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Today we welcome Theresa Meyers.

Raised by a bibliophile who made the dining room into a library, Theresa has always been a lover of books and stories. First a writer for newspapers, then for national magazines, she started her first novel in high school, eventually enrolling in a Writer’s Digest course and putting the book under the bed until she joined Romance Writers of America in 1993. In 2005 she was selected as one of eleven finalists for the American Title II contest, the American Idol of books. She is married to the first man she ever went on a real date with (to their high school prom), who she knew was hero material when he suffered through having to let her parents drive, and her brother sit between them in the backseat of the car. They currently live in a Victorian house on a mini farm in the Pacific Northwest with their two children, three cats, an old chestnut Arabian gelding, an energetic mini-Aussie shepherd puppy, several rabbits, a dozen chickens and an out-of-control herb garden.

Supernatural Steampunk

by Theresa Meyers

You know we don’t give enough credit to the Victorians for our current love of all things paranormal, but it really was that era that brought creatures of the night out into mainstream society. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to surge of interest in Egyptology (and hence mummies) the 1800s really laid down the foundation for our fascination with monsters.

The Victorians loved the supernatural. It was a period of time where Spiritualism (the contacting of the dead by the living) was rampant, as was fortune telling, and séances. This is when you found stories of fairy sightings being reported in daily newspapers or fictional accounts of airships being seen hovering over the city reported as front page fact (thanks to authors like Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe). This was paired with the newly emerging sciences of cryptobiology, cryptozoology and Egyptology. The blend of fact and fiction, mysticism and science was at it’s zenith.

I suppose that’s part of the reason why I enjoy writing paranormal steampunk romance. I know—a mash up if there ever was one—but it really all does work together. What we consider Frankenstein, hard-core steampunk fans would consider a construct (revivified human body). All I had to do was add in my Jackson brothers, who hunt down Darkin (aka supernatural beings).

In The Legend Chronicles Winchester, Remington and Colt (all named after their father’s favorite guns, naturally) are Hunters in the wilds of the America west. It’s an age of cowboys, rustlers, miners and stage coaches.  But the world is getting smaller too. Telegraphs and airships, the use of electricity and the development of science is all happening and converging during the late 1800s. So while the Jackson brothers may use old-fashioned know how when it comes down to hunting demons, vampires, ghosts or skinwalkers, they often have a few gizmos courtesy of their intrepid inventor friend, Marley Turlock.

Writing paranormal steampunk means I get a chance to play in that Victorian era, when monsters were something fresh, exciting and new to the masses. While my brothers are well-versed in Hunting, average citizens still see these monsters as merely fictional creations by the writers of the day. They don’t know that vampires are real.

Which puts my eldest brother, Winchester, in a tough spot in The Slayer. You see, he’s given up hunting and is trying his best to lead a normal life as sheriff of Bodie, California. But when a vampire contessa arrives, asking for his help to recover a stolen piece of the Book of Legend (the compendium of all Hunter knowledge handed down generation to generation) he can’t really say no. The world depends on him and his brothers recovering the scattered pieces and reuniting the Book to defeat an even bigger threat to our world.

To be perfectly fair, I put all my Jackson brothers in a tight spot, forcing them to rely on gorgeous Darkin (a succubus, a vampiress and a shapeshifting thief) in order to accomplish their goals. What better way to torture a character than to make him fall for the thing he trusts least in the world?

And just like the Victorians, my stories get to be a blend of supernatural and plausible science side by side, with a dash of romance and generous dollop of action and adventure thrown in. I really do believe that our love affair with monsters started with the Victorians. Seriously, can you imagine how Dracula would have looked without the benefit of a great cape? Simply dreadful. It wouldn’t have had nearly the impact if he were in slouching, baggy jeans and a hoodie. The Victorians imparted our impression of monsters with style and grace, flair and excitement. Without them, would our vampires and demons, witches and werewolves still have the same appeal?

For a taste of paranormal mixed with steampunk I suggest you consider going to Steamcon IV (www.steamcon.org) in the Seattle area, Oct. 26-28 (yes, Halloween weekend). Their theme this year is…take a wild guess….Victorian Monsters. Bring your top hat, and your fangs. I can’t wait!

~Theresa Meyers
www.theresameyers.com

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Hello darlings.

Yes, I’ve been away far too long. But Lolita Theresa has been working dilligently on a new steampunk novel for you. In the meantime, since you know how much I adore research, I thought I’d take you on a little trip into fashion.

I’ve always found it fascinating how our society and what’s happening in it can directly impact the way we dress. Today we’re going to look at the changing silhouette of the Victorian era as a mirror of the times. (Courtesy of http://lady-of-crow.deviantart.com/art/Victorian-Silhouettes-83666275 which provided the original artwork.)


In 1837, Victoria ascends to the throne. She’s young, only 18, and beautiful and the silhouette of the time reflects that ingénue-like frame. Times are changing, there’s research happening about dinosaurs in the Pleistocene epoch, Samuel Morse has exhibited his electric telegraph at the College of the City in New York, and there’s a Gag Law in place passed by the U.S. Congress suppressing the debate on slavery.

By 1842, Victoria would have been, 23, and trying to appear very grown up. The skirts are widening (as are the hips and bust line after bearing two children), and do so even more in 1847 when she would have already had five children.

In 1852, at the age of 33, Victoria is truly on her way to showing the world that the English are a world power. They control India, Tasmania, Australia, parts of Canada. Notice the amount (and expense) of ruffles and added lace in the silhouettes of both 1852 and 1857.

However by 1862 the silhouette changes drastically to more simple lines. Victoria’s beloved husband Albert died in December 1861. As Victoria grows older and more critical of the behavior of her wild son Prince Edward, you can almost see the stricture and behavioral mores of the Victorian era changing in 1867 as the skirts grow increasingly more tight and confining until 1882.

Know what surprised me most? Check out the difference between the first image 1837 and the third to last image of 1892. Not much difference is there? Ever hear how at the end we start thinking about the beginning. Makes me wonder if the same was happening with Queen Victoria. Or perhaps, like all fashion, they just started recycling things, and she just happened to be old enough for what was old to become new again *resurgence of 1980’s fashions, cough, cough*.

Notice that by 1902 the silhouette has become so relaxed there’s barely even a bustline anymore. It looks almost worn out and tired. Since Victoria died in 1901, I can see why. (Well that and Edward, who succeeded her, did tend to be a pretty relaxed sort of guy.)

These images also illustrates why it’s so critical to make sure you know precisely which decade (or in many cases which five year period) you are discussing in your steampunk writing. Sure you don’t have to be accurate all the time (as rayguns and dirigibles aren’t exactly accurate either), but if you put an enormous bustle fit for 1887 in your 1847 set book, you really ought to be able to explain why.

Next time you are writing a scene, ask yourself, what do you read into the changing clothing trends and how can it more aptly reflect your characters?

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We take a break from our normal Fantastic February programming to bring you the following diversion:

Books have been sighted!

The first copies of the fantastical vampire tale (aka – my latest release) The Truth About Vampires from Harlequin Nocturne have been spotted at a local Walmarts in Port Orchard and Bremerton, Washington, and reports are coming in (on Facebook) that they’ve also been seen in Mililani, Hawaii.

The book, which features a roguish cover of a vampire doing things better left unmentionable in the presence of those prone to vapors and other such lady-like sensibilities, recounts the story of a bluestocking (female, gasp!) reporter Kristin Reed intent on uncovering the purportrator of the vicious Bloodless Murders happening in Seattle only to uncover instead a clan of vampires living beneath the streets of the city in the Seattle Underground. While the security leader, Dmitri Dionotte, attempts to guide Kristin’s exploration of the vampires, he is also working to protect her from a rogue band of vampire reviers intent on harming the populace of the fair Emerald city and Kristin Reed in particular for her audacity to reveal their presence to humans.

a glimpse of the Seattle Underground

Now you may ask, what in blue blazes does a modern vampire tale have to do with steampunk? My answer: The Seattle Underground.

Created in the aftermath of the Great Seattle Fire in 1889, the Seattle Underground happened when the city decided to rebuild more than 25 blocks of prime business district waterfront, with the goal of elevating the streets to avoid the capricious flooding brought on by the tide. The city streets were rebuilt an entire story above the old. For many years during construction there were ladders that went up and between these sections of the city while the supporting walls and roads were built overhead.

Today that little bit of Victorian culture from Seattle still stands and can be viewed at hourly intervals by proceeding through the delightful auspices of Doc Maynard’s Public House, a restored 1889 era saloon, as part of Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tour.

As an author, I thought the tour was not only fantastic, but it inspired me to think what a perfect place for my vampires to make a city of their own beneath Seattle where no one would suspect.

And now, dear reader, I ask you, where else may you have spotted this book?

Until next time, truly yours,

Lolita Theresa

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This month on the STEAMED! blog we’re going to declare it Fantastic February. We’ll be looking at the fantasy element in fiction. However, this post is where real life intrudes. There is no doubt that the wonders of the Victorian age were splendid, but there was one thing that did take time and wasn’t so very progressive – the mail. In this one instance alone (ok, that and perhaps dental hygiene) I am so very grateful for the wonders of the modern age, including the Internet and email.

Let me say, you don’t know what you have until you lose it.

My case in point is today’s blog on behalf of fellow Harlequin author Oliva Gates who is currently living in Egypt without Internet or cell phone access who has a book out starting today, Feb. 1, titled To Tempt a Sheikh (which now that I truly consider it, might indeed be the fantasy of some of you – so it still fits with this month’s blog theme.)

Here’s a tasty bit about Oliva’s story:
He rescued hostage Talia Burke from his royal family’s rival tribe and swept her into his strong embrace. But Prince Harres Aal Shalaan soon discovered there was more to the brave beauty than he knew. Talia held information vital to protecting his beloved kingdom…and she had every reason not to trust him.

Marooned together at a desert oasis, Talia couldn’t resist Harres. Yet even as his sizzling seduction entranced her, his loyalty to his family and country would always make them enemies. Falling for the sheikh would be her heart’s greatest mistake…but she feared it was already too late….

As I mentioned the book is out TODAY and available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Books A Million and bookstores everywhere. Also available at eharlequin both in print and as an ebook.

If you’d like to take a mini-fantasy vacation of your own, you can even read a first chapter and visit Olivia’s webpage, click here.

With best regards to our esteemed STEAMED! readers,

Lolita Theresa

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There’s long been a debate among those looking at steampunk from the outside if steampunk can really be anything but Victorian England.

I, for one, would argue YES. (And really this has nothing to do with the fact that my steampunk books in The Legend Chronicles are set in some part in the Wild Weird West–honestly.) If Jules Verne can write about being 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, then that isn’t Victorian England, is it? If H.G. Wells can write about the New York of the future in his work The Time Machine, that isn’t exactly London either, is it?

I choose to espouse the view that steampunk is more of a time period than a particular setting. You can write about or design costumes from any area of the globe (and a few beyond our own stratsophere) during that golden age and still be steam. The punk comes from being your own little creative mad genius self.  So why not have dragon ladies, courtesans of the far east? What about appearing as a Maha Raja or one of his veiled lovey wives? Certainly you could even been a Plantation owner from the Caribean or a Cattle Baron from South America. Truly the combinations are endless.

But I digress.

What really has me excited is the steampunk movement into the Wild Weird American West. If you haven’t already heard about the Wild Wild West Steampunk Con going on at Old Tucson Studios in Arizona in March, you should check it out. It’s the first large steampunk gather in Arizona. Not only will Abney Park and the League of S.T.E.A.M. be there, but there’s nothing quite like venturing into Arizona to get the authentic feel of the old west. (I lived there for nearly a decade–trust me.)

Not only do you get the Miner ’49er, but the cowboy, the saloon girl, the rancher, the townie,the gunslinger, carpetbagger and cardshark; so many new and fun ways to express all the goodness that is steampunk. I don’t know about you, but I have a LOT of sewing to do to prepare for the con. And Lolita Elizabeth will be there as well!

If you were going to be one character from the Wild Weird West, what would it be?

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It honestly doesn’t take much to make someone into steampunk gush enthusiastically about a fantastical hand-crafted ray gun or stunning hat, but when it comes to reading, there is a comic that combines the best of steampunk with the best of entertainment – Girl Genius.

Now, if you are into steampunk, you probably know all about it. You probably even know that their inventive comic series has now spawned a delightful novel that hit the top 20 on Amazon on Girl Genius Day, Jan. 12th, but what you might not know is that from a writer’s perspective, Girl Genius is damn brilliant writing.

What makes it work? First you’ve got a fun, smart, quirky main character who is an underdog. That makes Agatha Heterodyne sympathetic from the start. But add into the mix that she’s enamoured with the son of her deadliest rival for control of Europa (not that she knows that in the beginning when she meets Gilgamesh Wulfenbach), that she’s being hunted, and that she discovers her role as the last heir to a great mad-inventive legacy and you’ve got a character mired in a great bundle of internal and external conflict. Story developer Kaja Foglio further amps up the tension by adding in a third main character/love interest who competes with Gilgamesh (and has known him from the past when they were in school) and a coniving blonde cousin to Agatha who wants to kill her and take over as the fake Heterodyne heir.

The action is packed to the brim. The visuals, courtesy of Phil Foglio, are dynamic and fun. The inventions are mad and brilliant. And every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they post up the next page (which is not nearly enough for we true addicts of the Girl Genius). And every page ends with a fabulous hook that lures you on, keeps you addicted and makes you want to flip pages faster than a steam-powered airship engine could.

But what really makes it all hang together better than super rubber bands, is the inventive world the Foglio’s have created. It’s familiar (set in a Europe-like fascimile of the Victorian era) and yet it’s very otherworldly with airships, creatures and villians enough to make this a very bumpy ride for our characters. (Conflict is essential to good story-telling, btw.)

I first found Girl Genius when I was doing research on steampunk, because I didn’t really realize that’s what I’d been writing. I’d just been toodling along in my own story in my own little Victorian world.

The comic has ever page posted since Monday, Nov. 4, 2002. WARNING: These are addictive. And I mean that sincerely. I spent four to six hours a day for three days straight reading them all. I then had to invest in the entire series of comic books for my children who were reading them over my shoulder…once you drink of the genius tea, you will not be able to walk away. And if you wish to indulge, you have been amply forewarned (and encouraged). They are at www.girlgeniusonline.com (click on the comic to get to the latest installment. If you wish to start at the beginning click start and it’ll take you to where it all began.)

I adore Girl Genius because it’s smart and fun. I adore the characters because they are flawed and delightfully human (even if they are cartoons). There is romance and adventure as promised, and definitely lots of mad science. And I can’t wait to read their novel Agatha H. and the Airship City.

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One of the things I love best about writing steampunk are the opportunities for research. Take this, for example: did you know that during the 1870s and well into the 1900s there was a all-female crime syndicate in opperation in London?

Oh, yes, dear reader. It’s true! And it’s the fodder for a steampunk imagination like mine run rampant.

In his new book, Gangs of London, author Brian McDonald reveals details of one all-female gang, who rule the underworld of London for nearly two centuries. The Forty Elephants–or Forty Theives–was a well-run collective of cells who opperated across London and in other cities as well, headed by a formidable “queen”, which was responsible for most of the largest shoplifiting syndicate ever seen in London between the years of 1870 to 1950. Police records indicate that the gang, which was first mentioned in newspapers in 1873, had in fact been in operation even longer, since the late 1700s.

The ladies of the syndicate dressed in specially tailored clothing, coats, cummerbunds, muffs, skirts, bloomers and hats, sewn with hidden pockets. They raided the West End shops of London, pocketing, literally, goods worth thousands of pounds from diamond rings, to ranksacking employer’s homes after providing false references, to blackmailing the men they seduced.

“The girls benefited from the prudish attitudes of the time by taking shelter behind the privacy afforded to women in large stores, ” McDonald said. While the women rarely wore what the stole, choosing instead to fence it through a series of contacts in north and south London, they did use their ill-gotten gains to dress in legitimate high fashion, which they used as a coverup for their dealings. “…they threw the liveliest of parties and spent lavishly at pubs, clubs and restaurants,” he said. “Their lifestyles were in pursuit of those of glamourous movie stars, combined with the decadent living of 1920s aristocratic flapper soceity. They read of the outrageous behaviour of the rich, bring young things and wanted to emulate them.”

The gang guarded their territory fiercely, demanding percentages from others caught stealing from the stores in their turf. If the money wasn’t paid, they showed no mercy, arranging beatings and even kidnappings until it was paid up. If caught, they knew they could be sentenced to between three to 12 months’ hard labor, or three years in prison.

McDonald came upong these fascinating women while scouring the official birth and death redords, marriage indexes, newspaper archievs and out-of-print books in the British Library. An example of one such individual was Annie Diamond, born in 1896 in Soutwark, who became queen of the gang when she was but 20 years old. Thanks to a fist studded with diamond rings and a killer punch to back it up, she earned her name of Diamond Annie. With military precision, she could mount simultaenous operations in a series of shops across the city and the police called her “the cleverist of thieves.”

“Many a husband lounged at home while his missus was out at work, and many an old lag was propped by by his tireless shoplifting spouse. Some of these terrors were as tough as the men they worked for and protected,” McDonald added.

How could you not be intrigued by ladies who buck the system with such panache?

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Ah, ‘tis the holiday season. And if you’re like me, you’re still likely pondering a few gifts for the harder to please people in your circle of friends and family. Well, if they love steampunk, may I humbly offer the following ideas to sweeten your holiday season?

Perfect for a Mad Scientist's kitchen

Let’s look beyond the mundane of another top hat, a pair of gloves or even a new sparkly set of goggles. For your mad scientist in the kitchen, how about a brand new test tube spice rack? Not only can you see the spices, making the kitchen all that more colorful, but you can actually tell when you are almost out of something as opposed to opening the jar and finding there’s only a residue left half way through your favorite recipe.

Eggnog tea from Market Spice

And of course, who doesn’t know a devoted tea drinker? How about ordering them something completely holiday infused—say eggnog tea? Oh, yes, it is real. And very, very tasty without so many calories! (Well, unless of course you add eggnog to it, which I’ve been known to do.)

There are also such flavors as Cranberry Cream, Pumpkin Pie Spice, Holiday Spice, Chocolate Mint and of course the favorite from the Seattle from the turn of the centry (last century, dears) straight from Pike Place Market, Market Spice which has both the appeal of an Earl Grey with its orange flavor and the strong hint of spices including cinnamon which makes it naturally sweet. 

See, teapots can be fun.

And as long as we’re talking tea, you might as well consider purchasing a beautiful new tea cup and saucer or teapot. There’s so many to choose from, but select well. Find out of the person is a serious tea drinker (in which case you ought to get a six-cup tea pot and a cozy at the very least) or a lighter tea drinker (in which case you could get by with a smaller two-cup size teapot). 

Cutest cupcake, follow the link to find out how to make it.

Holiday festivities would not be complete without some cake! And check out how delightful these little cupcakes with top hats, gears and goggles are! I also happen to have a lovely recipe for eggnog bread. (And let me tell you that it’s a lot more appealing than the authentic plum pudding I tried to make one year. It said to boil it in a sock. I did. A blue sock, which turned my pudding an odd, not very appetizing color! But once doused with brandy and set ablaze, no one seemed to care too much.)

Citrus scents, and oh so cute. Stocking stuffers?

Or perhaps they’d like a shiny new raygun? Or what about body and bath goodies with steampunk flair? These Key to My Heart soaps are both scrumptious to smell and have a fun key to remember them by long after you’ve enjoyed the last bit of lather.

And of course books!!! I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you to go out and find a new steampunk story to share with friends and family. Whether it’s a bound edition of Girl Genius or one of the new stories for a young adult like Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, sharing a story is a gift worth giving.

Here’s raising my tea cup to you in hopes that your holiday shopping steams ahead!

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If you’ve never been to a steampunk con, let me say, you’re missing something. It is emersion into the culture at it’s finest. Where do I even begin?

Just look at that arm!

How about Friday? Friday early I arrived at the location of SteamCon II, which was held between the SeaTac Marriot and SeaTac Hilton. (For those of you not familiar with the Seattle area, that’s right across from the Seattle airport, which means it’s great for people flying in, but not so fun to walk between the two up the hill and down the hill depending on which activity or workshop you were interested in.) The registration lines looped around a bit like Disneyland, and people in the pre-registered line were all in costume, and so were most of those who were coming in to register that day for the event. Unlike other conferences and conventions I’ve been to, the costuming is a huge part of the experience. There’s eye-candy everywhere.

Fabulously Dressed Ladies in Workshop

They gave us a newspaper-like program heaped with so many different workshops and events it was likely to make your top-hat spin. What a glorious array! Everything from steampunk modding and how real gun fights work to magic and steampunk, and chats with the likes of James Blaylock (one

Tuesday Lolita Theresa Meyers with James Blaylock

of the founding fathers of the genre), Cherie Priest, Gail Carriger, Jay Lake, Nick Valentino and the intrepid inventor Jake Von Slatt, and a set of Steampunk ghost-busting enthusiasts from The League of S.T.E.A.M.

Member of The League of S.T.E.A.M.

There was a Grand Mercantile with a huge array of things to be purchased – feathers, leathers, hats and tea, corsets, books and jewelry (oh, good grief, does that actually rhyme?) You could find numerous opportunities to practice your acting skills in live action role-playing events (LARP), or game away in the various game rooms. (I attempted to sit in on a card and dice game of The Good, The Bad and The Munchkin, and having never played any sort of Munchkin was still horribly newbie and lost despite the best efforts of my fellow players at the end of an hour. Thank you to those of you who were so gracious and patient.)

The devine Cherie Priest on her way to a workshop

Friday also presented us with the First Annual Airship Awards, where lovely little airship statuettes were presented for the best in written, auditory, visual and community support of the genre. (Winners and finalists in each can be found at the SteamCon II website if you are curious.) They had a lovely dinner, and big screen flashing various images of the finalist. A few funny speeches and a lot of fun talk around the tables with fellow steampunk enthusiasts.

Saturday saw more workshops and the hosting of a most memorable afternoon tea and fashion show. The designers had some absolutely stunning clothes (which I believe there might be pictures of at the SteamCon website shortly).

A good doggone answer to What is Steampunk?

Due to an unforeseen series of most fortunate events, I was invited to fill in for an author who had to cancel at the last moment, so I spoke on three different panels and gave a reading. May I say, if you ever get the opportunity to go to a workshop by Jay Lake, do so. He is a veritable fount of one-liners that are both groan-worthy and very humorous at the same time.

That is a HUGE hand, mister.

We talked about what is steampunk, dissecting the genre, as it were, and after an hour came to the conclusion that it’s as much time period and aesthetic as it is a particular feeling to the work which is based in the gilded age where excess reigned supreme and exploration was rather mandatory, vs. diesel-punk which has roots more firmly grounded in the dystopian elements of the great depression and world war, where scarcity rules the day and invention is out of necessity to use and reuse whatever one had on hand to survive.

A Teapot handbag! How brilliant!

I went to workshops on ghost hunting in the Victorian era, steam cowboys and one about Hoaxes perpetuated by newspapers of the time by the likes of writers such as Samuel Clemens and Edgar Allen Poe, who apparently made a decent enough showing of it to have their tales of airships being spotted over the city, and animals escaping zoos in the midst of busy down-town cities very popular – and gasp, news of the day. In fact, I found it most fascinating that fictional tales were often intermingled with actual news items in such prestigious publications at The Boston Globe, and not much was done to distinguish between the two. (Wait, how is that so different than today’s reporting?)

L to R Nick Valentino, Tues. Lolita Theresa and Wed. Lolita Elizabeth

I digress. I went shopping in the grand mercantile and purchased a new corset, some tea and some Christmas presents. I had fun lunch with fellow Lolita Elizabeth Darvill. Late in the day I gave a reading from my Weird West set steampunk The Hunter, which doesn’t even come out until late 2011. I let the audience choose, from two sections, action or spicy. They unanimously picked the spicy version. Unfortunately, we’d spent so much time chit-chatting to start that we barely even got into the spicy bit before my half hour was up.

They actually move up and down!

I also took time to visit the art gallery. Wow! Such creativity. (I didn’t know if we were actually allowed to take pictures, so I opted not to.) There were three-dimensional sculptures, prints, clothing, jewelry and more.

Saturday night was the esteemed Outlaw Concert featuring three different bands, including the well-known steampunk stylings of Abney Park. There were people crowded, spinning, dipping and doing what suspiciously looked to me like the Tango out on the dance floor in front of the stage. We were admonished at the beginning of the concert not to leap upon the stage due to the damaging of equipment in the past from such behaviors. While I had to leave early (because I was driving back and forth from home each day rather than staying at the hotel) apparently the high enthusiasm kept up until 3:30 Sunday morning.

Lovely use of top hat and corset!

Which made giving a workshop at 9:00 am Sunday morning a bit of let down. A few hardy souls trickled in to hear about Steampunk Young Adult books, but by far, I think people were likely still dealing with the affects of the concert the night before. I was part of another talk later in the day about Character vs. Setting which was better attended.

I also went to a workshop about the history of steam propulsion that was incredible. Who knew the first hybrid steam/electric car was actually introduced in 1903 and the Prius in 2003? Makes you wonder what the auto industry has actually be working on in the last 100 years, doesn’t it?

Hey, Zombies! Mad Scientist with Brain Pack over here!

My overall impression is that steampunk cons are a meeting of the mind, the creative, social and intellectual (not to mention the dancing portion of one’s anatomy). If you really want to have a good time, prepared to bring comfortable shoes and costumes. Not just one costume, but at least one for each day, and possibly a forth for dancing or going to fancier dinners and events. And don’t be shy about being a mad scientist with a backpack brain on one day and an aeronaut hottie with brown bolero-length bomber jacket and brown leather and wool trimmed hot pants on another, and a high-society vixen with an outrageous top hat and bustle on the third. Everything goes as long as it relates back to the genre. And the array of hats is very impressive. One person at a workshop put it best, “I’ve discovered something about steampunk, there is no such thing as excess. One can never have too much of anything.”

No such thing as excess, I tell you!

Be prepared to shop for those things you’ll find it difficult to get elsewhere. Have business cards so you can share with fellow steampunk fans, and for the love of all that’s decent, if you are going to give a workshop, at least provide some type of handout to go with your brilliant Powerpoint so people will have something to take with them. There’s just too much information to store it all under one’s top hat and I found myself scribbling like a jibbering idiot to keep up.

All in all it was a fantastic event, so worthy in fact, that I’ve already pre-registered for next year! There’s steampunk conventions aplenty out there. If you are interested in the genre, think you want to write in it or would just like something fun and crazy to do for a weekend go to one! And of course this isn’t ALL the pictures…if you are looking for more check out the SteamCon II album over at www.facebook.com/TheresaMeyersAuthor or go www.steamcon.org and check out their gallery.

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Dear Reader,

I would like to begin by saying while I revel in the science and enjoy the Victorian splendor that is in today’s steampunk, I find that there is often something missing…and it’s not steam…it’s steaminess.

Now before you get your bustle in an uproar, take a look at some of the most celebrated authors of other science fiction and action genres, like James Rollins, Michael Crichton and James Patterson. More often that not, they include some relationship (dare I say romantic) element between their characters within the context of the story. And while steampunks are full of science and fantasy elements, I believe they would benefit from a heavier dose of the relationship aspects between the characters.

Why? Because it’s human nature to be interested in the human condition. That’s part of what makes even dystopian fiction possible. There’s been a long-standing tradition among those in the science-fiction genre that says too much steaminess in a story somehow lowers its quality. Why?

After all, when you read a book, is it simply because that character has the coolest raygun in existence, or is it because you actually are curious what will happen to the character once he shoots said raygun and mayhem errupts?

When you meet a couple, do you ask how they met, or do you want to know how often they polish their brass buttons on their captain’s jacket to get them to gleam so well?

Part of the reason I adore Gail Carriger’s steampunk Parasol Protectorate series is because of the relationship between her main characters. The first book especially got me hooked because there was an attraction between Alexa Tarbotti and Lord Macon that was nothing if not steamy.

While the Victorian era was indeed a little more straight-laced about the kinds of affections that could be touted in public, we must remember that this is steampunk. Perhaps being a little steamier requires us to be a little more punk about our perceptions of the era and let those relationships out in the open.

After all, if a woman can wear her undergarments on the outside without steampunk social circles batting an eyelash, why should we not have more steaminess in our steampunk stories? What do you think? Are you for more steam in your steampunk or not? 

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Okay, so it’s a horrible pun. But really, if you’re looking at the historical development over time of the bustle, could you resist? The fact remains that one of the classic elements of refined lady steampunk wear is the bustle. But what people seem to forget is that the bustle wasn’t always part of Victorian fashion and actually changed in style during the course of the Queen’s reign. If you’re going to use a bustle you might want to know exactly what decade (or in some cases as little as five year span) your character is from.

In the early Victorian era, women’s dresses didn’t even sport bustles. From the period of 1837 to 1860, skirts were still the wide-hooped variety you’d see in the costuming of the movie Gone With the Wind. It wasn’t actually until between 1865 that skirts, though still wide with extra crinolines, thank you, started sporting extra fullness toward the back, with an overskirt pulled back over an underskirt.

US patent 131840 circa 1872

Closer to 1870, this had developed into a padding placed beneath the skirt to accentuate that fullness toward the rear. From 1870 to 1875 you begin to see skirts of enormous volumes of fabric (like those designed by Worth) that is in cascades, and bunches, drapes, folds and dragging trains, augmented by a low-placed bustle (that actually would have hit about at the back of your knees – oh joy) to provide fullness to the fabric arrangement.

Dimity bustle of 1881

By 1875 to 1880 the skirting becomes more fitted to the form and nearly cylindrical in the front, yet still gathered in trains toward the back, with low fitted bustles that are more padding to augment the long-curved bodices in fashion. Ruching, pleats, full draping of fabric is still in vogue as are slightly smaller trains.

From the height of the bustle's glory

In 1880 to 1885 the bustle begins to emerge as more of a necessity as the gowns, nearly now all floor length unless you happen to be dragging about a train for an evening gown), sport even more of the overskirt gathered to the back in ever elaborate arrangements, which are so heavy that they drag the skirt down without proper support. The look of a shelf off the back of your bum is at it’s height and bustles come in any number of arrangements from collapsible wire cages, to ruffled, many layer long bustles meant to run the length of the skirt and be secured about the waist.

While still part of fashion, the bustle begins to shrink a bit in 1890 to 1895, probably in response to the enormous ballooning of the tops of ladies’ sleeves (in what’s called the Gibson girl or mutton sleeve look). The skirts still have also widened out a bit into more of a bell shape and are not so confining as they were in the 1875-1880 period, leaving room to wear a bustle without it being too evident, yet allowing it to make the waist, which is nipped in, look smaller. And really, by about 1893, the bustle has been reduced to just a pad.

A variety of mesh bustle designs

In 1895 to 1900, the sleeves shrink back down, big hats take center stage and the bustle is more of a remnant designed to add fullness, as the silhouette slopes forward in a changing corset style which also forces the rear to stick out.

The bustle still remains a fashion item up until about 1905, in the Edwardian period, when waistlines and the silhouette begin to meld together into a more tubular type skirting.

Like fashion, bustles were an evolving item. Knowing just how much to put behind you, and how to make it look, can peg you character from early to late Victorian. So, how much bustle will you be sporting?

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by Marie-Claude Bourque

STEAMPUNK WORD OF THE WEEK:  Abbess – Brothel Madam (from Steampunk Lexican for iPhone)

Doing those workshops with Lolita Theresa gave me lots to think about, especially when we started to talk about steampunk archetypes.

Since I’m writing an adventure, I was pretty much focus on plot, looking at my 3 acts and the main conflicts both internal (my mystic witch heroine confronted with characters that are not quite human) and external (fighting the bad guys).

But then, as I always do, I dug out my good old Donald Maass workbook to fill up the questionnaires, mostly those about characters, and especially the secondary ones.

And a funny thing happened, I fell in love with them. I already love my hero and heroine but now, I feel for my “fallen” Victorian lady and her love of beauty, my witch/widow/emporium owner who believes in love and also for my silent chief engineer who sacrifices his life to give a good future to his orphan niece.

I realize that all stories are mostly about characters (and you do want to see them sort stuff out, i.e. plot). Loving our characters is the true solution to writers block because you can’t wait to spend time with them!

So tell me, writers out there! Plot or characters or both?

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It’s true, while some of us Lolitas are going to the big gathering of Romance Writers of American in Orlando to celebrate the 30 year anniversary, some of us are staying home. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be busy. Far From it.

In fact, if you aren’t going to Orlando, I’d encourage you to get your steam on with Lolita Marie-Claude and me at some of the Summer Symposiums, Not Going To Conference Conferences and such online.  First up, Lolita Marie-Claude and I will be giving a two day workshop over at Romance Divas on steampunk. We’ll not only have a reading list, but give you some insights into writing for the genre and have an intensive question and answer session, so be sure to stop by!  You can get there by going to www.romancedivas.com and checking out their forums section. Class starts on July 29th. And the classes are free!

At the same time (because online means you can be two places at once, hazzah) I’ll be teaching a class on Backstory – The Mirror of Character starting July 28 for four days over at www.SavvyAuthors.com for their Summer Symposium. Click here to take you right to the symposium page http://www.savvyauthors.com/vb/content.php?355-SAVVY-AUTHORS-SUMMER-SYMPOSIUM  There’ll be all sorts of classes for five days straight during the symposium including chats with editors and agents. Well worth it for the $30 year-long access you get to the site and all the classes they give. Marie-Claude and I will also be giving a live chat on steampunkery at 5pm EST on Saturday, July 31 at Savvy Authors, so stop by!

And while I’m not doing either of those, I’ll be a) writing on The Hunter (the first in my new steampunk romance trilogy coming out in 2011), b) sewing on a new steampunk costume to match the fabulous top hat that finally arrived in the mail this week, c) twittering @Theresa_Meyers and finding out what’s going on at the conference in Orlando even if I’m not there, or d) having iced tea spiced up with a bit of Firefly sweet tea peach vodka (because as much as I love tea, it’s too hot for hot tea past about ten am and because I know already the other Lolitas will be frequently the bar in Orlando, and one must simply keep up).

I’m also considering going online and trying a recipie or two for Key Lime Tart, just because I’ve heard that it is simply the thing one must have at the Swan and Dolphin in Orlando. And when life gives you lemons, ah, in this case limes, why not make a tart and have an iced tea with it!

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Steampunk Lady Adventurer corset by Harlots and Angels, England

Let’s face it, breasts are ponderous things at times, and woefully inadequate in others, yet women have always had to find away around them to do what they wanted to and accentuate what they wanted seen. How? Stays, laces, bands, corsets, bras and a variety of interesting adaptations in between. From ancient times to modern, they’ve been part of our fashion. Today we’re going to take a brief tour of this staple of women’s steampunk finery.

In their earliest forms corset-like garments were worn by the Greeks and a type of underbreast corset used by the Minoans. More common use for the corset as a lacing, boning and fabric construction to flatten the breasts and shape the silhouette came into vogue during the 1500’s when they were used by the Tudor courts to create a cone-shape to the body (and continued into the 1700s).

1770s Italian Stays, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Often called a pair of bodies or stays, they sometimes featured small tab-shaped edges around the pointed base to keep them shapely under voluminous skirts. Some featured soft rolls at the base to pad out the hips (making those wide farthingale skirts flare out even further). Some tied at the sides, some tied over the shoulder.

1803 Corset Elastique, French

The cone-shaping of the corset stayed the norm up until the Regency era, when it became a shorter form of stays that could be laced up (looking like a lace-up bra) to be worn with empire waist style gowns. This fashion was replaced in the 1830s when exaggerated sleeves and skirts made the tapered waist more fashionable once again.

1891 Corset, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

As the Victorian era progressed, a gradual slimming of the sleeves and pulling back of the skirts meant that tighter lacing was required to get the same visual hourglass shape to their silhouettes.

They remained in use until through the 1920’s to flatten and give a slimmer shape, but were replaced as a mainstay in women’s undergarments when rubberized materials came out that were capable of sucking it all in.

1927 Barcley corset

In the 1980’s Madonna brought wearing the unmentionables on the outside into vogue and Steampunk fashions have kept the trend going strong. Today the corset is as much a fashion item as a supporting one, finding new expressions for this long-time favored garment.

I know it’s been a whirl-wind tour of corsets. But you’ll understand if I’m a bit tied up at the moment. <g>

What’s your favorite corset look like?

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Today is my grandmother’s 88th birthday. That has little enough to do with steampunk until I think about the era in which she grew up.

She was born right after World War I, a mere seven years after the first Zeppelin attack took place on London as part of armed warfare. She grew up in Sicily until she was 14 years old, so she was no mere novice when it came to steam-fired mechanics and old-fashioned ways of doing things in their village of Villa Rosa, at the heart of the island.

 Her generation was the first to really reap the benefits of automotives, air flight and radio as part of their everyday lives, yet she lived in a community where there wasn’t electrical in every home, and food was still cooked in wood-burning ovens. They used geared machines to crush the olives from their orchards for olive oil, rode horses or steam trains to get from one town to the next and used steam-powered machines for the sulfur mines.

 It wasn’t until the year 1922, when she was born, that a self-winding watch was invented by John Harwood. In science the theory of acids and bases, ideas of the earth’s magnetic field, the production of hydrogen on a manufacturing scale, the development of synthetic oil were still years away. Air flight in small planes was still an experimentation, as was television and moving pictures with sound. It boggles the mind how much the world has changed in just 88 years.

 In writing, reading and participating in steampunk, we have an opportunity to turn back the clock, as it were. A time-machine of our very own. It wasn’t as far back as we like to think. And while steampunk does encompass the whole of the Victorian era (which was the bulk of the 19th century), it really was as little as 100 years ago that what we take for steampunk imagination and invention was part of their daily reality.

So here’s a top-hat off to Hellen Jane Palmeri Sauro Stokes. Happy Birthday, grandma. And thanks for sharing with me a little bit of your memories of what it was like back then.

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