If you love steampunk, you’ve got to read this. If you love steampunk literature, you really, really have to read this. I was excited to learn that the incredibly talented Cherie Priest was starting a steampunk series, but this piece makes me a little giddy. You should check out the whole site, as well, The Clockwork Century.

I particularly like her conclusion:

I’ve seen people come at steampunk with sophisticated visions of retro-futuristic China, New England, Africa, the American frontier, gaslamp London, Japan, and India … and everywhere else, which is exactly how it ought to be. Because wherever you came from, whoever you are, and whatever your people were doing a hundred and fifty years ago … it is worth talking about. It is worth examining, and exploring. It is worth playing with, every bit as much as it is worth taking seriously.

And I believe this, if nothing else, puts the “punk” in steampunk. It’s the tongue sticking out at history books; it’s a poke in the eye to a condescending footnote. It’s a pointy boot up the ass of stuffy literalists and stitch-counters. Steampunk refuses to let what was written years ago become the last word or the bottom line, and that’s one very big reason I love it so much.

ModeArtistiqueMai1880Last night I recorded the last two chapters of The Aldersgate for Alderpod.

I don’t know what I was expecting to feel. I mean, I haven’t actually been writing in the draft in months. I’ve had my head in other projects, so maybe it was the distance that did it. But finishing it, reading that last bit, then adding the music and hearing it back again. Well, it was a little emotional for me. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that my sister’s voice is there at the end, too…

But it’s more than that. Finishing a book is a weird process, especially when you’re expecting to write more later. The Aldersgate was never envisioned, to me anyway, as just one book. But, still, it’s got to be able to stand on its own. Even though some of the plot points won’t get resolved for a while, it’s important that each of the characters complete their own journeys.

And I think, above all, that’s what I’m most pleased with. The book has room for tightening in a lot of places. But such are revisions. I can get away with some stuff in reading that likely I can’t in writing. Just one of the weird ways the audiobook and physical book differ. But, back to the characters. I like the way the book ends because the main characters–in this case, Cora, Emry, and Brick–really come into their own. I won’t go spoilery on you, and it’s not that they all figure it out perfectly, or that’s it’s a happy ending. It can’t really be (as in the case of Sylvan and Ellin).

Anyway I’m babbling. The coffee’s not yet kicked in. At some point today I’ve got to go and put the tags on the file, and listen one more time to make sure it’s as good as I can get it.

And now, this begs the question: what to do next? The podcast has been going on for the last year and change (the prologue went live on April 22, 2008). As I mentioned at the beginning, reading aloud is just a part of my writing process, and it may be that I choose to do another podcast just… well, because there’s going to be a gaping hole where Alderpod once was!

Regardless, there will be at least one more Alderpod, wherein there is an epilogue. It will help set up some of the background for The Ward of the Rose, as well as tie up what happened with Kaythra Bav, Alastair Grey, and Denna Grey. So it’s not the end of the end. I guess no story is really ever over, anyway…

I was given two copies of the Tales of Beedle the Bard for Christmas, attesting to the fact that my family knows me quite well. I hadn’t explicitly asked for it, but people often think of me and think of magical worlds, and well, the book makes sense (especially since you can find it everywhere from Wal-Mart to your neighborhood gas station, I’ll warrant).

I didn’t crack it open for a few days, just because I had other books to read. But when I did, I wasn’t expecting much. I must say I was a little disappointed by the end of the whole Potter series, though undeniably still attached to the characters. This book appeared to me as well, a little reaching. Sure, I knew that it was going to be for charity which is good. But the whole debacle between Rowling and the Harry Potter Lexicon has made me a little wary of the lady. Sure, we’re all entitled to our opinions on the subject, but I have a much freer definition of creative license than she does.

What’s surprising to me about the book is how genuine it feels. Even as a purported children’s book, it’s very, well, medieval. And it’s supposed to be. (Beedle and Bede? Yes, there’s got to be a connection there.) I think the least effective of the tales is the one from the books, “The Tale of the Three Brothers”–and yet it rings particularly medieval, due to its characterization of Death, etc. I suppose I was waylaid by the silly names, like “Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump” and “The Wizard’s Hairy Heart”–but what struck me was how these stories are, like many medieval tales, a bit on the gruesome side. There’s little candy-coating there (not that Rowling does that much to begin with, but I assumed she would here).

And of course, there’s the whole frame of the book; that it is, in fact, edited by Hermione Granger with commentary by Albus Dumbledore. I thought this would be distracting, but I was surprised to find that, reading Dumbledore’s commentary, I found I actually missed the guy quite a bit. As for Ms. Granger’s presence, there really isn’t any detectable. Which makes sense for an academic like she is.

All in all, it’s a surprisingly good read. Certainly nothing on par with the whole series, but a great little supplement. And certainly a treat that gets a chuckle from those of us with medieval leanings. I think Rowling certainly did her homework on this one.

I discovered steampunk not by way of Great Britain, which is a more familiar flavor (and surprising because, honestly, I’m quite an anglophile at heart), but by way of the American West. This certainly is an unusual way to go about the whole steampunk angle, but it makes complete sense. Sure, the Old West seems far removed from the genteel ways of Victorian England, but I don’t think they’re necessarily exclusive. Of all the periods of US History, my favorite has always been the post Civil War era. Something magical happened in those ensuing years, and it’s particularly ripe for steampunk musings.

What’s most enticing about American steampunk is its quirkiness. It’s the ability to shove off the class distinctions that hold a lot of Victorian tales together, and embrace the working man, the tinkerer, and the home-brew blacksmith. Toss in the element of the vast spaces, and you get something that really shakes.

The American West had its own societal structures, of course. But it also gave power to those who sought it, not just those who were born into it. A particularly good example, I think, that demonstrates this best is “Deadwood” the short-lived and incredible series on HBO. Sure, there’s a lot in the way of cussing–but the entire show is about power, power in the unexpected places, power in relationships, power in actions. It’s the kind of thing that Joe R. Landsale explores, too, in many of his short stories (not for the faint of heart, these). You see glimmers of it in Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, too, certainly.

What I think American steampunk benefits from is a distance from the heart, the monarchy, the tight-lacing. I think I like it better, too, because it makes it all that more possible for a gal to take up a gun or a wrench herself. Sure, most of my own steampunk wanderings aren’t from this world that we live in, but my love of the American West informs lots of the decisions I make. There’s a bit of Doc Holliday in Sir Renmen, quite a dash of Calamity Jane in Sally Din, and admittedly some Wyatt Earp in Sir Gawen (the mustache, of course).

Sure, there’s folks who believe that steampunk can’t be steampunk without Victoria, without Great Britain, etc. I beg to differ. I think people in general ought to expand their conceptions of the genre to understand that the application of steam technology and the environs of Victoriana can be stretched to a myriad of applications. In the coming years, I think we’ll see many more windows into just how flexible and far-reaching steampunk can be. And we’ll be better for it.

Spurs as gears? That’s what I’m talking about.

I have been searching, searching I say, for the right book to accompany my November writing marathon. I like to read while I write; don’t know why, but it always fuels me in the right direction. I think I’ve mentioned that I’d tried my hand at a series of “mainstream” fantasy books the last few months, trying to read what’s selling and get an idea of the market. All well and good, but the result has been far from positive on my end. I’ve been frustrated, uninspired, and unable to finish a damned single one of them.

Thankfully, after a trip to the local book megastore, I came back with Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear. I’ve been meaning to catch up on her, and after two foiled attempts to find Joe Abercrombie (they had the second in the series, and the third, but not the first) or anything by Emma Bull, I found Ms. Bear’s collection and said, “OH yeah! I’ve been meaning to get to this forever.”

Being a mom doesn’t give you a lot of time to read, sure. And maybe that’s why I’m super picky these days. But falling into Elizabeth Bear’s writing is like… well, having read nothing but her short stories I don’t think I knew what I was prepared for. Dark and delight, and on some of my favorite subjects. Her slant on Arthuriana is particularly thrilling for me, obsessed as I am with it.

I’m only a few chapters in, but happily hooked… it’s just such a great feeling to find the RIGHT book.

I was thrilled to find out that The Aldersgate was reviewed (what’s been podcasted so far) on the Forgotten Classics podcast, episode 59; you can find it here. The review is so kind, and so… well, it certainly has me smiling from ear to ear!

The folks over at the Willows sent out an email yesterday for calls for submissions for an upcoming archaeology issue. I thought I would share! (And should mention that my short story “Dr. Adderson’s Lens” will be in one of the upcoming issues, too!)

“Throw those chisels in the motor-car, gentlemen…we’re off to Mesopotamia!”

In February 2009, The Willows will be publishing a special Archaeology Issue, full of tales related to one of our great passions: the early histories of civilized humanity. To date, we have secured two featured tales for the issue, from Steven Shrewsbury and G. D. Falksen. And if you can conjure a thrilling, ghostly image of civilized antiquity, your work could join theirs! And Mesopotamia, though ever-popular in archaeological tales, is not the limit. Weave us an historically accurate ghost story, in 5500 words or less, of vanished Knossos, or of the strange Mississippian culture, or of Copper Age Ireland… so long as your vision is one of pre-Hellenic civilized history viewed through the lens of the Victorian or Edwardian culture.

We are also looking for a cornucopia of original artwork and poetry to accompany these tales, as always!

No Steampunk this issue, please.  Take care to eliminate all post-Great War style language and jargon, televisions and other things nonexistent previous to WWI.  And yes, historically accurate means historically accurate; Google and Wikipedia are free for everyone.  Enough said.

Good luck to all, and feel free to spread the word!

Paul Jessups Stories Like a Stone in Her Heart

Paul Jessup's "Stories Like a Stone in Her Heart"

I’m a big fan of Creative Commons, and the “free” media movement.

And I’m a big fan of Paul Jessup.

So, what I’m saying is: hunker on over to his website and become part of his great experiment with his short story “Stories Like a Stone in Her Heart”–you can pay or not pay (but please, pay!). Looks like it’s down for now, but I still hold by the following.

I was lucky enough to read an early draft of this very story, and can vouch for it. It’s intense, intelligent, and really gets to the core of the power behind the art and craft of storytelling. Blending his impressive ability to mold language with Native American myth and magic, it’s certainly a tale that stays with you.

I have yet to read Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, but I am quite enthralled by his blog. He’s witty, funny, and certainly helpful for those of us slogging through the novel process. His most recent post is about editing, and he hit it so spot on I started laughing (a little maniacally, I admit) while reading it. I’m glad to know that other people out there, especially those writing in fantasy and multi-POV styles, experience the same kind of borderline insanity that I do.

Currently, I’m in stage four, according to Joe:

4. Character Pass. And now we come to the meat of the exercise. You have to imagine me being interviewed, probably on a darkened stage with a single spotlight, in a black leather armchair like Mastermind, by Melvyn Bragg, possibly? I’m wearing a corduroy suit and a thoughtful yet slightly sour expression like I just tasted a fine wine and detected the slightest aroma of piss about it. And I say something like, “well, you understand, Melvyn, this is when I take on the mantles of my various characters, this is when I absorb them into my id. This is when I become them … Or do they become me?” (humbly apologetic smile, round of applause from the sycophantic audience, you get the idea). Basically I try and get as complete a sense of each point of view character as possible in mind, often taking one particular chapter that worked particularly well as a model. Then I spend a few days going through every chapter and part of chapter from their point of view trying to get as strong a sense of that character down on the page. Usually involves some cutting down, some tinkering with the prose style to try and get it consistent across every appearance of that character, some work on the dialogue to get the voice right, some application of clever tricks and catch-phrases, or repeating constructions, and so forth.

Also during this phase, and particularly with the three more important characters, I’ll be trying to draw out some of the theme relating to that character a bit more strongly, especially early on when I wasn’t (ahem) totally sure what their themes would, like, be. I will be trying to sketch their arcs more distinctly. Trying to boil them down to a more decisive essence of person. Melvyn. Whoever said I was pretentious? I’m just like any other master craftsman or great artist at work…

When this pass is done the book should hopefully be coming together nicely.

I’m currently on Chapter Eighteen, approximately 100,450 words in to the final book (the original was 32 chapters I think, so I’m actually cutting a few, and axed two POVs…). All the “finished” chapters are lined up so pretty in Scrivener, and it makes me feel fulfilled and happy. For a moment anyway. Until the real editing starts, I suppose.

The Write Stuff

I’ve been collecting data here at the AGC blog. I’ll admit to being a very curious individual. I like knowing how things work, figuring out the who-why-whens. So having a WP blog means I check my data a little obsessively.

At any rate, of my most popular posts since I started, by and large the majority of views come from a handful of posts I’ve made about steampunk fashion. In fact, the gross majority of searches have been for that same keyword phrase “steampunk fashion”. Sure, there are a few folks that trickle in looking for steampunk novels, short stories, and the like. But more and more the trend is moving toward fashion, and not fiction.

Not that I’m solely a steampunk genre writer (if there even is a thing). But I think this data points toward an interesting issue facing those interested in steampunk. There is an ever growing interest in steampunk fashion, culture, and society, moreso than any other aspect. For something that was born out of literature, this is slightly disconcerting.

I’ve always said steampunk fashion is inspiring to me, and it is and continues to be. What bothers me is a move in the direction toward the sheerly cosmetic aspects of steampunk and away from the tenets of the literature and philosophy that makes it so endearing to us. From what I can tell, people surf here to read about fashion, read it, and leave. Not that I don’t get comments, but the data points to LOTS more surfers/browsers than commentators, lingerers, and readers.

Now that Steampunk is on MTV, etc., you’ve got to wonder what’ll happen eventually. I imagine that as the popularity of steampunk fashion and style grows, the interest in literature may not be something relegated to the subculture, and rather something absorbed by the mainstream.


Some neat links from recent conversations:

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