Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Weird Science

Victorians were probably not the worst for generating silly pseudo-scientific ideas about the natural world, but they did have some inspirationally bad theories.

For instance, the above kit, which was kept at emergency stations along the Thames in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in case of a drowning was considered as important as artificial respiration. It contains several vials of tobacco. A pipe to get the tobacco smoldering and a choice of bellows or syringe to insert the smoke rectally.

Yes, there's a literal truth behind the expression about blowing smoke up the ass.

Tobacco smoke enemas were commonly used to treat hernias and cholera as well.

Then in 1811, a scientist named Benjamin Brodie had to come along and explain that nicotine actually impedes circulation, so by the middle of the 19th century the kits had mostly fallen into disuse. Party-pooper.

I suspect the only reason they ever thought it was an effective treatment was because a few fakers got this treatment and 'revived' suddenly upon having a metal tube, followed by hot smoke forcibly inserted in their nether regions.

Stephen Fry explains it very well below.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fashion Friday: The Real Thing

Most of what I post here is just imitation or interpretation. Very few people can afford the level of workmanship that went into genuine Victorian-era luxuries, and those who can afford it seem to prefer spending their money on Botox and pool parties where they can show of their newly Botoxed faces (at least that's what I've learned from the popular media, my own experience is limited).

The real thing is a whole different packet of crisps.

Top is a the full view of a billiards table built for Queen Victoria's jubilee in 1887. The cabinet in the background is for scorekeeping, behind the door is storage for cues, chalk and balls. Lower picture shows detail of the table which is covered in carvings depicting pivotal events that led from William the Conquerer to Queen Victoria.

The King's dining room at Windsor contains work from the 1600's onwards, but in my mind really represents the kind of opulence of the era. Enough art to fill a moderate-sized gallery packed into one room.

The Ballroom at Buckingham painted during the time of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. The deep reds and blues, offset by gold trim make it just seem royal. Colour combinations which would be garish for smaller, less opulent spaces just work amid the lush settings. It would really have been something to see in its day.

Royal Albert Hall was completed after Prince Albert's death and named in his memory. Truly they do not make theaters like that anymore.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Glue Some Gears on it and Call it Steampunk

Now that it's almost Christmas time, you might need to explain to your loved ones what is, and is not Steampunk.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Criticism

It may seem like an odd place to draw inspiration from. Odd but necessary, if you want to get anywhere. It is oh-so easy to tell yourself your writing is great and write a novel in a vacuum. Things get harder when you ask writing associates to critique your work and they come back with less than stellar reviews.

At first you don't want to even read all the comments. It's depressing. Then over time you think about them and realize there's a lot of value in what they said. After a few days you see how you can use that feedback to make some dramatic improvements and take your manuscript to the next level.

When you've been through all that, and polished things up as well as you can there's the gauntlet of finding an agent. If you make it that far it's easy to think you've got it made. A successful agent who makes a living by her eye for what will sell chose your manuscript out of the pile of thousands she receives every year. It's easy to get carried away at this point, imagining your book on the shelf next to some of your favorite authors. Imagining what the cover will look like. Chatting it up with fans at book signings... Ahh the life of a successful author.

I heard the author of The Golden Mean, Annabel Lyon, on the radio talking about her first few months after being published. She had been nominated for a major Canadian award, but still hadn't got much money from the publisher so needed to keep her day-job working in Munro's Books in Victoria (yes, strangely enough, THAT Munro, Alice Munro's ex-husband). When a customer would bring her book to the checkout she'd offer to sign it for them. Inevitably the customer would frown, clearly thinking, "Crazy woman, why would I want you to sign my book?" She'd flip to the author's photo at the back, hold it up next to her face and try to copy her expression from the photo. The customer would redden and thank her kindly for signing the book and she'd get a giggle from the episode.

That's where the thoughts tend to run when you've got an agent. What kind of great anecdotes am I going to have when I'm a famous author?

Then your manuscript goes out to publishers, and you get feedback from an editor. It's the same process all over, but harder this time. You've probably lived with the book for a year or more now, so you're getting a bit tired of it. On top of that all your dreams of massive, rock-star success pile up in a train-wreck. One more hurdle to overcome. Another, higher bar has been set and the manuscript is not clearing it. Time to knuckle down and get back to work on it, knowing that even this is not the last edit. If you're lucky it's the penultimate overhaul of your manuscript, but if the changes are accepted it will still mean another round. Then several more rounds of minor revisions.

The only way to survive, at least for me, is to find inspiration in the critiques. I look at them and think about how much better the final product will be for all the advice and feedback I've received. Maybe I will get to be a writing rock-star one day, but I won't have done it alone. There will be a litany of people to thank for telling me what I got wrong, taking me down a peg when I needed it and inspiring me to do better.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fashion Friday: Office

Being a writer, one of my favourite types of Steampunkification involves office spaces. If you have a limited amount of space and you want your workstation to fold neatly away into your Steampunk home this first piece is sure to fit the bill. Nobody would ever guess you have a fully functioning computer desk in there. Perfect for time travellers who want to keep their high-tech devices hidden away too!

The next piece is just a fabulous antique roll-top desk. I've always loved roll-tops, I don't know why. If I ever have the money to get myself a really nice office space this will be the desk I'm looking for.

This office space, from Because we Can has a great feel to it. I love the wall map, perfect for fine-tuning my plans for world domination over a game of pool.

Last, the stealth-computer. I love the way the screen sits in the typewriter where the paper would have sat in the original model. Now if they can just get e-paper working well enough nobody need ever suspect your typewriter is more than it seems.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fashion Friday: 5 Weird Steampunk Works

I thought I'd do something a little different this week. It turned out to be more than just a little different. Enjoy.

Kris Kuksi created this assault bicycle, which I presume comes standard with a can-opener, even though it's not visible in the picture. The Swiss Army Knife of vehicles, I'm sure it's prepared for any contingency. Need a fifty megawatt green laser to fight off martians, check! Kryptonite dispenser in case you end up at-odds with Superman, check! This puppy has it all.

Too bad no human is strong enough to actually pedal the thing.

I'm not sure if this guy is supposed to be a Cthulu worshipper or a mad scientist who accidentally crossed his face with a squid. Either way it's pretty creepy... and weird. Needs goggles though.

This corset by Etsy seller Louiseblack is fairly disturbing. She needs to figure out how to get a realistic hologram in there to really blow people's minds.

Yes, that's a working computer mouse. Yes, that's a real skull. Why you'd want to have your sweaty palms on the skull of a deceased animal all day long, I'm not entirely sure. But, if that's your thing you can find it on the Internet. Is there anything the Internet can't do? (The answer is yes, it can't erase images of things better left unseen, you know the ones I mean, but give it time and they'll have an app for that)

Taxidermist Lisa Black created this last example. Yes, she's a taxidermist, that means it's a real heart. I presume it's not human... I certainly hope it's not human.

That's enough weirdness for one blog post, please comment, I love to hear from my readers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Google Maps

Sometimes I wonder how authors a hundred years ago did it. I mean, I've travelled quite extensively, I've been to Europe eight or ten times, Australia, all through North America and a little island hopping in the Caribbean, but I haven't been to half the places that come up in my writing. The Internet in general is an invaluable tool, I can find out that the floor of St. James Church on Piccadilly is made of stone, and as I've mentioned before, the catalpha tree out front of the church was probably not there in my timeline.

But Google Maps, especially the feature with the little yellow guy called Streetview lets me get right into the middle of things. I can look around and really get a feel for a place and imagine what it would have been like a hundred years ago.

I'm sure that many authors before the age of the Internet just got things wrong. If you read Robinson Crusoe with a modern knowledge of geography you'll immediately spot some problems with the flora and fauna on his desert island. It seems more European in many ways than Caribbean. Not that I would ever criticise Defoe for his lack of research, it was a lot of work in those days, if you could find the information at all.

My story begins here.

It took me a few hours to find the appropriate location in London, but once I'd found it, and explored around a bit I knew it was the perfect location for Robert (our hero) to be stuck begging in the streets from the wealthy visitors to Pall Mall.

Recently he's been on a trip. From London to the docks at Southampton.

Then off by ship to Freetown.

Inland from the coast of South Africa.

Where he finally winds up in the middle of the desert.

Even there, in the middle of nowhere, I can find pictures and I can explore the roadways to get a feel for the surrounding landscape. If I didn't have a book to write I'd probably spend a lot more time exploring, but for now I have to get back to work.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Inspiration: Where do Ideas Come From?

Yesterday, as I was stepping out of the shower I had an epiphany about my current WIP. I knew how the beginning and the end had to go, but there was a lot of murkiness in the middle. Just as I was towelling off it hit me. The perfect middle. I hopped into my clothes and jotted down a few notes so I wouldn't forget anything.

I listened to the radio show Spark: Technology and the Wandering Mind on the weekend. In one segment they talked about how human brains spend about 30% of waking hours thinking about things other than the task at hand and how this idle brain activity is where most of our creativity spawns. Like sleep and dreaming it is an essential activity if we want to keep our brains in proper working order. The best time for mind-wandering, they explained, is when you're working at a mundane task which doesn't occupy your full attention.

On the show, they discussed how many people are crushing that creative thinking-time by constantly plugging themselves in to their wireless devices. It's most noticeable in children, the scientist explained, because they have such active imaginations, but the 50% of American kids who are exposed daily to handheld computers of one kind or another (leap-pad, iPhone, whatever) show demonstrably less creativity than those with less exposure.

Which, combined with the shower got me to thinking. All of my best ideas have come to me while I was away from the computer, but whenever I'm sitting at my desk and struggling to come up with story ideas I tend to just sit here. I blog, visit writer's forums and such, but as long as my mind is occupied there's no room for that perfect solution to filter through to the surface.

I will try an experiment over the next few weeks. I will spend more time away from the computer to give myself time to think. I'll see if I get more writing done, or less.

In the meantime, I'm just glad I don't have a smart-phone and I'm not addicted to Facebook.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Machine

Cool animated short about a machine who would conquer all the obstacles in his path.

THE MACHINE from Bent Image Lab on Vimeo.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fashion Friday: Book Cover Art

A blog post on Publishers Weekly got me thinking about the importance of good cover art, so I thought I'd assemble some of my least favourites. Maybe next week I'll actually pick some good ones, but these are way more fun.

Now, the moment you've surely scrolled past my intro for, thus ignoring my hard work. The top (or bottom) 5 worst covers.

These first two represent the art movement I like to call "Photoshop Diarrhoea", sharks, dogs and flamingoes, nothing is safe! If you can find a picture of it, just paste it in there, the more the merrier!

There is no shortage of bad cover art in old SF and Fantasy. This one pretty much sums it up. Green men in green spacesuits travel in their green UFO to visit the floating giant blue cat-head people. I don't even want to get in to the problems with the title. I have no idea what the book is about, and I'm a bit scared to find out.

I think this is meant to be erotica for retirees. The grin on grandpa's face is just... disturbing.

Last, the classic when it comes to bad title decisions. No comment necessary.

Bonus! A sixth bad cover! Do I deliver the goods or what. The possible captions here are endless, create your own and leave it in the comments. I'll post the best next week.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Writing, Titles and Mind Space

As I've discussed before, I started on my latest manuscript with the intent to keep it dark and gritty. The actual Industrial Revolution was not a very pretty time for most people. Well, it's really starting to take shape now. I'm 45 pages into the first draft and I know where things are going. The path is a little fuzzy in parts, but I know how the novel ends now.

I am finding it much harder to write than my previous novels though. For those I set a quota of 2,000 words a day, and almost never failed to hit that mark. For this one I'm lucky to get 1,000 words a day. Partly because it is more closely related to our own history, and I have to pause quite often to research bits of information. Was the catalpa tree in front of St. James Church on Piccidilly around in 1911? I looked up pictures of the church, but it took me nearly a half hour to find out if the tree had been there when Robert Bexley visited there in 1911. Apparently not, one source said 'around 1900' whereas another said 1929, the latter seemed more accurate. Maybe that's just a boring detail, but I find that getting the little things right lends an air of authenticity (although I no doubt have made mistakes and will be properly strung up by the history buffs when the book is released). The other reason why the going has been slow is that it's hard, putting myself in Robert's shoes. Things pick up for him later, but at this point his life really sucks, and I have to be right there in my head for it to strike the right emotional tone.

Well, with any luck I'll be done the first draft before the end of December.

The other thing this novel has been giving me difficulty with is the title. For my last two I had titles fairly early on that sucked, but I could leave them alone, later as the manuscript evolved the right title just came to me and I'm happy with how they came out. With this one it's like a scab I can't stop picking at. So far it's been, "Dark Mechanics", "Dark Machinations", "Under an Iron Moon", "Heart of Iron", and "Perpetual Motion". None of which works, or makes particular sense. I'm tempted to change it again, this time to, "Ghost in the Machine", but that's too close to "Ghost in the Shell".

Anyhow, that's my progress for the past two weeks. 45 pages down, another 250 or so to go.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Wood

I love some good woodworking. Nothing better to offset the cold technical metal components than some naturally beautiful wooden parts. You don't have to be a woodworking genius either, as shown below a simple block of wood (and a clever imagination) can turn your iPhone dock into a work of art.

This desk lamp is far more complicated, and maybe it could work with brass, or other materials, but the wood gives the mechanical a natural, graceful feel.

Finally, I'm sure this Christmas gift will be a hit. Puzzle boxes are awesome in general, but I only dream of having the skills to make something like this. Truly a work of art.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Absurdity

It takes a lot of imagination to come up with something pleasingly absurd, I mean absurd enough to be interesting, eye-catching, without being so absurd it's just silly or stupid. That fine area in between is populated by some of the most interesting things in the world.

Lisa Black and her Steampunk Taxidermy fits the bill in my mind. That's all we need, cyber-zombie-bambi. Crossing three genres at once.

Of course you don't have to try to be absurd, magazines like Popular Science and Science and Invention tried their best to actually predict the future. It's only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see how truly loopy some of the ideas presented there were.

I'll leave you with this important public service message, you know, just in case.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Raveonettes - Heart of Stone

Great animated, Steampunk-themed music video. (click on the blue-outlined thumbnail to play)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fashion Friday: Where do I Find Cool Parts?

I see this question a lot on Steampunk forums. Partly the answer depends on how much you want to buy. If you're planning on starting an Etsy shop, or just want to have tons of bits, your local auctioneer may be a great place to start. They often have boxes of antique clocks, old machinery, tools etc. Just be sure to check out the kind of auction you're going to. Many auction houses list their upcoming auctions online, so check there first.

For smaller purchases, try estate and garage sales, try to imagine what's inside the items you're looking at, because the best (and cheapest) gears are often hidden away, and the owner may get upset if you go around smashing their antique clock collection open before buying them.

If you have a little more money, or you don't like the random nature of the above suggestions, try Etsy or Ebay. Things are more expensive there, but you can browse until you find the things you need.

Last, and cheapest of all, ask to poke around your parent's or grandparent's basement. Often they'll store things away for decades without any real plan for the items. You can find some amazing things to take home for the price of a little wheedling. They may even throw in a hot meal!

I love searching through this stuff, everything I find gives me ideas, and has me wishing I had more time and money to spend on crafting. If you've created something recently, or you'd like to share your own tips for finding parts, please comment.

Obvious to you

This one is for all the frustrated creative minds out there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dark Steampunk

I've always preferred dark, edgy fiction. Partly it just seems more realistic to me. If you take the kinds of risks associated with nearly any Fantasy or Action/Adventure series the odds are friends are going to be badly hurt or die.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for good triumphing over evil in the end, I just think too many authors take the easy road to that end, they coddle their characters too much. I don't think of myself as sadistic towards my characters, but I do want them to suffer, so that their eventual triumph is all the more poignant.

That is why I'm drawn to dystopian societies I suppose. That and it just seems fitting to me that Steampunk should be presented in a hard-edged fashion. After all, wasn't the Industrial Revolution one of the worst times in the history of man to be alive? Unless you were among the lucky few who owned the factories that is. If you were unlucky you could be apprenticed to a chimney sweep at age six, and if you survived the long hours of torturous climbing (often encouraged to greater speed by the master sweep literally lighting a fire under your ass), you'd most likely die in your teens or twenties from 'soot wart' an especially aggressive form of cancer caused by the coal tar they were exposed to twelve hours a day.

In other words, life was like a troll, short, brutal and ugly. Perfect for writing good fiction.

As I wait for responses from the publishers my agent has sent my manuscript to I'm contemplating writing a completely different sort of steampunk novel. The year is 1912 and the Industrial Revolution is going much better than anticipated. Already machines have grown so efficient that the work-force required to run a factory has been reduced by a factor of twenty. Men who were merely wealthy a dozen years before are now sultans of once unimaginable wealth. Hiring a few hundred men for a private security force to prevent sabotage beats keeping on thousands of vermin-ridden, ever-complaining peasants.

Enter Robert Bexley, young scion of the Bexley dynasty, proud, arrogant and lazy. He helps the wrong lady in distress and finds himself on the other side of the law for the first time in his life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday Inspiration: The Universe

Sorry this is a day late, long weekend for Turkey Day here in Canada.

I am constantly in awe of the Universe. The incomprehensible enormity of it all, as Carl Sagan used to say biiillions and biillions... A billion doesn't really mean anything to me though. 1/7th of the population of Earth, grains of sand on a beach, whatever your comparison, it's just too large a number to grasp. Then to think there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, most of them with hundreds of billions of stars. Numbers that high cease to have meaning that a human brain can properly understand. Here are some pictures I like to look at to help me wrap my brain around the subject.

This is Galaxy Messier - 101, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy. It has around 100 billion stars, which means it's about average-sized as far as galaxies go (they range from around 10 million to 100 trillion stars).

This is the Hubble Deep Field picture. It shows approximately 3,000 galaxies, of an estimated total of 170 billion galaxies in the observable Universe.

What inspires you? I'd love to hear your thoughts, or suggestions for future Monday Inspiration posts.