Archive for October, 2014


Florence Balcombe Stoker

If you don’t have access to ShowTime and you’ve been wondering what Penny Dreadful is all about, let me clue you in. I enjoy the show and recommend it. Ethan Chandler a Wild Bill Cody type is hired by Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives to find and rescue his daughter, Mina Hunter, kidnapped by Dracula. Dr. Frankenstein teams up with them as well. And Dorian Gray is added to the mix.

This is my third post for Halloween month, October, so it’s Bram Stoker and Dracula’s turn. It is not a proven fact but it has been reported by many Stoker biographers that he died of syphilis. It was a disease that plagued many in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. When dracula attacks someone he infects them with vampirism and it’s easy to see the possible connection with a disease like syphilis. It’s not hard to discern his guilt and concern over possibly infecting his wife and also in being unfaithful to a woman he loved. Bram Stoker married actress Florence Balcombe in 1878. She’d previously been engaged to Oscar Wilde. From all accounts they had a strong marriage and shared a deep love for each other. We can see those intense emotions in Jonathan’s feelings for Mina.

Bram Stoker

Some interesting tidbits on Bram Stoker s he was  Irish, while Dracula is Eastern European For that reason, you may not have noticed the author’s Celtic roots showing in the story but I assure you they are there. It is said he actually wrote his first draft of Dracula while he was a guest at Slains. The Slain castle in Aberdeenshire Scotland is often considered an inspiration for Dracula’s castle in the book.

On his mother’s side Bram Stoker happened to be a direct descendent of ’Manus O’Donnell (Manus ‘the Magnificent. He was an Irish clan leader who led a rebellion against Henry VIII in the 16th century. Bram Stoker drew on his lineage to write of a man with a great past as a warrior and ruler now displaced by the passage of history, living in the shadows, in other words it is also the story of Bram Stoker’s ancestry.

It has been said that as a little boy in Ireland Bram Stoker’s mother often told him stories including horror stories. They must have included Irish folk lore.There are many tales of dark vampiric fey in Celtic mythology. These dark fey are often extremely beautiful and seductive. The vampiric fey, the baobhan sith,  always roamed together as sisters. In Dracula, Bram Stoker’s description of the three sisters in the vampire’s castle seems similar to dark Celtic fey.

Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed to be almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. I seemed somehow to know her face, and to know it in connection with some dreamy fear, but I could not recollect at the moment how or where. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth. They whispered together, and then they all three laughed—such a silvery, musical laugh, but as hard as though the sound never could have come through the softness of human lips. It was like the intolerable, tingling sweetness of water-glasses when played on by a cunning hand. The fair girl shook her head coquettishly, and the other two urged her on. One said:—

“Go on! You are first, and we shall follow; yours is the right to begin.” The other added:—

“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”

Because authors Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and Oscar Wilde pulled deep from within and wrote emotion and human pain into their stories we can connect with the horrors they created. We feel what the monsters feel. We can see bits of ourselves in these monsters …and that is what makes them scariest of all.

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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 22 published books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

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Victorian Halloween Customs

The traditions behind Halloween go back for thousands of years, however, the Victorians, with their love of décor and costumes, helped shape Halloween into what we know and love today.

victorian girlIn the Victorian era, Halloween was full of fun and silliness. There was no trick-or-treating, but there were elaborate parties, especially for young people. Sometimes the parties did involve costumes and theme parties became popular toward the end of the era. Magazines would feature articles on how to throw the best party and instructions on how to make various decorations. Neighbors would try to outdo each other’s parties.

Popular decorations included corn, jack-o-lanterns, gourds, streamers, and characters like ghosts and witches cut from paper. Typical Halloween party food included popcorn balls, doughnuts, apples, nuts, ice cream, and cakes.

Games were played, and given the Victorian penchant for the occult, it’s no surprise that fortune-telling and other such parlor games were popular. So were scavenger hunts and telling ghost stories.  Most of the fortune telling games were about love.

While trick-or-treating didn’t become popular until the 1920’s, many of these traditions are still used today in some way shape and form.

What is your favorite Halloween custom, past or present?

Suzanne Lazear is the author of the Aether Chronicles series which is a YA steampunk series about flying cars, faeries, wishes gone awry, and kissing. Books 1-3 are out now.

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Frankenstein and Mary Shelley

If you don’t have access to ShowTime and you’ve wondered what Penny Dreadful is all about, let me clue you in. I enjoy the show and recommend it. Ethan Chandler a Wild Bill Cody type is hired by Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives to find and rescue his daughter, Mina Hunter, kidnapped by a vampire. Dr. Frankenstein teams up with them as well. And Dorian Gray is added to the mix. In honor of Penney Dreadful and Halloween month, October, my three post this month are on Bram Stoker who gave us Dracula, Mary Shelley, who gave us Frankenstein, and Oscar Wilde who gave us Dorian gray.

Dorian’s turn was two weeks ago so it’s Frankenstein’s turn today. In Penny Dreadful, Victor Frankenstein creates a monster who stalks him and kills people who are important to him, including a newer creation that looks and acts more human then the first one. The monster works in the theater handling all the back stage special effects. He threatens to kill everyone Victor cares about unless he makes him a bride, a companion who can love him. In the book Frankenstein’s monster doesn’t work in or even attend the theater but he he does threaten to kill everyone Frankenstein loves unless he creates a bride for him. He is shunned by all and the loneliness and need for friendship drives him to become the monster everyone believes him to be.

Mary Shelley. Reginald Easton(d.1893) Courtesy of The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Shelly relics(d).

We emotionally connect with the monster as we have all been lonely at times and felt like an outcast. Though we care about the hero of the story, Victor Frankenstein, and his innocent bride and family members, we all are also concerned about the bad guy, the monster. The way he looks is not his fault, he didn’t ask to be born.

Great writing is timeless. Without question, Mary Shelley was a great writer. She tells the story through letters a sea captain/scientist writes to his sister about a man they rescued. Writing in first person through these letters allows the suspense to steadily build into a nail biting intensity as Victor Frankenstein’s remarkable and horrid tale is unveiled. Her writing is also fabulous due to the emotion she embeds in it. Mary Shelley pulled from her own raw pain to write that emotion. The authors of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray all drew from their own intense pain to create those master pieces.

Mary transferred the loss and guilt she felt over her mother’s death into Frankenstein. Her mother was famous, Mary Wollestonecraft was the leading feminist of her day, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792. She died eleven days after giving birth to Mary due to complications form the birth. Mary Wollestonecraft was a believer in free love and had one daughter, Fanny, born out of wedlock from an affair with an American. She only married for the good of her unborn child, Mary, when she was four months pregnant. Upon her death her two daughters were raised by her new husband, Mary’s father, William Godwin, a famous journalist, philosopher and novelist. Mary gained a step-mother when her father remarried when she was four. The woman had two children from a previous marriage, but she did not treat Mary or Fanny like her own children. She did not even allow Fanny or Mary to go to school although her own children did. It has been said she showed feelings of jealousy toward Mary. Mary was educated at home by a governess and she spent much of her childhood alone, reading at her mother’s grave.

Mary was further outcast when at 16 she fell in love with a married man, the famous poet, Percy Shelley. Mary became pregnant  and her father refused to help her. Mary gave birth seven months into her first pregnancy and the premature baby died shortly after. She and Percy faced ostracism and constant debt. Mary and Percy left for Geneva in 1816 to spend the summer with Lord Byron. That is where she wrote Frankenstein. More heart ache came to Mary when she and Percy returned to England and both her haft-sister, Fanny and Percy’s wife, Harriet, committed suicide.

So a baby whose mother dies due to complications from the birth grows into a a lonely, outcast child often reading alone by the grave of a mother she never knew. She then grows into a teenager who has an affair with a married man, looses her  first child shortly after giving birth and has to deal with the suicidal deaths of her lover’s wife and her mother’s only other daughter. It’s easy to see the similarities between Mary’s life and the story of Frankenstein.

The guilt, pain, and shock Mary carried contributed to her creation of Frankenstein. It’s the raw pain of the author that makes the story so great and so timeless. This pain, this intense emotion transferred from Mary into the characters of Frankenstein and his monster is what makes the story real to us. The emotion creates an unbreakable connection between us and the characters.

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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 22 published books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus. Her latest Steampunk Romance is The Brass Octopus, a romance novella for ages 18 on up which is free today 10/15/14 – 10/19/14 on Amazon. .

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Blast from the past

Life has been a little crazy in my corner of the world, so I thought I’d repost a blast from the past. his was my first post on Steamed! I was a guest for Steamapalooza. A few things have been updated. 🙂

A World of Gaslight and Gadgets

Steampunk, to me, began not as a lifestyle or cosplay, but in fiction. I’d read it, loved it, and couldn’t wait to write it. The freedom the genre offers for an author is limitless. Any technology, any magic, any social commentary you want to use can all be fit into a steampunk world. Then I met some other steampunk folks. Finally, I understood why I’d saved vintage hankies and antique jewelry, loved lacy blouses and sturdy boots. I’d been waiting for steampunk all my life, as well as for all my career in fiction.

In March of 2011 Carina Press launched a book that was very near and dear to my heart. Steam & Sorcery, first book in the brand new Gaslight Chronicles hit the shelf, and it’s been a roller coaster ride of fun ever since. Earning a 4.5 Star Review from Romantic Times and the EPIC award for Science Fiction Romance, it’s been, by far, my most successful book to date. In April of that year, we released a Gaslight Chronicles novella, Photographs and Phantoms, which is a FREE download from all major e-tailers.

Later, a longer novella, Kilts & Kraken, takes the Chronicles to Scotland in June. It will be available in print as part of Carina Press’s second anniversary celebration, in the Editor’s Choice anthology. Next, a second full-length novel, Moonlight & Mechanicals, and for anyone following the series, told Wink and Liam’s story. Ashes and Alchemy is a shorter story, looking a little more at the middle class in my world, and Dragons & Dirigibles is a novella that has a touch of the Gothic in it. The eighth book, Ether & Elephants, will release in autumn 2015.

When I set out to build a world for the Gaslight Chronicles, I knew a few things. I wanted to start early in the steampunk era, and build the technology over the successive books. Therefore in the first, we’re only a decade or so after the introduction of Babbage engines changed the world, and event a lot of traditional SF alternate history also hinges on. Computers, or engines, are still big and bulky and limited. By book 4, you’ll start seeing terminals connected to a larger machine—sort of where we were in the 1980s. Transportation and communications—airships, steam cars and telephones, are also changing, and as the series progresses, the difference from reality and my steampunk world becomes greater. Other aspects of the Victorian world haven’t changed. Dickens’ London is still a dark, bleak place to be poor. The gap between wealthy and poor is still enormous. Women are still forced into wearing corsets and hoops, and being chaperoned wherever they go. By book 3, though, we’re starting to see some changes as the first few classes of women graduate from Lovelace College, a school my fictionalized version of Lady Lovelace established at Oxford for women in the sciences. The air in London has gotten worse due to all the coal smoke, and now those who can afford them wear gasmasks when they walk outdoors. The poor often die of black lung disease.

I knew my first hero, Sir Merrick Hadrian, had to be part of a secret government organization hunting vampyres and other supernatural threats to the Crown and its people. The exact structure of that organization was one of the biggest hang-ups to writing the book. It was my husband who said, “Well if it’s in England, the logical group for paranormal enforcement is the Order of the Round Table.” Then it clicked and the entire series came together. I’d already used several names in the book that traced back to the original Knights. The MacKay family is obviously derived from Sir Kay. The Lakes? From Lancelot, of course. Devere from Bedivere. The Round Table mythos snapped into place and a series was born. George the mechanical mastiff quickly emerged as a fan-favorite character and makes at least a cameo appearance in each of the books.

As the series has continued, I’ve become more and more lost in the world of alternate history romance. I have a couple projects underway for other publishers, set in different worlds, but I think my first love in steampunk will always be a book I originally called “Mary Poppins meets Van Helsing—with robots.”

The Gaslight Chronicles are available in e-book format from Carina Press and all the major e-tailers, and in audio book from audible.com. If you’d like a risk-free taste of my Gaslight world, don’t forget Phantoms & Photographs is available for free. Book 1: Steam & Sorcery, is also available in print, exclusively from Amazon.com.

As an amusing postscript, I was signing at a local steampunk event this weekend and a young woman came up to me. “I didn’t know there were steampunk books now,” she said. “I thought it was just a fashion movement.” Headdesk. Somewhere, William Gibson is sobbing.

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peterson1888Fun without a television? *GASP* Horrors, you say?

In the Victorian Era, where much of Steampunk is set, entertainments in the home were very much a DIY experience.

Part of what I love about Historical Fiction and Speculative Fiction is research… love it… nerd-like love… oh, who am I kidding! NERD LOVE…

So, I thought I share some of the home entertainments discussed in my Peterson’s Magazine from 1888. Why this issue? ‘Cause It’s at my desk and I’m LAZY tonight 😀

Anywho… this is from pages 178-179 FIRESIDE GAMES

Games for Winter Evenings – We give a game or two more, for amusement on winter evenings. The “Magic Answer” is a game much liked. There are two ways of playing it, and it requires two confederates; one leaves the room and the company decides upon the name of any person they please; on being recalled, the other confederate puts the question, and asks “Is it So-and-so?” naming a different person each time. The answer is “no,” until the right person has been named, when it is “yes.”  The simple trick consists in always naming a person with white hair before the name of the person agreed upon. The correct answer creates much surprise as to how it has been arrived at.

– they say there are two ways of playing it… but um… they only gave us one way… *tsk tsk*
– the other thing is that they may not have explained it fully… the ‘company’ doesn’t know it’s a trick… needless to say the ‘tell’  changes depending upon the company… a room full of people with white hair will need something different

“Birds” is a rather fun game, if it is well played. Four or five ladies out of the company each choose the name of a bird, and whisper it to the gentlemen who is to sell them. Any of the company offers to buy a bird, and asks for the one he wants; the amusement consists in the badinage which passes between the birdseller and the purchasers, and the guesses as to which of the ladies is intended by the birds described; children and young people enjoy this game, and the description of the birds are made as apropos as possible. 

– I wonder how much flirting went on with this game… would the ladies choose their birds for a reason? What if it was a bird that had special meaning for the object of their affections.  Would they choose the bird hoping that he will ask for that very bird? Ah… romance… or frustration as may have happened!


More from the home entertainments of Victorians… NEXT time 😀



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