Putting the Punk in Steampunk – Guest Post

Christine Bell is an author of naughty fairy tales, werewolves now steampunk. Her story is called The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale. She has a rather fun bio and I’m in a hurry to post this, so here it is:

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.

~*~

First, I want to thank Tia for having me! I’m such a huge fan of The Sevenfold Spell and can’t wait (foot tap) for her next release.

It’s Steampunk Week at Carina Press so I thought it apropos to talk a little about putting the PUNK in steampunk. When people think of this hot new sub-genre, we often think of dirigibles and corsets, of goggles and bowler hats, of alternate worlds featuring fantastical machines, possibly made from gears, and powered by steam. Granted, those are all definitely part of the steampunk aesthetic.

There’s also this intangible quality to it, an almost “you know it when you see it” type of feel. I like to say that if steampunk was a movie it would star Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, be directed by Tim Burton, and the score would be done by Danny Elfman.

Yet another aspect of steampunk is often a dystopian society (i.e. what happened after mechanical monsters took over the world). That can go hand in hand with the last, less talked about facet of steampunk, which is the “punk” part. In order to fall under the umbrella of a punk movement, there is typically a sort of anti-establishment thread woven into the fabric of the discourse. To my mind, steampunk is no different.

Let’s use Meljean Brooke’s The Iron Duke as an example, because…well, because it’s a really good book, PLUS is illustrates my point perfectly! Meljean created a swashbuckling tale of sky pirates and nanobots, and paired it with a really well-done love story. With its top notch world-building and fast pace, I was so entertained, it didn’t strike me until afterward that she’d also masterfully woven a poignant critique of imperialism, colonialism and racism into this tapestry.

While she doesn’t shove it in your face as such, there is no question that it’s there lurking under the surface of every page. It’s evident in the way her protagonist, Mina Wentworth, is treated by others due to her appearance and her blood line. The way the Horde views its victims. The nature of Horde-run “crèche’s” where many children were kept. The world has suffered enough major and well-documented periods of class/race/sexual discrimination, apartheid, oppression, genocide etc. that we know a nod to a particular instance when we see it, and there were nods left and right in The Iron Duke.

I loved that about The Iron Duke, because that’s the part that had me thinking about it long after I turned the last page (who am I kidding? I mean pressed the last next-page arrow on my Kindle). While it doesn’t have the theatricality that the other elements of steampunk have, it’s the one I feel really sets the sub-genre apart from science fiction or fantasy. Not to say that sci-fi and fantasy can’t have anti-establishment underpinnings, just that it’s not integral to the genres, whereas with steampunk, in my opinion, it is to some degree.

This probably seems funny coming from me, especially if you’ve read or heard about my book, The Twisted Tale of Stormy Gale. To steal a phrase from fab author Cindy Spencer Pape, it’s “steampunk light.” I love steampunk that mixes in other genres, maybe some paranormal, definitely romance, or maybe even a hint of a twisted fairytale. So when I wrote this novella, I picked the parts I loved most about traditional steampunk and skipped others. I skipped the fantastical world-building. Stormy is set in a world that is pretty much just like the regular world was during the Victorian era. My characters are the only ones who know about time travel and the various mechanical inventions that facilitate their journeys. I also didn’t make mine a dystopian society and while, at points, it’s certainly emotional, the overall tone is not dark. In mine, the romance takes center stage, the time travel element is stronger than the steam-element, the characters have a lot of banter and my heroine is full of piss, vinegar and snark. And I like it like that. That’s the story I wanted to write.

BUT, even with all that, there is a message buried in there. Stormy wears pants when everyone else wears dresses, she’d rather be brave than pretty, she rails against the injustices of society based on class and works to right the wrongs heaped on the impoverished. My hero Devlin’s plight shines a light on the way society views the mentally ill and the way the aristocracy views the poor. It’s not exactly a rage against the machine or anything, but this book stands for something and my characters buck the status quo in many ways.

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to this tale, tentatively titled From the Logs of Bacon Frogs which will chronicle Stormy, Devlin and Bacon’s unexpected trip back to 17th century Salem, Massachusetts. There will be mayhem, and romance, and adventure. There will be time travel, and goggles and corsets. And, my trio of characters will again stand up and fight for the oppressed!

Because I like my steampunk with at least a dash of punk.

Please tell me, Tia Nevitt blog readers, how do you like yours? Do you feel like there are some facets of steampunk that are non-negotiable? What has been your favorite steampunk read so far?

~*~

Learn more about Christine’s book at her website Books page. In the meantime, Christine wants to give away a copy of Stormy and a set of her trading cards, one of which is to the right. So if you want to enter, please leave a comment!

Steampunky Fun

Tomorrow and Friday, I’ll have some Steampunk guests, so I thought I’d put up a post on some fun steampunky things that I came across in my research or made up for my own steampunky novel, A Little Night Magic (which has a rewrite request from my publisher).

An Identity System based on Silhouettes

This was inspired by my own military dog tags. I came up with this system whereas one government worker can prove their identity to another. Here is a descriptive excerpt:

“What kind of scam are you trying to pull, Mr. Crain?” he growled.

“Sir?” Julian asked.

Meyer began to read from the paper. “’An attractive young woman of twenty-two years who matches the following description: five feet four inches tall, eight and a half stone, light brown hair, brown eyes.’”

As he read, a knot of dread had built up in my stomach. Those statistics were inscribed on my identity chit, along with an inventory of my defects, such as my concave front teeth and a birthmark on the inside of my forearm.

Meyer looked up. “It continues with a more exacting description.”

“Whoever she is,” Julian said, “she sounds delightful.”

Also cut into the chit was a silhouette, which could be put into a projector, which would be lit by a lantern, of course. Or, you could simply hold it up and compare it to the subject.

Speaking Tubes

This is the way my little spy agency communicates. Here’s another excerpt:

A whistle sounded on the blower out in the hallway. I rushed out of the women’s dorm and grabbed it.

“Lawrence here,” I said into the speaking tube.

There’s a lot of research packed into these sentences. The origin of the word “blower” for telephone originated with speaking tubes, because to sound them, you literally blew into them so the whistle on the other end would shriek. To answer the tube, you pulled out the whistle. Here’s another excerpt about a common problem with speaking tubes:

Over the rest of the week, Crowley fed me additional information.

“You should know about a certain malfunctioning speaking tube,” he said.

“Oh?” I asked.

“It seems that one tube was installed just a bit too close to another. They touch. And if you listen really carefully, you can hear the conversations that are taking place on that other tube.”

“I see.”

“And as it happens, I was about to blow the whistle on that tube when I heard your name mentioned.”

Fun!

Black Powder Firearms

The above term is what we call a retronym, because it only existed they became obsolete, or nearly so. Landlines were once called telephones, for example. Landline is a retronym, as is snail mail for post office mail. The type of weapon that my heroine fired was very difficult to load. Longtime readers of my writing blog will recognize this passage:

I put a kettle on the fire, spread a cloth on the floor, sat before it and got started. I measured the powder into the chambers, greased the balls with the wax and crammed them into the chambers by means of a lever. Then, I melted more wax over each ball to prevent gunpowder leaks. Next, I fitted waxed percussion caps into notches at the back of each chamber. By the time I was finished, I was hot, sweaty and cross, and my hands were black with gunpowder and dirty wax.

With these pistols, you definitely tried to make each shot count.

It’s Steampunk Week over at my publisher’s website, complete with a free novella by Cindy Spencer Pape. Read more about it at our group blog, Here Be Magic. As part of Steampunk Week, I’m having guest posts on Thursday and Friday. Be sure to stop by!

Personal Updates and Stuff This Week

Lots of stuff going on for me this spring, but the last cheerleading performance is over, the awards banquet is finished and extracurricular activities are complete for the school year. Who would have guessed that one little activity would fill up my calendar so much?

In a personal milestone, I interviewed and was accepted for a new position at my place of employment. In case you’re curious, I am a business analyst, which means I analyze business activities for software development purposes. It involves a little bit of a lot of skills including data analysis, software requirements analysis, production support, and even some occasional computer programming (for me, anyway, since I know how). I am very excited about my new position, and I’ll be transitioning over there quite soon.

~*~

What do you think of my site’s new look? I found a new theme and it seems much faster than the previous one. For now, it has some pesky limitations, such as the comments link at the top of the post (why, I ask you?) and the fact that you can’t specify which sidebar goes where. However, I like it enough that I’m thing about spending the 95 bucks (!) for the pro version. It is sweet and appears to be very fast. I also rearranged some of the navigation, and I went for a cleaner look. I’ll continue to tweak it, so you’ll see things evolve over the next week or so.

~*~

I have steampunk guests coming up! They are scheduled for both Thursday and Friday as part of Carina Press’s Steampunk Week. Yay for steampunk!

~*~

My reading has been way down, because my writing is way up. I’m working my way through The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. As with the first book, I am having some suspension of disbelief issues. I don’t know why mistborn would use coins as a projectile weapon, and I just have a hard time accepting the fact that they can apparently fling a coin so it goes (apparently) as fast as a bullet. If they had flung around nails, the resulting damage would have been a lot more believable for me. And the politics in this book is going to drive me nuts. And yet! I’m still reading. I also have the last book, which I’ll jump right into.

What has everyone been up to? Scroll up to the top of the post to find the comment link. (Grr.)

A Cinderella Update and Recent Writing Lessons

Cinderella … oh my, but she has been so difficult. But I think I’m on the home stretch now.

My biggest difficulty? A lack of drama. Let’s face it–the Cinderella story ins’t all that dramatic. Yeah, there’s the angst with being the verbally abused stepsister/daughter, but the modern reader doesn’t like to read about timid abused girls anymore. They like them to fight back. Maybe kick some stepsister ass. And throw in a bit of well-earned humiliation.

And the plot holes in this story are abundant. Here are the ones that I try to tackle:

  1. Why on earth didn’t the fairy godmother do something before the ball? Why let Cinderella be miserable for all this time?
  2. Why does Cinderella have a fairy godmother, anyway?
  3. Why can’t the stepmother and stepsisters recognize Cinderella while she’s at the ball? Wouldn’t it be so much more dramatic if they did?
  4. What on earth is wrong with the prince? Why can’t he catch up with a woman who is fleeing in glass shoes?
  5. And why does he have to use the slipper to find Cinderella? Why does he make such a boneheaded vow as to marry the first girl who’s foot the slipper fits? Can’t he just re-invite all the women who were at the ball and take a look at them?

The premise behind this whole series is that it is about those who are caught up in the magic. So I came up with a dressmaker’s daughter. Again, I had the drama problem. The initial premise usually gets a chuckle out of people when I tell it to them, but in trying to make it work I kept running into the “why should I give a damn” problem. (I’m brutal to myself.) So I came up with this whole plotline with this dastardly guy who takes dreadful advantage of Fayette when she is young, and then he extorts her, and then he won’t go away until she outsmarts him. But that was all years ago, and he comes back.

Big problem with this plot–two, in fact. One is she was too much of a victim (see above), and two–it had nothing to do with Cinderella. The two lives need to be entwined. I tried to weave Cinderella in there, but it just didn’t work.

So I ripped that entire plotline out and flung it away. 10,000 words, at least. Useless. They wouldn’t even make a decent cutscene.

And then I came up with a villain who is wonderfully evil, who is involved in both of their lives, and who is fun to hate. And, it gave Cindy some needed backstory with her fairy godmother.

So what are the lessons I learned, as hinted at in the title of this post? Don’t be in such a hurry to write. I wrote this one scene–nothing to do with any the above–about five times before I realized the entire concept would not work at all. And when I finally cut it out, I came up with the most wonderful scene that is perfect. So I need to think more before I fly off the handle and start writing.

And another day during my lunch hour, I wrote a list of all the scenes in the story–at least the scenes I had already written and/or envisioned. Over the weekend, I started a new file and began cutting and pasting those scenes into the story. There’s going to be a lot of smoothing over to do, but I am able to use most of my best scenes. Yay!

23,000 words down, 15,ooo words lie bleeding on the floor. Ending, here I come!

Guest Post – Third Person: More Intimate than First?

Susanna Fraser‘s first novel, The Sergeant’s Lady, came out last year, and I reviewed it here. A Marriage of Inconvenience is her followup novel, and it takes place before the events of The Sergeant’s Lady. She’s a great blogger. Were it not for her, I would never have known that the Duke of Wellington was hot. Here she talks about first vs. third person, and why in Romance, third person is so prevalent.

When Third Person is More Intimate Than First

One of the first decisions an author makes in sitting down to write a new book is which point of view to use. Almost every book you’ve ever read is in first or third person. For those of you not familiar with the terminology, in first-person books, the storyteller is “I.” In third person, the storyteller is “he” or “she.”

(On very rare occasions, you’ll encounter a story told in second person–in other words, where the storyteller is “you.” And there are variations within first and third person.  Occasionally first-person books use two narrators, alternating between them. And within third person, the author has almost infinite choice about how many characters’ points of view to use and whether to take a “limited” approach–only showing you what the point of view character sees and knows–or an “omniscient” approach, where the narrator is a sort of God figure who sees, hears, and tells the reader all.)

Most romance novels are written in third person limited, using the points of view of the hero the heroine and possibly a villain or other secondary character or two. I didn’t know this when I sat down to write the first draft of my new Carina release, A Marriage of Inconvenience. Frankly, I didn’t even know I was writing a romance novel then. I just had a character I couldn’t get out of my head, so I started writing about her. I used first-person because it felt natural to do so.  It was a good way to let Lucy, my heroine, tell her story, and for me to show readers what was going on in the mind of this outwardly meek and reserved character.

After my early attempts to sell that first-person version of A Marriage of Inconvenience failed, I set it aside for a year to write my second manuscript, The Sergeant’s Lady, which was to become my first published book. By then I understood more about genre expectations, and in writing my second manuscript I grew comfortable with third person limited. So I decided to revisit Marriage and see how it worked in third person.

It worked much better, I discovered. Partly that was because using the hero’s point of view and those of some of my secondary characters added greater richness to the story. But the main reason third person worked better is that it allowed for greater intimacy. That sounds counterintuitive. All the writing advice books say the first person is the most intimate choice. Since the character is “I,” the reader is explicitly invited to identify with the character. The narrator is telling the story herself; she’s giving us a window on her soul. What could be more intimate than that?

All that may be true with a character who wants to bare his or her soul–and body. For example, I think the first-person epic fantasies written by Jacqueline Carey work beautifully because her characters are uninhibited enough to invite the reader into their lives.  Her courtesan heroine, living in a culture where sex is a form of worship, will gladly tell you all about her sex life. And everything else. My Lucy will never be quite that forthcoming. She starts the story quite inhibited. And though she learns to let go and even get a bit kinky with the hero, she would never, ever talk about it to anyone but her husband. She was born in England in 1791, and she’s a creature of her place and time. So in first person, written as if Lucy was penning her own memoir, I would need to make the sex scenes fade to black. Lucy wouldn’t tell it any other way.

However, in third person, Lucy isn’t quite telling the story. I, the author, am in Lucy’s head, telling you what’s happening there, even the things she’d rather keep secret. At least in this case, it makes for a far more intimate story and a better romance.

I’m not sorry I wrote that first draft in first person, though. Writing in first person is a wonderful exercise to train yourself to write well in third person limited. When you write in first person, you can’t tell us anything that that character doesn’t know or see the world through any eyes other than hers. It’s really obvious when you cheat by having your character read other characters’ minds (unless, of course, you’re writing a paranormal and that’s your character’s ability). Having written my first book in first-person, I find I’m not even tempted to head hop.

What about you? Do you like first-person stories? Are there some kinds of stories you think work better in first person or third person? Writers, do you mix up your point of view choices, or do you have a favorite you stick with? One commenter wins a copy of A Marriage of Inconvenience.

Blurb for A Marriage of Inconvenience:

Lucy Jones is a nobody. As an orphan she was reluctantly taken in by her wealthy relatives, the Arringtons, on the condition that she be silent and obedient, always. When her lifelong infatuation with her cousin Sebastian is rewarded by a proposal of marriage, she’s happy and grateful, even though the family finds excuses to keep the engagement a secret.

James Wright-Gordon has always had the benefits of money and a high station in society, but he is no snob. He’s very close to his sister, Anna, who quickly falls for the dashing Sebastian when the families are brought together at a wedding party. Meanwhile, James is struck by Lucy’s quiet intelligence, and drawn to her despite their different circumstances in life.

Lucy suspects that Sebastian has fallen for Anna, but before she can set him free, a terrible secret is revealed that shakes both families. Will James come to her rescue—or abandon her to poverty?

General Chit Chat and Lurker Roll Call

This kinda makes me nervous. If I open up a general chat post–as I’m doing now–will anyone come? If I call for a lurker roll call, will anyone de-lurk?

[Bites nails.]

Why do this? Well, for a few weeks–ever since I tried to change my template–I have not had any counters on this blog. I put them back today and woah! There are about 50 more of you! Howdy! How the heck did that happen?

In many ways, running a blog is a crap shoot. I only know I’m doing well when you guys comment and get involved in discussions. Sometimes, I say something that gets you to delurk, but I don’t know if you are a one-time visitors or if you’ve been following me around since the Once Upon a Dreamer days (the name of one of my early writing blogs).

So if you’re a lurker, I’m asking you to de-lurk to answer one simple question:

What’s up?

Seen any good movies lately? Ready any good books? Got a new tech toy you’d love to rave about?

To make this easier, I’ve removed the requirement to fill out your name and email in order to comment. You can fill it out if you wish, or remain anonymous. Just throw down an initial and let’s dish!

Cover Evolution

Book cover trends change so fast. Check out the cover of Sonya Bateman‘s MASTER OF NONE, which came out last year:

We get a nice, scruffy jawline and a torso on down. Oh! and a hand. The guy could be any white guy, which I think was the point.

Here’s the next book in the series, MASTER AND APPRENTICE, which I just received in the mail from Pocket Books:

Now we have a distinctly Italian-looking white guy with his scruffy jaw, a jacket that is a little more clearly leather, and a pose that is full of tude. We also have a mysterious woman in the background who looks plucked from a medieval fantasy. There’s a reason for that, because in many ways, she is.

Remember the tattoo covers? It really wasn’t all that long ago when they were so prevalent that SciFiGuy gently mocked them in this cover parade:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxSwr130ptw?rel=0&w=480&h=390]

Covers have come a long way since then. Most of the time, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with today’s paranormal and urban fantasy novels. I kind of liked the faces to be a mystery, but I don’t mind full faces, either. But the model would have to be casted well. In this case, the Gavyn I imagined looked a bit friendlier than this brooding guy, but otherwise, not bad.

Off Topic: Cheerleading — Then and Now

It’s cheerleading competition season, and that means that my weekends have been busier than usual, and this blog has been less active than usual. I was a cheerleader in grade school, but I wasn’t cool enough for it in high school. No, that’s not quite true. I wasn’t good enough at what it takes to be a cheerleader. I was very stiff, and was only able to do a split for try-outs. No way I could do the stuff you had to do for high school cheerleading.

That, and I wasn’t cool enough.

I was telling my daughter’s young coach about the things we used to do for the single competition we were involved in every year. No handsprings, backflips or anything like that. Maybe, we’d do a cartwheel. We would have no music, but we would have a chant. You know the kind:

H!
E!
Double – L – 0!
Our School Mustangs,
Say!
Hello!
To you!

That’s the only one I remember. It was the greeting cheer, which we used to greet the other team. I still remember all the moves. This is a picture of our team. No idea why one girl has a yellow uniform.

They don’t have pyramids like we used to have. We would have pyramids where each girl was literally part of a structure of bodies that was occasionally three girls high. No spotters, either. I was strong, so I was always on the bottom. I would lace my fingers together so a girl could climb up me. She would stand on my shoulder and another girl’s shoulder, and other girls would sort of be in at a half-level. Sometimes, a girl would actually (somehow) climb up two girls to make a third level. All on hardwood floors. Someone in front would do a split. We never dropped anyone.

Nowadays, the squad is all teamwork. They have to do very difficult stunts that are rightly defined as acrobatics. Its nuts. It’s set to music, and there’s at least twenty girls there. For the pyramids, there’s a girl being held up by a bunch of other girls (or guys) while some girls do nothing but stand in the back to catch a flyer (that’s what they are called) who might fall. If one girl is missing, the whole cheer is shot because it is now asymetrical. They do their routine on a special bouncy floor.

We also didn’t have special needs squads. It is trilling to see the big fuss that is made over them at the competitions. In one competition, the girls in the wheelchairs were pushed around by their helpers and they were worked seamlessly into the formation. It was wonderful.

Back when I did cheerleading, to call it a sport was a bit of a stretch. Now, it’s practically a circus performance. The only thing I don’t like about it is some of the uniforms are just too provocative. Fortunately, my daughter’s uniform is as modest as mine was in 1978. The cheerleading uniforms now are just like the ones that the professional cheerleaders wear on the football teams. When the Dallas Cowboys first did it, they were stretching the limits. Now, that’s the norm.

Ah, well.

Thanks for this trip with me down memory lane. I will leave you with another picture. Yes! That’s me!

Editor Taking Pitches Today

I didn’t find out about this until this morning, and I was unable to post it while I was at work. But if you have a manuscript that is ready to submit, this might interest you. An author friend–Nicole North–invited her editor to take pitches at our group blog, Here Be Magic. Here’s her email:

Hi, everyone,

Polish up those pitches. My Carina Press editor Gina Bernal will be visiting the Here Be Magic blog tomorrow April 6. I’ve interviewed her, and she will also be taking pitches. She will choose one winner and request either a partial or a full from them. Please keep pitches to a brief one paragraph blurb plus pertinent details (title, genre, word count.) The post will appear in the morning, or sometime after midnight [its up now — tia]. Be sure to read the interview first to see what she is looking for. Hint, hint: she has a fondness for Celtic stories, historical romance, but also other subgenres.

Gina named my own novella a book she “wished she edited,” so she also enjoys fantasies. Go on and check out the post and if it looks like your novel fits, pitch! There are already 25 comments!