Archive for May, 2013

Natalie Zaman is kept busy by pointy things.  Pencils. Pens. Needles (the knitting and sewing variety). Arrows. She also has an eye for the sparkly, and likes black. She’s the co-author of Sirenz and Sirenz Back in Fashion.


Steampunk Robots

by Natalie Zaman

As an aspiring manufacturer of gaslight fantasy, I’m always looking for resources—not just the reading kind, but the living kind—the kind you can hear, taste, touch, experience… However the essence of Victorian science fiction is no easy thing to come by in Suburbia, save through various media and my own invention. But the aether will surprise you, sometimes when you least expect it. It found me on, of all things, a school field trip—to the FIRST Robotics World Championship.

Very well… perhaps it’s not so surprising that one would make such an encounter at a celebration of, well, science—but in an arena filled with Frisbee throwing robots?

1 Team 4531 on the Field

Can you spot the Infernal Device?

I was playing spectator, waiting for my daughter’s team to play their match when I saw the first sign.



A top hat.

I blinked, and then all I could see were numbers, steel and plexi-glass, all well rooted in the 21st century. The match I waited for finished, and I went out into the hallway, only to meet this chap.

2 Steampunk Chap

Fancy meeting you here.

So there was a Steampunk-themed robotics team—one whose members possess the sartorial sensibilities of a crew of airship captains. I wanted to know more, but first, a little bit about FIRST, the instrument of fate that brought us together:

Started by inventor Dean Kamen and Dr. Woodie Flowers in 1989, FIRST’s acronym explains its mission: For Inspiration and Recognition In Science and Technology. Each year FIRST teams build a robot to accomplish a specific challenge. This year it was throwing Frisbees and climbing a pyramid.

3 Bringing the Robot onto the Field

Getting ready for competition.

4 Drive Team

Technology needs a human element. Enter, the robot drivers.


Team #4531, STEMpunk (another fitting acronym, though not exactly “steamy”: Science Technology Engineering Math + punk) hails from Mishicot, Wisconsin. They earned their spot at the World Championships by being the 2013 Wisconsin Regional Highest Rookie Seed team and winning the 2013 Wisconsin Regional Rookie All-Star award.

When I visited their pit (home base where repairs are made) to ask “Why Steampunk” (they were the only team at the Dome with Victorian flair after all), I was enthusiastically informed that scientific spirit of Steampunk manifested in its gears and cogs and wheels, “fit.” It is a perfect combination. In addition to the science, there’s the “handmade” aspect of the program; not just the robot (which the students design and build themselves with the guidance of mentors), but outfits, accessories, swag and environment, all concocted by the students…

5 Pit CrewSome of the extraordinary gentlemen of STEMpunk. And yes, there are ladies too.

And then there’s that swaggering bravado, an essential trait of all budding venture-capitalist-scientists:

6 Team in Tees

Whether in standard issue team tees…

7 Team in Stands

 …or full regalia, the gears are always turning.

The robot is still waiting to get a Victorian veneer—a goal for the future. That’s the thing about brass-works, clockworks, gears, chains and other trappings—they’re heavy, and the rules are strict when it comes to weight limitations. It will be a challenge, but if anyone knows about the blending of form following function, it’s STEMpunk. Lest you think that their garb is purely for show, have a look at the nifty safety glasses that are a part of their everyday work wear.

8 Goggles

Cleverness! The eyepieces screw off so the dark lenses can be removed, leaving the wearer with fully functional safety glasses.

Little details like this—or big ones like how things work (students learn and use mathematical and scientific concepts as well as training on a variety of machinery), lend authenticity and tactile touchstones to a story. I was fascinated by the melding of past and present so well done by team #4531—but there are hundreds of other teams with varying themes and in various stages of formation—there’s lots to learn on all sides.

If your novel has scientific or technological elements, involvement in FIRST could be a mutually beneficial form of research. My own light involvement in my daughter’s team gave me a better understanding of scientific concepts (and my algebra is admittedly improved—who knew it would be useful in re-sizing photos?). Teams need volunteers both in and out of the shop—writing and communication skills are key in promoting and growing interest in the program and for raising funds (things that so many authors become good at by default). If you have the time and like working with young people, think about volunteering for FIRST—then get ready to inspire and be inspired.

And you’ll never meet a nicer bunch of kids.


Read Full Post »

I had a blast at Comicpalooza’s weird and wonderful Memorial weekend. Every aspect of Comicpalooza was a carnival of the fantastic and the Steampunk ball was no exception.

A Belle of the Steampunk Ball

A Belle of the Steampunk Ball

The music was merry the hall was grand and one and all came with their dancing shoes on, in costumes both elegant and outrageous.

Buxom damsels in bustles and corsets and dapper men in Victorian attire swung their feet, kicked up their heels, and bounced at the ball.

Performances began with Frenchy and the Punk. Their flapper cabaret, Great Gatsby sound was a party in itself.

DSCN0464Professor Elemental’s performance as always was rollicking fun. I say steam, you say, punk. “I say steam, you say, ____.  I say steam, you say, _____.” Proffesor elemental’s youtube video

Marquis of Vaudeville with their rockin circus of sound, the smooth mellow vocals of Toby Lawhon,  and a sensual base guitarist with a magnetic flair and whipping hair had everyone prancing and dancing. Marquis of Vaudeville’s youtube video

Abney Park

Abney Park at Comicpalooza

The ball reached the height of amazement when Abney Park took the stage and the magic of music reached a whole other level. Abney Park’s youtube video

May I have this dance?

Now that the ball is over, the dancers have left, the booths at Comicpalooza have been taken down and all the stars have gone. So we are left waiting for the ball and Comicpalooza to come in 2014.

Maeve Alpin is the author of four Steampunk/Romances: To Love A London Ghost, Conquistadors In Outer Space, As Timeless As Stone, and As Timeless As Magic.

Read Full Post »

D. L. Mackenzie is the author of the gently satirical steampunk series, The Magnetron Chronicles.  These putative memoirs of eccentric Nineteenth Century inventor Phineas J. Magnetron follow the globe-trotting, crime-fighting aristocrats of the Hogalum Society as they solve peculiar mysteries and attempt to keep order in a world inclined to disorderliness.  The first volume, The Last Adventure of Dr. Yngve Hogalum, is available as a free Kindle ebook.  Learn more about the series and author at http://themagnetronchronicles.blogspot.com.


Four Techniques for Sparking Your Creativity

by D. L. Mackenzie

Readers often ask me, “Where do you get all of your ideas?” as if they’re hoping I’ll share some magic formula, or perhaps a link to an online idea consignment boutique presenting prepackaged suites of novel concepts attractively priced for struggling writers.  My stock answer to the question “where do you get your ideas” has always been “from everywhere and anywhere,” which—while true—isn’t a particularly helpful bit of advice to an aspiring writer.  Upon further reflection, I realized that I hadn’t devoted much conscious thought to the murky mechanics of my creative process, and I didn’t really care to, either.  Like turning on the lights at a séance, I feared a dispassionate analysis of my own creativity might break the spell for good.  I’m pleased to announce that I’ve conquered that fear, it didn’t hurt a bit, and I have actually gleaned some useful (I hope) insights into the creative process.  I’ve identified four techniques I had been using all along without really thinking about them.

So, returning to the question, “Where do I get my ideas?” again, the answer is still “everywhere and anywhere,” but perhaps an example will shed more light:  I was driving home one day, absentmindedly pondering what topic I might write about for this blog, while also half-listening to the radio.  A National Public Radio story on the topic of educational testing grabbed my attention, specifically, a few odd moments of that piece which focused on testing creativity.  A relatively new test has been devised to test creativity in much the same way we now test intelligence.  It’s done by asking questions such as, “What would the world be like if all of its animals could speak English?” and gauging the answers on a creativity scale.  And voila!  I had a pretty intriguing topic for my blog article, illustrating the first creativity technique:

Creativity Technique #1: Listen and observe

It’s impossible to pay attention to everything, but you can pay attention to what you pay attention to.  The television program you watched about Mayan civilization.  Your mailman with the bushy eyebrows and handlebar mustache.  The time you spilled coffee on yourself on your way to work.  Any of these mundane occurrences might pass unremarked in the real world, but each has the potential to add texture to your writing—if you are paying attention.  Every moment of your non-writing time becomes a grand brainstorming session, with ideas coming a mile a minute.  Song lyrics, offhand remarks, YOUtube videos, bits of poetry, off-color jokes… anything that gains your attention and gooses your imagination… everything goes in the hopper.  This technique really works, if you follow through with the next technique:

Creativity Technique #2: Think Uncritically

Yes, think.  The tidbits you’re collecting won’t amount to much unless you let them stew a bit in your fevered mind until something intriguing pops out.  Mix and match them with existing story elements to see if anything clicks together.  Maybe you’ll decide the source of your antagonist’s power is a lost Mayan amulet.  Perhaps that two-dimensional character of yours would come into starker relief with some bushy eyebrows and a handlebar mustache.  Perhaps your heroine might meet a warrior prince and realize later she had a nasty oil stain on her blouse.  Who knows?  The point is that you will generate a limitless stream of new ideas.  Of course, most of them will be banal claptrap, but don’t worry about that yet.  We’ll deal with that shortly as Creativity Technique #4.

Creativity Technique #3: Ask Questions

Remember the creativity test I told you about?  The testers ask questions to see how creative the subject’s response is.  Now, it’s probably not a particularly novel observation on my part, but it seems to me that this is the job of the fiction writer: to answer thought-provoking questions in narrative form.  A steampunk writer might ask, “How might someone from the Nineteenth Century envision the future,” and then answer that question in narrative form.  Or, “what if airplanes had never been invented and airships had become the dominant method of air travel?”  And so on.  For me, the key takeaway is that the great bulk of creativity is bound up in the question itself.  We can be imaginative in answering the question, but asking such a question in the first place is perhaps the most creative act of all.  To be truly innovative, we cannot be satisfied merely to answer someone else’s question.  We must pose our own questions to unleash our greatest creativity.

The strangest thing is that we don’t have to be extraordinarily imaginative to pose questions that will in turn spark our creativity.  We can avoid staleness in our own writing by uncritically asking questions about everything we have accepted as an unquestioned state of affairs.  What if steam is suddenly challenged by petroleum and internal combustion engines?  What if airplanes appear on the scene to wreak havoc on our heroes’ airships?  What if lighter-than-air craft were declared illegal or immoral?  Any of these questions would pose challenges for your characters, and challenge you to construct a credible back-story,


Creativity Technique #4: Think Critically

All right, you’re generating lots of new ideas now, but that doesn’t mean they’re any good.  Just as in conventional brainstorming, the goal is to spark creativity by popping off with whatever crack-brained notion comes unbidden.  After the brainstorming is done, though, each new idea must be analyzed critically.  Does it really add to the story, or is it an unnecessary aside?  Does it really help flesh out a character, or is it an irrelevant distraction?  Real life sometimes seems like an arbitrary succession of random events, but our job as writers is to distill the chaos into a coherent whole with a recognizable plot and theme.  The bottom line is as always: if it doesn’t strengthen the story or move it forward, get rid of it.

I am knocking on wood as I type this, but I can honestly say that I have never once stared at a blank screen waiting for inspiration to strike; rather, I am typically bursting with ideas, worried I’ll forget them before I get a chance to get them all written down.  If you use these four simple techniques, I’m confident you’ll always have a trove of ideas clamoring for your attention.  I’m guessing you have already cooked up a few new ideas just from reading this article.  Try writing a few paragraphs on your new idea to see where it leads.  If it doesn’t pan out, there’s no harm done, but if you start getting that familiar itch and can’t stop writing, you’re probably on to something.


Read Full Post »

Packing for any convention is tough. Packing for a STEAMPUNK convention is monumental. First, there’s figuring out which outfits, and in fact, which aspects of steampunk, you want to include. I have mostly pretty formal, Victorian outfits with small steamy touches. (Like not always wearing a blouse with the corset–and wearing the corset on the outside, of course.) Then I have a couple outfits that are more punk, less steam. This weekend, I’ll be debuting a new one, composed of mostly older pieces, but reimagined, that’s really classic steampunk–browns, blacks, gadgets, corset, boots,  goggles, and a teacup.

Not only do I have to pack ginormous skirts, and corsets, AND a hoopskirt, and 4 pairs of boots, there’s also gadgets and accessories. Do I wear the vintage jewelry or the one with the kraken? (answer: both, different days.) I have to add combs inside one of my hats, because it keeps falling off my head. I finished my sewing last night. Plus, since this is a working con for me, I have to take books, swag, and materials for panels. It all adds up to a LOT of stuff. A lot.

Oh–and my spouse has just as many outfits. Three piece suits. Kilts. Tophats. Size 14 boots. His luggage isn’t small, either. The funniest part? We’re just going to the other side of Metro Detroit.

So that’s what I’m up to. Tomorrow I leave for Up in the Aether–the Steampunk Convention. It lasts from Friday Morning until Monday afternoon, and there’s a bunch of great stuff planned, including a fabulous author line up. (oh–and I just turned in book 6 of the Gaslight Chronicles

If you’re in the area, come see us. It’s always more fun with more kids in the playground!

Read Full Post »

Today we welcome Middle Grade author Adam Glendon Sidwell.

The Buttersmiths’ Gold
by Adam Glendon Sidwell

Front-page-cover-newEveryone knows the most coveted treasure of the Viking Age was blueberry muffins. Blueberry muffins so succulent that if you sniffed just a whiff, you’d want a whole bite. If you bit a bite, you’d want a batch; if you snatched a batch, you’d stop at nothing short of going to war just to claim them all.

Young Torbjorn Trofastsonn comes from the clan that makes them. He’s a Viking through and

through – he’s thirteen winters old, larger than most respectable rocks, and most of all, a Buttersmith. That’s what he thinks anyway, until a charismatic merchant makes Torbjorn question his place among the muffin-makers. When Torbjorn lets the secret of his clan’s muffin recipe slip, he calls doom and destruction down upon his peaceful village and forces his brother Storfjell and his clansmen to do the one thing they are ill-prepared to do: battle for their lives.

buttersmiths_jacket_front_rgbThe Buttersmiths’ Gold is a spin off novella in the Evertaster series that tells the story of two Viking brothers and their adventurous past. The Evertaster series (Book #1 released June 14, 2012) is about Guster Johnsonville, who goes searching for a legendary taste rumored to be the most delicious in all of history. Along the way he meets a slew of mysterious characters, including two Viking brothers Torbjorn and Storfjell. The Buttersmiths’ Gold is their story.

Evertaster, Book #1:

A legendary taste. Sought after for centuries. Shrouded in secrecy.
When eleven-year-old Guster Johnsonville rejects his mother’s casserole for the umpteenth time, she takes him into the city of New Orleans to find him something to eat. There, in a dark, abandoned corner of the city they meet a dying pastry maker. In his last breath he entrusts them with a secret: an ancient recipe that makes the most delicious taste the world will ever know — a taste that will change the fate of humanity forever.

Forced to flee by a cult of murderous chefs, the Johnsonvilles embark on a perilous journey to ancient ruins, faraway jungles and forgotten caves. Along the way they discover the truth: Guster is an Evertaster — a kid so picky that nothing but the legendary taste itself will save him from starvation. With the sinister chefs hot on Guster’s heels and the chefs’ reign of terror spreading, Guster and his family must find the legendary taste before it’s too late.


Book Trailer:


Read Full Post »

Maeve Alpin in the outfit made by Linda Lindsey

Maeve Alpin in the outfit made by Linda Lindsey

“Welcome, to airship Steamed.” As I hold my pith helmet on my head with one hand, I shake, the seamstress and designer, Linda Lindsey’s hand with the other. “Nice to see you again.” I stretch my short legs in a leap across the wide gap between the dock and the airship. “Watch your step,” I call to Linda as she follows me into into the plush parlor.

Linda Lindsey

I gesture towards the crimson settee, which features curvy lion head legs and claw feet. Linda sinks into the cushioned seat.

I stand near the tea table and twirl. “I love my SteamGyptianPunk outfit you created for me.”

Linda inclines her head and smiles.

Then I plop down onto the chenille cushioned armchair across from her. “For my first question I have to ask What does Steampunk fashion mean to you?”

“Wow, that’s a hard one. I think I see Steampunk fashion as Victorian fashion that has gone right round the bend with a sci-fi twist. It’s not what fashion was but what fashion could have become.” Linda glances at the blue willow teacups, shaking and rattling on the tripod table.

I have to raise my voice to speak over the clang and grind of the airship as we take off. “Let’s jump into the important stuff, do you have any advice on corsets for women or vest for men?”

“Corsets should close to about 4” evenly all the way so you have a good even fit for both looks and comfort. They should have steel bones because plastic heats up and bends, looking lumpy. For plus-size women, they should be a bit longer in the front. Spend the money to get a custom fitted corset, and you’ll never regret it. It’s less expensve than buying a dozen cheap corsets that don’t look good and don’t feel comfortable. A corset shouldn’t hurt to wear.” Linda grabs the settee with one hand as the airship lifts off. “Vest should be long enough to cover your shirt all the way down to the top of your pants, which should be worn at the waist, around the belly button, not below. Along with that, your neck-wear should be proportional to the space the vest leaves at the neck.”

I cock my head to the side. “And how do you feel about bustles?”

Butterfly Bustle/Train

“I love them.” Linda leans forward. “They really add a lot to an outfit. They don’t make your butt look big; they make your skirt look full. They can be a little troublesome but for certain silhouettes you really need a bustle to fill out your skirt and make your outfit look proportional.”

Since the china cups cease rattling, I pick up the tea pot and pour my guest and myself a cup of Earl Grey. “In speaking of corsets you mentioned that for goddess size women a corset  that is a bit longer in the front is the most flattering.  Do you have any specific Steampunk fashion advice to share with plus size ladies and gentlemen?”

“I actually do an hour long presentation on this at conventions.” Linda reaches her slender fingers between the plate of sliced lemons and the spouted creamer cup of milk to the sugar bowl. “But it all boils down to this: Nothing will disguise the fact that you are a plus-size person, but also, there is nothing to stop you from looking stunning. A properly fitted outfit, not too tight, not too baggy, fitting in all the right places (pants at the waist, not the FUPA, corset that closes to about 4″ all the way down, pants the right length, etc.) makes a HUGE difference.” Picking up a sugar cube, Linda plunks it into her tea. “When you walk into a room you will look as stunning as a ship under full sail.”

“What a marvelous analogy.” Picking up a slice of lemon, I breathe in the sunny, citrus scent as I squeeze a drop of its juice into my cup. “What type of clothing do you find the most difficult or challenging to create?” I slip the yellow slice into the light brown tea.

“Men’s Victorian shirts and trousers. There are a dozen little tiny pieces that have to be sewn on in difficult configurations.” Linda picks up a polished silver spoon and stirs her tea, creating a tiny maelstrom in the cup.

“Speaking of menswear, I admire your Steampunk fashions for men, they are quite dapper. Do you have a preference between designing for men or women?” I pick up my cup and saucer and breathe in the subtle, aromatic scent of the tea.

“Sewing for men, other than simple tunics and such, is new to me. I find it more challenging than sewing for women. The body lines and construction are so different. I don’t know that I prefer sewing for women, but I do find it easier.”

“What do you think about spats for men?” I sip my earl grey.

“Spats are wonderful. They really add completion and pizazz to an outfit.”

“What about material, what fabric is your favorite?” I place the cup on my saucer with a soft clink.

“One of my favorite fabrics for Steampunk clothing is Bengaline. It originated in the 1880’s. The modern version is a bit different than the original silk/cotton blend but is extremely beautiful. It has a wonderful weight that makes for gorgeous Victorian skirts and bodices.” Linda brings her teacup from her saucer to her parted lips and draws in a long sip.

“I notice in addition to clothing you make carpet bags and hats? Where do you get your inspiration?” My cup makes a soft clinking sound as I set it in its saucer on the table.

“I actually started with carpet bags and hats. It came out of necessity. I was planning my first Steampunk outfit and realized I needed a hat and a bag. I didn’t want a top hat because everyone had those, so I took an old Elizabethan riding hat pattern I’d made, pared it down to the proper size and read a book called “From the Neck Up.” Then I looked at pictures of carpet bags, made a pattern, searched and searched for the right hardware and made myself one. And I enjoyed it so much that I made more. At some point my husband told me I had too many and had to start selling some. So Rosewood Stitches was born.”

“Speaking of hats, here in the 21st century most of us are not use to wearing Victorian style hats. What advice would you give to help people pick out the best hat to complement their face and body and their Steampunk attire.” I lean against the soft, cushioned back of my arm chair.

“There are two basic styles of hat here: ones that fit down on your head (from riding hats to stovepipes) and ones that perch atop your head (like ladys’ hats and tiny top hats). For ones that fit down on your head like top hats, the two keys besides fit are brim width and crown height. In general, the more delicate your face, the narrower you want the brim to be, so go with something like a riding hat. Crown height is a matter of body proportion. The more body you have, either mass or height, the higher a crown you can wear.” Linda picks up the teapot and pours more of the steaming brew into her china cup. “When it comes to women’s perching hats, there is a whole ‘nother set of rules. The key to making a perching hat look proportional is your hairstyle. You want to treat them more like hair accessories (bows, barrettes, etc.) than hats. Don’t slick your hair back in a bun or ponytail with these hats. Style your hair so there is body to it around the hat. You can tease for body or add curlicues or dreadlocks. Just give the hat something to sit IN rather than ON.”

“Since you work with a variety of items, how does designing different types – hats, carpet bags and clothing – differ?  Which do you like the best?”

“Well, hats are designed strictly with the beauty of the item in mind. Carpet bags are designed for functionality and style, while clothing involves a lot more. You have to combine beauty, style, functionality and comfort to make it all work on a particular person. As for which I like doing best, whichever one I’m working on at the time.” Linda takes a dainty sip of tea.

“Speaking of hats, I noticed in your Steam pup section, you design Steampunk hats and clothing for dogs. What is that like?”

Yoko In Her Hat

“Yes, I do, though there’s not a huge call for it. I do frock coats, tailcoats, bodices, ruffle bustles and hats for dogs. It can be highly challenging to get the fit right. Those little buggers wiggle whenever you try to measure them.”

“When you mentioned wiggling buggers, thoughts of children came to mind. I know you design for children as well. What do you like the most or find the most difficult in designing Victorian based outfits for children?” I reach up to adjust my pit helmet which has fallen forward covering my eyes again.

“That’s easy. There are no patterns for children’s Victorian clothing (except for a couple by Burda). I have to make my own patterns from scratch. But the results are just so darn cute!” Linda leans forward to set her tea cup on the saucer on the table with a soft clink.

“Speaking of children, what of you as a child, how old were you when you first started sewing and creating your own designs?”

“When I was five-years-old, my mother gave me a toy Singer that really worked. Metal gears and everything. I started learning to stitch then. I didn’t start making my own designs until I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism in 1986 and discovered the joy of costuming. There were no patterns for Medieval and Renaissance clothing, so we had to make our own.”

Linda in the Phoenix Costume

“I see the teacups are rattling on the coffee tale. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for one last question. “Of all the garments you’ve made which is your favorite?”

Linda grasps hold of the arm of the settee, bracing for the shaky landing. “Probably my Phoenix outfit. It’s beautiful, bright, and eye-catching. I always get compliments when I’m wearing it. Or maybe the little girl’s Steampunk Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Ringo Starr outfit. It turned out just right and looked so darn cute on the model.”

The airship Steamed has landed so we say our goodbyes. But you can visit Linda at Comicpalooza (Houston) May 24 – 26, Space City Con (Houston) Aug 2 – 4, Oni-Con (Galveston) Oct 25 -27, and Dickens on the Strand (Galveston) Dec 7 – 8.

Here are her calling cards: Web Site,  Esty Shop,  Facebook

Maeve Alpin is the author of four Steampunk/Romances: To Love A London Ghost, Conquistadors In Outer Space, As Timeless As Stone, and As Timeless As Magic.

Read Full Post »

Heather Hiestand has dabbled in writing Victorian-set fiction since 2006, which she has published with Highland Press, Ellora’s Cave and The Wild Rose Press, and soon with Kensington (Marquess of Cake, July 4, 2013). All of her Victorian steampunk has been self-published, to honor the DIY nature of the movement. Her first collaboration with author Eilis Flynn is the steampunk vampire historical fantasy, Wear Black.

Titling Steampunk

by Heather Hiestand

wear-black-200Where do steampunk titles come from? Figuring out steampunk novel titles seems a little trickier than the romance titles I am used to dreaming up. What is going to attract the target audience without scaring off a more general audience? How do you create an appropriate mood in just a few words?

This is how we came up with the title for Wear Black, our steampunk vampire novel. While this title was our third choice, not our first, it still makes me smile, and I hope it evokes a dark, vampire-y mood.

I came to the main storyline of Wear Black by reading Robert Louis Stevenson. Many steampunk writers have been fascinated by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and I’m no different. I wrote an opening scene about turning a royal prince into a vampire (by accident) with a potion and we were off and running with our story. Needless to say, our early efforts had the working title of Dr. Coburg and Mr. Vampire.

DrJekyllandMrHydeWe loved the title, but to be honest, Dr. Coburg isn’t in our story very much, since it is set more than twenty-five years after the first vampire is created.  Also, a respected industry professional hated the title. So, we thought about our story and settled on Blood and Steam. Great title, right? It encompasses both our vampire characters (their diet, at least) and steampunk plot. But, we weren’t the only ones with that title idea. We held onto it as various “Blood and…” books started to come out, but then a couple of months before we planned our release someone used the exact title. Yes, we had a good title, too good of a title. We were frantic!

What’s a writer to do? We started pouring through the early chapters, looking for key phrases that would look cool as titles. Eventually, I came across this passage:

The thief dropped the knife and ran. Blood was smeared all along the side of the curved blade. Was it his blood?

“You shouldn’t have tried to help me,” the woman gasped. Her eyes behind her spectacles looked odd. Were they red?

His head started to swim. He put his hand to his side and felt warm liquid gushing out.

“It was Lord Fitzrobbins, correct? An Irish title?” the lawyer asked.

“Yes.” Lucas tugged at his tie. “Wear black” had been the fashion advice he had been given the day he left the hospital, the explanation being that in the first days of his new life, he would be sweating blood a great deal. It was true.

Wear Black! Not only was it short and punchy, it perfectly described the new life our hero, Lucas, will have as he fights crippling flashbacks and blood lust while trying to save England from its enemies. Our sequel –in-progress is currently titled Seven Seconds. If you read Wear Black, you will soon understand why…

Choosing our cover image was easy in comparison. Since our book includes Jack the Ripper we found a fantastic stock image with an imagined Victorian murder scene. All that was left was finding a font that reads Victorian and/or steampunkish. Not as easier as it sounds, but we are pleased with the end result.

Death did not end his service to the British Empire

Beneath Windsor Castle, a shadow network of immortals keeps the British Empire safe. Army captain Lucas Fitzrobbins becomes one of them when the cure for his mortal wound turns out to be a vampirism potion. He is abruptly inducted into the secret St. George Protector Society…and it’s not long before the Society’s newest recruit discovers it has dark mysteries as well…

Marked as a target

Hampering Lucas’s efforts to adjust to his after-life is An Tighearn operative Nellie Clifton, a beautiful and enigmatic assassin, who has marked Lucas as her latest quarry. But then…

Secrets are threatened to be revealed

A brutal killer stalks the seamy underside of London. Protectors and assassins alike must leave the shadows to find the fiend before their existence is revealed to the world. Tasked with the job of tracking down the murderer, Lucas discovers that the crazed butcher may have connections that go to the heart of the British Empire. One thing is certain:

The Queen must never know

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Wear-Black-ebook/dp/B00C2VCCPQ





Read Full Post »

leatherOne of the things that most appeals to me about the steampunk social movement is that it’s not just for the young and gorgeous. With roots in both Renaissance and military reenactment, there’s an emphasis on craftsmanship and presenting the whole picture of an outfit. Other roots in punk rock and goth culture lend an anything-goes feel, and a certain edge. But while there are certainly lots of young, slender traditional beauties in steampunk, there’s also room for those of us who aren’t.

Above is a photograph from a recent photo shoot in which my husband and I were asked to participate. There are individual shots below. First of all, I had to ask three times if the organizer was serious. I am not photogenic. I am 5 feet Pape_2tall and mostly spherical. Moreover, both of us recently turned 50. We’re grandparents. Not exactly the types most artisans want modeling their wares.

Shoptroll, the gentleman who made both my skirt in the photo, the pocket belt I’m wearing, my husband’s kilt, suspenders and sporran, quickly sorted me out. “I don’t want anyone ordinary. I want you.” and so we went. I’m so glad we did. A marvelous time was had by all. And I now have maybe my favorite photo of the spouse and me since our wedding in 1985. Is it the hair and makeup by the lovely Diana of War Pony Forge? The amazing photography skills of Russ Turner ? Just the fabulous clothes? I have no idea. But here, and whenever I dress up for a steampunk event, I tell you something. I feel beautiful.

ties greenTo give credit where credit is due, aside from what’s mentioned above. The green outfit I’m wearing in the lower photo is by the amazing Jessica of Ties that Bynde. The fan is vintage and the jacket is from Pyramid Company. Don’t remember where I got the hat. Above, my corset is Corset Story and my gloves and hat are from Icings. Glenn’s shirt is from RenShirts.com and his doublet is from Pendragon. Boots are Corcoran jump boots. I wish I could remember the artisan who made the goggles. Sorry!

Shoptroll, Ties that Bynde, and War Pony Forge will all be vending at Up in the Aether–the Steampunk Convention, here in southern Michigan in just a couple weeks. If you get the chance to come out, look for their amazing stuff, and stop by and say hi to me and the other authors as well. After all…if these artists can make me look good–well, they can do wonders for just about anybody.

Read Full Post »

David Lee Summers is an author, editor, and astronomer living somewhere between the western and final frontiers.  He’s the author of the wild west steampunk adventure novel Owl Dance, which tells the story of Sheriff Ramon Morales, the healer Fatemeh Karimi, and their adventures with everything from clockwork wolves and electric kachinas to submariner pirates and Russian Airships.  He’s also the author of the Empires of Steam and Rust novella Revolution of Air and Rust, a story of Pancho Villa, espionage, American air power and parallel universes in 1915.  Learn more about Empires of Steam and Rust at http://steamandrust.blogspot.com and learn more about David at http://www.davidleesummers.com

Wild West Steampunk

by David Lee Summers

Wild-Wild-West-LiveWhen I was a kid, my mom loved to watch westerns on TV, especially on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  I found them boring.  I wanted to watch cartoons or Star Trek.  Then one afternoon, one of my brothers turned on the TV and changed my life forever.  At first I was dismayed.  It was another western.  But a few minutes in, I realized this was like no western I’d ever seen.  The hero, a fellow named James West, was trying to thwart the launch of a giant missile.  Of course, the show was the original Wild Wild West and I’ve loved the idea of exploring advanced technologies and things that look like magic in historical settings ever since.

As time went on and I began to write, I started setting many of my stories in the historical west or in futures that were analogous to the history of the southwest.  You see, my mom came by her love of westerns naturally.  Her grandparents had been homesteaders in Texas and New Mexico and actually lived the experience.  As I grew up and fell in love with my native southwest, I became fascinated with those stories and incorporated them in my writing.  What’s more, I learned that my historical fantasy and science fiction stories bore more than a passing resemblance to a genre called steampunk and I began to explore more.

Gary-with-WingsOf course, a lot of steampunk is set in Victorian England or a similar industrialized landscape, but I think the wild west provides a wonderful backdrop for steampunk stories as well.  One thing that might seem like a problem for setting a steampunk story in the wild west is the apparent lack of technology and machinery which is important in many of the genre’s stories.  This is simply a misconception.  There may not have been many factories in the west, but there was plenty of technology.

Gold, silver, copper, and coal were among the many resources being mined in the west.  Due to factors such as limited manpower and demand from the east, new technologies were being sought to pull materials from the ground.  The mines of the west were fertile ground for inventors.  Railroads were built across the west not merely as a means of securing the nation’s “manifest destiny” but as a way to get the material that was being mined back east to the factories that needed the materials.  Railroads need machine shops to keep trains operational.  Those shops become sources of heavy machinery that characters can use.  What’s more, long stretches of desert and high mountain ranges continually provided challenges to locomotive manufacturers who had to build vehicles that could transverse such difficult terrain.

David-and-MyrandaWhen considering advanced technology in the wild west, we can’t ignore the fact that in 1899, Nikola Tesla himself set up a lab in Colorado Springs.  Even before that, in 1894 Percival Lowell, scion of a Massachusetts textile family, built an advanced astronomical observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona to study the planet Mars and look for a planet beyond Neptune.

For some people, it’s not steampunk without the manners and culture of Victorian England.  Never fear!  There are opportunities to interject this into your wild west Steampunk story as well.  There were many immigrants from England who passed the eastern United States and immediately moved out west.  Examples include John Tunstall, the rancher who employed Billy the Kid and Oliver Henry Wallop, the 8th Earl of Porstsmouth, who moved to Wyoming to raise horses.

What if you’re more interested in magical steampunk or horror stories?  It turns out the west provides great opportunities for that as well.  New Mexico court records from the late nineteenth century contain many accounts of people accused of witchcraft.  Navajo lore contains shapeshifters called skinwalkers who wear the animal pelts of the creatures they transform into.  For a lighter take on magic, showmen traveled to carnivals and saloons throughout the west performing acts of conjuration.

Finally, what would a story be without conflict?  Of course, it’s conflict that made the west wild.  There were conflicts between ranching, farming and mining interests.  Civil War memories created conflicts between northerners and southerners who moved west.  There were border conflicts with Mexico.  In fact, a great example of all these coming into play is the story of the Earps and the Cowboys in Tombstone, Arizona.  The Earps were northerners who supported the mining interests in Tombstone.  The Cowboys were southerners who rustled Mexican cattle and sold it to American settlers.  Now imagine a conflict like this enhanced by steampunk technology and you’d have quite a tale!

I hope this has inspired you to consider the wild west as a setting for a steampunk tale.  Even if the wild west still doesn’t appeal to you, I urge you to learn a little about the history of the place you’re from.  That’s how I got started with wild west steampunk.  You might be surprised by the steampunk possibilities that present themselves.



Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: