steampunk_lordnevermore

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?

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alderpodlogoAlderpod #22 is live! Huzzah.

I was going to do a special video podcast of this one, but that did not pan out. Instead, it only delayed the finishing of this one. Grr. Ah, well. What can be done?

There are a few short noes at the end of this (Brick) chapter, but hey–there’s only ten more chapters to go until the end. Exciting, exciting. The first Alderpod went live on April 22, 2008, so with 22 episodes since then, I’ve almost managed twice a month. I feel accomplished!

As always, let me know if you have any comments/suggestions/likes/dislikes. Remember, this is a podcasted draft, so I’m always looking for input. Special super shoutout to commenter Tintri who has not only read the whole book, but has also given me some incredible feedback!

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.

Apologies for the scarcity as of late. NaNoWriMo really is taking every effort from me, trying to maintain the word count. I’m just barely on target, hovering somewhere around 32K at the moment. Hoping to make up for lost time this weekend, where my husband won’t be away!

Anyway, a little snippet in the mean time, from Pilgrim of the Sky.

They had now arrived by the Roth’s black carriage; the single golden wheel at the front had been recently cleaned by one of Mrs. Hildebrandt’s servants, and it stood gleaming in the chilly winter light. It was striking in its simplicity, that simple circle, and she stared at it a moment in wonder before letting Randall help her into the carriage. She nestled into her seat, pulling her stole around her shoulders.

“I’ll be happy to take you by home,” said Randall, swooping up beside her, and closing the door in one swift movement. He did move well, she thought. So unlike Randy, so deliberate—almost as if he’d had instruction as a dancer. “But would you permit me just one detour? It’s something I think you’d find fascinating—I know your love of cathedrals, and well, we have our own. It’s called the Church of the Weeping Lady, and it takes up nearly two entire blocks downtown. You can see some of the domes and spirals from here.”

“Oh?” said Maddie. She felt Matilda there, suddenly, like someone peeking over her shoulder, except from within her. A very strange feeling. But she just shuddered and clenched her teeth, waiting. No, Matilda wasn’t saying anything at the moment. Maddie had the sudden impression that she was just listening, waiting.

“It’s the gem of our city,” he continued. “Designed by William Morris himself, if you’ll believe it.”

“William Morris? As in–he’s got some art there, or–”

“No, he was the chief architect. Every detail is his; every inspired detail.”

“And here I had him pegged as one of those Pre-Raphaelite socialist sorts with thoughts bent on saving the world one hand-pressed tile at a time,” Maddie said, thinking herself quite clever for the near mini-lecture she’d delivered in the space of a sentence. “Didn’t think he’d have undertaken a whole church.”

Randall nodded, “Indeed, that’s Morris in your world. In this world, he was one of the most devoted Marian priests—and his talent, well, I say it flourished here even greater than it did in your time. There is a certain indelible well of inspiration for some, when it comes to the Great Mother.”

“Great Mother,” said Maddie. “You sound like a neo-pagan.”

He shrugged. “Not much of a difference, in some things, I suppose.”

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 had a very successful writing/editing weekend, in spite of the cold. I finished two chapters, which is more than I’ve done in weeks, and brought the story right around to the middle, to last third of the plot. This is very exciting for me, to say the least!

Unexpectedly, though, I also scared myself. It’s a strange sensation, having written something that actually creeps you out (not the first time it’s happened during this tale, but the most pronounced instance so far, I think). I’m currently rewriting the Sylvan DeLoire chapters in the book, taking a slightly different angle on his character and his purpose. And I exposed a side last night that is so much darker than I thought initially.

No, murder ought not be taken lightly. And (well, duh) it’s a dark, dangerous deal. In the original version, the murder happens only in a flashback, and that distance makes it less of consequence. Things get watered down in memory, what you recall can change and take new shape. Not to mention I don’t think I could ever call Sylvan DeLoire a reliable POV. But this take on the murder is so much closer, so much more ruthless. I don’t think I anticipated that. Funny how that works.

Still, as I brought the chapter to an end I couldn’t help but shiver a little. I’d lost myself in the situation completely, and standing back from it… well, it’s good to stand back, to put the light on, and take a sip of wine.

This election has had me thinking a lot about feminism. We didn’t just have an almost woman candidate for Presidency, but now we have a VP nominee as well (though, I can’t say they are a thing alike). When it comes down to it, they both wear skirts and power suits, though reportedly one is much more fashion conscious.

Okay, that’s not exactly what I’m writing about. No, I’m writing about something that really has nothing to do with the political sphere, other than it’s on the subject of women. But not women politicians–rather, women writers.

I’m blessed beyond belief to be a woman and a writer in this century. I think about the difficulties that women writers who came before me had to cope with, including and not limited to horrifying sexism, inadequate education, and social restrictions. That’s not to mention that many women writers had to work their crafts in the dark, having no one to look up to or reach out to for support.

But now I live in a networked world, where other writers are just a click away. There are dozens of women writers that I look up to, that have shaped the way I write and create worlds. I never felt, growing up, that my dream of writing was any less attainable because of my gender. And, thankfully, my supportive parents always instilled a belief that, if I worked hard enough at something, eventually I could do whatever I wanted.

Though it’s not to say it still isn’t difficult. I am often told, “just write a romance novel!” or “write as a guy, you’ll get published”. As a science fiction and fantasy writer, I’m in a genre heavily populated by men. There’s no chance in Hades I’ll move from this place, but it doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Sure, I know there are women writers in SF/F out there, but a quick glance at most anthologies and best sellers in the genre will show you that men still make up the bulk of the market. And though there’s been plenty of argument on either side of the fence, women still read a great deal of SF/F.

I think the crux of the argument is that there’s a tension between traditional/popular SF/F and feminism. Though I don’t think I can be called a feminist in the truest sense, I’ll never parade my characters around in chain mail bras. But it’s unfortunate that it’s what sells the books. As much as I’m enjoying playing 4th Ed. D&D I cringe whenever I see the drawings of female characters. I mean, really, do the Dragonborn have boobs? They’re frigging lizards.

Unfortunately I don’t think the popularity of that sort of writing will wane. People pick up the scantily clad ladies for the same reason they pick up romance novels–sex sells, end stop. While I’ve nothing wrong with a good shagging scene every now and again, it’s got to be there to mean something, to me. You cheapen writing by using too much sex. I’m sure there are people who will argue with me, but that’s just my stance.

So what’s to do? I think we, as women writers, ought to raise the bar even higher. Maybe that’s not fair for us, but here’s my thinking: if we write as expected, it doesn’t do anything, doesn’t prove anything. It only reiterates what people already think of as “female fantasy writing”. And it’s not to say to write like a man, either. Write from your heart, write from your being. Write what matters to you, be it the epitome of feminist fantasy or not. Whatever it is, just write! There are some amazing women writers out there right now doing exactly what I’m talking about, people like Cherie Priest and Elizabeth Bear, who do jaw-droppingly incredible work. The work is just… wow.

What I’m saying is that we, as women writers, ought not back down. We need to be confident, strong, and assertive. More than anything we need to believe in ourselves. That’s probably the thing I see most often, in women of all walks of life in this society. We don’t think we’re good enough. But we are. We’re more than good enough… with the right drive, and the right vision, we’re positively magical.