Fashion and the Mad Scientist: Guest post and contest with Shelley Adina

Shelley Adina is the author of the wonderful Magnificent Devices series of steampunk novels. She’s also an excellent writing teacher, just in case you’re lucky enough to be at a conference where she’s teaching. Don’t walk–run to get a seat in the class. Anyhow, she and I observed the other day that we were in good company at the top of the steampunk list on Amazon–after all, we were with each other! And since the reading public has such good taste, we decided it made good sense to introduce ourselves on each other’s blogs.

In addition, we’re running a wee contest. To enter for Shelley’s prize, sign up for her mailing list. The contest will stay open until midnight Pacific Standard Time, Guy Fawkes’ Night (November 5).

Visit Shelley’s blog here.

Fashion and the Mad Scientist

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a young woman in possession of a competency is likely to spend some part of it on clothes.


In writing about the steampunk era, one would be remiss in omitting certain aspects of life—such as fashion—even if our female characters are up to their batiste-clad elbows in chemical fluids and bombs. Which my characters often are. In the Magnificent Devices world, society is divided along general lines formed by Wits (those who make their way through intelligence and mechanics) and Bloods (those who inherit their fortunes and who want to keep the status quo). While it is an inescapable fact that the ladies in the latter category do spend the occasional afternoon doing nothing but going to the dressmaker and taking tea, I find that my Wit ladies are possessed of a feminine appreciation for fashion also. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the cut of a well-made skirt or a pretty embroidered waist, even if you are in the laboratory building a firelamp (an incendiary bomb hung beneath a steerable, remote controlled balloon).

I’ve been a costumer since the age of five, and the language of clothes has fascinated me since long before I was able to articulate it. Even then, I knew there was a difference between a blouse with lace insets down the front and a checkered one with a plain shirt collar. The woman who wore one or the other was saying something about herself and her approach to the world.


So, Lady Claire Trevelyan, Alice Chalmers, and the Mopsies (street sparrows Lizzie and Maggie) are very different characters, but their personalities are emphasized on the page by the clothes they wear. In Lady of Devices, book one, Claire forgets to go to the dressmaker altogether, and has to appear at her graduation in a hastily made-up dress that is too low in the décolletage and makes her very uncomfortable. By the end of her four-book cycle, she is wearing ballgowns with confidence, ease, and an eye for detail. Why this change? Because she has gained confidence in other aspects of her life—her mind, her talent for engineering, her ability to approach others as an equal—and this shows in her confidence in her own femininity.

Alice Chalmers is an engineer with a hardscrabble childhood in the deserts of the Texican Territory. She spends most of her time in overalls and a flight jacket, and her first experience with a corset is, shall we say, not the best. She has been hiding her femininity for years, and in future books will have to develop the same kind of confidence in herself that will allow her to embrace that side of her personality.

In steampunk, we give women a voice—and in using fashion both inside and outside of the laboratory, that voice may be subtle, but it is every bit as distinctive and assured as our characters are.


About the author

RITA Award® winning author and Christy finalist Shelley Adina wrote her first novel when she was 13. It was rejected by the literary publisher to whom she sent it, but he did say she knew how to tell a story. That was enough to keep her going through the rest of her adolescence, a career, a move to another country, a B.A. in Literature, an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and countless manuscript pages.

Shelley is a world traveler who loves to imagine what might have been. Between books, Shelley loves playing the piano and Celtic harp, making period costumes, and spoiling her flock of rescued chickens.

Latest release:


You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family … or can you?

Now sixteen, the twins Lizzie and Maggie are educated young ladies who have not been called “the Mopsies” in years … except by their guardian, Lady Claire Trevelyan. With the happy prospect of choosing their own future, the girls can leave their dodgy past behind, and Lizzie can bury her deepest childhood memories where they can do no harm. Upon her graduation from school, Lizzie is awarded an enormous honor—but can she pay the price? Is she ready to be separated from Maggie and become the woman she believes she was meant to be—or will old habits tempt her into defiance and plunge her into disaster?

On a dare, Lizzie picks the wrong man’s pocket and nearly loses her life. But these frightening events bear unexpected fruit: The dream Lizzie holds closest to her heart comes true in a most unexpected way. But this dream, too, comes with a price. Lizzie must decide whether her true family is the one she was born to … or the one she chose that long-ago day when the Lady of Devices steamed into their lives …



  1. Andrew says:

    Quite impressive work. I am really very much touched. You seem to be passionate about women fashion and clothing. Its amazing that you are shopping since 5 as kids don’t have any sense what to choose.
    Thanks for posting the article. Waiting for your next one.

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