Tag Archives: Steampunk

Dark, Gothic, and hurtling toward disaster

Steampunks  by Kyle Cassidy

Steampunks by Kyle Cassidy

Well…apparently my current scifi work-in-progress, a short story, is steampunk. Who knew? My good friend, author Lee French, figured it out yesterday at our regular Tuesday morning brainstorming session at Panera. After she pointed it out, I could see it clearly, despite my original thought that because I had set it on a mining-colony world, it was a scifi tale.

I was a little surprised I hadn’t seen it earlier, and once it was pointed out, I could see why I was struggling with the tale–I didn’t know what I was writing.

It began as an exercise in writing from the point of view of the flâneur–the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. Click here for Scott Driscoll‘s great blogpost on the flâneur. In short, he tells us that: “With a flâneur narrating, you can remove the noticing consciousness from your point of view character to accomplish other purposes.”  

The flâneur  is frequently found in literature from the 19th century.  The story is filtered through his eyes and perceptions–it distances the reader from the immediacy of the scene, so be forewarned: genre-nazis and arm-chair editors who want the material delivered in 60 second sound-bytes of action won’t love it. Literary fantasy explores the meaning of life or looks at real issues, and I tend to write from that aspect. Often, the fantastic setting is just a means to posing a series of questions. Sometimes the quest the hero faces is in fact an allegory for something else. I read good literary fantasy–it tends to be written by men and women who can actually write. Not only are the words and sentences pregnant with meaning, but they are often beautifully constructed, and I learn the craft of writing from reading it.

The Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

The Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

My flâneur is Martin Daniels, a young, wealthy, retired crystallographer. He spends his time roaming his city’s streets and sitting in sidewalk cafés observing his fellow citizens, and making social and aesthetic observations. He regularly finds himself crossing paths with one man in particular, Jenner: a self-made man who came up through the mines.

Jenner is battering against the prevailing social barriers which stand in the way of his achieving a political office that he covets, using whatever means at his disposal. He is uncouth, a barely civilized rough-neck with a bad reputation, but something about him draws Martin’s attention, and so he finds himself both observing Jenner, and listening to the whispered gossip that surrounds the man.

One day, as Jenner is passing Martin’s table,  his hat blows off and Martin catches it, returning it to him. Jenner then introduces himself, and admits that he has been watching Martin for some time. He has a task for Martin, one that intrigues him enough to bring him out of retirement. Thus begins an odd relationship.

Thus my flâneur ceases to be merely an observer, and becomes my protagonist, yet he is reporting the events from the distance of his memory, so he is still the observer.

aesthetic definitionSo what is Steampunk?  Mike Perschon, in his dissertation, The Steampunk Aesthetic: Technofantasies in a Neo-Victorian Retrofuture, has described it as “…an aesthetic that mixes three features: technofantasy, neo-Victorianism, and Retrofuturism.” The key word here is aesthetic.

So how does that relate to my short story? When I looked at it with a critical eye, I realized it incorporates all three of those devices:

Technofantasy: Technology that lacks plausibility, or utilizes fantasy elements as the force or motive behind an action or process. No explanations will be given. The technology exists within the story, not the real world.

Neo-Victorianism: A setting that evokes the nineteenth century, whether it is set there or  not. In my tale, the use of the flâneur evokes a 19th century atmosphere, as do the other constraints I had inadvertently written into it.

Retrofuturism: How we think the past viewed the future. It is set in the distant future, but it is a future I think Victor Hugo would have recognized.

I have always perceived steampunk as cogs and diodes, dark atmosphere, rather Gothic, and with a plot that has the protagonists hurtling toward disaster. Now I know it is all that and more. They hurtle toward disaster, with a nineteenth century flair.

Thus my sci-fi flâneur is now the protagonist in a steampunk mystery. This short story, which had sort of stalled, is now back on track and fun to write. Through writing short stories we have the opportunity to write in different genres, and stretch our writing-wings.

I learn more about the craft of writing with each tale, and that fires me up, helping me see my longer works with fresh eyes.

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The Wayward Plot

Eternal_clockIf you happen to be a character in a fantasy tale maps are awesome indicators of what direction you should probably point your horse, whenever you are off on a nice vacation in Hell.  However, the wise hero also carries a calendar,  and perhaps a pocket watch, since even the most absurd quests have a finite date of completion.

I’m not sure what would have happened if Frodo and Sam hadn’t arrived at the volcano in time to scorch Sauron’s plans, so to speak–and what if Gollum had not gotten the memo? Who would have leapt into the lava?

images“…After you, Samwise, old buddy, old friend….”

“…Ah….no Mr. Frodo…. Please, you go first….”

SO, even though maps and calendars as created by frail, elderly  authors are  NOT finite, and nothing is exact or engraved in stone, the wise author uses both when constructing the tale.  Sure in the end you don’t use exact dates, nor do you use exact miles–if you do, you won’t get it right and your editor will pick it to bits.

Remember, in fantasy, time  and distance are mushy, but it really helps to have some idea of when all the important bits are supposed to come together.

Prague-Astronomical_clock-Clock-Old_Town_Prague-Prague_Astronomical_Clock-originalEven in this modern world of the GPS and Atomic Clocks, each individual traveler arrives at their destination at a different time and by a different route. Take my family: My husband and I will have the family dinner scheduled for 1:00 on the given holiday, but family members will arrive at varying times up to 3:00, all from the same general area of the north, and all of them funneled down I-5.

So when you are constructing your story, the calendar helps keep you on track, so that an event that takes 2 months for the main character also takes that length of time for the supporting characters.

Calendar Capricas 3262 NeveyahFor my books set in Neveyah, I invented a 13 month lunar calendar, and labeled the months with names drawn from astrology. I named the days of the week using norse gods (don’t ask me why–it was years ago, and I was writing the basic outline of TOWER OF BONES  as the walk-though for an old-school RPG that never got built.) Since the book was not originally graphed out as a book, there are flaws inherent in this that I am dealing with to this day!

map of Neveyah relief 3-4-2013 001But those flaws are creating some awesome plot opportunities in Valley of Sorrows, the final book in the TOWER OF BONES series.  I just have to make sure I use the calendar to mesh events in the first half of the book with the events in FORBIDDEN ROAD, because John Farmer and Garran Andressson absolutely must be in Braden when Edwin, Friedr, and Zan arrive.

The second half of the book is pretty much structured, but the first half is giving me fits.  As Alison DeLuca, author of the steampunk Crown Phoenix Series frequently says, it’s like birthing a cement hippo.  Still, it is beginning to come together.

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Cover Reveal: The South Sea Bubble, by Alison Deluca

Alison DeLuca TNWE myrddinAs I have mentioned before, I am in love with fabulous art, and I totally adore beautiful book covers.  I have been working on covers for my own books,and was thrilled to find some of the best art in the world in the public domain, free and with a creative commons license allowing it to be remixed and used in anyway.  While my books have always had great graphics, thanks to the awesome Ceri Clark, prior to Tales from the Dreamtime, the art I have found for her to work with  wasn’t what I really wanted, and I wasn’t sure how to achieve what I wanted to see on my book covers. Beginning this year ALL my books will have much more appropriate art, eye-candy (in my opinion.)

Selecting art to cover your book is apparently a common problem, as I have seen some fairly awful book covers sold under the auspices of major publishing houses, so I don’t feel too badly in regard to my own sad efforts.

Alison DeLuca HeadshotToday my dear friend and fellow co-founder of Myrddin Publishing Group, Alison Deluca is revealing the cover to her new book, The South Sea Bubble, the 4th and final installment in her wonderful steampunk series, The Crown Phoenix Series. The book is due to be released on November 5th, 2013.

Alison’s bio doesn’t do her any justice:

“Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.”

This woman is so much more than those few words tell! She is a rock to those of us who rely on her wisdom and sharp humor to get us through the twists and turns of the publishing world.  Today, she has agreed to let me give you all a sneak peak at The South Sea Bubble and the beautifully conceived and put together cover cover!

But first–the Blurb:

An Edwardian hospital hides many secrets:

A mysterious patient lurks in the cellar…

A secret passage leads to danger…

Coded messages reveal new riddles..

Visions of danger haunt the people of Grimstead Manor…

Lizzie and Miriam find horror, adventure, and romance surrounding the strange vessel known as The South Sea Bubble.

“Compulsive reading!”

“Addictive steampunk.”

BUT  wait…. I’ve read the first three books in the series and I’m DYING to read this book.  Let’s have just a teensy look inside:

Oh, stop the dramatics,” Simon groaned. “What on earth are you talking about? Of course I’m not leaving until we sort all of this out and you tell me what – is – going – on!” His voice rose in volume on each successive word.

Miriam looked at him. Her eyes were dark and very direct. “No, Simon.” Her lower lip trembled, but she took a deep breath and seemed to recover. “I will not.”

“Oh, is that so?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “And I suppose you think I’m just going to waltz off and forget all about you, Lampala, and last summer.” He raised one finger and stabbed the air in her direction. “I’m not going to, my girl, and don’t you forget it. I will not give up on you, although apparently you have given up on me.”

Okay. They’re grownups now…. having a bit of a tiff…. This book intrigues me already. I’m all about it!

I pressed Alison to talk to me about how she and her cover designer worked together to come up with the cover.

My cover artist throughout the Crown Phoenix series is Lisa Daly, my best friend from high school. We continued the theme of showcasing main characters on the front, although this one shows Simon, the first male cover.

Lisa and I chose the model because not only does he embody Simon’s physical characteristics (good looks, blond hair) but also his strong-willed, hot-tempered personality. No wonder Miriam found herself dreaming about him at night.

We got permission from Joachim Muller, a German photographer, to use his image of the lovely octopus in the lower left corner. Also, the bathysphere, which is the South Sea Bubble, frames Simon – a theme within the story.

Thank you so much for allowing me to showcase this on your blog, Connie!

***
And here, my friends, is the gorgeous cover, revealed at last:
The south sea bubble Alison Deluca
Due to be released November 5, 2013

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Cover reveal,Tales from the Dreamtime

Tales from the Dreamstime jpg 2013Great covers sell books! I love great covers, but haven’t always been that good at creating them.

This is the cover of my soon-to-be-released book, Tales from the Dreamtime, a collection of two short stories and one novella.

The image is The Lily Fairy by Falero Luis Ricardo. The image itself is in the public domain, because the original author or artist passed away over 100 years ago. Thus, instead of crediting the artist with a © symbol, we use a different  method:

 

Luis Ricardo Falero Lily Fairy 1888.

{{PD-Art|PD-old-100}}

The credit line is extremely important, as you must always clearly represent on the copyright page of your book each person with an interest in the work.  You must have on file a license clearly granting you permission to use the image in way you intend to use it.

In the case of public domain artwork, a good source of free artwork with clearly written  creative-commons licenses is Wikimedia Commons.  There is a limited number of works that are suitable for my purposes, and some of the best ones have restrictions clearly stated on them. This picture, however, has the following provenance clearly stated on the bottom half of the page beneath the picture:

Author
[show]Luis Ricardo Falero (1851–1896) Link back to Creator infobox template wikidata:Q2744493
Description
Lily Fairy
Date 1888
Medium oil on canvas
Source/Photographer [1]
Permission
(Reusing this file)
Author died more than 70 years ago – public domain
This is a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason:
Public domain This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

The way you are to credit the artist is also clearly expressed in a link:

Courtesy credit lines[edit]

Public Domain media do not require credit line or any kind of attribution; however, reusers are encouraged to attribute author (if known) and inform users that the work was released into public domain. Below are suggested creditline formats for the reusers:

License Author Source Credit line
{{PD-self}}
{{PD-author}}
{{PD-heirs}}
John Doe Own work John Doe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
{{PD-old}} John Doe publication / self-scanned John Doe / Public Domain
{{PD-self}} [[user:JohnDoe]] Own work user:JohnDoe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
{{anonymous-EU}}
{{PD-anon-1923}}
{{anonymous work}}
anonymous publication Public Domain

582px-Il_Pordenone_001b_detail_sheet_music

I have found many old masters that I use on this blog on Wikimedia Commons.

“Public domain” means nobody claims any rights to the property, either because they gave them up or because time or some other factor ended copyright. Anyone can use it for any purpose. For instance, anyone can publish and sell a copy of “A Christmas Carol” because it is no longer copyright due to age.

“Royalty free” means “I own it, but I am allowing you to use it under specific conditions without paying me royalties for it” A Royalty free license does have qualifications. For instance it might allow you to use the work but not to sell copies. Many times you pay the artist a onetime fee and then you have the rights to use the work within the limits of your contract.

Bedermann dreamstime_14266940Affordable Royalty Free art can be found on Dreamstime.com, and the price ranges from $1.00 to $75.00. There are thousands of images on that website. iStock.com is another great royalty free website.  Their contracts are clear and printable and the credit lines are also clear. You always have a record of your purchases through them, on the website so your provenance is never in doubt.

Being an indie is a lot of work, and you really have to be your own art department. It is a lot of fun, I find. I have even tried making my own cover art, with mixed results, but I really learn a lot from these sorts of experiences.

Being an indie is a s much about the learning the ropes of the publishing business as it is anything else.  I have learned that just owning the rights to use the art is only the first step to a good cover. You must either be able to use Photoshop (mondo expensive) or Gimp (free), both of which are startlingly difficult to learn the ropes of.  Not only that, you must understand how a book cover is laid out. There are YouTube and Amazon walkthroughs, which is a free education but also which is complicated.

My advice? Hire a graphic designer with experience in designing book covers. It is well worth it. My own choice of artwork is dictated by my both my pocketbook and the image’s relevance to the story, but I find that good graphics can really make a great cover.

I have a graphic designer, Ceri Clark, who does the graphics on my book covers, because I don’t have the eye for them. My advice? Hire a graphic designer with experience in designing book covers. I know I already said that, but that is my advice, lol!

So here is the blurb for my new book, Tales from the Dreamtime

Three grownup Tales from the Dreamtime in one novella…

A conversation with Galahad
A prince on a quest and a goddess in mourning
A stolen kingdom and the Fractal Mirror 
Three tales of wonder and great deeds 
Three tales of heroes and villains 

Open the door and enter the Dreamtime, the world of fairytales, the flower of all that is delightful and mysterious, frightening and amazing.

It will be offered for sale as an ebook by Monday August 12,2013 if all goes as planned.It contains three tales:

TABLE    OF    CONTENTS

1     Galahad Hawke (a short story)

2    The Tale of Prince Darién (a short story)

3    Arrabelle and the Prince of Thieves (a novella)

Each tale is written with my own particular brand of let-the-chips-fall -where-they-may take on traditional fairytales.

I may yield to pressure and pick up the story at the end of  Galahad, turning him into a novel during NaNoWriMo this year–he is an Arthurian tale with a Steampunk twist. Nothing is certain yet!

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Alison DeLuca – A Sharp Left Turn

Alison DeLuca is the well-known author of the Steampunk series, ‘The Crown Phoenix’. This series has captured my imagination since I first read ‘The Night Watchman Express’, and she has just published the third book in the series, ‘Lamplighter’s Special’.  My review of the series is posted on my book review blog, Best In Fantasy.

Alison is a master of character development.  I love each and every one of her characters, feeling as if they were my dearest friends (or in some cases enemies). The premise of the series is extremely creative, involving all the finest elements of the Steampunk genre – magic, machines and the eternal battle with dark-forces.  She manages to do this magnificently and neatly avoids devolving into formulaic kitsch as some rather popular pulp-novels have done.

Because I love her characters and their depth so much, I asked her to discuss the most unlikely and intriguing pair, Riki and Neil. Two people less like to make a romantic connection never lived, and yet their story has been one of my favorite threads in the saga.

>>><<< 

A Sharp Left Turn

In my first book, Crown Phoenix: Night Watchman Express, the action changes in the middle of the book. I leave Miriam and Simon on the Night Watchman train, kidnapped and heading to a sinister, unknown destination.

Simon’s friend, Neil, heads off to the mythical island of Lampala. When I wrote the book, I based the geography on the country of Madeira. Beyond that, I wanted to completely avoid any trace of colonialism in my plot. The Lampalans had to be well-off with a thriving industry and their own government.

Neil reaches the island, thanks to the mechanics of the Crown Phoenix, a quantum typewriter. He is rescued by Riki, a girl who is very thin, energetic, and quite a pain in the behind.

Her parents are well-to-do, but they cannot control Riki. She is just one of those kids who was born yelling her head off, and she hasn’t stopped since. She gets bored easily, which probably means she is very intelligent. Furthermore, she is extremely loyal. Once Riki is your friend, she will stick by you through anything.

She can hardly believe, however, that Neil doesn’t immediately fall for her:

“Well, don’t worry. When you and I get married, you’ll be rich.”

Neil shot to his feet and dropped his sandwich onto the beach below, where it was picked up by a triumphant gull. “When we what?” he repeated in a strangled voice.

“When you marry me.” Riki smiled at him and swallowed the last of her sweet roll.

He huffed, catching his breath, and finally managed to say, “Oh, no, I’m not marrying you. No-ho. Mhp-hm.”

She looked up at him in astonishment. “You mean, you don’t want to marry me? Why not?”

“Because,” he responded, “you are, without a doubt, the rudest, most ill-mannered girl I have ever met in my entire life.”

She considered this. Her eyes turned into slits. “Well,” she finally retorted, “I’ve been nice to you today.

“Maybe. However, I’m not going to marry someone whose best claim to decent behavior is that they’ve ‘been nice today’. If I ever get married at all, that is.”

Both Riki and Neil run into Kyoge, one of the King’s Guards. I based Kyoge on a painting called, “The Moorish Chief.” He is tall and strong – a superbly athletic man. His physical prowess is matched by his shrewd wits. He, like Riki, is also very loyal. When he realizes that the true ruler of Lampala is alive and hidden on the island, he risks everything to help.

When I took that Sharp Left Turn, I knew it was a risk. Instead of following the plot and main character of the first section, I followed a new train of thought and a different set of people. Why did I do it? Not to torture my readers, but instead to increase the excitement of what followed. In that, I borrowed a page from one of my favorite children’s authors, Joan Aiken. She would reach the most exciting part of a scene and go to another set of characters. It kept me reading, agog, well past my bedtime, when I was ten years old.

I’m no Joan Aiken, but I do hope that readers enjoy my side trip to Lampala. I love the island, and I adored writing the story that happened there.

>>><<< 

Alison DeLuca grew up on an organic farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Her parents were British, so in the summers she went to stay with her grandparents near Dublin.

There was no stereo or TV there, so Alison, her sister, and her cousins spent the summer inventing stories and plays for each other.  “This gave me the ability to entertain myself with my own imagination in any situation,” she says. “We used to be taken to tea with great-aunts, and we were expected to sit on an uncomfortable couch and not move or say a word.  It was possible to endure it because I was watching my own little stories play out in my mind.”

After graduating from West Chester University, Alison became a teacher of English and Spanish, teaching students from kindergarten up to college level. She loved teaching, and it was with reluctance that she left the classroom to be a fulltime mom when her daughter was born.

While she was teaching and raising her daughter, Alison took every free minute she had to write.  The Crown Phoenix Series was the result.

She is currently working on the final book in the series, as well as several other projects.

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