Friday, January 28, 2011

The Progress Bar 4

Four weeks I have been keeping track here. The manuscript has gone from a measly 9,840 words to 56,265, long enough to fit the guidelines for young-adult literature. Another 10-15k and the first draft will be almost done, I plan to backfill a little in some areas that need it, which will likely bring the total to 75,000 or so.

This week Konrad and Zylphia were doing their best to blend in with high society, thus the masquerade mask. The mask symbolizes the turning point to the final conflict, where every moment in the book starts to get more intense than the last. It is not looking good for our heroes at the moment, the shit just hit the fan and things are getting messy.

One of our heroic friends will die the next time I write, others may soon follow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Close Calls

Both today and yesterday I have been struggling to make my 2,000 words. Yesterday I had 2,003 and today I just 2,240 at 9pm. I am transitioning between acts two and three and realizing how many loose ends I have to tie in. It all has to be woven together to run smoothly and each of the threads must come to a satisfying end.

I am also wrestling with the idea of killing off some of the lead characters. I think at least one has got to go, to drive it home that this is serious business. Unfortunately it will have to be one of my favourite characters, I keep thinking that if I have a sequel I'd love to have that person around, because I really enjoy the element that they bring. Even the villain has grown on me, I feel like I want to explore his character more, perhaps I will have to go back and backfill a few more chapters from his POV.

I am well past 50,000 words, and it looks, right now, as if the total manuscript will weigh in around the 70-75k range. Which should work pretty well for a Young Adult novel. Recommended length for YA is 40-80k. For those of you who do not write and need a frame of reference, a normal paperback has about 250 words per page, or 400 pages to a 100k manuscript.

With any luck I can have copies with beta-readers before the end of next month.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some Things I have Learned While Writing this Book

- Franz II of the Holy Roman Empire is the only man in history to be Emperor of two different states. He was the last Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and he founded the Austrian Empire as Franz I several years before the HRE's armies were crushed by Napoleon's forces crushed the HRE's armies thus ending the HRE. In German he is called the Doppelkaiser.

- Velocipedes, were the earliest form of bicycle with pedals, they became a popular means of transport in the late 1860's. They were similar to the modern-day tricycle in that the pedal was solidly affixed to the front wheel, but had two wheels of similar size. Later, to take advantage of the higher mechanical ratio of a large front wheel, penny farthings were invented.

- The Besler Steam Aeroplane flew twice on April 12, 1933. It performed as well as a gasoline driven equivalent. Boeing bought the patents and spent three years working on a steam aeroplane project but it was never shown to be more practical than an internal combustion engine. The steam engine was much quieter than a conventional aeroplane engine, so much so that observers on the ground could hear the pilot calling to them on low-flying passes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Cast, Part II

Doctor Carson

Doctor Carson is Konrad's mentor for a while. He was a member of the Brotherhood of Aether during the Great Rift. Like a hundred or so fellow brothers, Doctor Carson was caught between Paris and London during the aetherstorm which followed the rift. Unlike other people and animals caught in the aetherstorm the brothers knew how to sense and manipulate the force of aether, so naturally they tried to take advantage of the sudden surge, but for them it was like trying to wrestle a hurricane, the forces were beyond their control and warped them into hideous, malformed giants.

Doctor Carson is three metres (nine and a half feet) tall. The picture above is as close a representation to the picture I have in my head as I could find.

For nearly a hundred years he has lived as a hermit. His only pleasures in life are collecting books and hoping, one day, to have the chance to teach an eager young pupil again. The Doctor is kind, pedantic and very long winded once he starts into a scholarly lecture. He has amassed the largest library currently in existence, when humanity took to the skies they could only take a fraction of their books with them.

If he could have one wish, it would not be to fix his warped body, he has grown accustomed to the way he looks over the years, it would be to have a school full of bright young students.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Videos

Here are a few steampunk animated films I enjoy. I have been an animator for over ten years so naturally I have a soft spot.

First up, The Invention of Love, amazing visual style, steampunk silhouette animation.

Next, an ad for Terry Gilliam's, 1884's Yesterday's Future.

And finally, the first reminded me of Michel Ocelot, an amazing French animator. This is one of his first works, which just happens to have a steampunk vibe.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Progress Bar 3

The end is in sight! It's almost scary, 44,203 words in and I am ready to begin the transition to act three. Just one more major conflict to get out of the way and I begin to ratchet things up, a step at a time to the climactic ending. With luck and a lot more hard work I can switch to my editing hat in three more weeks.

I had a surprise while writing this week. I'd planned out how a character would react in a situation which I knew was coming, but when I was actually writing in the moment, they exhibited a will of their own and refused to follow directions. If I hadn't heard from several sources that this kind of independent spirit was common, and in fact sought out by many authors in their characters I would be concerned. As it is I am happy, they have minds of their own and will behave in character, even when I try to push them in another direction.

The nice thing is, it doesn't even hurt the plot, if anything it makes things more interesting.

I had a major plot meltdown this week. Thinking back over what I'd written I began to feel that the manuscript had gone off the rails. It wasn't that it was bad per se, just the events were not relevant in the larger scheme of things. As always seems to happen with me I got frustrated, thought I would have to make cuts to bring things back on track, sat down and had a good long think over things and realized there was a simple and elegant answer which brought the larger plot back into focus during these sub-plots and introduced a new element to the larger plot which helped me setting up the transition to act 3.

I am burned out on writing though, I struggled to get 2,000 words today. I'm glad it's the weekend.

Oh, I almost forgot, one more bit of book news. I have decided to trim and edit an excerpt from the novel to make it an effective short-story for submission. We'll see how that goes, I have never tried to get a short published before.

And...the lady riding the ostrich? All will be revealed...or not.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Steampunk Fashion

One of the things that makes steampunk different from other genres of fiction is the diversity of arts people use to explore steampunk. Yes, some people dress as Gandalf or Darth Vader, but those are not the norm and they are merely copying images which have been given to them. In fact, steampunk is not really a genre, in a sense it is an art movement that crosses boundaries, unlike anything I can think of which came before.

Steampunk fashion is all about finding your own path. The variety of styles is as varied as the people who enjoy steampunk.

There is the punk-rock steampunk look.

To the more demure and traditional Victorian era garb.

To the decidedly more, "out there" retro-science fiction looks.

There is a look to suit anyone. And, unlike your Darth Vader helmet, much of it can be worn outside of a convention setting without attracting undue attention. Well, undue negative attention anyhow, it's hard to imagine anyone failing to notice that first one.

I have added a link to the links bar where you can find all the above pictures and more, take a trip over to steampunk fashion and have a look for yourself!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


"People just don't think of writing seriously. If I had been going off to teach all day, it would have been different. They wouldn't interrupt your work if you were employed at a grocery store. That's considered serious business. It's because you work at home. People think they can interrupt writing." -Jessamyn West

I have been working up a storm lately. Today I wrote over 3,300 words, breezing through what I thought would be one of the toughest parts of the book from an artistic standpoint without difficulty in the process. I feel that I am in the groove, so to speak.

But that comes at a price. There is a psychological term, 'flow', which is what they use to describe a state where the participant is completely absorbed in their work. Outside stimuli dim and the worker develops a kind of tunnel vision. I get that a lot these days and it's great from a writing standpoint, but I'm completely useless at the end of the day. My brain is on a different plane of existence.

The upshot of which is, I forgot my son's after-school class today. I was fully aware and conscious that it was happening, I made plans, and I was ready. I even looked at the clock to be sure I wasn't late but somehow the numbers didn't register properly. By the time I realized my mistake it was far too late.

Hopefully the book sells well and makes up for my absent-mindedness.

Oh, and the quote that I led in with. I'm going to have that inscribed on a brass plaque to place on my writing room door. When I have the money for brass plaques and doors and a writing room. In the meantime I'll just think it really hard at anyone who interrupts me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Cast, Part I

Each Monday I'd like to share a few of the characters I have created for my book. I will work my way from the more peripheral characters to the protagonist and antagonist, starting with, Grover and Tinibu:

Grover is the first friend Konrad makes on the airship Noviy Kharkov. He is a pilot, assistant mechanic, fabricator and scrounger for Wing Three.
Short in stature, but long on mouth, Grover is friendly, outgoing and quick with a joke. He has a near total disrespect for all authority except for Zylphia's. Grover has the face of a weasel and the heart of a lion. Always the first to jump into (or instigate) a brawl, he is what we might call an adrenalin junkie in modern parlance.

Tinibu and Grover are best friends, in spite of the fact that they seemingly have nothing in common. Tinibu is a dedicated family man, carefully hoarding his pay to bring home to his wife and kids in the Azores. He is African, and one of the biggest and brawniest men on the Kharkov.
Where Grover is talkative, Tinibu rarely says anything unless it is necessary. He has a calm and steady presence which soothes the irrepressible Grover.
Tinibu is the Wing mechanic, and when Konrad joins the team the second best pilot (after Zylphia).

Both men think of themselves as Zylphia's older brothers and wouldn't hesitate to protect her, if she ever needed protecting.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Progress Bar 2

Total word count 31,744

Two weeks in and I am still holding. I have not had a single day below 2,000 words and I even hit 3,300 on Thursday. It seems counter-intuitive but I find that the days where I have the greatest output are also the days where the writing works the best. Perhaps the output is high because the writing is going so well.

I feel like I've hit my stride. I think my first 10,000 words will need a re-draft before I edit, I didn't have the proper feel for the voice and the characters, not like I do now at any rate.

This week:

Konrad acquired the beginnings of an education, thanks to the tutelage of Doctor Carson.

He realized that running away would not solve his problems, and has decided to be proactive, if only for purely selfish reasons (he is a bit of a reluctant hero).

Konrad's love interest, Zylphia, has been introduced. I love her name, I found it while searching through nineteenth century English names. She is super pissed off at Konrad at the moment (for no fault of his) but she'll come around in time.

He also has regular friends and a proper set of clothes for the first time in his life.

Konrad has learned to fly, and he's discovered he has a true talent for it. It seems that he has found his niche, a place in the world where he can be truly happy. If he can ever get Zylphia to stop hating him life would be perfect as far as he's concerned. Alas, I'm a cruel author and will soon have to crush his dreams.

I am contemplating titles. "Going Down", aside from being a sexual term that I do not especially want this book to be associated with, is not a terribly inspiring title. The others I have come up with are unsatisfactory so far. "Ather Earth" does not roll off the tongue and really says nothing. "City in the Sky" is equally vague. I need something catchy, I think I'd like to work 'aether' in there somewhere.... I'll be sure to mention it here if I come up with anything good.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Time, Space and Aether

When I started writing my current book I hadn't planned on mentioning aether. When I started to get into the physics of how things work, or, wouldn't work work, for my story without some bending of the rules of physics, I realized I needed a pseudo-scientific explanation. Naturally aether fit the bill.

Rather than explain it twice I will simply steal some of Doctor Carson's lecture on the subject of aether from my book. Please keep in mind this is first draft material.

"Aether is the stuff between time. That is to say, the Universe travels through time. It is constantly moving through time, like a fish in the ocean. In front, and behind the fish is water, but in front and behind the Universe is aether. The ancient Greeks were the first to hypothesize the existence of aether but the first proof of its existence was only given in the mid fifteenth century. It took so long to find because, naturally we can only observe things in our own time, and aether is every time and everywhere but where we can observe. A group of alchemists in 1456 found that when a person died there was a creative force unleashed into our world. The hypothesis was that, as the soul left our sphere of existence it slipped through to the aether all around us, as it did there was a small rift which allowed a burst of aether into our time. At first all these alchemists could do with the energy was create a small burst of light and heat, which lasted for less than a second, but over time as understanding grew properly trained people began to channel that creative force more effectively.
"The most popular theory around the turn of the nineteenth century was that aether was the tool by which God created the universe. We had learned to use it to create grand machines, harder metals, doctors could use aether to heal the sick and some were even using it to create new breeds of animals and plants."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Steam Guns

I have invented steam guns in my head, which I translated to paper but due to safety and practical reasons I have no intention of building in the real world. In the world I have created they are effective weapons but the man-portable variety, with a backpack boiler are only good for short range pummelling attacks. They can break bone but rarely penetrate the skin.

Today I thought I would look to see if anyone else had built a steam powered gun, to nobody's surprise, Adam and Jamie of Mythbusters beat me to it.

They use a different method than I had planned out but the result is about the same, a quick-firing inaccurate semi-lethal weapon.

The video below shows a steam cannon with a barrel being fired, despite the fact that it's a simple garage-built gun it obviously has some power.

If the two could be combined then you might really have something, I think the confederate system they copied on Mythbusters was highly flawed in the way it flung the balls out. A system with a barrel is necessary for any kind of power or accuracy, but I do like the gravity feed system they used. Having watched these two videos I have to say I think my design would be feasible and it overcomes the shortcomings of each design (Mythbusters lack of reliability and massive size, the Archimedes style cannon's unpredictable timing and slow firing rate). I almost wish I had a workshop big enough to build one.

Just for fun, here are Adam and Jamie again, this is a short video of a household water heater with all the safeties disabled.

Steam rocket! That's one of my favourite bits of video from all the Mythbusters episodes I've seen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is one of those sites that keeps turning up in my research. They have gathered over 33,000 books with expired copyrights, and offer them all as free downloads. This means that they, or anyone else, is free to distribute those works however they want, nobody owns the rights.

If you have an e-book reader or you read on your computer I highly recommend checking the site out. They have authors like Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and many others in e-reader compatible formats, and in some cases audio book as well.

Many of the technical drawings I've used in creating the backdrop and the headers for this blog also came from Project Gutenberg.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Steam Mech Duel

This is a great steampunk animation. It's a few years old but still holds up really well. I would love to see a feature film set in this world. If you haven't seen it before it's well worth watching.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Progress Bar

I plan to make a status update on my writing progress every week. I believe, given how much plot I have completed and how much is left to go that the final manuscript will weigh-in at approximately 75,000 - 100,000 words, which should translate to 250-300 pages in paperback.

This was the first week I've had without Christmas or family obligations to interfere so I am hoping I can set this as my benchmark. As I started work on Tuesday I was at the 9,840 word mark, my daughter was home sick on Tuesday so I had a bit of a rough start but nonetheless managed well over my 2,000 words a day pledge. I've picked up an extra thousand words or so to end the week at 18,455. Seven or eight more weeks like this one and I will be done the first draft.

Events of note thus far.

Approximately a million people have died, although most of them in the prologue.

Konrad has been outcast from two societies, and at age 18 is currently learning how to read and write. He has been in three fights, burned twice, shot once with an arrow, lost his mother to a quirk of the first society that cast him out and his father to the violence of the second society to cast him out.

The real meat of the story has been revealed, the quest which our hero must complete. Although I must admit, at this point he's more reluctant than I'd expected. He's flat out refusing to contemplate taking on the mantle of hero at this point, but hopefully with some education he'll come around.

That's it for this week. I probably won't provide many details about the book as it goes on, there will be more twists and turns and I'd hate to give anything away. Thanks for reading.

Oh, and by the way, the hideously ugly picture I used as a header for this post is from the book Konrad is using to learn his ABCs. If you're curious what an alphabet looked like in 1861 have a peek at the wikipedia page.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Power of Steam

Despite all the technological advancements over the past hundred years our world is still powered by steam. Most electricity is steam generated, the nuclear reactors on advanced subs and aircraft carriers generate power using steam. The only reason we use internal combustion engines at all is that oil is so cheap and readily available. If we had no fossil fuels we would likely be driving steam powered cars and flying in steam powered aircraft today.

I have read book critiques which called steampunk novels childish because they expected the reader to believe that advanced war-machines could be steam-powered. I think the problem is that the critic is so ignorant that he really does not know how effective steam power is.

If there was a source of heat which was cheap and plentiful but ineffective for internal combustion engines we would switch to it over the next few decades and internal combustion engines would soon be museum pieces.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Steam Punk and Other Fun Steam Projects

Happy New Year, here's a few steam power videos, first, real Steam Punk.

A very cool remote controlled steam tank.

And last, some historic footage of the first piloted steam powered aeroplane.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


For those who do not write novels, querying is sort of like applying for a job, it is the process by which you sell a novel (at least the first one). The normal process is, you submit a specially formatted letter which explains in general terms the content of the book, often it is accompanied by a few pages of the manuscript. That is sent to agents and publishers. If any of them are interested they will normally request a 'partial' which can be anything from 10 - 50 pages. If they like that they will request the 'full'. Then they decide. With any given agent or publisher the process can take several weeks to half a year.

Querying is hard. It's soul crushing and lonely. Weeks and months can go by with nothing but a stream of form-letter rejections. Some places do offer comfort though, absolutewrite has a great thread in the Rejection and Dejection forum called "The Daily Rejection" where people go to share their rejections and lack of responses. It's quite comforting to know you're not the only one.

My last novel ended with a prominent agent loving the partial, requesting the full with high hopes (she said she'd "love to read the full manuscript"). Then, ultimately she gave it a pass, saying the writing was of the calibre she'd expect in a client but the book wasn't unique enough to stand out in the marketplace.

The whole experience, from first query to last took about eight months. I revised the book twice with massive overhauls and ultimately it fell a bit short. the end, someone told me my writing, my voice and all were not only good they were great! In spite of the fact it was all a failure I managed to pull a positive out of it. My next book will not get lost on a shelf of similar titles. It may have the opposite problem of being too out there but I doubt it. Far from being a downer I found the final rejection on my previous novel all the more reason to kick things into another gear.