Lord Nevermore by Brigid Ashwood

It’s been a few years since I first stumbled upon the term, drooled over the aesthetic, and learned about the culture. From a writer’s perspective, it’s been an interesting ride. I didn’t start out with a steampunk novel in mind, and I hope I’ve never given that impression. However, since discovering that the world of the Aldersgate Cycle was a fantastic take on steampunk, I’ve done my own delving into the culture.

I came to steampunk, as I’ve written before, by way of the American West, and through a love of fantasy and alternate worlds. While I spent some time in the early 2000s hanging around lots of punk rockers in the Baltimore area, I’ve never considered myself very counter-culture. I mean, sure. I’m weird. I’m a geek. I’ve always been a maker of words. It’s not to say that I don’t have plenty of political views that might be considered unusual, but I try not to let that leak into my blog or (too much) into my writing.

What’s been interesting to watch, however, is the greater absorption of steampunk culture into the mainstream. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a progression like that before, save perhaps the goth progression in the late 80s and early 90s (though I was listening to the Beatles at that point, I certainly watched from the wings). Search trends for steampunk continue to rise, and everything from fashion to home decor shows signs of cross-pollination.

But I wonder, is the definition of steampunk changing? As it becomes a known part of our culture at large, does it diminish? Or does it grow? Here’s a few scenarios I think we might see in the coming months.

Gaining literary steam. I’m not the only writer out there with a love for steampunk. In fact, I see more and more writers trying their hand at incorporating alternate history/fantasy steampunk facets into their writing; we’ve seen Steampunk Tales for the iPhone, for example, and of course the VanderMeer short story collection (which, I believe, is in talks for a followup). From a novel approach you’ve got people like Ekaterina Sedia, Tobias Buckell, and Cherie Priest (among others) either publishing or actively working on steampunk-esque books. Why? While “steampunk” literature has been around a long time (well, they didn’t call it that when they were writing it in the late 19th century) it’s seen a rebirth. With appeal for fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and thriller writers, it’s not surprising to see growing trends in steampunk writing. It’s wonderfully fertile ground, and can be written in a multitude of ways. From a fantasy perspective, it’s a nice break from the standard medieval approach.

The -punk phenomenon. We may start hearing about lots of other “new” punks. You’ve probably already heard of cyberpunk and dieselpunk, etc.. I know plenty of writers who hate these terms (even the term steampunk itself) but it is what it is. In a way steampunk has become an umbrella term, incorporating bits and pieces from the 17th century onward to the Edwardian, and sometimes beyond. There are definitely divided camps, here, some who believe steampunk is only Victorian, and others who want to broaden the definition. Of course, there are positive aspects of each, but I certainly see–especially in the realm of fashion–the second camp winning out. It tends to give historical nitpickers hives, unfortunately… Is “steampunk” the right term? I dunno. It is what it is at this point.

Movin’ down the dusty trail. As with any subculture, there are always folks who are transients. That is, people who “find” a movement, become active, and move on. Now that you can buy steampunk inspired clothing at JC Penney, it’s not as hard as it once was to fit in at an event or a club. But, given time, and other new subcultures bound to crop up, people will move on to other things because, by nature, they always need to be different. Hell, there are already folks disenchanted with steampunk, or frustrated with the growing commercialization of steampunk. Or just bored. Because for some people, being different is all that matters. What lies beneath is inconsequential. (Although, if you join a movement to look like a bunch of other people, “different” is very relative, I suppose.)

Makin’ a steampunk buck. I’m sure you’ve seen it. The superfluous gear. The short story that tries too hard. That friend of yours who has become a born-again steampunk and is now making bookmarks, postcards and t-shirts all proclaiming love of the culture. Yeah, it’s tough territory here. You want to be welcoming to everyone, but at the same time, so much of what I’ve been seeing lately just comes across as people trying to make a quick buck. And I hate that.

Asking the hard questions. Steampunk isn’t perfect. The Victorians, for all they gave us, were highly flawed people. They were often racist, sexist and classist. And while some writers, in particular, have explored these issues, it hasn’t really seeped into the culture. I love corsets, from an aesthetic perspective, for example. But, some of the extremes women went through–or were made to go through–in attempt to “look right” is downright uncomfortable. That we can choose to wear corsets or not in this day is rather amazing. Know what I mean? It’s amusing to find that one of the instruments feminists rallied against has become a symbol of feminine power and sexuality… Anyway. I digress.

Not your parents’ steampunk. Steampunk will change. People will push the envelope. It’ll move beyond gears, cogs, and goggles, and become something else. It will be reinterpreted, re-envisioned, re-appropriated. It will move to Asia, to Africa, to the Middle-East, and bring new flavors, sounds, sights, and influences. And it will be better for it. I, for one, can’t wait!

What about movies? I think they’ll continue to be few and far between, and of middling quality. So far, most attempts, including most recently City of Ember, have not done terribly well. There’s something steampunkish, certainly, about 9, as well as a few others (not to mention new RPGs). I mean, in the past, the outcome just hasn’t been that great. Not even I could sit through Wild Wild West again. My hope is that something comes to television, soon. I think there, steampunk might find its home. With shows like Warehouse 13, which certainly cater to the aesthetic, I’m optimistic!

So, what do you forsee for the future of steampunk?

old fashioned movie camera

A dear friend of mine is a writer and a movie aficionado extraordinaire. The films she watches fuel her creative process, inspiring her to write better, to delve deeper into her scenes, and to produce prose with an air of excitement and intensity that I think are directly related to her love of the medium. While movies do inspire me to some extent, it’s rare that I watch movies in order to be inspired. My itchy creativity comes more from books than movies.

Or so I thought.

Last night I was trying to fall asleep, and my mind went off on a tangent about how I see my writing, how I see the scenes. And I realized that I write very in a cinematic way, that each of my scenes is “filmed” in my mind. The spaces are defined, the closeups are scripted. I’m literally in the middle of a scene, and every time I think about it, I see the last place the camera left off; I know that Emry is standing slightly to the right, and Cora further up in front, turning slightly to see him. The light is from behind her, and it reflects off of her glasses. You can hear the din of the city from behind her. They are moving right to left. Very specific, but nothing that I write down explicitly. In fact, all of the scenes are like this. While Brick is being taunted by Ander, he is sitting down in a high-walled stall, to the bottom right of the screen. Ander leers at him from the top left, but the camera switches back and forth as they talk.

In essence, there is a movie playing in my head. I hear, and write down, the music. I describe the light, the sounds, but it’s more as if I’m writing down what I observe than describing something into happening.

I suppose, though, this “camera” has one big flaw. In that every once in a while, in certain scenes, the camera fades away and I’m looking through my character’s eyes. As Cora wanders her house at night, waiting to come upon her assailants, I’m seeing through her eyes, watching through her perspective. While this happens occasionally in film, it works to varying degrees, I think. Sometimes it comes off as hokey since it’s truly difficult to simulate first-person perspective through a camera lens.

At any rate, I know a good deal of you who read this also write. I suppose I wonder if you feel the same connection between film and prose, and I wonder how specific the “rooms” of your writing are to you. Or do I just have an overactive imagination?


1 a: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation b: the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions c: the act of influencing or suggesting opinions2: the act of drawing in; specifically : the drawing of air into the lungs

* * * *

Yesterday was not a writing day, in that I managed to find absolutely no time whatsoever to edit the book, and instead shuffled around doing grown-up things including working and grocery shopping, and some wonderfully not grown-up things like playing D&D with our awesome group of new found  friends. However, by the time I got home, well past my bedtime, I collapsed into bed.

So, technically, I didn’t make any progress in the novel.

However, as odd as the day was and, at first sight, too busy to be thinking of anything else than being a mom, an employee, and a friend, I had an oddly imaginative day.

I’m not sure how my brain does this, or why. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism, when I’m overwhelmed by the day-in, day-out drudgery or something. But in the middle of some of the most repetitive, bland work, my brain suddenly turned on. I don’t remember what I was doing exactly, but I got a really cool idea for a series of steampunk short stories. A really, really cool idea (that, if I manage to pull off will be shared of course.) I don’t usually think in short-story bits. By nature I tend to think in book length, so this was a surprise (even the short story here is really just a kitchy little take on a character already in my book).

Then right smack-dab in the middle of our game last night (I had the most abysmal rolls last night–although I love the game, there’s something really annoying about being completely ineffectual during a fight… there was no love for my warlock) something started to crystallize in my brain.

First, there was the seed. A situation. A question. I asked myself a question in my head about a character in the Aldersgate Cycle, Ellinora (the princess), and suddenly I realized I’d been a) writing situations in book one that would be much more suited for book two b) had made her too young c) hadn’t given her enough background to make her as strong as the rest.

I also realized that about 30,000 words of this book in another two narratives needs to be moved out. It’s not like losing it, per se, because I know it’ll be used later. But one of the hard things about juggling a multi-POV narrative is balancing plot with character. I do mean with and not and, too. Unlike a normal, single POV novel, where you only have to worry about one plot, I am in essence balancing about 8. Some of the characters progressions are easy to plot, and their stories simple to intertwine. But as I move out of the Territories characters (Emry, Cora, and Brick) and into the Queensland characters (Kaythra, Ellinora, and Sylvan) the challenges become more intense. I’m dealing with political intrigue now, and plots that are part of years, decades, and in some cases, centuries

Deep. Breath. (Inspiration, perhaps?)

Anyway, essentially there’s a lot of work ahead of me in the weeks to come. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s exciting. These little seeds of thought often sprout into amazingly lovely flowers, if given the time and care.  But it’s a lot of maintenance and perseverance. As a writer in the “flail around in the dark until you find some plot” school, and not the “write everything down in a spiral notebook” crowd, I definitely need to find some way to organize myself more thoroughly.

But I’m not overwhelmed. I’m excited. This process has proved to me that I can challenge myself, which is important. Hopefully, the finished project will challenge the readers–albeit in a different way–as well.

Sir Gregory Ander

Sir Gregory Ander was born and bred in Queensland, within view of Hartleigh Castle. Born to middling nobles of Alderclass, Gregory was the last of six boys. His elder brothers followed in their father’s footsteps as advocates at Queen Maelys’s Court, but Gregory always sought something a bit more exciting than pushing paper and defending the ruffians in the streets of Hartleigh City.

When he was sixteen, Gregory’s father arranged for him to be accepted into one of the knighting orders, the Order of the Oak, upon the death of Gregory’s closest brother, Bram. The Order of the Oak was not the initial choice of the family, for the Order of the Rose–being the Queen’s personal guard–have a great deal more prestige. Regardless, once initiated, Gregory had little say unless the Queen changed her mind or promoted him elsewhere.

Gregory, being both crafty and handsome, quickly rose through the ranks, and was granted full knightship on the even of his twentieth birthday. He was conspicuously late to his knighting, however, having been spotted with a noblewoman some time before. What a messenger knight was doing in the company of such a woman was certainly up for speculation.

It was two weeks later that the very same noblewoman was discovered dead in her apartment. While Sir Ander was no where near the woman’s abode at the time, and therefore could not have been involved directly–so the advocates from his family argued at court–he was acquitted of all charges. The advocates on behalf of the woman’s family, Fortesque & Nob, filed an official complaint after the trial, but it was quickly thrown out by the High Counselor herself, having noted that a decision was made and the law would be upheld.

As a messenger knight, Sir Ander is frequently dispatched up and down the Continent, and sometimes across the sea and into the Isles, as well. While his fellow knights are extremely loyal to him, and have only the most glowing comments to make on his behalf, some will tell you different. If you visit some of the seedier establishments in the Territories, for instance, not a few Innkeepers will tell you about the fresh-faced Oaksguard with a penchant for roughing up their girls.

Sir Ander is a man of contradictions. He is young, but jaded; clever, but arrogant; passionate, but cruel–he loves the attentions of women, but cannot stand their company.

When Sir Ander walked into the Territories towns to collect Alderclass girls on an errand from the Queen, he used her writ as absolute law, reportedly threatening violence should the towns not cooperate and hand over their young women. And it is rumored that what violence was seen was due to his command, though it has officially been blamed on an interruption by the Order of the Asp.

Profile: Sir Gregory Ander

  • Height: 6′ 0″
  • Eye Color: Dark brown
  • Hair color: Chestnut brown, curly
  • Age: 23 Years
  • Hobbies: A collector of “ancient” weaponry, as well as books on the subject. Is known to have a particularly dedicated interest in the use of torture in war times.
  • Issue: None, rumored to have impregnated a noblewoman
  • Spouse: None; knights are not allowed to marry
  • Fashion: Wears the typical garb of the Order of the Oak, which includes a blue silk sash around the wide-brimmed hats, a green vest, and a long, gray duster. Always in an impeccable state.

DeLaveaux StreetlampMy time of day is the dark time
A couple of deals before dawn
When the street belongs to the cop
And the janitor with the mop
And the grocery clerks are all gone.

When the smell of the rainwashed pavement
Comes up clean, and fresh, and cold
And the streetlamp light
Fills the gutter with gold

That’s my time of day
My time of day

That’s from “Guys and Dolls” which, as strange as it may seem to you, is probably my favorite musical on the face of the planet. I’m sure there’s no real correlation between a 40’s era musical and my current novel, but “My Time of Day” has always been my favorite song in the whole show. And Sky Masterson is well… dreeeeaaamy.

It’s Saturday, and I’ve been running around most of the day after my nearly two-year old, who is cutting his 2 year molars and simultaneously going through his Terrible Twos. Weekends are an oddity for me because, as my husband was mentioning earlier in the day, they aren’t “off” time as they once used to be. Before the kiddo, we really relaxed on weekends. Heck, I remember entire weekends we did nothing but play World of Warcraft. Like for 10 hours a day. Not that I want to ever do that again, exactly! But, suffice it to say, that sort of reckless leisure is no longer an option.

I’ve tried to maintain a good weekend writing schedule, but it’s nearly impossible. I find the most prolific time to write tends to be late in the day, the weekday. Post-10pm, usually. I don’t know what it is exactly about that time of day that speaks to me, or what. Sometimes I’m surprised I can even form a coherent sentence–but nearly every time I read back what I wrote, it’s volumes better than I thought it was, and better than what I put down during the day before.

Not sure if some of us are “evening” writers, and others aren’t. I was born in the evening, so maybe that makes sense. My son was born at almost 11pm, so he’s that way, too. Thankfully, however, he is sleeping at the moment and not awake writing stories.

It’s currently 9:33pm, and I was trying to write just now. But it’s not quite happening yet. Deep breaths, Natania. It’ll come.

FriggaStephen King calls it telepathy, this ability to conjure unseen worlds into words, and by extension, pictures. It certainly is an odd vocation, to be a writer, and all of us who write by compulsion have our own approaches. Some are regimented, they can sit down and say “I’m going to write 3,000 words” and they do. Others plan every step up to the writing, taking copious notes and making outlines, and then sit down to do the work. Still others just wait, listening in the dark corners, for fancy to strike.

My process is odd, I admit. I’m highly undisciplined, and–though this time ’round I’ve broken a little with tradition–I typically don’t organize, and often have no idea where in the Universe the story is going in a given chapter, until I’m there. Most of my ideas appear to me as I’m falling asleep, a combination of events that’s meant I often have a difficult time getting to sleep. I write “in the dark” I suppose, waiting for glimpses of light in between cracks, and then excavating what I see.

The Aldersgate started when my friend Karen said to me, “I’m surprised you’ve never written a Western.” In the space of about three minutes, half of the characters in the novel appeared to me with astonishing clarity. I scribbled down some of the first chapter (which is now completely rewritten) and set the scene, then let it be for quite some time. You see, I was editing Another Book which, at this point, is sitting in cold storage for a while. Then it became apparent to me that it was time to work more on The Aldersgate, and in the space of about half a year, I wrote the entire first draft.

And by draft, really I mean outline. I just can’t plan ahead. It’s not in my nature. And I’m crud at actually editing my own work. I’m such a fast typer that I usually find it much better to simply rewrite the chapters as opposed to editing the bits and pieces. Whether or not this saves time, I don’t know. I just know that the second draft (the one I’m reading from which as also been edited by my brilliant godfather) is much, much stronger than the first.

But there are times where telling the story becomes such a Huge Thing that I get rather tongue-tied. Or, I suppose, finger-tied. I’m tossed into brain numbness. It’s not writer’s block, because I know where the story is going (at least now I do). I even outlined all my chapters to the end (yes, I’m proud of myself). It’s just at times it feels like there’s so much to say and so much to do and so many words to write–and write well–that I just can’t get it right. The last month or so has been replete with hurdles, writing huge sections and deleting them, restructuring, moving around, petitioning the Muse (Aelfric has one heck of a sense of humor, I tell you).

I just finished a chapter that was, I noticed, at the exact center of the novel. I didn’t realize this until I finished it, and it was hideously long. But it had to be long. It establishes one of the most important themes of the whole books, and one of the most important locations of the entire series. I couldn’t very well leave it to a few thousand words. Writing felt tedious though, and when I finally came up for air and looked at my word count it was shockingly high–in fact, the longest chapter I’ve written to date.

When it comes down to it I don’t know if I can suggest writing a multi point-of-view novel to anyone. Sure, they’re entertaining to read, and often a ton of fun to write. If you love getting inside of multiple characters, it’s truly thrilling. However, I get stuck. What if I don’t feel like Emry today, but I’ve got to finish this Emry chapter? How about what happens when Cora and Emry cross paths? Whose narrative do I go with? Whose do I drop? Where is everyone else? Where is my MAP?

My map is in my brain and it’s a perilous place in there. I lament the fact that my poor characters have to rattle around up there, in between the junk that I store, waiting to be put down in ink.

Process. We all do it differently. I suppose, when all is said and done, so long as it works for you, then it is successful. Very few writers approach their work the same way, and why should they? We don’t all want to write the same book (though some critics I read in grad school would argue that yes, we’re all writing the same book).

I think it’s a little late in the evening to be blogging, but I’ve been a bit too quiet. I’m working on putting together a .pdf version of Chapters One and Two and should be posting Chapter Two this weekend.

Well, I’m off to dream the next chapter. Cheers. 🙂

I’ve been working on putting some new bits and pieces on this site. As I mention in my Author page, I do lots of other things besides write. One of my favorite past-times has always been drawing. Tinkerer that I am, I can’t help but put together some sketches of my characters; this being a multi-POV novel, it also helps me (and any potential readers) keep track of who’s who, as well.

You can read about Cora Grey, our heroine of sorts, under the Cast tab, and see what she looks like in my mind’s eye.

So, I’ve been trying to write when I can, desperately working to squeeze this overhaul (edit is no longer a strong enough term) of The Aldersgate into my life between my job, my family, and my friends. This is not an easy task. It’s one thing to have an novel idea (and, a Novel idea)–but it’s something else entirely to have to schedule it in, to find the time in between where you find enough zen, creativity, and connectedness to just plain write.

Last night, I had a much needed (and deserved, if I may say so) night out with my lovely friend J. We saw the Duke University Wind Symphony perform “Out of This World!” a collection of, well, otherwordly pieces of music. It had been a very long time since I’d heard live classical music, and it certainly moved me (most especially de Meij’s Lord of the Rings-inspired bits). I have a deep love of music, and a most intense connection; I found myself moved to tears countless times, and barely able to control it. Plus, there’s that delightful full-body chills effect I get when the notes are hit just right.

J and I got to talking on the car ride back about how music can affect our writing. I know, especially with this second rewrite, I’ve had a most intense and almost spiritual connection to the music I’ve been listening to. From Philip Glass to Samuel Barber, from Mozart to Rachmaninov. When I can’t concentrate, and I need to “tune in” to my creative station, I reach for music. I turn up the headphones, and close my eyes, and watch the painting that forms in my mind, the notes like different hues and textures.

I don’t know where all this will end up. Though I’ve been a “writer” for as long as I can remember, I’ve never gotten this far; I’ve never been as proud of my work, or excited about it. There are moments I wake up from dreams giddy with new material, or jolt out of my seat and giggle as I figure out a particularly difficult plot point. I literally got butterflies twice this week, just from thinking about what to do with two of my characters.

I suppose, when all is said and done, that’s what matters the most. It’s not so much the adventure, I guess. Sometimes it’s the journey that matters most.

On a separate note, I am going to be updating this site this week with some more apropos material–some excerpts that are a bit more polished than what I’ve got up now–as well as some sketches I’ve done.