Like many publications, the Willows Magazine is struggling. From Ben’s blog Literacity:

Well, it’s 2009, and things haven’t gotten much easier at the offices of The Willows. While Jade did finish up the issue, it was several weeks late…and that isn’t the only problem.

For those of you who don’t know, I pay for 90% of The Willows out of my own pocket; always have. Some advertisers sweeten the deal now and then, and my supply costs are (somewhat) covered by subscribers, but by and large, I buy stories and new features as I can afford them, and feel they’re justified. And I’ve always been rewarded by your loyal readership; I have no complaints on that score.

But this year opens on a rather underfunded Willows, which means we’re going to have to print and ship as we are able to afford it. Some of you have already received your December issues, and let me go on record as saying I feel humiliated that the rest of you have not, when it is almost February. I can only express my profoundest frustration. (You can read more here)

To top it off, some subscribers are kinda being jerky about the whole situation. What folks often don’t realize is that many of these publications are labors of love, with very small staffs, who often work thankless hours in editing and production!

Aside from being personally invested (my short story “Dr. Adderson’s Lens” will be in a future publication) the Willows is a rare gem of a publication that really represents Victorian/gothic/steampunk aesthetic and literature. If kids are willing to shell out $100 bucks for a pair of goggles or a corset, I hardly think it’s a stretch to think a subscription/donation/advertisement to be that difficult.

If advertising your wares is your thing, consider that they’re offering 50% off all advertising as well! That’s a pretty impressive deal, considering their rates are a steal to begin with!

UPDATE: So, yeah. The Willows is no more. So, there we go. Read the comments below for an idea of what’s gone on. Sorry to those who have bought subscriptions/ad space, and have not been contacted. I’m not affiliated with the Willows; I only had a story accepted there, and it never was published. I apologize that I can’t be of any more help.

Queen Victoria, aged 4

Queen Victoria, aged 4

I use the phrase quite a bit here at the Aldersgate Cycle. And for good reason. As some have noted, this is not historical steampunk. There is no Queen Victoria, there are no alternate histories. I’m in the middle of The Difference Engine right now, and I imagine it’s the book that most people equate with the initial “steampunk novel” idea. That, or of course, someone like Verne. It’s beefed up Victorianism, suffused with a sense of “if only this had happened, then…”

But my starting point was not Queen Victoria, not England, not a clear conscious effort to engage the high-flouting Victorian culture that is so much a part of steampunk. The aesthetic exists in the art, the fashion, the literature, a kind of gauzy brilliance. I found steampunk not in the back alleys of London, but somewhere in the desert of a land that doesn’t really exist but, in part at least, resembles places in Arizona and California.

See, even though I’ve been handily obsessed with the fantasy/medieval all my life, there’s always been an undercurrent, like a tumbleweed in a sandstorm: the American West. God only knows where this came from as there’s not even a remote connection between me and these pioneers to be found genealogically, but there it is. The history, the mythology, the adventure.

And the inspiration for my getting into steampunk had more to do with researching the time period–which is, of course, Victorian at the late end, anyway. And the aesthetic there, in the West, was so much more raw. I saw a real possibility to open up a world influenced by that time, tempered with the notion of advances in steam technology, and spiced with a heap of magic. Because, to me, setting “fantasy” in a Neo-Victorian setting is just as plausible as setting it in a Renaissance or Medieval setting. And I’m certainly far from the only person that sees it that way.

So, certainly, I have my own idea of how the aesthetic of steampunk affects what I write. For me, it’s extremely visual and tactile. I look to people like Jake von Slatt, like Datamancer, the incredible folks over at Etsy, to see what can be–and is being–done. It’s a combination of color and form, of arc and line. It’s part of what translates to me, what inspires me to write, that actual seeing process. But I translate the visual into something else. In the end, I only have words to use.

I don’t mean to come off as grumpy toward fashionistas, and I think I may have in the past. My biggest gripe is that, to me, there is sometimes too much of a concentration on the look, and not the underlying aesthetic, craft, history, and literary influence. But that’s what happens when popularity is achieved; and honestly, if it makes people happy, that’s all that matters in the end. Ultimately, steampunk in this world is about doing things your own way, identifying with something far and away from the norm, and making it uniquely yours–it’s punk, after all, not just steam. What it means in my world is quite different. And that’s quite okay.

To me, the steampunk aesthetic can be molded in a thousand ways. I’m having a blast writing quasi-historic steampunk for Pilgrim of the Skies, which is urban American steampunk (if there is such a thing). This does draw heavily from history, and alternate history, and goes much further than just a Victorian flavor. It’s more like the Victorian period on steroids; it’s lush, colorful, vibrant. But it doesn’t feel the same to me, at all, as the Aldersgate stuff. It’s in a class of its own, but it shares the aesthetic.

Anyway. I admire and adore steampunk: culture, aesthetic, literature, you name it. It represents to me the best combination of new and old; a convergence of technology and magic, of mystery and horror… And as you might have noticed,  I like to share what I find; that’s been one of the most fun parts about this blog. Steampunk continues to inspire me, and will continue to, regardless of how mainstream it gets. Because sometimes exposure means innovation; look at Victoria herself. She was an icon, and the period named after her continues to inspire, more than a century later. That, dear people, is quite the accomplishment! (Vicpunk anyone?)

Yesterday, my friend Karen wrote to me:

So, do we write what we are? If so, who are you?

I thought about this for a while. We were speaking, to put this in context, of magic and religion. At least in the course of the AGC, I indicated the following:

Primarily I take from Norse and Celtic lore, with a little smattering of Judeo-Christian ideas for good measure. It’s all very basic, tied to the way the world itself works. I guess, at heart, I’m an agnostic. I ask: “So, if all this religion is true–and if it were to manifest itself to you–but if it might mean the destruction of your world, what do you do? Whose side are you on?”

Devil’s advocate. That’s me.

I realize that’s a little on the spoilery side, isn’t it? I’ve indicated in the past that the Aldersgate itself has quite a bit to do with what magic is and isn’t in this world. But the crux of the tale rests, thus far, on the decisions people make, and what sides they end up on.

As much as possible, I’ve tried to fiddle with our concepts of good and evil, concepts that so often invade science fiction and fantasy in ultimate contrast. That’s why I think the whole Neo-Victorian/steampunk aesthetic is so important to the story itself, because it speaks so perfectly to the tensions in the telling.

Anyway. For those of you who write, here’s the question to you: Do we write what we are? If so, who are you?