December 17, 2013 • 12 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)
December 1, 2013 • No Comments
Temptation wears many faces, and the Victorians were quick to point out (rather gleefully at times) all the ways a young girl could go wrong. Reputations could be ruined in an instant, based on little more than a careless word or a minute spent alone with a man in a closed room. Ruin could mean anything up to being cast out penniless on the streets.
In A Study in Silks, my steampunk heroine, Evelina Cooper, is all too aware of what a misstep might cost her. Her position in Society is by no means assured, and the fact that she knows how to work magic—a crime punishable by public execution, if she’s is lucky—means she’s extra paranoid. But temptation keeps leaving her calling cards like a persistent salesman.
First, because she is a pretty young woman of marriageable age, there are suitors. One is Tobias—handsome, clever, rich, and heir to a title. He’s the flashy sports car model—breathtaking, but not really practical. And then there is Nick, her childhood sweetheart and a performer with the circus where Evelina spent her childhood. He has all the street-smarts and passion a girl could want, but whenever her magic and meets his, the results are about as subtle as a poltergeist on amphetamines. That’s all too dangerous when one is trying to hide rogue talents from the authorities.
But where Evelina can (mostly) resist the lure of romance, she has her future to think of. Security was a powerful motivator during a time when people literally starved in the streets. She may not be dazzled by money, but she’s been poor and knows all too well what hunger means. It was around this time that the Salvation Army was first established because the living conditions in some parts of London were so dire. Marxists, anarchists, and trade unions were active as well, each trying in their own way to alleviate the suffering. The streets of nineteenth-century London were a volatile place to be. They were, after all, the playground of Jack the Ripper.
But what she wants even more than pure safety is the kind of independence and intellectual freedom her uncle, Sherlock Holmes, enjoys—a faint hope for an unmarried woman of modest means. Lucky for her that this is a steampunk world, and she’s inherited dual talents for magic and science. And this is where Evelina does falter. When the sorcerer Magnus offers to teach her how to use her magic to full advantage, she wavers.
Unfortunately, Magnus is tainted by death magic and is exactly the type of practitioner she has been taught to revile. But he might hold the solution to all her troubles, if only she would consent to learn what he has to teach. The price wouldn’t be high—possibly just her soul. But in the end, what wouldn’t we pay for self-knowledge? For freedom and the chance to chart our own course in the world? The worst demons, the worst temptations, are always within ourselves. Over the three books of The Baskerville Affair, this is Evelina’s struggle.
(originally published at Urban Fantasy Investigations)