Stuff and Nonsense, October 17, 2015


Welcome to my first round-up of the stuff I post on my various blogs and the nonsense I have to add. There are many things I identify as – female, working mom, parent of a toddler/preschooler, parent of an adolescent, fledgling farmer, genealogist, and Pagan. I enjoy exploring all of these topics, but not everyone enjoys all of them together.

So I maintain separate little homes for each on the web. If you want to better understand each of these blogs, you can visit my Wendy’s Writing page for more insight. Here’s where you can find those topics and this week’s posts:

GirlProblems.net – this week I tackled the real issues, like “feminine napkins” and leggings as pants. If you have a girl problem you would like to see shared on the blog, just tweet to me at WendyLCallahan with the hashtag #girlproblems, and I’ll include yours in the ever-growing compendium of challenges females face.

And a word about GirlProblems.net: the About page says it all – this blog is for anyone who identifies as female. Whether you are CIS or transgender, you are welcome to read and submit contributions. We who are born or identify as female are all in it together, after all!

In Which Mother – the usual shenanigans include bodily functions, motherhood, and work, and this week was no exception. Please visit my post about debating with myself and let me know if you do it too!

New England Genealogy – today I revisit my "Creepy Cousins" post from 2010. Lizzie Borden took an axe and... also happens to be a distant cousin of mine. Whenever Halloween draws near, her name comes to mind. To this day, we still don't know if she murdered her parents or not. Even though she was acquitted, this case remains a mystery...

Our Prairie Nest – we embraced the warm weather last weekend to work on some winterizing endeavors. Can you believe it’s that time of the year already? My husband also built a lovely toybox/bookshelf combo for our daughter. Two projects in one man store visit. What more could a girl ask for?

Synthesis Circle – I’ve been pulling some previously-published material of mine and giving it fresh life on the Synthesis Circle website. This week I discuss the factors that go into the decision to come out of the broom closet.

Wendy's Stuff & Nonsense for the week - when I get ready for work, I have 20 minutes of quiet time to think and reflect. This week, I asked myself the question, "If someone was in a car accident and they lost their face, and then woke up from reconstructive surgery looking like Steve Buscemi, but with none of his talent, how would they feel?"

Let me know your answer to that, won't you?

A Change

A change is coming and here's why: I won't be writing fiction anymore.

Unfortunately, I have to accept that as much as I love writing it, my reviews show that readers feel otherwise. So I think it's time to let go of the dream.

About 13 or so years ago, though, a friend told me I have a talent for non-fiction. I have been maintaining 3 sites independent of this one, 2 of which are full of my weird little ramblings about various, sometimes icky topics.

So this will become a sort of hub for the posts on those sites. It's going to just be me. Simple as that.

Fall & Winter Fun

Autumn is my absolutely favorite time of the year. There's so much to do and see and think about. For me, the end of the year and moving into the new year looks like:

October


I clean house and decorate for Samhain or Halloween. The kiddos need costumes. My son wants to be a skeleton this year. When I suggested keeping my daughter's costume simple (black pajamas and cat ears), my husband asked if we could dress her up as an axe murdered instead, and then asked if it was "tasteful."

Tasteful to dress a 2-year-old up as an axe murderer? Umm... Let me get back to you on that.

November


Thanksgiving is next on the agenda. Or is it? November is known for another event that draws writers from all over the world - National Novel Writing Month. Every year around mid-October or so, I realize it's coming and think, "ACK!"

December

As soon as I catch my breath from NaNo and the holiday, it's time for my son's birthday. This year, I will have a teenager!

Right after that, I am attending Midwest Furfest in Chicago this year. That should be quite the little adventure.

Then comes my birthday, which I tend not to make a big deal about - not at my age. The one thing I always want on my birthday is a nice, hot dinner of my choice. That's it. Last year I wanted meatloaf. I'm thinking of partying the same way this year.

Of course, we celebrate Yule, so there is a family ritual to plan and gifts to wrap. Then there are the Christmas gifts for a few family members. We've sent fewer and fewer gifts and cards over the years, though, because that madness can be stressful. A simpler holiday season tends to be a happier one.


January

 I always use New Year's for reassessing projects and much more. Right after that, we have my daughter's birthday. She's making that leap from toddler to preschooler this year, which will give me a 3-year-old and a 13-year-old. A few weeks later, it's my husband's birthday. He is hitting the big 3-0 this year (I feel so left out of the 3-loop). I've already gotten him an epic birthday present. I mean, seriously epic.

So the end of the year is busy, but wonderful all at once. We have some fun events to anticipate, especially for December and January. Once it's all done, however, I'll be ready to hibernate with hot chocolate and a good book.

What is Steampunk?

Today I present you with another excerpt from Steampunk for Simpletons, available in both ebook and paperback:

To answer this question, let’s start off with very academic definitions. According to Dictionary.com steampunk is a noun that can be defined as “a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steam power of the 19th century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world” or “a subculture inspired by this literary and film subgenre: the fashions and gadgets of steampunk.” 

Here is the definition according to Wikipedia.com:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the modern authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt, and China Miéville. Other examples of steampunk contain alternative history-style presentations of such technology as lighter-than-air airships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine.

Steampunk may also, though not necessarily, incorporate additional elements from the genres of fantasy, horror, historical fiction, alternate history, or other branches of speculative fiction, making it often a hybrid genre. The term steampunk's first known appearance was in 1987, though it now retroactively refers to many works of fiction created even as far back as the 1950s or 1960s.

Steampunk also refers to any of the artistic styles, clothing fashions, or subcultures that have developed from the aesthetics of steampunk fiction, Victorian-era fiction, art nouveau design, and films from the mid-20th century. Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk.

When asked, the rest of us usually describe it in a more casual way. For example, many conversations may sound like this:

Curious (or nervous) person: “What is Steampunk?”

Us: “It’s Victorian futurism - a glorious blend of late 1800s era style, fashion, and manners mixed with the awesome creativity of science fiction based of steam powered technology!”

Confused person: Stares blankly.

Us: “OK, let me try a different tack. Have you ever read H.G. Wells, The Time Machine? Or Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?”

Vaguely disinterested person looking for a way out of the conversation: Shakes head slowly and says, “I’ve heard of Frankenstein…”

Us: “OK, let me try a third way. Ever seen Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with Sean Connery, or Wild, Wild West with Will Smith?”

Excited person: “Oh, with the big mechanical spider? Yes, I love that movie!”

Us: Sigh.

But we sometimes get a literary fan, a history buff, or just someone who is awesome who hears something in one of the above descriptions (or sees shiny things and cool clothes) that catches their attention and imagination, and we have a new person interested in what we do! A person just like you. Welcome to the diverse and wonderful world of steampunk!


The Aethernet - Be a Person of Information


The internet is your friend. Steampunk is everywhere on it! In 2014 a Google search brings up over thirteen million results for websites (we haven’t even tried Yahoo, Bing, or Dogpile). Throughout this book, we share sites from blogs to forums, and much more for you to further your understanding of steampunk. We also suggest Googling for specific terms, though feel free to utilize the search engine of your choice when delving into steampunk.

Where Did Steampunk Come From?


Steampunk burst onto the scene in the middle of the first decade of this century, as people embraced a rebirth of old ideals, sense of wonder, and elegance mixed with adventure. The future was here, and everyone was looking at it through rose-tinted goggles.

Actually, that isn’t quite true. While the subgenre existed in the works of period science-fiction writers from over a century prior, it did not have a specific name. Steampunk dribbled out in a lukewarm trickle over the past forty-five years or so, inspired by those writers’ visions of the future. However, the actual word “steampunk”, used to describe such stories, was first coined by K.W. Jeter in 1987 in a letter he wrote to Locus Magazine, which said:

Dear Locus,
Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I'd appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it's a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in "the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate" was writing in the "gonzo-historical manner" first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like 'steam-punks', perhaps.
—K.W. Jeter

It was a play on the word cyberpunk (a gritty, high-technology genre set in a corporation ruled near-future), and fit the works of K.W. Jeter (Morlock Night, 1979, Infernal Devices, 1987), James Blaylock (Homunculus, 1986), and Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, 1983). But they weren’t the first authors to write in a Victorian setting with a science fiction leaning, similar to literary greats such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. No indeed. Others had come before, though not many. Michael Moorcock's Warlord of the Air published in 1971, Ronald W. Clark's Queen Victoria's Bomb published in 1967, and Keith Laumer's Worlds of the Imperium published in 1962 are all examples of steampunk before it had a name.

There were also movies and TV shows set in the Victorian time period that made use of fantasy and advanced technological elements. In 1954, Disney produced a film version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (as well as having a really awesome ride by the same name in Disneyland and Disney World; well it was awesome to Travis when he was nine), in 1965 CBS aired The Wild, Wild West, and in the mid-seventies Amicus Productions released The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, and The People That Time Forgot. A few others appeared over the next decade, including Tarzan: The Epic Adventures TV series in 1996, and the Wild, Wild West movie by Warner Bros. in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2003 and the release of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie (the graphic novel by Alan Moore came out in 1999) when we finally began to see a regular release of steampunk movies.

Though the concept had been around in the modern era for decades, the word wasn’t directly attached to a book until Paul Di Filippo published his Steampunk Trilogy in 1995, which contained three novels: Victoria, Hottentots, and Walt and Emily. These stories were a nod to the Victorian writers, with the whimsical technology and humor that became hallmarks of steampunk as it is today - something that rarely takes itself too seriously. On that note, let’s delve more deeply into what steampunk is, and the myriad ways its enthusiasts express themselves and share it with the world.


Genre or Aesthetic?

Many people label steampunk as a genre, but we think with a bit of exploration you will discover it is more than a subgenre of science fiction - it is an aesthetic that has given way to a cultural movement. First, we should define both words. According to Merriam-Webster “Genre” is defined as “a particular type or category of literature or art”, whereas “Aesthetic” is defined as “of or relating to art or beauty”.

Steampunk spans an incredibly wide variety of categories of literature and art. In literature alone, you can find steampunk related to horror, romance, adventure, science fiction, fantasy, and a dozen other genres. Steampunk is more of a skin, color palate, era, feeling, or motif with which you decorate any genre you favor.

The steampunk aesthetic can be a main theme, or it can add zest to a genre, making it different than the usual feel which the genre has. This applies to music, clothing, jewelry, style, manners, literature, art, and so much more. For some, steampunk borders on - or even is - a lifestyle. Now that we’ve given you a basic overview and explanation, we’re going to delve into all things steampunk!

Writing Steampunk

This post is an excerpt from Steampunk for Simpletons.

It starts with an idea. Your hero is on a mission to save the world from a power-hungry madman who has launched an army of automatons against Britain’s people. It’s up to your hero to save the day with cunning, snazzy outfits, and accessories that tick-tock a brief warning before they do something amazing.

Welcome to the world of steampunk literature, where anything is possible.

I love writing steampunk because it is wide open to so much unexplored territory. It is a place where you can blend magic and technology, manners and villainy, clockwork and tea. The beauty of writing in this subgenre is there are very few rules, and even those that exist are quite flexible. 


How, exactly, does writing steampunk work?Authors all have their own approaches to this. For some, it is a style they layer over another, more dominant genre. Most of the time, this seems to be the case with romance. Take Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series for example. These stories of paranormal romance could happen in any setting. But Ms. McMaster layered elements of steampunk over the plot, which gives it a whole new “feel.” It’s a steam-powered world full of romantic tension, which can be a whole lot of fun for steampunk enthusiasts who enjoy a spicy love story. 

Then there are the authors who blend a mishmash of genres and styles, whether intentionally or unintentionally. A bit of paranormal fantasy in a modern setting, with a touch of magic and a dash of gadgetry gives you God Save the Queen by Kate Locke (another pseudonym of Kate Cross and Kady Cross, also mentioned in this chapter). Queen Victoria is undead, and vampires, werewolves, and goblins roam the streets. This is not a steampunk series, but it’s tagged and marketed as such, and I personally think it’s easy to see why. People tend to think of Queen Victoria as inherently steampunk, and the story itself takes retrofuturism to the next level – history is still alive and well, and thriving in our modern era in Locke’s story.
 
Of course you have the stories that are quintessentially steampunk – rife with goggles and airships and steamboat, oh my – and set somewhere in Britain or America during Victoria’s reign. You can’t mistake the author’s intentions. There are no crossed genres; only steam-powered adventures, gleaming revolvers, and maybe an octopus or two.

If you are thinking of writing steampunk, you might be a little confused. I’ve offered three wildly different examples of what people place in this subgenre, and there are several more throughout this chapter. Is it really about the steam? The setting? The top hats? Just how crazy can you go, and still write a steampunk story? Will reviewers tell you it’s too steampunk? Not steampunk enough?

First and foremost, here is a very basic reminder: you cannot please everyone all of the time. Goodness knows I’ve read reviews of some of the most popular authors in a variety of genres, and learned this from the start. On a single title, some reviewers will complain that a heroine is “too much of a bad ass”, while still others will complain that “she is not bad ass enough”. So please know that what we do as writers isn’t going to be taken in the same way by all readers. We are all individuals with our own perceptions.

So ask yourself what you’re trying to write. Are you intentionally setting out to create a steampunk world or incorporate some of these elements into your story? Or have you written a story where this developed organically? 

Another thing you might wonder is whether or not you should read one of the many books available on this topic. Like any books on the writing craft, they can be helpful, but my suggestion is this: read, not books on how to write steampunk, but books that are steampunk.

Start with the classic authors such as Jules Verne and see where it all began. Turn to the works of K.W. Jeter, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers to see what steampunk looked like in the 1980’s. Then look at a variety of modern authors to see what steampunk looks like today.