A Vignette from the Costellos

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just wrote to relax with characters I know.

This was the result.

Victorian Steampunk THE BRASS BEE Pill Case Or Trinket Box http://www.etsy.com/listing/51310832/victorian-steampunk-the-brass-bee-pill:

She’d written three times in as many days.

Gabiee twisted the letter between her finger and thumb until it had rolled into a tube she’d easily hide up her sleeve.

Asif on cue – and an ominous cue at that – the grandfather clock in the atrium struck. She unearthed the chain from around her neck – from it dangled a pocket-watch, battered but carefully strung. A gift from her husband, and from his father to him. Seven exactly. Home-coming, in so many words.

“What is it that gentleman normally say when they return from the town?” echoed a voice through the atrium.

“Friedrich,” she called. They’d recently okayed a renovation of the blue room into the atrium and Gabiee’s voice travelled even when she couldn’t move more than a waddle.

Cara Spousa,” he boomed, storming through the open-plan house as he did.

Gabiee swallowed. A moment later, her husband swanned into the blue room, and Gabiee collapsed onto the chair.  The letter slipped into her silk sleeve.

“You’re home—”

“In time. For once,” he interrupted with more than a hint of condescension.

A smile slipped her over lips. Gabiee coyly murmured. “I was not about to say that.”

His eyes floated across the desk. Papers – his, mostly – lay adrift the desk, with the stray book or two she’d sneaked it when borrowing the firm back of his arm-chair, and curls of parchment. One had been torn, by her own fingers mere minutes ago, and it was the more restless of the papers.

The tear lay like a crack across the wood. He’d notice it.

Gabiee edged closer to her husband, and skimmed a hand over his chest.

“But you are home, sir, and that I appreciate. I was about to give order for dinner, though I might craft of my own a dessert for us. You would like that?”

Their eyes met, strong, piercing, warm. Oh, so warm that Gabiee filled with tingles from her toes to the tips of her ears. Before any thought had even verbally stretched between them, Freidrich leant in. His hot breath, tinged with tobacco, danced over her lips, before it was joined by his tongue and lips. Gabiee stretched onto her tiptoes and kissed him in return. This was almost relief.

The kiss had only left her lips when Freidrich’s expression darkened. His hand scrabbled, searched up and down her arm. Then, he stopped.

Gabiee’s cheeks burnt. She prayed he’d decided she had nothing to hide, rather than that he’d uncovered exactly what it was.

Their fingers met. Gabiee thought he was pulling away—but the rough bristle of parchment between her middle and index finger made her blood freeze for a second. An ache ripplied through her belly, and Gabiee drew her eyes up her husband.

“Gabiee…” His tone had already darkened, his jaw had already hardened. “Give me the letter, wife.”

She squeezed her chubby fingers closer over the slip of a message. He’d prise it from her without any effort – so why did he ask?

Gabiee protested, “It’s not her fau—”

“Damn it, stop defending her. Give me the letter.”

Wilting, Gabiee released the scroll from her fingertips, and folded her arms over her distended belly. He might demand words of her, but he’d never demand anything of her child.

A quick Google search found me an image of Gabiee’s dress. I like it.

As proof of my lack of time, I haven’t actually had the time to finish off this extract, so I will get back to this vignette next week. Have a lovely rest of your weekend. 🙂

Girardoni Kata – A Steampunk Martial Art

An interesting article about how writers can and must fit their writing, for instance fight scenes, to their created technology. Here, specifically, Steampunk martial arts.

Nick Travers

Since posting my article on the Girardoni gun, ‘Steampunk Warfare – The Real Deal’, I find myself inventing a whole new martial art to accommodate the weapon.

As a writer, I love the way a simple decision can drive the development of a whole story world. In this case it is the adoption of a certain gun mechanism, but it could equally be a political, institutional, religious, technological, hierarchical or social idea, just as our response to these things change the real world around us.

A story world must hang together logically for the whole thing to feel real to the reader. To give your story an ‘other-worldy’ feel, just turn a social norm on its head and follow the logical consequences of that decision.

The other day, I took the family to see the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, UK. The Mary Rose is a Tudor warship…

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Steampunk Spotlight: Folly Blaine

Steampunk Spotlight is back, woop! *begins waltzing* Today, I’m interviewing Ms. Folly Blaine, a cheerful writer of Lovecraftian short fiction, fantasy and horror. To view her entire bibliography, see her website – her latest short story is a steampunk piece about steampunk shape-shifters in the Gears and Growls Anthology.

Welcome to the blog, Folly. 🙂 What inspired you to start writing Steampunk-esque short stories?

I love the whole Steampunk aesthetic–the costumes, the Victorian setting, the whole alternate history aspect. And I love that Steampunk encourages its fans to interact in the real world and create amazing costumes and contraptions.  Specifically for my short story though, “The Man at the End of the Chain” that just came out in the anthology, Beast Within 4: Gears and Growls, I was also inspired by the anthology’s theme: shapeshifters with Steampunk technology incorporated into their bodies. That was a fun challenge, and it let me go a little dark with the subject matter, which I like.

You have written a lot of horror fiction. Does your writing process differ between writing Steampunk and the horror genre?

Mostly I just try to tell an interesting story. But in terms of process, horror is about the mood of the piece, the sense of dread I want the reader to experience. Steampunk focuses on the setting and historical perspective. So the main difference for me between writing Steampunk and horror, is that writing horror is about pacing and mood, while Steampunk requires more research, more historical context. I particularly recommend Henry Mayhew’s excellent book, London Labour and the London Poor, as a primary source of information.

Alt-history fantasy has expanded into a whole umbrella of genres, including Dieselpunk and Atompunk. What, in your opinion, is a vital attribute of a Steampunk setting or story?

All of these genres are about asking what if—what if this event or events had gone just a little differently–and it’s so satisfying to ask that question. For me, Steampunk is specifically about expanding the genre of Victorian-era science-fiction, and exploring a vision of what the world could have been technology-wise, if say, Charles Babbage’s steam-powered computer (Analytical Engine) had been built 170 years ago. Also, I think it’s important not to limit the “what if’s” to a Victorian England perspective, but taking the whole globe into consideration. 

How did you go about building your Steampunk world? Were any aspects stronger/more well formed than others when you started writing?

For “The Man at the End of the Chain,” I began with the single image of an organ grinder and built the story from there. My story is about a were-capuchin, basically a woman that can shift into a monkey and is forced to work for an organ grinder in her capuchin form, and based on that initial image, I did a lot of research about organ grinders during the time period, as well as therianthropy – shapeshifting ability. I was interested in playing with the idea of a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and using that to explain the main character’s shapeshifting ability, and I was also interested in cemeteries. So based on all of those images, I did some research, connected the dots, and out came this story.

A capuchin monkey. Cute, eh?

 

That’s amazing! I love how much thought you’ve put into even a short story. Do you participate in other parts of the Steampunk genre/lifestyle or only the writing side of Steampunk? 

I’ve attended an annual Steampunk convention called SteamCon in Bellevue, WA, which I enjoyed a lot. Mostly though I’ve focused on the writing side. I’ve never been great at assembling the amazing costumes others put together, but I’m happy to admire their creativity from afar.

Hehe, me neither. Any advice to readers and/or writers just getting into the Steampunk genre?

For writers, it’s a good idea to read inside and outside of the genre. Check out the Mayhew book I mentioned earlier for historical context. Look for critique groups or beta readers who can give you honest feedback. For readers, my introduction to the genre was The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer and S.J. Chambers, and that was helpful for giving me a high-level understanding of the genre. Most recently I’ve enjoyed reading the Steampunk webcomic, Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

Readers, I’d recommend the comic, too. Folly, what’s the future for your writing? What are your current goals?

I attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, WA, over the summer and came out of that experience with six new short stories. I need to finish revising them and send those out. Lately, I’ve been narrating and mastering audiobooks for other people, which has been pretty rewarding.  And I just had another short story come out, “Arkquarium,” in a Lovecraft-inspired anthology called That Ain’t Right: Historical Accounts of the Miskatonic Valley. That story takes places in modern times and is about a strange creature that wreaks havoc at the Arkham Arquarium.

Tell us something interesting about your current Steampunk-y WIP. 

I’m working on a short story about a female mad scientist exiled to Prague in the late 1800s. Well, she doesn’t think of herself as mad, but there’s definitely something wrong with her. 

Ooh, thanks for joining me, Folly. These are great answers 🙂

Find Folly Blaine on Twitter. You can learn more about her on her blog about page, Maybe it was the Moonshine.

7 Quick Takes about Worldbuilding, Much Jazz, and Critiquing

Another Friday sharing our weeks at Conversion Diary.

7_quick_takes_sm1

~1~

If last week was busy, this week trumped it by tempting me with more things to do and threatening me with the compulsory works and such. My mini-project leader was stuck on the M4, so couldn’t make it to our 9am meeting and had to reschedule, so I had an extra hour of going into campus yesterday; in the same way, my physical list gains as much as I cross off every day.

~2~

Our second Swing Dance taster session went well, and there were many enthusiastic and friendly faces. A PhD archaeology student offered a few suggestions for society social ideas, too, such as a cocktail and mocktail, which, with my recent growing interest in the logistics of mixology, is something that we can definitely incorporate.

~3~

These couple of days, it’s been all about music for me. The Duke Ellington piece for the Uni chorus is going well, and I am personally enjoying it more than the other piece we’ve touched on – Elgar’s The Music Makers. I mean, yes, the Elgar is wonderful, melodic and graceful, but I’ve never had an interest in the style of Elgar’s compositions.

YouTube it. Most provide the full half-an-hour-long piece, so I’m not going to post it here.

~4~

In a similar vein: Jazz. A jazz and cocktail night was held at the union yesterday and the band blew me away with creativity and funk. I’m also going to a jazz night in town tonight. Because Friday.

AlexB_Jazz1
I had to zoom to get close enough to any sort of decent photo, so a massive apology for how rubbish this is. Also, the band were moving non-stop, as were my hands trembling, so that was against me, too.

~5~

Writing has been full of interestingness this week. Creative Writing sent me on a screenwriting prompt, which was, I think, successful (see Wednesday’s post). It has also sent me on thinking about the background and the world itself of WTCB, and I created a mindmap partly exploring the worldbuilding stories and vignettes, though it really lacks order at the moment.

WTCBbuilding1

~6~

Editing itself has been rather dull this week, though I’ve almost finished my CP’s first six chapters – a longer endeavour than really necessary – and I’m picking up steam again now that I dealt with a few of the supposed issues with my timetable I had this way.

~7~

Yes, my mind still writes despite me. It’s still bleeding the first draft of UTC, and I have very nearly planned what the ending is going to look like, word-wise. In this [short, since it’s quite an intimate scene and it’s not ready to share yet] extract, Laurie is reeling after Jess tells him she’s thinking of dropping out of uni. As the book is New Adult, I wanted to have the two of them dealing with very separate issues and making difficult decisions without their parents holding their hands, especially as part of the conflict is between the parental guardians of both. I also made rather the brave decision to make Laurie 21 instead of 20, as I know so many students here who took a year out, so his age also reflects the modernity and New Adultness of the fiction.

But he didn’t want her to leave – to throw away her degree and the friends she’d made during the year.

And to throw away her talent. She knew how to discern the eras of rocks and she had a knack for reading bones, particularly animal bones. Woman’s touch. She’d get a first if she carried on this way.

First in sex, too.

How CinemaSins Can Help Writers

Now, I know that CinemaSins exclusively pokes fun at filmography (they even have a little note on their intro screens saying that the books mean nothing), but their prodding and mocking of filmatic plot holes could be transferred to the unaware plot bunnies or weird deliberate twists of plot in fiction.

Whilst #3 came out recently (Jan ’14, anyway), I look to #2 of their Harry Potter series – since my father has also criticised, without seeing these sorts of things, the points like that of Dobby and clothes at 7.58. “Now these aren’t yours clothes, Dobby. These are for cleaning.” 😛

Personally, I like CinemaSins. I’m nodded along. I find these Sins amusing and so blunt. It’s not charm, but the points raised are points that, from an outside view, are incredibly truthful. When you think about it.

Following that, what do you think of JK’s lapse in explaining quite how the rules work in this case? I’m not saying that she didn’t think about what she was writing – she’s probably the queen of planning for years, and for that she is admirable – but there are times when one questions the devised systems. Eg. This wizard going around the web: no wand > super magic.

(And he’s multi-tasking)

Just yes. EVERYTHING YES. (I’d also like to give a huge thumbs up to the usernames of those Tumblrs ^.^)

Removing from these examples, we might look at the frankness with which CinemaSins treats whatever films they dissemble: they have ‘reader’s eyes’ and notice every sort of minute problem. This is what we need as writers – we appreciate the critiques rather than praise, because we can learn very little about improving our writing from abstract praise.

Everything can be improved.

For instance, “this is the luckiest and most convenient set of circumstances for these characters to defy death.” See, I wouldn’t want my own readers to be thinking that. Coincidence is the grim reaper to realistic plot.

Removing from these examples, we might look at the frankness with which CinemaSins treats whatever films they dissemble: they have ‘reader’s eyes’ and notice every sort of minute problem. This is what we need as writers – we appreciate the critiques rather than praise, because we can learn very little about improving our writing from abstract praise.

Everything can be improved.

For instance, “this is the luckiest and most convenient set of circumstances for these characters to defy death.” See, I wouldn’t want my own readers to be thinking that. Coincidence is the grim reaper to realistic plot.

Subtext from the movies.

I’ve spoken about using more subtext when writing novels before, but only recently did I once again come across a couple of posts about the constant inclusion of subtext and theme or extra-textual mysteries.

Have you ever heard of the Disney Show ‘Gravity Falls’? It’s new, but it’s pretty incredible in its little secrets that don’t necessary in the plot. Theories have set YouTube alight. You see, even the title sequence features backwards language suggestive of the ciphers that feature throughout the [first, so far] series. They tell us more about the characters than a casual observer might.

Okay, subtext isn’t so important, but I’m sure there are many writers who’d love to be able to weave in something more secretive than the straightforward plot; we want readers to spot the references – and I don’t [necessarily] mean pop-culture – and to find themselves in the midst of a story they weren’t quite expecting.

(I might add, just out of speculation, that the book the ‘science wizard’ above is reading could have been placed there as a nod or foreshadow towards book three’s time-travel. Probably unlikely – but it’s these kind of unconsci-textual blips I think more writers should slip into their scenes.)

That’s one of the reasons I like transforming my writing into scenes in my head. If your scene was visualised, what would be where? Would there be messages on the walls? Or clothes on the stairways? Maggots in the flowerbeds or in the pantry? I guess it’s contrary to the normal notion of writing – or the Chekhov’s Gun principle anyway – of only mentioning things that are important, but I, as a reader, like to know that the world into which I’m being coaxed has four walls, 3D, and not simply two.

Then again, one must remember that ‘important’ also relates to scene setting. Try:

“Alex walked into her uni room. Like all the other rooms, it had white walls, three grey shelves, a medium-sized bed, a small chest of three drawers next to a big wardrobe and a large white sink.”

To say that says nothing about the character. Nada. Because you’re just seeing any other room. What makes it mine? Try this, instead:

“Alex sighed as she shifted her bag onto the wardrobe-door-knob. If she’d leave it amongst the stray papers by the radiator, it would end up being holepunched along with the rest of the flat panes. She danced around the cake-tin – it had already rolled out of its place between the east wall and the stash of papers draped over the chest of drawers, even when the double-size of the wardrobe meant her furnishings shifted together more than in the neighbouring bedroom – and flung herself onto her bed. The pattern of Poppies sewn in her duvet bulged up, and Alex dived under the bedclothes, where she latched onto a bean-filled bag of faded orange.

‘Ah, Pumpkin, I had wondered where you’d got to…’”

Beanies_AlexBAlready from that, we can sense that I’m not the tidiest of room-keepers. And I have a fondness for stuffed toys. As a reader, I’d expect to get a similar feel of messiness from the rest of description of the room.

Anyway, it’s good to get a different perspective on these sorts of things, and CinemaSins is great at that, at spotting what a writer themselves might miss simply because of the written words not performed. We say it’s best to step away from a novel, but coming back is less talked about. How do we deal with looking at our mistakes so that they are easier to change?

Writers!

  • Don’t be so stubborn/biased to your worlds – at first, they will be flawed.
  • Use the concept of a humorous film critique (after all, humour makes everything better) to assess all parts of your stories: concept, realism, plot, characters, etc.
  • At times, I think it is useful to read your novel that second time as if you are studying it like a film adaptation: what doesn’t fit with the prior ideas/expectations in your mind? What seems to be missing or surplus in the scene? Is this character saying the wrong thing in a scene where they act the same as usual?
  • Sense! 😉

Just think about it from another medium for a moment. Whilst prose writing is the end, there’s sense in stretching away from writing and seeing a scene unfurling in duocolour.

TCWT: My Role in a Fictional World

tcwt-3[1]

This month’s Teens Can Write, Too! Blog chain prompt was an unusual one, though not one that hasn’t been considered by every person who ever loved reading:

Which fictional world would you most like to be a part of, and what role do you think you would fulfil within it? How would you make your living? Would you even survive? Don’t feel that you have to stick to jobs outlined canonically in the books – use your imagination about who else might exist in this society.

Now, this is a hard question for me to answer, simply because, though I love the worlds I have been introduced to, I’m ruthlessly traditional and passionately afraid of change. The five universities I chose to apply to were all within two hours’ range of my old house, less if one considers the train journey. It’s difficult for me to think of myself in any other world than England.

Firstly, I’m taking this prompt as ‘what sort of world?’ rather than ‘what sort of plot?’. As always, Christie’s 1930s England would be my favourite era into which to dive, but, of course, I’m used to seeing it through Poirot’s eyes, the private detective who lives at Whitehaven Mansions. Although the main characters of my novel A Game of Murder are servants, I don’t think I’d survive being on the other end of the class spectrum. Yeah, I’d quite like to be a waitress/barperson in a posh restaurant or a housemaid for a Lord and Lady in real life, in a fictitious imagining, I wouldn’t rise in the ‘30s.

So, I started considering where I could apply my patriotism and love of being in one, modern-day place at a time.

You know, I’d always believed I’d fit in at Hogwarts. Not in the “OMG, he’s the Chosen One” way, but in a make-do-and-mend way. It was never the magical powers for me; entertainment always came from the castle itself. Moving stairs and talking paintings? Yes, please! Following on from the sentiment Nevillegirl expressed in her own post, though: I’d be too old to be a student. And I’m not sure I’d want to be. I’d like the subjects I’ve already taken, and my own schooling was…interesting, to say the least. I love the idea of Hogwarts – I could choose my subjects from the range (mixing potions, making spells and studying runes? Again: yay!) – but my role would be something different.

Now, of course, I try and make this as close to my real life as possible. After all, if I ever crossed into the Wizarding World, I’d want to retain the ‘muggle’ parts of myself*. I’d definitely have gained Muggle Studies and Ancient Runes NEWTs; whilst Potions intrigues me, I don’t know if I’d be much good at it. Same with Transfiguration. AS Physics was fascinating and the practicals manageable, but the written exams swept the rug from under my feet. Assuming that Charms translates as English (it’s very wordy, after all!), I’d have an O in the OWL, but didn’t care to continue it.

There are so many different subjects that, as a ‘muggle’ (see asterisk point #1), I’d love to try or have tried at Hogwarts. Astrology was always my field in Physics, but I don’t know how useful that would be for my future as a witch. Maybe as an OWL but no further. Amusingly, when I won a prize for Religious Studies a few years ago, my father remarked that at his school he’d won the same prize – but back then it had been called Divination. I guess that would be my third NEWT*, then!

Trelawney would love me. I’d keep an open mind and be enthusiastic about every aspect of the course, though I suspect my skill would be in ‘sensing’ and prophecy-making, rather than the cards or the crystal ball.

But I digress. For her Harry Potter-themed eighteenth birthday last year, a friend of mine created a Witch card for me (along with home-made chocolate frogs. Luckily, they weren’t alive!). It reads:

A highly intellectual witch, Alex Brant worked with Hermione Granger to overcome prejudice within the wizarding community. She has also created many spells to help heal and cure certain magical injuries.

I feel I also ought to make an update to that, due to my recent uni exploits, I’ve another feather to my cap:

In 2013, she became the Social Secretary for the Reading Rocs* Quidditch team, the job of which includes encouraging wizards and witches, especially those from muggle households, to learn and play Quidditch from an early age.

Reading Rocs Quidditch Team

I also do some playing, as you may know. My main position is that of Chaser, and I can beat, though my aim can be off. I keep like Ron during his tryouts: by sheer luck, headsaves and the occasional confundus charm. I’ve tried seeking, but that takes endurance and a combination of good broom and fast flying, neither of which I have.

Have I rambled enough? I’d love to be a witch just to experience the way I could use my previous skills – and I’d get to stay in my home country, board a beautiful train (remind you of the Orient Express, anyone?) and explore a castle in one! I think I’d be in training at the current moment, maybe an apprentice to a creative, eccentric wizard, whilst keeping the Reading Rocs on their feet at the weekends.

Ollivander’s apprentice, anyone?

What about you? In what world would you find yourself best suited?

*And, just for the record, I don’t like that someone is either muggle or wizard. Surely there is magic within the readers of the books anyway? Surely we possess each a bit of every element? I know chemists who might as well have an O in Potions NEWTs.

*The number of NEWTs set to be taken is debated amongst fans. Whilst some people equate it to A Levels – as I have done, choosing only three to take the full way – some suggest that five is the correct average, as though an advanced muggle didn’t drop any. In that case, the five probably closest to my combined AS and A Levels would be: Ancient Runes (Latin), Divination (Religious Studies), Muggle Studies (Psychology…yeah, I know), Transfiguration (Physics) and Music (Theatre Studies. There is no dramatical Potter subject, so that’ll do.) I’d definitely be part of the frog choir.

*In case you didn’t know, a Roc is a mythical bird, rather like a large eagle with a sharper beak. Here’s what Wikipedia says it looks like:

Edward Julius Detmold49.jpg

Check out the remainder of the chain:

4th December ~ http://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/
5th December ~ http://deborahrocheleau.wordpress.com/
6th December ~ http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/
7th December ~ http://maralaurey.wordpress.com/
8th December ~ http://themagicviolinist.blogspot.co.uk/
9th December ~ http://oyeahwrite.wordpress.com/
10th December ~ http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com/
11th December ~ http://kirabudge.weebly.com/
12th December ~ http://www.brookeharrison.com/
13th December ~ http://nextpagebookreviews.blogspot.com/
14th December ~ http://susannahailenemartin.wordpress.com/ 
15th December ~ http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/
16th December ~ http://www.mirrormadeofwords.wordpress.com/
17th December ~ http://veewhoa.wordpress.com/
18th December ~ http://lilyjenness.blogspot.com/
19th December ~ http://wheatandwine.wordpress.com/
20th December ~ http://pleaseforgetmystory.wordpress.com/
21st December ~ http://anmksmeanderingmind.wordpress.com/
22nd December ~ https://missalexandrinabrant.wordpress.com/ <You are here>
23rd December ~ http://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/
24th December ~ http://miriamjoywrites.com/