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Posts Tagged ‘Steampunkapalooza 2011’

Today is the last day of Steampunkapalooza.  Thank you so much for your participation, for your comments, for entering our contests, and your continued support.  This blog wouldn’t keep on if it wasn’t for each and every one of you. 

There’s still room in my May steampunk online writing workshop.  It’s different from the last one and I’d love for you to join us.  Info here.

We still have some contests going on.  Don’t forget that each day you comment during Carina Press week you’ll be entered to win a Carina Press prize pack of the four Steampunk e-books featured.

You can still win a $10 GC to Amazon or B&N, a Twisted Tale of Stormy Gail mug and trading cards,  or another swag and book bag from RT.

Today we welcome back Steampunk author Cindy Spencer Pape.

Author of over forty popular books and stories in paranormal, historical, and contemporary romance, Cindy Spencer Pape is an avid reader of romance fantasy, mystery, and even more romance. Cindy firmly believes in happily-ever-after. Married for more than twenty years to her own, sometimes-kilted hero, she lives in Michigan with him, two adult sons & an ever-changing menagerie of pets.  Cindy has been, among other things, a banker, a teacher, and an elected politician, but mostly an environmental educator. Her degrees in zoology and animal behavior almost help her comprehend the three male humans who share her home.

Research vs. Reality in a Steampunk World

By Cindy Spencer Pape

When Carina Press asked me to write a novella that tied into my Gaslight Chronicles series, I was thrilled. I loved writing the first book, Steam & Sorcery, with its blend of steam technology, Arthurian legend, urban fantasy, and uptight Victorian society. What I needed though, were characters to hang the story on. I didn’t want to skip ahead to any of the street children from Merrick and Caroline’s story. I wanted something that would bridge the gap between the generations.

Since I had the whole Order of the Round Table to work with, I decided on the young Marquess Lake. (Does the name du Lac ring any bells to tell you who he’s descended from, LOL?) But he needed a strong heroine. Someone who wasn’t impressed by his title or his powers. Someone with a career of her own. Then the title Photographs and Phantoms clicked in my brain and I knew she was a photographer, a savvy career woman, troubled by ghosts, or something like them. And just like the click of a shutter, it all came together.

Now came the tricky part. Much of the steam technology in my world is made up, my own version of alternate history. But in the late 1850s, photography was already thriving and evolving as both a science and an art. So I decided to leave it alone. Gasp. Yep, the only difference is that Amy has a clockwork cart to carry her equipment when she goes down to photograph tourists on the beach. The rest of her techniques are authentic to the era. I figured why mess with something that was already in place? Thus began a couple weeks of reading books and websites on Brighton Beach, England, photography in the 1800’s, fashions, and even the invention of fire escapes on buildings came into play. I think adding the factual details when possible helps set the tone for the clockwork pets and steam-powered zeppelins.

All of this was during the last couple months of last year. Then, as serendipity would have it, at Christmas, my in-laws passed on to us a big pile of family photographs. Imagine me grinning as I picked out cartes-de-visite, wedding photos, death photos (ick!) glass-plate albumin negatives, and Daguerreotypes, not to mention guessing years by the presence of hoops or bustles. I guess research is never wasted, is it? (grin)

To find out a little about my plucky Canadian photographer and her very British Knight, check out Photographs & Phantoms, a FREE download from Carina Press, to help celebrate their Steampunk Week.

Photographs & Phantoms

A Gaslight Chronicles Novella

Available as a Free Download from Carina Press

Click here to order, or here to read an excerpt.

Blurb: Brighton, 1855

As a member of the Order of the Round Table, Kendall Lake is overqualified to be investigating strange phenomena at a seaside photography studio. But since the photographer is related to the Order’s most powerful sorcerer, Kendall reluctantly boards a dirigible to Brighton.

Amy Deland is haunted by a shadow that appears in some of her recent portraits. In each case, the subject died within days of the sitting. Does she have her grandmother’s gift of foresight, or has she somehow caused the deaths?

As Kendall and Amy search for answers, their investigation draws them together in a most improper way. But it seems the evil presence in the studio is determined to keep them apart…

~Cindy Spencer Pape

www.cindyspencerpape.com

Comment for a chance to win a Carina Press e-book prize pack.  Grand prize contest is open internationally.  One entry, per person, per blog post during Carina Press week (so, if you comment all four days, you get four entries).  Enter by leaving a comment in the comment box.  Contest ends May 8, 11:59 PM PST.

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Carina Press Week continues during our last week of Steampunkapalooza.  Don’t forget to comment every day for a chance to win a prize pack of Carina Press Steampunk e-books.

First we have the winner of one of Leanna Renee Hieber’s Percy Parker books:

Tina

Congrats!  Email me at suzannelazear (@) hotmail to claim your prize.  Didn’t win? You can still win a $10 GC to Amazon or B&N, or another swag and book bag from RT.

Speaking of Steampunk goodies, there’s an epic contest going on right now at the ARe Cafe sponsored by our friends at the ARe Steam Society.  They’re giving away twelve different Steampunk e-books  and steampunk hair stuff (and who doesn’t want steampunk hair stuff.)  Check it out.

Today we welcome Christine Bell.

Christine Bell is one half of the happiest couple in the world. She and her handsome hubby currently reside in Pennsylvania with a four-pack of teenage boys and their two dogs, Gimli and Pug. If she gets time off from her duties as maid, chef, chauffeur, or therapist, she can be found reading just about anything she can get her hands on, from Young Adult novels to books on poker theory. She doesn’t like root beer, clowns or bugs (except ladybugs, on account of their cute outfits), but lurrves chocolate, going to the movies, the New York Giants and playing Texas Hold ‘Em. Writing is her passion, but if she had to pick another occupation, she would be a pirate…or, like, a ninja maybe. She loves writing fun and adventure-filled romance stories, but also hopes to one day publish something her dad can read without wanting to dig his eyes out with rusty spoons. Christine loves to hear from readers, so please feel free to get in touch with her via the Contact Page.

The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale
by Christine Bell

First, let me say that I am SO excited about Steampunk Week at Carina Press! There is a great line up of books and authors, and I’m honored to be a part of it. The covers have all been gorgeous, and Carina made this cool video trailer so this has been a really fun month so far.

What I love the most, though, is the spread we’ve got. While all of this week’s books have steampunk elements, they also run the gamut of sub-genres. From erotic to paranormal, from western to time travel romance, the bases are covered.

Now, I know some purists who like their steampunk EXTRA steampunk-y, with nuttin’ else mucking it up. I’m not one of those people. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy straight steampunk. I truly do. But, as a reader, I also love seeing it mixed with other sub-genres to come up with something new and fresh. And, as an author, I like the freedom of taking the things I enjoy most when I’m reading and mashing them together.

When I was writing The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale, I knew I wanted it to be a time travel romance with a steampunk feel. I also had a loose outline of the plot. What I didn’t know was that my main character, Stormy, was going to be sarcastic and really funny. Since the tale is told from her point of view, I let her dictate the tone of the book. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with my character and, even though I knew I was veering a bit from the traditional, dark-ish, dystopian vibe that is so often present in steampunk, I couldn’t bring myself to change it. So, while there is a bit of grit (think medieval torture chambers and sanitariums) and it’s chock full of characters living on the fringe of society (think street urchins, fortune tellers and time pirates) my world is actually pretty much like real-world London and real world New England during the Victorian Era.

Instead, I chose to “get my steampunk on” through the invention of time travel complete with gears and goggles and wormholes, which only my characters are aware of. At the end of the day, I tried to deliver a really fun adventure story that both satisfies the steampunk craving, while still capturing a feeling of hope and happy-ever-after. I hope I succeeded!

So, how about you? Are you a purist, or do you like to see a mix of genres? Are there facets of steampunk you feel are integral to the genre that you just can’t live without?

One commenter will win an awesome mug featuring my book cover, plus a set of my Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale romance trading cards (which, I must say, are drool-worthy)!

~Christine Bell

http://www.christine-bell.com/

Oh, there’s still room in my May steampunk online writing workshop. This one will be really hands on to help you develop and finish your ms.  We may even get into pitching… Info here.

So how do you like your steampunk?  Straight up or mixed up? 

One lucky commenter on today’s post will win a “Stormy Gale” mug and romance trading cards.  Contest open until May 4th, 11:59 PM PST.  Grand prize contest is open internationally.  One entry, per person, per blog post during Carina Press week (so, if you comment all four days, you get four entries).  Enter by leaving a comment in the comment box.  Contest ends May 8, 11:59 PM PST.

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I am happy to say that Steampunk was everywhere at the recent Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, which was held in Los Angeles, April 6-10, 2011.  Yes, I am finally just getting around to writing about it.  Do you know how much time Steampunkapalooza takes?   

RT was amazing, I’d never been to one before and had a few reservations.  There were several Steampunk panels — I was on one Steampunk panel and one about writing historical fantasy (with Gail Carriger, squee).  One of the publishing houses, Samhain, had a Steampunk high tea. 

Then, of course, there was the Steampunk Social that I was in charge of along with Kady Cross, Kassy Taylor, Deb Schneider, and Seleste deLaney.

I volunteered to make about 250 cakepops for the social–because you all know I’m a huge slacker and have nothing else to do than spend 10 hours baking.  Per hotel rules, every cakepop had  to be individually wrapped, too.  Good thing I was local and didn’t have to fly them in my suitcase. 

I’d also picked up all the clothes from the fashion show from Clockwork Couture, who graciously lent us all the beautiful fashions our models wore.  RT involved a lot of me schlepping things from my car to Kady’s room, since I had the clothes, the cakepops, the centerpieces, the fans, several door prizes, and a lot of things for the swag bags.  Kady also volunteers her room for us to put all 100 of the swag bags together.  (Did you know we work very, very hard to put these socials together?)

Also, I was in full Steampunk dress most of the time.   Since Leanna Renee Hieber couldn’t make it I even wore (nearly) all black one day in honor of her, since usually she’s the one in black and I’m the one in pink. 

The social itself went really well.  Close to 100 people gathered for Steampunk swag, cake and tea, a fashion show, a costume contest, and lots of door-prizes. 

But you really want to see gratuitous pictures of Steampunk clothing, not hear me babble about party planning. 

Here’s Kady Cross, the Steampunk track captain. 

And here’s the fab Kassy Taylor. 

Here’s Deb Schneider, along with the winner of our costume contest (the one in the sash).  She *made* her costume on a treadle sewing machine.  Wow.

I don’t have a close up of Seleste deLaney.  (Seleste, why don’t I have a picture of you?).

Since this was tea and cake, I wore pink and a large hat for the occasion.  Not that I need a reason to wear a large hat. 

The fashion show was a smashing success and everyone loved the pretties from Clockwork Couture

Here’s Beth and Erin (same dress, different color). 

Here’s Erin and Zoe Archer.

Here’s Marcella. (I love this dress.)

And, for some reason I don’t have  a close up of Kristen Painter.  (Can you tell my camera died, so I had to gather pictures.  Thanks to everyone who I begged, borrowed, and stole pictures from.)

We had several people come to the social in costume, so we had a costume contest.   Here’s me getting the crowd to help us pick a winner.  Can anyone identify these lovely ladies?  We never got their names. 

Over all, the social was a smashing success.  Despite the hard work, I’d plan another one of these in an instant.  Here’s everyone in costume (except for Kristen. She’s somehow escaped all of my pictures.  Anyone have any pics of her in costume?)

Do you have a favorite outfit?  A favorite flavor of cakepop?  A random comment on Steampunk or Steampunk fashion?  I have one more bag of swag and books from RT, including the *very last* swag bag left over from the party.  I’ll give it to one lucky commenter.  Contest closes April 30 at 11:59 PM PST.

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Before we get to today’s guest I have some winners to announce.

First we have the bag ‘o swag and books from RT.

Elaina Watler 

Next we have the copy of Colleen Gleason’s The Vampire Dimitri. 

Joelle Walker

We have two sets of The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder.

Clothdragon

Riva Laughlin

Finally, we have four copies of Andrew Mayer’s The Falling Machine.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Legends of Fantasy

Richard

Heather Hiestand

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

Didn’t win?  You can still win books by George Mann, Mike ResnickTim Akers,  or Ren Cummins, or a prize pack of goodies including a copy of Blameless and a fan autographed by Gail Carriger.

Today we’re going to touch on a very important subject.  A lot of people think “Steampunk” means Victorian.  But that’s not true, Steampunk doesn’t need to feel or be Victorian at all.  The great thing about Steampunk is that you can include people from all cultures and walks of life, Steampunk stories can be in any genre,  any place. 

But I’m not the best person to talk about this, so I’ve asked Jha Goh of the blog Silver Goggles to tell us more about race and Steampunk.

Steampunk Postcoloniality

by  Jha Goh

Hello, I’m Jha, and I’m a steampunk postcolonialist.

I talk about race and steampunk a lot.

I’m asked to talk about multicultural steampunk a lot too.

I’ve written about my problems with the term multiculturalism before. Namely, that I don’t think I’ve really seen it exist without a single dominant culture that overwhelms the non-dominant ones. This is not to say nobody tries (and in fact, promoting it is fairly integral to my work, so here is a site you should read!)

So today, I don’t really want to talk about those things. I’m a steampunk postcolonialist, and I want to talk about steampunk postcoloniality.

Steampunk, from the outside, looks like it’s all about Empire, you know? Charles Stross, famous very important science fiction literary figure, had a rant about it, which I think really points to two things: the ignorance of someone who’s not involved deeply in steampunk, and the impression steampunk is giving outsiders.

The first is easily ignored, or would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that shit like Stross’ rant makes us look bad, no matter how into steampunk we are. Steampunks glorify Empire, and Stross has the clout to spread this impression far and wide. We should be concerned about this.

We should also be concerned about the fact that this impression is one of the first that strangers and newcomers to steampunk get. Ask any one steampunk to define the genre, what do we get? Very often, the following words are part of the phrase: “19th century,” “Victorian,” “England.”

And there are, of course, purists who genuinely believe this. Amal El-Mohtar, whose story To Follow the Waves appears in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, received the criticism that her story wasn’t steampunk. Why? Because it’s not Victorian. (It’s set in a technofantastic Syria.)

Terminology matters. As much as I believe in being able to pin down specific boundaries and awesome easy terms, I also believe that many steampunks do not have an inclusive language that acknowledges the breadth and depth of steampunk—unless we’re talking about how far back our influences go (and many will cheerfully admit 19th century science fiction to the term, despite the fact that steampunk is a particularly modern concept).

And the current popular terminology used—“19th century,” “Victorian,” “England,”—signifies a very particular kind of steampunk: the steampunk associated with the glorification of Empire, a time of ruthless colonization, great poverty, gender inequality and burgeoning industrialization. At least once a month I see a comment that points to the imperialism that steampunk seemingly celebrates—it matters that this is what people immediately see when they come to steampunk. I don’t blame them. I resisted participating in steampunk for a long time too, because I just didn’t see a place for myself in it.

The work of postcolonialism is to examine the effects of colonialism, even after dominant powers have supposedly seceded. Through this work, we bring to light how colonialism has been embedded in the psyche of colonized peoples, so ubiquitous we don’t notice. We don’t notice when a developing country lionizes a First World country, passing it off merely as natural that of course, one would idolize the higher standard of living present in a First World country, without questioning where these standards come from, and why we think it’s a good idea to pursue those ideals in the first place.

My work in steampunk is two-fold: examine the effects of colonialism as it appears in steampunk, particularly white Eurocentric steampunk, and find little rupture points for those of us who have cultural histories of colonization.

Because, make no mistake, colonialism is present everywhere in steampunk: it’s when you go costuming and you find mostly English fashions with corsets and bustles; it’s when you go to a convention and you find mostly white people; it’s when you find that non-Euro steampunk is being performed by white people. Colonialism is present in the fact that the majority of high-profile names are white, or present as white.

Colonialism is also present in the fact that, when a person of color wants to represent his/her/hir own culture, the representation is blithely, thoughtlessly thrown up in accordance to and reinforcing the stereotypes that have permeated our understandings of racialized groups for so long. Commodification of your own culture does not get any more special meaning just because you’re a minority doing it, if it’s done for white people’s consumption.

Colonialism is also present in the fact that, when another person of color tries to do something more original, more true to one’s own culture, a white person can say, “actually, you’re getting it wrong,” without an inkling that this is microaggressively racist, ignoring the pain that comes along with knowing that one’s own culture is so devalued, one cannot do anything original with it without a powerful outsider saying, “you got your own culture wrong”.

Colonialism is present in the minds of people who will think, while reading this post, “you have a chip on your shoulder, dwelling on the past like that.” It’s also present in the minds of people who genuinely believe colonialism was a good thing, because it brought civilization (because, after all, there is only one standard by which to measure civilization).

Colonialism is present in the fact that I didn’t use to think like this, and that I wrote predominantly white people in my fantasy and science fiction since it just never occurred to me to write people who look like me (except in wuxia settings).

Nobody escapes it just because they’ve decided to adopt a fictional persona of a past that never was. That some folks think that so is magical thinking. It’s self-serving and delusional. Also, it hurts us who don’t get to leave behind our skin colour and other such ubiquitous problems with our personas.

I don’t expect steampunks to constantly be thinking about this issue while going about their fun. I certainly don’t myself. This shit is depressing. But I do expect more thoughtfulness about this issue. I want to see fewer dichotomies about how “other cultures are so much more interesting than mine” (I know you’re trying to be positive, but Other-ing is still Other-ing) and less explorers of the uncharted wilds (because, really, whose uncharted wilds are we talking about?). I want to see more panels and talks about historical landmarks like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Opium Wars and the Sepoy Mutiny and the genocide of indigenous peoples that highlight the conflicts that Empire imperialism to the world. I want to see more people whose lived realities are affected by such events invited to speak and listened to.

More than that, I do not want anyone to stop there.

Thanks, Suzanna Lazear, for letting me have this space.

~Jha Goh

http://silver-goggles.blogspot.com/

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Our giveaways for a bag of swag from RT, and The Vampire Dimitri are wrapping up, have you entered yet?

Today we welcome our last Pyr author, Tim AkersThe Horns of Ruin is out now.  We have three copies to give away.

Tim Akers was born in deeply rural North Carolina, the only son of a theologian. He moved to Chicago for college, where he lives with his wife of thirteen years and their German shepherd. He splits his time between databases and fountain pens. You can visit Tim’s Web site at shadoth.blogspot.com.

How I Write

by Tim Akers

In his recent interview with Locus, Daniel Abraham talked briefly about the two kinds of writers. He did this by contrasting his style of writing with that of George Martin. George, he said, is a gardener. He likes to get into the world and nourish it and watch it grow. In contrast, Daniel describes himself as an architect. Outlines, word count fetishes, strict narrative discipline. This got me to thinking about how I write, and how my style of writing impacts what I write.

I’m an incredibly self-analytical writer. I stopped using beta readers while writing my first novel, at least partially due to time constraints and the general chaos that is my daily life, so I’ve had to develop a very keen sense of what I’m doing and whether it’s working. That said, I had never really thought about it in the sort of terms Daniel was talking about, so I took a step back and thought about what I was doing, and why. I came to the conclusion that I’m not a gardener or an architect. I’m sort of an architectural gardener. How’s that for a cop out?

Seriously, I form very sketchy outlines of what I want to do, then I go through and develop a number of anchor points for the narrative. These are generally points of confrontation or revelation that help define the narrative, or the characters. I develop those anchor points in my mind, usually sketching out who will be there, why they’re in place, what motivations they bring to the scene, what they hope to get out of the encounter, what I as the writer hope to get out of the scene, and finally what the reader will hopefully get out of it. I might write snippets of the scene, but usually I just ghost together an outline in my head. Then I work toward that point, and from that point to the next anchor point, and eventually I have a narrative. Sounds very architectural, yeah?

The gardening comes in with the characters, and with certain elements of the plot. I’ll admit to being one hell of a geek. I learned most of my storytelling skills by running tabletop roleplaying games. When I was doing that, I didn’t follow hard and fast narrative structures for my games. I never created a problem and then created a solution to the problem. That was the players’ job. In fact, I rarely created specific problems. My goal was to create a cast of non-player characters with their own ambitions and machinations, wrap them in an environment that’s conducive to conflict, and then introduce the players into that environment. Things always happen. Based on the character’s backgrounds and ambitions, I would maybe drop a hook or develop some kind of integration into the NPCs business, but mostly I waited for the players to bump into trouble. Then I would make the trouble worse, and let the players work their way out of it. I did a lot of improvising, never really sure how this development or that clue was going to work out for the overall story, but always sure that it was making things more complicated for the game. And complicated is good.

In novels I have to dial this sort of thing back, but only a little. It’s good to keep your eyes on those anchor points, but don’t be afraid of making chaos on the way there. Garden, but garden with a structure in mind. Play with the environment, but remember that part of gardening is pruning. In the same way, part of architecture is the joy of the unexpected discovery, the unplanned development. There must be serendipity, and there must be form.

~Tim Akers

What kind of writer (or reader) are you?  We have three copies of The Horns of Ruin to give away to three lucky posters.   Open internationally.  Ends April 22, 2011 at 11:59 PM PST.

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Pyr week continues on Steampunkapalooza.  Today we welcome author George Mann.  Ghosts of Manhattan is out now.  Ghosts of War releases in July, 2011.   We’re also giving away three copies of Ghosts of Manhattan

George Mann is the author of The Affinity Bridge, The Osiris Ritual and The Human Abstract, as well as numerous short stories, novellas and an original Doctor Who audiobook. He has edited a number of anthologies including The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, The Solaris Book of New Fantasy and a retrospective collection of classic Sexton Blake stories, Sexton Blake, Detective. He lives near Grantham, UK, with his wife, son and daughter. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/George_Mann. 

The Interconnectedness of Everything

By George Mann

I love Easter eggs.

Yes, the chocolate variety, and also the type you find on innumerable DVDs or Blu Rays, but what I’m really referring to here is the kind of Easter eggs you sometimes find hidden in books. What I mean by this is those little references or moments in a story which seem perfectly in keeping with the narrative, but take on extra meaning for those chosen few, an author’s constant readers.

These Easter eggs might take the form of a throwaway reference to a previous adventure, the casual use of a familiar name, a recurring location, a plot point – anything, really – that rewards the reader and raises a knowing smile, all without alienating the casual reader or leaving them with the feeling that they’ve somehow missed something important.  

I love those moments. It’s as if the author is speaking directly to you, winking at you and thanking you for paying attention. It makes you want to dig deeper into those stories, to see what other little treasures the author has hidden away, waiting to be uncovered. It always makes me think the author was probably having as much fun writing the book as I’m having reading it, too, and that only works to increase my enjoyment all the more.

When, then, it came to sitting down to start constructing the background for my novels Ghosts of Manhattan and Ghosts of War, it seemed only logical that I should do so in such a way that it provided me with the  opportunity to seed in a few of those little references. Not only that, but I was keen to use this new series to add depth and flavour to the alternate history I’d already constructed in some of my earlier novels, to shed light on things I’d already written and to open up opportunities for more stories down the line.

I wanted the backdrop of the Ghost stories to be distinct and different from my existing Newbury & Hobbes series. Those books feature a duo of secret agents gadding about in a steampunkish version of Victorian London. For the Ghost books I was aiming for more of a noirish feel, something steeped in the atmosphere of 1920s New York – but a version of 1920s New York that seemed at once both familiar and yet strange. I was also looking to capture the fun of those early American pulps, with outlandish action sequences and rousing adventure, and to add to it a gloss of steampunkish invention.

So, where to start?

It took me a while to realise that the obvious thing for me to do was to take what I already had – an alternative history, a timeline of events leading up to 1902 – and roll it forward another 25 years. This raised all sorts of questions. How would the USA respond to the growing might of the British Empire? Had the First World War still happened? If so, who were the players? What had been the outcome and how had this altered the political landscape? How had technology moved on? What does the world look like 25 years after a Victorian steampunk revolution? This seemed like a great opportunity to explore the answers to some of those questions.

The new series, of course, had to be a distinct series in its own right, independent of anything I’d written before, but a lot of that could come from the tone and style, from the characters and the type of stories I wanted to tell. I’m a great believer that the backdrop of a novel is only a stage – that the crux of any tale rests with the characters – but I could see opportunities for stories emerging from some of the questions I’d been asking.

More than that, too, I could see opportunities for the sort of cross-pollination I was talking about earlier – for Easter eggs.

So, in Ghosts of Manhattan, the British monarch is Queen Alberta I, who has recently succeeded Queen Victoria, her mother. There is a cold war going on between the USA and the British Empire, stemming from the end of the First World War, during which the British unleashed a terrible weapon upon the enemy forces.

Now, in this first book in the new series, there aren’t too many Easter eggs. But they soon began to fall into place the moment I went back to write the next Newbury & Hobbes novel, The Immorality Engine. In this story, the seeds for Alberta’s forthcoming reign are planted. It’s not explicit – you don’t need to read one to appreciate the other – but if you do, you might find you gain an extra little bit of insight into how it all fits together. Not so much pieces of the same puzzle, but complimentary paintings of different landscapes.

Ghosts of War looks more closely at the political climate between Britain and the USA in this turbulent time, and introduces a new character into the Ghost’s world – Peter Rutherford, a spy for the British Secret Service – with whom the Ghost is forced to form an uneasy alliance if together they are to stop the outbreak of all out war.

This, in turn, gave me great material for the N&H books, and it wasn’t long before I started seeding in the roots of this fledgling secret service in those stories, too.

The thing is, once you start doing this, it spirals. I’ve just written an original Doctor Who novel for BBC Books, Paradox Lost, and there’s a retired secret serviceman in that story, Professor Angelchrist, who hints at some of the bizarre adventures he’s had, and happens to own a clockwork owl, given to him by a dear friend… Is this the same owl that appears in one of the N&H stories? Surely not? What about the policeman who helps that most famous of detectives, Sherlock Holmes, in a forthcoming audio play?

Most recently, there’s a charity story I wrote for the anthology Voices from the Past, which features Peter Rutherford from Ghosts of War, visiting Professor Angelchrist from Paradox Lost to discuss an old case involving Newbury & Hobbes.

I love this kind of interconnectedness. As a writer, it opens up all sorts of opportunities. As a reader dipping in, I hope people will find the stories all work well independently of one another – the Easter eggs are, after all, just Easter eggs – but for those who might read further, I hope these little hidden references might raise a smile.

~George Mann

Do you use Easter Eggs in your story?  Or, do you like to eat Easter Eggs?  What kind?  Three lucky commenters (North America Only) will win a copy of Ghosts of Manhattan. 

I’m going to be teaching another online Steampunk Writing Class.  This one focuses more on building your manuscript.  Class runs  May 2nd- May 27th 2011  and is $25.  Details here.

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First I have the winner of Caitlin Kittredge’s The Iron Thorn.

Antonio

Antonio, you’re our lucky winner.  Please email me at suzannelazear (@) hotmail to claim your prize.

Didn’t win?  You can still win The Vespertine, a bag of swag from RT, and The Vampire Dimitri.

This week at Steampunkaplooza we’re featuring authors from Pyr and giving away a ton of great books.  Today we welcome author Mark Hodder to Steampunkapalooza.  Mark Hodder is the author of: THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK (Pyr, 2010), THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN (Pyr, 2011) and EXPEDITION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON (Pyr, forthcoming).

Mark Hodder is the creator and caretaker of the BLAKIANA Web site (www.sextonblake.co.uk), which he designed to celebrate, record, and revive Sexton Blake, the most written about fictional detective in English publishing history. A former BBC writer, editor, journalist, and Web producer, Mark has worked in all the new and traditional medias and was based in London for most of his working life until 2008, when he relocated to Valencia in Spain to de-stress and write novels. He can most often be found at the base of a palm tree, hammering at a laptop. Mark has a degree in cultural studies and loves British history (1850 to 1950, in particular), good food, cutting-edge gadgets, cult TV, Tom Waits, and a vast assortment of oddities.

 

Building a World for Burton & Swinburne

By Mark Hodder

It’s a tricky business using real historical figures in a fictional setting, especially when you’re turning some very well respected scientists into crazed villains. Where do you draw the line? When does creativity become slander?

While plotting the Burton & Swinburne novels, I was often faced with this dilemma, particularly in relation to one particular scientist who changed the way we think about existence, and whose genius I’m in awe of. I really didn’t want to portray him in a way that might cause even a single person to change their opinion of him.

The solution was to make my alternate versions of these personages as wildly over the top as possible—to push them to the point of absurdity—to make it blatantly apparent that I didn’t for one moment expect anyone to regard them as truly reflective of their historical counterparts.

This, though, presented another problem. How could I expect readers to invest in the story if key characters were entirely unbelievable?

The answer came with world building.

In any kind of speculative fiction, world building is important. When you’re dealing with an alternate history, it becomes crucial. I placed Burton and Swinburne in a different version of the Victorian Age—but being different cannot justify being any less complex. There has to be politics, there has to be art and technology, there have to be social and cultural forces at work, and there has to be a zeitgeist—a “spirit of the age.” Anything less will not feel like a living, breathing reality.

So I started with the facts. Fortunately, I was already pretty well versed in Victoriana, so I didn’t need to do as much research as I would have had I been setting my stories in, say, the Elizabethan Age or in Feudal Japan.

I began to ask myself questions such as:

“What if these two people had met?”

“What if a solution to this problem had been found?”

“What if this event had never occurred?”

and

“What if this event had occurred?”

From each of these starting points it was relatively easy to create chains of causes and effects then start to interrelate them.

For example, I wanted to feature Oscar Wilde in the stories, the reason being that he was famously associated with aestheticism, which provides a wonderful counterpoint to one of the main themes of the trilogy. I’ll not tell you anything about that theme (no spoilers here!), but suffice to say it comes to the fore in the third book, EXPEDITION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON.

My problem was that Oscar was only seven years old in 1861, when the first book, THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING HEELED JACK, is set.

In real life, he had a happy childhood in Dublin and was most definitely not in London when I needed him to be. I knew, though, that Ireland had suffered a terrible famine between 1845 and 1852. By extending the dates and intensity of this event, I could turn Wilde into an orphan who fled to London, there to eke out an existence as a newspaper boy. So in my alternative history, the famine begins in 1837 and is ongoing. But for what reason is it different? I don’t explain, but 1837 is a key date in the story for other reasons, and I thus give the reader a coincidence to ponder over and perhaps they’ll fill in the gap themselves. (As a matter of fact, I do have an untold backstory there, and may visit it in a subsequent novel).

This is an important point: you can’t describe every single reason for why things are they way they are in your alternate history. It would make your novel very thick and very boring. Most things have to be simply suggested then left to the reader’s imagination.

Okay, so I got Oscar to where Oscar needed to be, but in doing so I devastated Ireland. This, obviously, has to have major consequences. So by 1862, the time of the second book, THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE CLOCKWORK MAN, Britain has been flooded with refugees, causing a strain on its resources. How would politicians respond to this? A quick look at the history books revealed that right at the end of 1861, an event called the Trent Affair occurred. This very nearly drew Britain into the American Civil War. In my version of events, it does lead to such an involvement, and the reason is directly related to the Irish refugee crisis.

I then have scientists trying to solve the problem of the famine, and, in doing so, making the situation much worse, kicking off events that will lead to the far-too-early outbreak of the First World War.

That is how one small requirement—the need for Oscar Wilde to meet Sir Richard Francis Burton in London in 1861—ultimately led to the development of the entire political backdrop for Burton & Swinburne’s world, and that backdrop becomes a vital story element in the final book of the trilogy.

When an author creates a convincingly deep, multifaceted and convincing world, whatever fantastic elements are then thrown into it will seem wholly natural to it, a part of it.

In SPRING HEELED JACK, London is filled with steam powered penny farthings. By CLOCKWORK MAN, there are gigantic steam-driven insects thundering up and down the streets. Plainly ridiculous! However, when made an element of a world that seems otherwise perfectly logical—where effects have realistic causes—such craziness is much more easily digested. The same applies to wildly over-the-top characters. Now real historical figures can be made absurdly unbelievable—it’s perfectly obvious that no slander is intended—and they are less likely to be rejected by the reader, because they exist in a properly constructed context.

~Mark Hodder

We have two sets of The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man to give away two lucky commenters — North American winners only.  Contest ends 11:59 PM PST, April 17, 2011.

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