of information with very little depth. That’s why I love Twitter – because it’s fully interactive. But maybe that just makes me a niche social media person. Where would you most likely look for an author?

Thank you so much for coming, Nick!

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I’m kind of jumping on Lolita Seleste Delaney’s genre-mashing bandwagon here. I’ve been hanging out at a new steampunk group on The Consolidated Organization of General Steampunk Writers on Facebook this week and the question came up, “How much magic/paranormal do you like in your steampunk?” The same question came up last Friday on Twitter during #steampunkchat, so it seems to be weighing heavily on people’s minds.

This is a question I’ve thought about a lot since I started writing the Gaslight Chronicles, which are pretty close to a 50/50 blend of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy, along with a hefty dose of romance. I’ve had some readers complain its not steampunk, since there are werewolves and vampyres, while some historical romance or fantasy readers get confused when the tech exceeds what was actually available in the mid-1800s or the social structure is a bit more…evolved. As author Richard Asplund, Jr. so brilliantly put it, it’s like the Reese’s Argument: “You got your fantasy in my steampunk,” vs. “You got your steampunk in my fantasy.”  That seems to perfectly sum up the debate.

Me? I’ve always been of the “throw it all in and shake it up” variety when it comes to genres. Before I wrote gaslamp/steampunk/fantasy romance, I was writing paranormal/fantasy/suspense/sf romance. For me, fiction is fiction, and there aren’t any hard and fast lines. Well, I do have a thing about happy endings, but that’s about it. I’ve never had the slightest qualms about mashing up fantasy and tech. I think that makes things more fun. You never know what to expect.

It turns out, though, that there ARE people, readers and authors, who do have very definitive opinions on just how much hocus-pocus ought to be allowed in steampunk. Others consider steampunk more of an aesthetic, and anything with the right “feel” can be considered steampunk, not just tech-only alternate history. One thing I would suggest to other authors–and I say this as both a reader and writer of spec fic–is whatever you decide, make sure your world is internally consistent. In other words, have your magical system grounded in some sort of science or folklore and have your divergence points for your advance technology clearly delineated. If the two flow together for you as the author, odds are they will for the reader.

I’m curious to know what you think. I’m offering a download of your choice of my steampunk/fantasy mash-up books to one random commenter.

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I owe you some winners!


Winners of an e-book copy of Prehistoric Clock




The bracelet from Steamheat Designs

Mina Gerhart


Book 2 edits are keeping be busy, so today I asked Ray Dean to do a guest book review.



Book Review by Ray Dean
“Way will open.”
She is Artifice. 
A resurrected criminal and agent of HRH Prince Albert’s Secret Commission.
An artificial ghost.
A Quaker.
He is Jim Dastard.
The oldest surviving agent of the Secret Commission.
An animated skull.
A mentor to newly resurrected agents.
It is 1880 in a mechanical and supernatural London. Agents of Prince Albert’s Secret Commission, their criminal pasts wiped from their memories, are resurrected to fight the eldritch evils that threaten England. Amidst this turmoil, Jim Dastard and his new partner Artifice must stop a re-animationist raising murderous dead children. As Art and Jim pursue their quarry, Art discovers clues about her past self,  and through meeting various intriguing women—a journalist, a medium, a prostitute, and a mysterious woman in black—where her heart lies. Yet the question remains: What sort of criminal was she? A new beginning, a new identity, and new dangers await Art as she fights for the Secret Commission and for her second life.
*** ***
There is a finely-honed edge to The Dark Victorian: Risen. Ms. Watasin’s wit and imagination shine through the world of dark shadows and eldritch power and one quickly finds a home within the pages of this story. It would be appropriate to note at this point that you should have some time on your hands when you begin reading this book or you may be forced to give your loved ones a glare of annoyance when they interrupt your reading.
The pace and promise of this book are delightful! Weaving the world of this London effortlessly in with the plot shows the reader the level of talent and artistry of the author. We are quickly drawn into the world of Prince Albert’s (Not-so-)Secret Commission and marvel at the way that a disembodied skull is able to create a larger presence than a man with all his various and sundry limbs.
The bleak streets of London are a maze of well-crafted characters and dastardly doings that drive the plot and reader forward through the twists and turns of the plot.  One of the points that struck my fancy was the way the action sequences were crafted. I’m used to hit and miss action in novels and I was pleased to find that the deft pugilistic skill of Agent Artiface was easy to follow and entirely enjoyable.  When one considers the ‘proper’ manner that was expected of a Victorian woman these ‘outlandish’ displays of physical prowess and sharp skill will tickle the fancy of many a reader.
I should admit that the first thing that drew me to Ms. Watasin’s work was the elegance of her illustrations. Should anyone worry that her art might outshine the text, rest assured that both are even more delightful together and enrich the experience of reading Risen.
I hope that Volume Two will soon be available for our reading pleasure, although I believe my family may not be so eager! This book was such a distraction for me, taking my attention away from them for a few stolen hours of entertainment. I hope they’ll forgive and forget before the second volume is released.
 ~Ray Dean

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“You can’t do that!”

I scowled. Another Lolita–I never bothered to learn her name–had joined me in the engine room. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who wanted to be the ship’s mechanic.

“I’ve done it before. If you mix the components…”

“You can’t do that!”

God, this girl would drive me to something rash, and I valued my position on the ship far too much to let that happen. No. I needed plausible deniability if anything happened to her. For now though, I needed to do my job–which meant getting rid of her, at least temporarily. I gritted my teeth into what probably didn’t look anything like  a smile, but it was the best I could do. She’d been down here with me for five hours–it was about six too many.

“You know, the captain was talking about getting some new tools at our next stop. Why don’t you go make sure she knows what we need. Seems kind of pointless to spend the coin on the wrong stuff.”

She narrowed her eyes at me and pointed to the boiler. “You won’t mix the fuel while I’m gone?”

“If you’re back soon enough, I won’t need to feed the engines at all.”

Huffing a sigh, she flounced out of the engine room, taking her attitude with her. Her boots tapped an annoying rhythm on the wooden planks of the corridor as she moved toward the bridge.

I made a less-than-polite gesture toward the engine room door then picked up a piece of coal and a hunk of wood and chucked them both into the boiler.


I’ve read some reviews lately that complain about genre mash-ups that include steampunk. This one is too much romance, not enough steampunk (or the reverse). That one is too much paranormal, not enough steampunk (or vice versa). The list goes on and on.

Here’s the thing… I don’t understand the mentality that all forms of steampunk must be pure. It smacks a little too much of the pure-bloods only thing in Harry Potter. Maybe I’m too big a fan of genre mash-ups, but I am not a fan of only eating one thing at a meal too. I want to taste all kinds of flavors, and I want to see what happens if I mix them together. Sometimes they taste like crap, but sometimes… oh my goodness but they are yummy.

This isn’t to say that steampunk aficionados can’t dislike a given book for whatever reason their little clockwork hearts desire, but I’d really like people to stop saying something isn’t steampunk because it isn’t steampunk enough to fit their definition. Say it has steampunk elements if you prefer–I don’t think most authors would have an issue with that–and you can even say the steampunk elements fit or didn’t or… whatever.

But I’ve met a fair number of steampunks now. As a group, the people behind the genre are very friendly and welcoming. It’d be nice to see that attitude extend to how steampunks as a group react to books/movies/music/etc within the genre as well.

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As a mom, I love the idea of mother-daughter writing teams. Today we welcome my favorite, Belle and Nancy Holder. They decided to interview each other for this guest article.

New York Times bestselling author Nancy Holder (Wicked, Teen Wolf: On Fire) and her daughter, Belle, have written two stories in a Victoriana-steampunk universe starring Lightning Merriemouse-Jones, a time-traveling mouse who devours the works of Jules Verne (literally.) Lightning appeared in Pandora’s Closet and Furry Fantastic, both edited by Jean Rabe and others. They’ve expanded their love of steampunk into cosplay, costuming, and appearing on steampunk panels. Nancy will moderate the steampunk panel at the Big Orange Literary Festival at Chapman College in September, and is writing several steampunk short stories for various anthologies. Belle has been creating a line of steampunk accessories featuring astrolabes.


 In Which Belle and Nancy Holder Quiz Each Other on the Subject of Steam

by Belle and Nancy Holder

Nancy’s Interview

Belle: What got you interested in steampunk?

Nancy: I went to the Adventurers Club at Disney world.  Now sadly gone, the Adventurers Club was a gathering of various eccentric characters from the 1930’s who were returning from their exciting travels to spin yarns.  I loved the costumes and the immersive experience. The night was full of whimsy. Steampunk is like that.

Belle:  What is your dream steampunk outfit?

Nancy: A maroon velvet fitted jacket over a black skirt with red lace. I’d like a proper big bustle, high button shoes, a small black and maroon hat, and my own private clockwork carriage.

Belle: Do you see steampunk as a long-lasting fad, or a permanent genre?

Nancy: A permanent genre. It is too fun to lose.

Belle: Whose steampunk world would you live in?

Nancy: Jules Verne’s.

Belle: Is writing steampunk harder or easier than any other genre?

Nancy: Easier, because it is so fun!


Belle’s interview

Nancy: Will you outgrow steampunk?

Belle: It’s not something you outgrow, but something you grow into. So, no.

Nancy: What is the appropriate place to wear steampunk clothing?

Belle: Obviously steampunk events and conventions. Really, anyplace you would be allowed. My school doesn’t allow hats, and huge skirts wouldn’t fit in the narrow doors. It really depends on the outfit.

Nancy: Do you see steampunk as a fad or new genre?

Belle: A fad, but a long-lasting one, like being a hippie. It will probably fade out of the public eye, get brought back, and I think then it will slowly transform into something else, sadly.

Nancy: Who is your steampunk persona?

Belle: She’s like Kaylee from Firefly, but with zeppelins instead of space ships.

Nancy: What is the best thing about steampunk?

Belle: It’s such a broad idea, there really isn’t a limit to the things you can do.


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At Aetherfest in San Antonio a panel made up of DJ Doctor Q, the sky pirates from New England, the Wandering Legion of Thomas Tew, and others discussed regional differences in Steampunk between the Southern states and the New England states.

Leatherwork is big in colder climates, but not as big in the south or southwest, probably due to the heat and humidity there more than any other reason. It appears the costumes worn at cons in the New England area are usually more Victorian in tone than those worn in the south and southwest. In New England they have more access to vintage Victorian clothing and accessories due to the high volume of antiques there.

At Steampunk cons in the south and southwest you will see a lot more Stetsons than top hats as western wear is so much more accessible there than in New England. As many people still ranch and farm in the south we have many western stores. Some regions have more people sporting airship pirate costumes such as New England since again those clothing items are easier to find there since it’s a coastal area seeped in sea faring history.

 It seems even in a specific region there are differences between cities, such as in Texas, Houston’s Steampunk costumes appear more industrial and gritty than those you’ll see in Dallas.

The conventions also differ a little per region, the pace of the cons in the south run a bitter slower, more laid back than New England, and New England cons seem a bit more music heavy. Cons in the south are more author and panel heavy, after all, southerners are known for their gift of gab.

There are regional differences outside of the U. S. as well. For instance in Russia they enjoy darker more post-apocalyptic Steampunk and Dieselpunk is more popular there. In Britain, as one would imagine, Steampunk embraces and is infused with Neo-Victorianism.

As a Steampunk writer this made me wonder about the affect the region I live in has on my author voice.  I titled a Steampunk novella I just submitted to a publisher Conquistadors on Planet X. The title alone shows the state I reside in does affect my voice, it should be no surprise by the title that I live in Texas. Do you feel the region you live in affects you author voice at all in the settings or types of Steampunk stories you write?

Please comment below and share your own thoughts and experiences on regional differences.

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I’ve got my edit letter for book two of the Aether Chronicles.  Book 1 had both a prologue and an epilogue. I hadn’t written either of these into book 2, but I had in my personal notes to add them to keep the books consistent.

Sure enough, I was asked to add a prologue. What they wanted was a little different than what I’d originally thought of, but I really like what I created. Even if it was difficult to write.

To prologue or not to prologue is something a lot of authors grapple with. Some people love prologues, some people hate them.  I think it all depends on what works for you story. A prologue can enhance a story, but not all stories need them.

It can be really easy to turn a prologue into pages of backstory, or use it as a way to info dump. This is exactly what you don’t what to do. Nor, do you want to write a prologue that’s really chapter 1. Just because it takes place a few years before the story starts doesn’t always mean it’s a prologue–at least to me.

Personally, I think the fine line comes down to who’s POV it’s in–but this is just me. I think if it’s in the POV of someone from the story, then it might not be a prologue. To me, a prologue should offer something unique, something that can’t be gleaned from the main POV characters. Something that sets of the story, or gives information the reader needs, but isn’t necessarily backstory.

For example, the prologue in INNOCENT DARKNESS is in the POV of a girl named Annabelle. She’s not one of the POV characters. Nor is she actually in book 1. But what happens in the prologue sets off the chain of events which come into play six years later in chapter 1 when we meet Noli, the main character.

Both prologues are also very short. The book 1 prologue is three pages. That’s it.

One thing I did struggle with in the book 1 prologue was making the tones between the prologue and the rest of the book constant. They might be about different characters and occur in different places, but I didn’t want to give the reader the wrong impression about the book.

I’ve struggled with the book 2 prolouge, but for entirely different reasons.

I’m not actually a prologue person. I read them in books — I’m not one of those people who skip them. But I rarely write them. Mostly because I think most of the stories I’ve written don’t need a prologue.

Nevertheless, I like having the prologues in this series, and for this series, I think it works.  The book 1 prologue is one of my favorite parts of the book.

As for the book 2 prologue, I think it’ll turn out well, and I hope you like it as well.

Suzanne Lazear writes steampunk tales for teens. They have faeries in them. Her debut novel, INNOCENT DARKNESS, book one of The Aether Chronicles, releases August 2012 from Flux. Visit her personal blog for more adventures.

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Today we welcome Kate Milford.

 Kate Milford is the author of The Boneshaker, has written for stage and screen, and is a regular travel columnist for the Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. To learn more, visit www.clockworkfoundry.com.

Spin Round, Wooden Doll

by Kate Milford

I don’t exactly remember when I started to become obsessed with automata. I’ll have to ask my husband; he remembers this kind of thing, largely because it’s usually through him that I find the weirder stuff I become interested in. But somewhere along the way I found a book and two stories that have loomed in the background of everything I’ve written since. The book was the Penguin edition of Sigmund Freud’s essays on the uncanny; the stories were Hoffmann’s The Sand-Man and Automata.

I should explain that I’m not a fan of Freud, and I disagree with about 60% of what he says in his essays on the uncanny. But I love Hoffmann. In fact, if what I write is in any way interesting to fans of steampunk, it’s because I’m a Hoffmann fan.

Among the things that I most love about steampunk is the constant presence of mechanical stuff. I love clockwork and vacuum tubes and old metals with patina, and I think my grandfather’s hand-drawn circuitry diagrams are like art. And because, not being particularly mechanically gifted myself, even though I understand the basics of how a circuit and an escapement work, they retain an element of the wondrous for me. This is what has drawn me to the genre—not the Victoriana, not the inventors, not even the presence of spunky, sexy girl geniuses prevalent in modern steampunk. Nope, what does it for me is the frequent presence of richly-imagined machinery, the exploration of mechanics and what can be done with them, and the philosophical questions these things raise about what it means to be human, and part of society.

For me, one of the great beauties of writing about analog and mechanical technologies is that for many readers in the twenty-first century (and especially for my target audience of kids and teens) they are familiar and unfamiliar all at once. It is easy work to push things like clockwork just a little further toward the unknown and render them (to use one of Hoffmann’s and my favorite words) uncanny. Consider the escapement; in a world of smartphones that render even digital watches mostly irrelevant, most kids—heck, most adults—have no concept of the workings of the antique clocks in the shadowy halls of their grandparents’ homes. They don’t know that they’re made up of things that, like the components of a piece of music, are called movements, or that those movements are made up of things with beautiful names like ébauches and assortiments (the latter of which includes the escapement). Even the beautiful word escapement is strange, evocative, almost forbidding. Consider the automaton, the otherworldly oddity of any sort of human or beast-shaped simulacrum that winds with keys and moves with unnatural and often frantic gestures, slowing down to stillness in a brief parody of a human’s much slower decline…until it is wound again and brought back to life.

Consider how ticking is like a heartbeat. Consider how it is like a footfall. Consider how it throws the passage of time in your face.

Writers and readers are drawn to mechanical technology for more reasons than I dare guess at, but I can tell you exactly why it speaks to me. I grew up surrounded by men who understood mechanical things and spent time tinkering with them both for work and for fun. As an adult I married a man who makes his living in bleeding-edge information technology and automation and who is a reader of Ray Kurzweil, Charlie Stross, Neal Stephenson, and others who philosophize about or weave tales touching upon the increasingly blurry line between natural and artificial intelligences. I chalk it up to my father and my grandfathers and my husband that I like writing and thinking about mechanics and technology, and I think our innovations and interactions with those things reveal our humanity by constantly causing us to question what it means to be human. That’s why I love science fiction and fantasy as much as I do; to me, they are nearly always reducible in some way to interesting questions of identity. And if I can have those questions plus a world of bespoke gadgetry and oddball clockwork and steam-driven innovation where the transistor never happened, well, cool. Because according to my dad, we got the transistor by reverse-engineering stuff found in the Area 51 crash, so really, a pre-transistor world is a better place to discuss humanity as defined by human technology.

Just kidding. But back to E.T.A. Hoffmann, and the uncanny beauty of the mechanical.

Writing at the turn of the eighteenth century into the nineteenth, Hoffmann was an innovative and dizzying storyteller who made no apologies for leaping between different points of view, beginning stories with letters and ending them with third-person narrative, or pausing for pages in the middle of a very tense tale for one character to lecture at length on the subject of music and humanity. A few pages on, Hoffmann might just reveal that that everything up to that point has been a story being told by another character who then stops his tale to explain that he’d rather be left with absorbing questions at the end of a story that force him to muse over it than to have it end tied up so satisfyingly that he has no reason to think about it any longer. And yes, that’s where that particular story (The Automatons) ends.

Hoffmann’s tales are also replete with panic about the possibility of mistaking a simulacrum of humanity for a real person. In The Sand-Man, one of the most famous of Hoffmann’s “night pieces,” the passing off of an automaton for a real girl causes the complete breakdown of an impressionable young man; in The Automatons you get a lengthy panic attack from one character who’s horrified by the idea that a mechanical thing could be allowed to make music. To Lewis, the character in question, music is a thing reserved for nature and for men, and while attempting to duplicate the music of nature is the highest and most worthy challenge a (human) musician can undertake, for an unnatural thing like a mechanism to create music on its own is an abomination. Just two examples from two of my favorites; there are so very many more I could list.

In Hoffmann’s world, human identity is a delicate bit of machinery in its own right, a program that can be damaged beyond repair far too easily. In his world, things like doubles, automata, puppets, even spectacles and telescopes, are causes of anxiety—they present the appearance of something they are not. The arts, which Hoffmann’s protagonists often feel passionately about, seem to be the things they cling to in order to prove that they and those around them are “real” people. Hoffmann, a composer and music critic who lived in an era of tremendous musical innovation and a time during which some of the most famous automata were conceived and built, seems to have viewed the ability to create as what we might call a Turing test today. He also seems to have had a unique sense of the way that what is familiar can be utterly terrifying if it is suddenly suspected to be not quite what one thought it was, and the more completely at home you feel with something—as Hoffmann must have felt about music—the more terrifying it could potentially become. Dancing, for instance. In The Automatons, after his lecture on the dreadfulness of automatons playing music, Lewis has special words of horror for the idea of a man dancing with a mechanical woman and not having a clue about her inhuman nature. Sure enough, it is so scarring to Nathanael, the protagonist of The Sand-Man that not even dancing with the automaton Olympia tips him off to her mechanical nature that when he breaks down at the end of the book screaming, “Spin round, wooden doll!”

Two hundred years later, the uncanniness of his tales is amplified by the fact that his simulacra are made up of things that, for me, already inhabit that uncomfortable but wildly compelling place where beauty and familiarity and oddity intersect. They are made of pocket spyglasses and clockwork and instruments that sing in unearthly tones. They are made of things that wind up, of things that tick with mechanical heartbeats but sing like angels. They are made of things that, like those antique clocks counting quietly in dark and dusty hallways, are easy to take for granted today until it comes time to admit that most of us really don’t interact with them or understand them at all.

After reading E.T.A. Hoffmann, it’s not as easy to walk by that clock. We pause, then we look closer and wonder if we really know what we’re looking at. Then we look at each other, and try not to wonder the same thing.

~Kate Milford

Twitter: @katemilford

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I know Monday is book review day, but I just had to tell you about this short story that will make your mind boggle and your brain fall out. “Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate” by David Erik Nelson is a surreal, hysterical, and dead-serious look at the nature of life, sex and robots.

Yeah, I said hysterical and dead serious. It’s both. I can’t explain how, but it is. Nuff said. You just have to read it.

Nelson’s steampunk world follows the long Civil War, where the mechanical Union troops stomped the south and then, after the war, the clockies, like all the other soldiers, had to find something else to do and somewhere else to live. Tucker is a drunken farmer in the west and gets it into his head to teach the robots how to do simple tasks like open doors and climb stairs. You can guess where it goes from then. Add in a Japanese doctor and a rabbi-slash-shopkeeper, and you have a fascinating town in the never-was.

Nelson’s take on steampunk is unique, and if you want to see something totally different from anyone else out there, this is well worth the read. On the other hand, if you like your worlds neat, tidy, and more or less happy (yeah, like mine, LOL) then it might not be your cup of tea. One way or the other it will make you think, and isn’t that what a good story is supposed to do?



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INNOCENT DARKNESS is full of literary references. Also, V and Noli like to read and discuss books. In celebration of their love of books and INNOCENT DARKNESS’ upcoming release, we’re going to have a Literary Reference Photo Scavenger Hunt.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to seek out the books and poems on the list and take pictures of them.  Each eligible photo will win you one entry – so, the more books you find on the list, the more entries you can get. Also, we have some slightly harder bonus items. These earn you not only a regular entry, but an entry for a special prize.


Grand Prize: An annotated copy of INNOCENT DARKNESS and Noli’s leather bracelet (from the cover) and a pair of goggles

1st prize: A signed and doodled copy of INNOCENT DARKNESS and Noli’s necklace

2nd prize: A signed copy of INNOCENT DARKNESS and the brass key from the secret garden at Findlay house

3rd-5th places: Captain Jules’ Extraordinary Telescope ring (from Think Geek) + INNOCENT DARKNESS goodies


1)      Must be 13 or over to enter, if you’re under 18 please have your parent’s permission.

2)      Open Internationally, however, if the titles are not in English, please make sure I can see them in the picture so I can validate the entry.

3)      Limit one entry per person per book.

4)      Books can come from your home library, school library, book store, ect, – but please be courteous and if you’re in the book store, be very careful and you should probably buy a little something while you’re there.

5)      Books need to be paper copies, because as awesome as e-books are, they don’t exist in Noli’s world.

6)      People who work in bookstores and libraries are still eligible to enter, because you’re awesome.

7)      Each picture needs to have a book and a “marker” to be valid – this is very important because this makes your entry unique. Basically, something needs to be in the photo with the book. You could be the marker, it could be a stuffed animal, your hand (though it should be different from other hands – colored polish, a ring, etc), it could be a table or a vase of flowers or a funky hat, or a gear, whatever you want.  In fact, there will be a “Missy’s Choice” prize for most unique marker. You don’t have to have the same marker in every picture, feel free to shake it up.

8)      Email pictures to suzannelazear (@) yahoo with “scavenger hunt” in the subject. Please tell me your name as you’d want it announced if you win and make sure I have a valid email to contact you at. You can send the pictures one at a time or all together. If it’s for a bonus contest, please let me know. By sending me the pictures, you’re giving me the right to post my favorites.

9)      You don’t have to send me two pictures for the “oldest copy” contest, if you follow the instructions, you’ll be entered into the bonus contest and receive a regular entry.

10)  Contest ends July 24th, 2012 at 11:59 PM PST. Winners will be chosen at random from eligible entries unless otherwise stated.  Bonus prizes may not be awarded there are no eligible entries. Winners and awesome entries will be posted at http://www.suzannelazear.com

Book List:

Are you ready?  Remember, you don’t have to find them all, but the more you find the more chances you have to win:

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

“Fairies in the Wood” by Mother Goose (poem)  “Fairies in the Wood” by Mother Goose (poem) (Also called “My Mother Said” and “Pixies in the Wood”)

“Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti (poem)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

“The Hosting of the Sidhe” by William Butler Yeats (poem)

Household Tales by Brothers Grimm

Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

“The Stolen Child” by William Butler Yeats (poem)

Stories of Hans Christian Andersen by Hans Christian Andersen

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Bonus Contests:

These are super hard, but you’ll be entered for a chance to win an additional awesome prize. Make sure you ask permission before handling or taking photos of really old books—especially if you’re in an antique bookstore or library archive. To be entered in the special bonus content, your picture must include the publication date (and I need to be able to read it, also you still need to have a “marker” in these pictures for it to be eligible).

1)      A copy of Harper’s Bazaar from 1901 or before (can be a reprint or reproduction) – this gets you entry to win a steampunk fascinator and a steampunk nail polish.

2)      A botany book originally published before 1895 (the book you’re taking a picture of can be a reprint, but it must have first been issued before 1895) – this gets you an entry to win a Steampunk Wrist Monocular from Think Geek.

3)      The oldest copy of “Goblin Market” will win will a pair of goggles.

4)      The oldest copy of Nicomachean Ethics will win an aviator cap.

Missy’s Choice award for best marker – Missy (my daughter) will choose her favorite marker from all the pictures and award a prize of her choosing. Everyone is automatically entered into this special contest.

Good luck! Have questions? Email me. Suzannelazear @ yahoo

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Today we welcome steampunk author Robert Appleton. Don’t forget to comment for a chance to win an e-book copy of Prehistoric Clock!

Award-winning writer Robert Appleton is a British author of science fiction, steampunk and historical fiction. He currently writes for Carina Press and other top digital publishers. Soccer and kayaking are his two favorite outdoor activities. He has traveled far but loves the comfort of reading Victorian adventure novels or watching movies at home. His mind is somewhat mercurial. His inspiration is the night sky.

The Girl With the Gannet Ship

Concerning that most adventuresome novel, Prehistoric Clock

by Robert Appleton

Gannet—noun: large heavily built seabird with a long stout bill noted for its plunging dives for fish

Let me tell you, it ain’t easy being the captain of a Gannet airship, especially the Empress Matilda. Designed for air and sea rescue, it’s a clunky hybrid vesssel whose upper deck can detach, making it a steam-powered boat and an airship. You’re also in charge of an all-African crew recruited from the hunter-gatherer tribes of Namibia and Central Africa. Luckily you have a hell of a first officer in Tangeni, whose grasp of English is impeccable, including some tart colloquialisms.

But you’ve inherited command of the Matilda during a wicked storm over the Channel, during an incredibly dicey bomb disposal mission on the sea bed you have to complete personally. As in…go deep sea diving, by way of a state-of-the-art diving bell and a custom-fitted suit, to dismantle a sunken cache of explosives…before they rupture a vital pipeline.

Bah, let me at ‘em, you say? Well, what if you’re a twenty-five-year-old redheaded Englishwoman, and quite a bit shorter than anyone else on board? And you’ve never captained anything before? And you wake up to find yourself in the Cretaceous Period, alongside a large, demolished slice of Whitehall and Westminster? That roar you hear isn’t the storm either. It’s from something very big and very angry, stalking your way.

Volunteers, anyone?

I loved writing the heroine of Prehistoric Clock, Verity Champlain, because she’s exactly what I envisioned a female steampunk adventurer to be when I first heard of the genre. Tough, resourceful, uniquely dressed, she always has something to prove but she’s fiercely loyal to anyone she admires. Looks-wise, I always pictured Deborah Kerr from King Solomon’s Mines, but Verity’s no damsel. The African crew gave her the nickname “Eembu”, short for eembulukwaye, which I won’t spoil here. But they have tremendous respect for Verity, whose exploits in the Dark Continent are known by tribes far and wide.

Yet, what will the stiff-necked British nobs make of her when survival in this prehistoric age requires her ship and her expertise? Who will take orders from whom?

One of my favourite aspects of steampunk is its revisionist historical approach. Writers have a chance to flip Victorian social and political mores on their heads, or at least have a lot of fun tweaking them. These progressive heroines might spring from a Jane Austen fever dream, roaming the skies at the prows of airships, fighting villainous masterminds with parasol swords, or flirting in the dark with debonair, monster-hunting Darcys. Though I wonder what she’d make of some of the costumes!

I usually attribute my love of steampunk to a long-time fascination with Victorian/Edwardian science fiction and adventure novels—Wells, Verne, Haggard, Conan Doyle—but the one thing missing from those books is perhaps the most prominent feature of this genre: a heroine every bit the equal of the hero. It’s as though we wind the clock back to yesteryear, quickly wind it forward again to the 21st Century, then giggle in delight as the two meet explosively (but ever so politely).

Anything could—and does—happen.

 –Robert Appleton






Published by Carina Press 

Airship officer Verity Champlain is well-respected by her crew. But after a vital mission nearly goes wrong, she is having second thoughts about her career.

Lord Garrett Embrey is on the run. The Leviacrum Council, the secretive scientific body that holds sway over the Empire, executed his father and uncle and now they want him dead too.

Professor Cecil Reardon is consumed by grief. Since his wife and son died he’s been obsessed with his work, and now he is on the verge of an extraordinary scientific breakthrough: his machine is about to breach time itself, to undo fate’s cruel taking of his loved ones.

But the time jump doesn’t go according to plan, and part of London winds up millions of years in the past. Verity and her crew—Lord Embrey, Professor Reardon and others stranded with them—must pull together to survive in a world ruled by dinosaurs…and to somehow get home.

BUY HERE or on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, and Audiobook

Read the first three chapters HERE!

I’m giving away TWO free e-book copies of Prehistoric Clock. If you’d like a chance to win one, simply leave a comment on this blog. I’ll pick the winners in a week’s time. Thanks for reading, and good luck! Open internationally, contest closes July 11, 11:59 PM PST.

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Ghosts by Maeve Alpin

Maybe you believe in ghost. Maybe you’ve had an encounter with a ghost. Maybe you are a skeptic but are interested in the folk lore. Or maybe you’ve turned someone into a ghost. I hope not. Of course if you’ve done so to one of your characters in your writing, that’s totally ok, which brings us to the other reason you may be interested in ghosts. You may have one or several as characters in your books who are ghosts. That’s the group I’m in. After all with the Victorians’ fascination with death and the afterlife, ghosts blend in so well with Steampunk stories.

Victorian Ghost

The paranormal investigation panels at Comicpalooza consisted of Britt Griffith from the TAPs crew of Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International on the Sci-Fi channel, Author Michael Vahola of America’s Haunted Road Trips, and an investigator with the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team from Pasadena Texas. The taps team has been able to debunk 98% of paranormal activity at homes and businesses they’ve investigated. By finding out what the problem really is, it can be fixed.

Several things that may appear to be paranormal activity can be debunked. High electromagnetic fields cause a great deal of abnormal activity but can be corrected by an electrician. Rats, good at hiding and staying unseen, cause noises and knock things down, of course an exterminator can get rid of them. Also noises in walls, attics, and basements can be caused by animals of some type. If you have wood floors, house popping noises can sound like footsteps. Air trapped in water pipes causes loud banging at random times. Doors opening or closing by themselves can be attributed to a house which has a good seal, opening or closing an exterior door can create suction, so an interior door will move when the exterior door moves. Having two or more windows open can have the same effect on interior doors. Also if a gush of wind enters through one window and exits through another, the reduced air pressure may cause doors to open or close.

If an investigation results in evidence supporting the presence of ghosts, there are paranormal investigators who do rewarding cross over work to help spirits into the light. In that line of work, the investigator with the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team has experienced an incredible sense of sadness when first contacting spirits at those haunted sights, but when the ghosts cross over the sensation shifts to one of intense joy and peace. The work is so rewarding for her.

Of course one of the most interesting things about ghost hunters is the equipment they use. There are many types of equipment popular with paranormal investigators but here are some of the basic ones.

Steampunk Ghost Hunter Machine

Steampunk Ghost Hunter Machine

The simplest piece of ghost hunting equipment, which fits in perfectly with Steampunk, is a compass. During any type of paranormal activity, a compass will spin wildly.

Recording devices are used to pick up EVP, electronic voice phenomena. It’s said EVP began in the 1950’s when Fredrich Jurgenson, a bird watcher and retired opera singer, recorded bird calls near his home in  Switzerland on a reel to reel. When he listened to the tapes he heard voices on them, though no one else had been there. An ancient Viking burial ground happened to exist in the area he recorded at. After discovering this method of recording communications with the dead, he continued EVP research and wrote the book, Voices From the Universe.

A recorder with an external microphone is recommended; otherwise if your thumb movies around, the recorder it will create Satan sounds. Use one with zoom, full spectrum sound as it picks up noises similar to the way the human ear does, otherwise a recording of a cricket chirp may sound like someone calling for help. Also stay with the equipment so, for instance, if you know you heard a cricket chirp at the time of the recording, then play it back and hear a strange noise on it, you’ll know that’s no EVP, just a cricket.

Don’t use any video cameras that shoot less than 30 frames per second. It’s wise to use one with night shot vision. Britt showed us a film of a great debunking case where bottles were knocked off the shelf by an entity. So the TAP team arrived and set up the cameras, then left for a few minutes. When they returned they found the bottles on the shelf  broken. They thought, wow has it already started. That’s a lot of activity. Upon watching the film, they saw a rat crawl on the bookcase and knock over the bottles.

For Thermal cameras, B2 is recommended and it is used for thermal Imaging on the Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International TV shows. Britt showed an excerpt of a thermal imaging film of a man telling a ghost, “Do something right now, right in front of my face.” He and those with him saw nothing, but when the TAP team looked at the thermal imaging film, they saw the entity had moved right in front of the man’s face. The human eye and regular cameras couldn’t pick that up.

Regarding Infra red illuminators, Britt discourages there use, he feels IR light has wiped out a great deal of evidence. It’s like spotting a shadow then shining a light on it, the shadow can no longer be seen, it’s the same with infra red light.

The Paranormal Puck is a great data logging device for the research side to track and monitor environmental fluxuations in temperature, electro-magnetic fields, and natural magnetic fields.

Carbon monoxide detectors are necessary for ghost hunters, who go to a lot of air deprived, rusty environments. As Britt Griffith said, “When stuff rust it’s burning oxygen so there is little air flow and carbon dioxide can kill you.”

KII Meters also called K2 meters are used in reading electromagnetic fields. If the meter spikes on these small, handheld devices, it reflects a change in the magnetic field, which along with other evidence can give proof to paranormal activity.

Mel Meters measure both EMF and temperature. They allow paranormal investigators to record the temperature right where it’s at. After Gary Galka lost his oldest daughter Melisa, in a car accident, he created the Mel meter, named after her, to communicate with her after death as it helped his healing process. The model numbers in the Mel-8704 are the year of her birth and the year of her passing.

Also you can place Weather Stations out to track the temperature during the investigation. Significant drops in temperature along with a lot of EMF readings are evidence of paranormal activity.

Who You Going to Call – Comicpalooza 2011

I wanted to add, though I’ve been using the term ghost hunter, and it’s the term I use in my Steampunk/Romance, To Love A London Ghost, the preferred term is paranormal investigator. These investigators gather paranormal evidence but no one knows if it’s actually caused by ghosts. There are so many theories. We might share our world with beings we can’t see due to our vision of light. Britt Griffith pointed out that babies and animals see a little bit wider outside of a human adult’s visual range. We’ve all noticed babies and pets looking at things that aren’t there, at least as far as we know. It could be the lingering energy of the dead, the spirits might have gone into the light yet some of their energy was left behind. One idea is aliens. Britt mentioned the interesting Vasin-Shcherbakov spaceship moon theory. The moon may be a hollowed-out planetoid created by aliens and placed in orbit around the earth.

You’ll want to do more research. This is just a brief introduction to paranormal investigations based on panels at Comicpalooza, but it’s a good start to kick off your own Steampunk ghost hunting stories.

~ Maeve Alpin

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First off, I’d like to announce the winner of the ARC of God Save the Queen:

Romance Reader Enthusiast

Also, INNOCENT DARKNESS is book of the month over at Novel Novice. There’s going to be tons of fun stuff including a Steampunk writing contest.

Next off, we have a special contest for you today!

Christine Cavataio runs http://www.steamheatdesigns.com – which makes *very* beautiful Steampunk jewelry. 
Here’s what she has to say about why she loves to make Steampunk designs:
For the past 30 years I have been an artist and the style of Steampunk has been a part of much of my work. I started out as an artist creating paintings and then moved into graphic art and illustration as a career. The style of Steampunk comes very natural to me since I have explored the contrast of design in industrial elements along with the detail and flourishes of the Victorian period. Although in the past I have depicted these in my illustrations now it seems to work best for me, in a creative sense, to put these ideas into jewelry design. It’s great to develop pieces of art that people enjoy wearing!
She has made this beautiful Steampunk bracelet for one of YOU!  All you have to do is tell us what kind of Steampunk jewelry you’d design if you could (it could be serious or silly, realistic or totally impossible). 
 If you need inspiration make sure you check out Steamheat’s site. You can also follow her on twitter
Thanks to Steamheat Designs for donating the bracelet. Contest open in North America only.  Prize will come directly from Steamheat Designs.  One entry per person. Contest ends July 8th, 11:59 PM PST .

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