Steampunk Design’s Future: Fleeting Fad or Elegant Creative Solution? – guest post with Bruce Rosenbaum
December 21, 2013 • 9 Comments
Anyone who reads A Study in Ashes will see the key role that the makers play in the story. They’re the ones who secretly keep the people’s independence alive in their secret sheds and forges while everything else goes to pieces. That insistence on independent creativity and craftsmanship appeals to both my heart and my mind and is (at least in my opinion!) the keystone to the steampunk movement.
It’s with great pleasure that I invite Bruce Rosenbaum, President of ModVic, LLC, into my virtual parlour. He’s an artist, designer, and community activist. Since any artist’s work speaks for them with more eloquence than anything I could say, please check out this virtual house tour and his awesome website to see exactly what it is he does.
All comments on this blog will be entered into a draw for a book of your choice from the Baskerville Affair trilogy!
Remember, EVERY comment made on one of my guests’ blogs in December will be entered for a $50 Amazon gift certificate!
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Rosenbaum …
There is no singular history or definition of Steampunk – therein lies its beauty. The possibility of change, reimagining, improvement, valuing the humanity and contributions of each person – gives the Steampunk movement ‘legs’ into future time periods and eras.
In interior or object design, the contrast and juxtaposition of new and old styles (eclectic) can be trendy, but Steampunk bucks the trend in favor of timelessness. It offers boundless possibilities of infusion or blending of opposites: old and new; past and present; Victorian/industrial décor and modern-day technology.
This blending of opposites is called Janusian Thinking (see Psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg) and we are employing creative problem solving techniques through the synthesis of opposites. The best inventions and innovations have come about through bringing opposites together for one elegant solution (think of the hammer, pencil and jackknife).
The idea is bringing two opposites together in your mind, holding them there together at the same time, considering their relationships, similarities, pros and cons and interplay, then creating something new and useful.
Our Janusian ‘future-past’ approach functions as a reconciliation of contradiction to a unique creative solution to our problems of today. It’s incredibly liberating to look at the world around you and your life and say it doesn’t have to be this way – what I have can be improved through our own thought process and the process of reimagining and making. We can overcome life’s paradoxes and problems by forming creative and elegant solutions.
Steampunk as a Popular Design Aesthetic
Steampunk as an aesthetic, at its essence, is a design solution with divergent thinking, innovative and imaginative designs and elegant infusion of all time periods and functions.
At this time – early 21st century, the focus has been on going back to the Victorian period or Industrial age—late 19th century and early 20th century. This time period in history was when our man-made machines first transformed the world and craftspeople were abundant and proud to make things that would seemingly last forever.
The Victorian age is also a unique time in U.S. history – producing highly imaginative, high quality machines and beautifully crafted objects that now in large part have outlived their usefulness in the modern world. Steampunk now is about giving new life to these intrinsically valuable objects, re-inventing the pieces again so it is assured they last another 100 years into whatever period comes next.
In fact, Steampunk design can go two ways: (1) Taking authentic Victorian objects, rooms or homes and modernize them for today’s use or (2) Taking modern items and “Victorianizing” them to appear they are original from the period.
Steampunk: Form & Functional
My own Steampunk design focus has been on infusing 21st century technology into authentic Victorian objects to give them new function, new purpose in our lives today.
In our own home – we’ve been somewhat obsessive in bringing this design aesthetic to fruition. The two best rooms in any house to create Steampunk design are the kitchen and office – places that employ quite a bit of 21st century technology to make our lives easier and more productive. Our Steampunk House does have a Steampunk kitchen and office – you can actually take a virtual tour by visiting our website www.modvic.com.
You’ll see Steampunked appliances, kitchen island, cabinetry, fixtures and alike. In my Steampunk office – it’s a room out of Jules Verne’s Nautilus – complete with a Steampunk Victorian Pump Organ Command Computer Workstation.
A technology trend that has been helpful to all Steampunkers is the push towards miniaturization in electronics. Smaller is better for Steampunk inventors because it’s quite a bit easier for us to fit more technology into smaller existing spaces of Victorian cabinets, desks, and period objects of all sorts.
There are some general Steampunk ‘modifying rules’ that I try to stick by. If you’re not careful, you can transform an object to a point where you lose the essence of what it was — obscuring its rich history and original purpose.
ModVic’s 6 Steampunk Modification Rules:
1. Creatively modify primarily authentic Victorian or industrial period objects, salvage items or antiques as the basis (skin) for housing modern technology.
2. Modify objects that are in need of TLC (currently in a state of disrepair). You want to feel that you’re ‘saving’ the object and giving it a new life where otherwise it might have been left to the dustbin or trash heap of history. Note: Please don’t modify antiques that have great value in their present condition – Steampunkers still value period items ‘as is’ and don’t want to devalue great objects. Steampunk inventions may also include recycled items to promote environmentally-friendly reuse designs.
3. Inventions should be of outstanding individuality, beauty and exquisite craftsmanship. You want to mirror the original maker’s pride in the quality of their work.
4. Seamless blending of the period item and new technology leading to a feeling of ‘permanence’ to the Steampunk technology design solution. Your creative design solution should feel that the object could have somehow been originally intended to house modern technology when it became available.
5. Use of cutting edge technologies within the Steampunk design. Modern technology has a limited life and it makes no sense to install technology that is already or soon to be obsolete.
6. Understanding how quickly new technologies can be replaced with even newer technologies – reversibility should be built into the design process for future designers to incorporate new technologies into the Victorian objects in the future.
By its very nature Steampunk is timeless. The rejection of the present comes out in a nostalgia for the past or a idealized future – a Utopia. Steampunk combines a love for all periods and fuses the best elements of the past, present and future. It’s empowering – Steampunkers control the mix, they define it and they will change it as they see fit.
December 17, 2013 • 11 Comments
One of the best things about Steampunk is FASHION! I’m delighted to host author Katherine Gleason, author of the amazing book Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism. This book isn’t just gorgeous, it’s inspiring, outlandish, and filled with handy do-it-yourself tips so you, too, can join the fun. And not only do we get the pleasure of Katherine’s presence, she’s talking about fashion in Joan Aiken, one of my favourite reads growing up.
Remember, EVERY comment made on one of my guests’ blogs in December will be entered for a $50 Amazon gift certificate! So, read on and win!
I have been rereading Joan Aiken. Specifically, her children’s novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962). I was obsessed with this book as a child, and in fact, read it so many times that I had the first page memorized. In case you don’t know, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first book in a series set in an alternate version of nineteenth century England. Aiken imagines that King James II was not deposed in 1688 and his descendant James III, a Stuart, sits on the throne. (Maybe someone out there can explain how the succession would have gone had James II not been overthrown?) In this first book, there’s very little political background, though. What you get in the novel is Dickensian melodrama, complete with wolves, an evil governess, orphans, devoted servants, privation, and a noble savage-type who lives in the woods and raises geese. Plus lots of snow and luxurious garments. Maybe I’m noticing the outfits because my last book, Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism, focused on clothing. But I think that Aiken foregrounds the characters’ ensembles a bit, too.
In the opening paragraph of the book—a long establishing shot that zooms in on Willoughby Chase, a great house of many wings, staircases, and passageways, and the home of Bonnie Green—Aiken uses words usually associated with clothing. “Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills….” Pleated, as if the hills are the folds of a skirt. A few sentences later: “…the Chase looked an inviting home—a warm and welcoming stronghold. Its rosy herringbone brick was bright and well-cared-for…” Rosy herringbone sounds cozy, like a tweed suit, probably a woman’s suit, no? Then we meet our heroine, Bonnie Green, who says: “Will she be here soon, Pattern? Will she?” Yes, her maid’s name is Pattern, and yes, she’s an expert seamstress. (Okay, there’s lots of problematic class stuff in this book!) Pattern is engaged in “folding and goffering the frills of twenty lace petticoats.” Twenty! That’s a lot of petticoats. Presumably they are white, too, like the snow and the pleated hills. (“To goffer” means to iron in ridges or narrow pleats.)
Bonnie is expecting her cousin Sylvia and, at the sounds of an arrival, runs down the main staircase, trips, and lands on the floor of the entrance hall at the feet of a stranger. “Her impetuosity brought her in a heap to the feet of an immensely tall, thin lady, clad from neck to toe in a traveling dress of swathed gray twill, with a stiff collar, dark glasses, and dull green buttoned boots.” She is Miss Slighcarp, all in gray—like a wolf. Plus she is too tall and too thin. Is Aiken cluing us in to the new governess’s character?
A few paragraphs later, Bonnie’s father, who, in the book, is considered to be unquestioningly good, is described via his watch and his waistcoat: “ ‘The dressing bell,’ said Sir Willoughby, looking at a handsome gold watch, slung on a chain across his ample waistcoat.” In contrast, to the governess, he does not sound thin. Meanwhile, Bonnie’s father has given her permission to go meet her cousin’s train, and she is fetching her warmest bonnet and pelisse. Fashionable in the early nineteenth century, the pelisse is a close-fitting woman’s coat modeled on men’s military jackets, which, in turn, had been adapted from the short fur-trimmed jackets of seventeenth century Hungarian mercenaries. (As skirts and crinolines grew wider, in the 1840s and 1850s, the pelisse fell out of favor and was replaced by cloaks, mantles, and shawls.)
In contrast to the luxury of life at Willoughby Chase, we are soon treated to a scene of genteel poverty. Sylvia and Aunt Jane, in preparation for Sylvia’s journey, are making Sylvia’s clothes from “a very beautiful, but old, curtain of white Chinese brocade.” The curtain must be quiet big; employing “tiny stitches” they manage to sew “several chemises, petticoats, pantalettes, dresses, and even a bonnet.” Weeping as she works, Aunt Jane says: “I do so like to see a little girl dressed all in white.” Clearly, Sylvia is some kind of angel. And in another few sentences her aunt calls her just that.
After a long train ride, an encounter with a stranger, and a scary delay due to wolves, Sylvia arrives at Willoughby Chase and meets her spirited cousin. Despite the fact that Bonnie’s parents are about to leave on a long voyage, they taken the time to have new and flattering clothes made up for Sylvia. They even have six pairs of ice skates ready for her to choose from. As Bonnie says: “…we thought one of them was certain to fit.” And Pattern promises to run up a dress for her doll, too.
I don’t want to issue too many spoilers, but it isn’t until Miss Slighcarp appears wearing one of Lady Green’s dresses “a draped gown of old gold velvet with ruby buttons” that Bonnie grasps the true nature of her greedy and conniving new governess. Later in the book, there are orphans in dehumanizing uniforms, and then, when Bonnie and her cousin need help the most, Bonnie finds, hidden behind straw bales, “two warm suits of clothes, a boy’s, with breeches and waistcoat, and a girl’s, with a thick woolen skirt and petticoat. Both were of coarse material such as tinker children wear, but well and stoutly made, and both had beautiful thick sheepskin jackets, lined with their own wool.” These outfits—which were made by the loyal and virtuous Pattern—facilitate an escape. And I don’t want to say much more! Read, or reread, the book, enjoy, the Dickensian character names, the outfits, and most of all the drama, all packed into a satisfying 181 paperback pages.
Katherine Gleason is the author of more than thirty books, including Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism and Alexander McQueen: Evolution, a book about the late designer’s runway shows.
Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism
December 16, 2013 • No Comments
The winner of Bec McMaster’s draw for a copy of My Lady Quicksilver is Sandyg265! Congratulations–What a great prize!
December 15, 2013 • 9 Comments
What’s a steampunk celebration without a few fireworks? And Nicola Tesla? For those not familiar with Chris Kohout’s highly entertaining Einstein Must Die! here’s your chance for a real treat!
There are two ways to win: First, Chris is giving away FIVE free copies of the ebook.
Plus, EVERY comment made on one of my guests’ blogs in December will be entered for a $50 Amazon gift certificate! So, hop aboard the airship and win!
December 14, 2013 • 13 Comments
Meet special guest writer and editor Paul Genesse! I’m honoured to have him visit my humble blog. The man knows his steampunk! I bought a copy of the Steampunk’d anthology below and remember the story he talks about below. It made an impression on me then, and I still love it.
There are two ways to win: Commenters on this post will win a prize pack from me and a $10 Starbucks card PLUS EVERY comment made on one of my guests’ blogs in December will be entered for a $50 Amazon gift certificate! So, start saying hello!
Reading and writing steampunk is my get out of jail free card. Don’t get me wrong, I love more traditional high fantasy with dragons, but I feel like steampunk is a subgenre that is incredibly wide open. Authors (and readers) are free to experiment and go in almost any direction. There are certain ideas that are debatably important to the genre: Victorian era sensibilities, rebellion of some kind against societal norms, advanced technologies that occur sooner than expected—let’s say for example a nuclear powered submarine in the 1800’s like in Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—and dare I mention the item that almost always seems to be present in the clothing movement, goggles.
December 10, 2013 • 30 Comments
Vampires and steampunk! Does it get any better than this? How could it?
First, let’s welcome Bec McMaster, a fabulous guest author!
Second, she’s offering a fabulous giveaway (international!) of a copy of My Lady Quicksilver!
Third, EVERY comment made on one of my guests’ blogs in December will be entered for a $50 Amazon gift certificate! So, read on and win!
There are several things that you don’t generally find in a romance, most particularly elements of horror, but I’ve never been one to let that stop me and one of the things I adore most about writing steampunk is the flexibility of the genre. Create. Explore. Bend the rules. As long as you refine yourself to certain fundamental elements, namely steam-power or similar era technology, and aspects of bucking-the-system, then there are very few static boundaries.
One of the more fascinating aspects – at least for me – is the dark, Gothic style of certain steampunk novels (certainly not all). Terror and darkness, both atmospheric and the darkness within, are all ideas I love to read about. As a little girl – probably far too young for such reading material, but that probably explains a lot about me – I adored classics such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Grey, and Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories, to name a few.
When I created the London Steampunk series, I was fascinated with the idea of creating a race of vampiric creatures outside the romanticised norm. To create a vampire in the true sense of the word. A monster; a brute, unstoppable force that prowls the night, something that traces back to the horror of my Gothic-loving roots.
My blue bloods rule the aristocratic Echelon of London (think, a vampiric version of the ton) and are stricken with the craving virus. The virus gives them speed, longevity, excellent healing rates, strength and virility, all with only one conceivable flaw… The desire for blood. They rule London with a set of complex societal rules, and have imposed strict blood taxes on the nation.
But in exploring the system of the disease, one of the more interesting aspects was dealing with what happened once the virus overwhelmed a blue blood. Blade, the hero of my first book Kiss of Steel, was a rogue blue blood, his existence unsanctioned by law and his place as Master of Whitechapel leaving him a man with little to fear.
Except for the slow, unstoppable creep of the disease within him. The moment when rationality, indeed sense of self began to vanish, and he became nothing more than a blood-thirsty monster, driven by his craving. Completely overwhelmed by the disease, this is the start of what a blue blood perceives as the Fade – a long slippery downhill slope until nothing but a vampire remains.
Facing that fear was part of the fun of delving into Blade’s character. And in the third novel in the series, My Lady Quicksilver, I was able to explore another aspect of the craving virus with my hero, Sir Jasper Lynch.
Lynch is coldly controlled and his personal code of honour and duty are at polar ends of the spectrum to Blade. The one commonality between both heroes is their affliction, though both fear different aspects of the disease.
Of course, that’s not all my heroes have to deal with. In the time-honoured tradition of the kitchen sink, they’re also fighting not to lose their hearts to their heroines, or their lives to the madness of the London Steampunk world, where revolution, automatons and dangerous plots abound.
So if you fancy a somewhat-dark, slightly gothic paranormal steampunk romance, why not keep my London Steampunk series in mind? In lieu of Christmas, I’m in a somewhat generous mood, so I’d love to offer a signed copy of My Lady Quicksilver (open internationally), to one lucky commenter. Contest open until December 19, 2014.
MY LADY QUICKSILVER BY BEC MCMASTER – IN STORES OCTOBER 2013
“I WILL COME FOR YOU…”
He will find her no matter what. As a blue-blooded captain of the Nighthawk Guard, his senses are keener than most. Some think he’s indestructible. But once he finds the elusive Mercury, what will he do with her?
It’s his duty to turn her in—she’s a notorious spy and traitor. But after one stolen moment, he can’t forget the feel of her in his arms, the taste of her, or the sharp sting of betrayal as she slipped off into the night. Little does Mercury know, no one hunts better than the Nighthawk. And his greatest revenge will be to leave her begging for his touch…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Award-winning author Bec McMaster lives in a small town in Australia and grew up with her nose in a book. A member of RWA, she writes sexy, dark paranormals and steampunk romance. When not writing, reading, or poring over travel brochures, she loves spending time with her very own hero or daydreaming about new worlds. Read more about her at www.becmcmaster.com or follow her on Twitter, @BecMcMaster.
To purchase My Lady Quicksilver:
December 9, 2013 • No Comments
Watch the steampunk panel from NY ComicCon 2013 here.
• 2 Comments
December 5, 2013 • 3 Comments
As A Study in Silks begins, Evelina Cooper and her best friend, Imogen, have recently left school and are about to embark on their first Season in high society. It’s 1888 and, while there are more options available to women than before, a young girl of good breeding was still supposed to find a respectable husband and provide an heir. So, between murder, magic, and troublesome automatons, Evelina and Imogen have to deal with suitors. Not that our young ladies are averse to dashing beaux, but it’s a little hard to find the time.
Even without adventures, the nineteenth-century debutante had a lot to cope with. The longed-for moment that marked the change from schoolgirl to young woman came when one was presented to the reigning monarch—in this case, Queen Victoria. This was an elaborate, invitation-only ceremony that usually happened around Easter. The importance of the presentation diminished over the century, but it was meant to be the sign that a young lady was admitted to Society and was fit to wed a gentleman. The current crop of debutantes was sure to receive invitations to balls, parties, and musicales and to be the focus of Society’s attention—and the prettiest (or richest) would be spoken for by the time the fashionable set retired from London for shooting parties in August.
As the Season drew near, the Lord Chamberlain carefully reviewed the list of eligible young women, striking those with any hint of scandal from the list. Once he was done, the queen would go over it again. Once she was satisfied, the invitations went out—but an invite was only the first requirement. A debutante also needed a sponsor, a lady who had herself been presented and could vouch for a young girl’s character. Usually this was a mother or aunt, but it could also be a friend of the family.
But once the sponsor was in place, there was shopping to do—not just for party clothes, but for the ceremony itself. The Lord Chamberlain issued a list of requirements for the proper attire, down to the dimensions of the dress’s train. The gown had to have a low neck, little to no sleeves, and should be white for unmarried girls. The regulation headdress was three white feathers—which were apparently difficult to keep in place. The presentee was required to curtsey just so and kiss the queen’s hand, then back away without tripping on her train. I’ve often wondered how many had nightmares about falling on their bustles in front of the entire royal court!
Needless to say, there was an industry dedicated to coaching young women through the ordeal. Fortunately for our heroines, their finishing school (zombies aside) would have covered the proper etiquette in their lessons.
But for Evelina the glitter and fluff of the Season only lasts so long, and then murder interferes. As A Study in Silks unfolds, the lure of a springtime of dancing and parties fades as her eyes are opened to threatening new prospects. The Baskerville Affair trilogy is a steampunk fantasy, in which fantastic inventions, sorcery, and romance all play their part. Evelina’s uncle, Sherlock Holmes, has his role as well—but not even he can protect her from the discoveries she needs to make before the game is done.
(originally published at Melissa’s Mochas and More)
December 3, 2013 • No Comments
Recently, another talented writer asked me how I went about plotting my work.
Okay, so I just heard the resounding thud of readers falling from their chairs, stunned insensible with boredom. I know there is nothing quite as obnoxious as writers going on and on about their craft, as if they actually thought about what they were doing instead of just geeking out at a keyboard and calling it art. This won’t be painful I PROMISE.
Yeah, right. Just bear with me.
Plotting. Sure, I own a host of books on the craft of writing. By virtue of owning them, I know I’m already smarter. Someday I’ll even read them cover-to-cover, and then watch me rock the metaphorical niceties of the Jungian subtext! I’ll be all over that next book.
But right, plotting. I’m a traditionalist, fond of a beginning, middle and end. As far as the theoretical framework around story structure—which is where writers start talking about Michael Hauge’s Story Mastery, the hero’s journey, saving the cat, and all the rest of those techniques—I like all of them just fine. They’re valuable tools, and I believe a good writer has a few at his or her fingertips. The trick is finding a good fit for your material and knowing when to use which model.
My story follows a more mythic structure, although it is more shamanic than strictly hero quest (and if you don’t know what that means, that’s okay because half the time I don’t either). I write character-focused books and tend to use more of an ensemble cast than just one or two main protagonists. The Baskerville Affair trilogy has a mystery/adventure plot arc that is resolved at the end of each volume, but the whole story unfolds over the entire series. Evelina, the heroine, has to face her shadow self and master that side of her nature. We see glimmerings of this in A Study in Silks, but it ramps up in A Study in Darkness. The fate of nations literally hangs on her choices, and the weight of it threatens to break her.
Like reflections in a mirror, each of the other players faces their own dark side at different points in the tale—and this might happen literally, metaphorically, or magically. Some pass the test. Some stumble and redeem themselves. Some fail—with interesting consequences. While the outer conflict of political upheaval moves in lock step with the main character’s inner struggle, the other character arcs weave within the larger story of revolution and war. Add mystery, romance, steampunk armies, magic and things that go boom and splat. That’s the works in a nutshell. It’s a steampunk fantasy.
From a bird’s eye view, it’s a fairly simple construct. From the worm/author’s eye view, it’s less elegant. I make copious maps, sticky notes, charts, drawings with arrows and color-coded thingies, and usually I end up tacking a large piece of newsprint to the wall and covering it in scribbles and sticky notes. At some point I’ll probably transfer it all to a spreadsheet, give up and return it to the wall. Sadly, no plot survives unchanged after first contact with the keyboard. Quite a few chapters perished in the making of this trilogy.
I can point to the places where I followed this writing technique or another—or simply strode into the bog with more will than wisdom—but some episodes are better left behind the curtain. Only my editor knows, and let me tell you she does love her colored pencils. But really, despite how clever authors are trying to be, the only thing that matters is whether readers (and authors) have a good time.
(originally published at Ramblings from This Chick)