Posts Tagged ‘steampunk women’

First we have three copies of Mike Resnick’s The Buntline Special to give away.

David mark brown

Riva Laughlin

Joan Gallo

Congrats!  Please email me at suzannelazear (@) hotmail to claim your prize. 

Didn’t win?  We still have books by Tim Akers,  or Ren Cummins up for grabs and a prize pack of goodies including a copy of Blameless and a fan autographed by Gail Carriger.

Today we welcome back one of my favorite people, author Leanna Renee Hieber. She’s also giving away a copy of Strangely Beautiful 1 or 2 (your choice). 

Award winning, bestselling author, actress and playwright Leanna Renee Hieber grew up in rural Ohio inventing ghost stories.  She graduated with a BFA in Theatre from Miami University, a focus in the Victorian Era and a scholarship to study in London. She has adapted works of 19th Century literature for the stage and her one-act plays such as Favorite Lady have been produced around the country. Her novella Dark Nest won the 2009 Prism Award for excellence in Futuristic / Fantasy / Paranormal Romance. Her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, first in her Strangely Beautiful series of ghostly, Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels, landed on Barnes & Noble’s mass market and overall Bestseller Lists. The book was named a favourite of 2009 by 14 genre book review blogs including Publishers Weekly’s Beyond Her Book and Smart Bitches/Dear Author’s book tournament, won two 2010 Prism Awards for Best Fantasy and Best First Book, the 2010 Orange County Book Buyer’s Best Award (Young Adult category) and option rights have been sold for adaptation into musical theatre production currently in development with a team that includes talent that brought Tony Award winning shows like Memphis, Wicked, Tarzan and more to the Broadway stage. In November 2011 Leanna launches Magic Most Foul, a new Gothic Paranormal Young Adult series with Sourcebooks Teen Fire.

My Non-Traditional Heroines: The Joys and Struggles of Being Different
by Leanna Renee Hieber

Firstly, thanks Suzanne, I am thrilled to return to this festival of awesome.

This topic is one of the most near-and-dear subjects to me and to the books I write, it also a subject I’ll be presenting several times this year at conventions and conferences. It’s also a topic that goes really well with the themes of Steampunk.

One of the great values of this genre: You get two fantasy worlds in one; a historical setting/world we do not live in yet have some sort of touchstone to, and yet different from what you’d see in a textbook or on the History channel. That being the punk part – and I think that’s what draws people to alternate history, taking known historical facts and asking ‘what if’ – it’s a wonderful challenge to the imagination that so many wonderful writers have risen to. Disclaimer: In regards to my work, I have to be careful saying Steampunk straight up, though I’m happily active in the Steampunk community, my books are technically Gaslight Fantasy as I’ve no tech or gadgets in my story; i.e my ghost-busting Guard uses holy fire, not contraptions. For me, what I love most about Neo-Victorianism and Gaslight Fantasy is re-envisioning it, but yet still putting my characters in a ‘realistic’ Victorian world. There were so many issues and injustices inherent in the Victorian age, and I’m not interested in writing books where those conflicts are not present, but rather how my characters must deal with them. And while we have some ‘advances’ in our society, we can’t cast stones today. There are just as many present injustices and social issues taking different sheeps’ clothing. But by presenting a fantasy world – we can present an enjoyable rather than didactic way of examining what we find troubling, interesting, or needing fixing about the past or present society. We can also challenge the normative.

The thing that draws me time and again to storytelling are tales of underdogs and outcasts struggling to find a community, working to find a place where they belong and where their particular gifts and talents are valued. The heroines of my two series, The Strangely Beautiful and forthcoming Magic Most Foul series are examples of this.

About Miss Percy Parker:

18 years old, Miss Percy is entirely without colour. She surpasses pale, she’s without colour. She looks, for all intents and purposes, exactly like a ghost. She can see and speak with ghosts, and feels often as if she belongs more with them than the mortal world. She’s lived clinging to the belief that her abilities and crippling visions mean she’s fated for something specific, and the series is about finding out that purpose,.

Speaking just about Percy, solely, as a character, I suppose every author hopes her heroine will be loved and adored, so when my awkward, timid Percy is loved, I rejoice more than anyone. But I’ve also discovered that my books are not for everyone, not everyone is ready to go on the ride that the Gothic novel style requires, nor is everyone ready for Miss Percy. Perhaps they think she should be stronger. If you were told you were a freak every day, if people shuddered and started when they looked at you, would you feel very confident? You might, like she did, think yourself the freak the world thinks you are. It’s a brave act for her to face the morning every day, and to interact with the world at all. Still, I’d never write a story where a character simply stays in the uncomfortable place they’re in, and Percy goes on quite the growth journey in the series. And it’s growth she as a character and we as readers can take joy and pride in.

Some aren’t exactly sure what to do with Percy, how to think about her. Far from typical, she looks shockingly different than your average person. I’m not sure people quite understand that on a visceral level, even though I describe her often. One reviewer who rated the book poorly mentioned that she didn’t understand how a pale girl with blue eyes would be treated poorly in Victorian England – evidently she simply did not internalize how different Percy is and what that truly, realistically would have meant for her. Still, I want her not to be criticized for her difference but accepted regardless. I’m so grateful so many readers do just that; accept her and champion her. But for those who may wonder, it’s why I have the picture of her on my website, for reference. Personally, I think she’s beautiful but in no way could someone say she’s ordinary. This is a distancing quality for some readers; we’re used to seeing ourselves as the protagonist in some ways, relating to her, rooting for her on a deeply personal and relatable level. I think her sweet nature, her awkwardness and passion is something everyone can relate to, but visually it’s hard to capture that same relational quality. And yet, I think we should challenge ourselves to relate.

She is the woman she is because she came into my mind just as she was, and I was captivated by her from the start. I felt presented with an exciting opportunity to make us all think about beauty and its limitations through the character of Percy, through the eyes of us; the beholders. The Victorians had a very strict notion of beauty, and it was limiting to women. Present day is no exception. Yet there are plenty of ways to go against the grain. I’m a Goth girl, I think a lot of things are beautiful that other people might think are strange, and I find it a freeing and envigorating way of life. It may be a bit lofty, but I’d love for the character of Percy in the Strangely Beautiful series to encourage us to redefine beauty, as the narrow definition of beauty is so limiting from past to present, it is confining and damaging to so many people in the world. Let’s find something we might once have dismissed as strange, in fact, beautiful.

Miss Natalie Stewart:

17 years old, Natalie lives in 1880New York City, lost her mother as a child, the trauma of which led her to suffer from Selective Mutism, a condition where she does not speak. She communicates through a mixture of Sign Language and note-writing. The story is told through her diary.

I’ve always been interested in giving a voice to the voice-less. So much of Victorian society muffled most women, speaking for them and speaking about them, never did the society really interact with them and their best interests. The society stifled their sexuality, their intellect, their abilities and their rights, across all classes, and far worse treatment was offered to non-white races.

I wanted to think about a girl who was still subject to the rules of this muffling society having to exist further muffled. With a sharp wit, a fiercely intelligent mind, but this frustrating condition that wasn’t one that she could simply ‘snap out of’, Natalie is additionally oppressed. Though the book does see her speaking by the end, thanks to supernatural circumstances, it isn’t an ‘easy out’ for Natalie. She has many social and physical constraints to overcome as she struggles to regain something she lost. Yet, like Percy, there is such pride in overcoming her battles, all the more fierce pride for having been written off as an ‘unfortunate’ and pigeonholed into nothingness, to then rise to heroic heights no one would have expected of her. In my world, I empower Natalie with a few awesome and open-minded helpers along the way. The reality for a girl like Natalie in that time period, though, was much less optimistic. I make Natalie aware of this so that we, the reader, may be aware of her particular advantages amidst her struggles.

I’m not interested in non-traditional heroines as novelties or plot points. I’m interested in them as people. I’m interested in all persons being able to see themselves as heroines of fiction, no matter their body type, mental type, physical type, etc.

Beauty for the freaks, a voice to the voice-less. These are my small, tiny hopes for love in a world full of difficulty and pain.

Something that I have not mentioned yet is something that must be mentioned: Multi-culturalism in our work and the work of our genre. The ‘traditional’ heroine in our Western fiction is just that, traditionally Western. I don’t personally have an example otherwise, though my upcoming Strangely Beautiful release, The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, has an Egyptian hero and several Egyptian characters from several different religious backgrounds. For greater, ongoing discussion on the multi-cultural front as it is always an ongoing discussion, I’d like to turn you to two of my very favourite resources in all the world: Beyond Victoriana http://beyondvictoriana.com/ and Silver Goggles – http://silver-goggles.blogspot.com/ – Please do yourselves a favor and have these sites on your radar and check them often.

I’m giving away a copy of either Strangely Beautiful book 1 or 2, winner’s choice, to a random commenter chosen by the Steamed! Staff – So tell me, What about you? Please share your favourite non-traditional heroines!

~Leanna Renee Hieber





The Strangely Beautiful series: The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess (A Strangely Beautiful prequel) arrives May 3 in trade and digital

The Magic Most Foul series: Darker Still  (Magic Most Foul #1) arrives November 8 in trade and digital from Sourcebooks Fire

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Today we welcome author G.D. Falksen to Steampunkapalooza.

G. D. Falksen is an author, historian and man about town.  His adventure serials “An Unfortunate Engagement” and “The Mask of Tezcatlipoca” are appearing in Steampunk Tales.  His short story “In The Footsteps of Giants” appears in the Footprints anthology from Hadley Rille Books and“The Strange Case of Mr. Salad Monday” has been recently reprinted in Steampunk Reloaded, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer (it originally appeared on Tor.com). 

The Iron Bustle: Writing Strong Female Characters in Steampunk

 by G.D. Falksen

One of the greatest challenges any author faces is writing strong, believable, and engaging characters. All of these are difficult on their own, but together they are especially challenging. Making a character with visible strengths is the easiest part; making one that is also complex and realistic is much more difficult. Female characters especially are at risk of being under-developed, even by modern authors; often, a “strong” female character is either strong only so long as a male lead is not around to be upstaged by her, or she is reduced to a one-dimensional cliché that lacks depth and complexity. In steampunk fiction, influenced as it is by the Victorian era, this becomes even more problematic.

The “straw woman” problem has been around for ages, and it is one that we all know perfectly well. It begins with a female character who is tough, witty, confident, skilled, and self-reliant…right up to the point where her strength and independence are at risk of overshadowing an important male character. Then she collapses, loses confidence, or just cannot overcome the challenge she has in front of her. This is a dreadful betrayal, and in steampunk fiction it is arguably even worse. If a steampunk story’s setting is effectively a science-fiction version of the historical 19th century (as the majority are), then it is quite probable that a conventionally “strong” female character (read: outspoken, aggressive, skilled in combat, etc) will have been forced to fight against societal opposition to achieve such a goal. For such a person to suddenly fold in a confrontation without good reason is absurd.

The other great risk that female characters face is that they will be given the opposite mistreatment: unrealistic perfection. This is more insidious than the straw woman problem, because on the surface it can be mistaken for something positive (and the perpetrator may well have good intentions behind it). In this instance, a female character is unreasonably good at everything. She is the best fighter, the smartest person, flawless, constantly witty, and universally desired; and consequently is unlike any real person who could possibly exist. And like the “perfect man” protagonists of many pulp adventure stories (who are at best an enjoyable fantasy), the “perfect woman” is likely to alienate anyone who approaches the story looking for a person rather than a fantasy. Worse, such a character type actually undermines women in literature by presenting the only “positive” female figure as someone who no one could ever be like.

Both of these problems also fail to take into account that what makes a strong character (female or otherwise) is not combat ability, aggression, outspokenness, or other such traits that are often focused on in adventure, fantasy and science fiction. Rather, a strong character is one that is complex, with both flaws and strengths, has the ability to adapt to an unfamiliar situation, and the confidence and courage to carry when faced with a problem. A strong female steampunk character may certainly command an airship, build a fantastic machine, fight an army, or rule a country; but none of these things make her a strong character. She is a strong character because she has the self-assurance and determination to have done these things, and is able to use her skills to do what needs to be done even when they may not be the perfect tools for the job. In the 19th century, as in today’s world, there were women who possessed or surpassed the courage and tenacity of male soldiers, even though they were not soldiers themselves. Throughout history, women have ruled families, business, and countries, without ever once raising a sword or riding into battle. And on the other hand, women have fought on the battlefield for what they believed in since long before the topic of an integrated military was ever broached. This is what makes a female character strong, just as it makes a male character strong. Strength comes not from what a person can accomplish when it is easy for them, but from what they can accomplish when circumstances are against them.

To give an example of how I interpret the concept of a strong female character, I would like to discuss two characters from my serial “An Unfortunate Engagement”, which first began in Steampunk Magazine and which is currently ongoing in Steampunk Tales. The first character is the narrator and protagonist, Alexandra Westminster. Alex is a young Englishwoman of quiet habits and intellectual inclinations, who is thrown into a world of intrigue quite outside her range of experience when she encounters a plot to start a Europe-wide war. While Alex is sent into combat over the course of the story, she is not a soldier. Nothing in her background has prepared for her that, and while she endeavors to do her best, it would be unrealistic for her to beat every adversary she encounters through force of arms. Instead, she uses her intelligence, wit, resourcefulness and courage (things that are fundamental aspects of her character) to overcome the obstacles that she encounters. She stares down armed Bavarians to free a kidnapped friend; she repels ruffians intent on doing her harm; she leads a small revolution to free a camp of prison laborers; and she does it all using the skills that she possesses to their fullest, even when they are not the ideal tools for the job. Alex is not perfect: she is impetuous, overly inclined to trust in the decency and civility of others, and is driven by a deep moral earnestness that sends her rushing off into danger, but she adapts to these character flaws so that they help shape her, but not define her.

The second character is one of the primary antagonists, the Bavarian secret agent Angelika. Unlike Alex, Angelika is very well versed in combat, and she openly commands soldiers and leads them into battle. But this is not what makes her a strong character; as with Alex, her strength comes from being able to identify the skills she has available to her and to use them to accomplish the tasks ahead of her. She is not well-liked by the men around her because her behavior does not conform to societal norms in the Edwardian era, but she perseveres in spite of this because she knows who she is and what she intends to do in her life. She can be extremely manipulative and treacherous, the resulting combination of her espionage background, political mind, and society’s refusal to afford her the privilege of “masculine” aggressiveness. As with Alex, Angelika’s skills are merely a set of tools for her to use. Her strength comes not from them but from her ability and willingness to use them as necessary in a given situation, and her refusal to give up simply because she faces a challenge. Her flaws are not failings that detract from her, but yet another set of traits that help present her as a person.

One can find numerous archetypes for female characters as well as male ones in steampunk fiction, but ultimately these are all window dressing. They help shape the character as she is presented to the audience, but they do not define her. A character, in any genre, is defined by a core personality, just like a real person is. The strongest characters are those with complex and engaging core personalities who refuse to allow circumstances to diminish the core that makes them who they are.

–G.D. Falksen

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