Steampunk Revealed: Part III

Certainly steamers are not to be confused with Goths, the subculture that dresses in long black coats with buckles and chains, heavy spiked boots, black-dyed hair, and makeup of white 3 womenfoundation, heavy eyeliner, black fingernail polish, and unusual piercings. Perhaps misunderstood for their ghoulish appearance, goths scare the daylights out of non-goths. Goths are fascinated with horror, dark romance, the morbid, and the macabre.

Not so with the steamers who are interested in science and innovation, adventure and imagination—the future as envisioned from Victorian times. “Steamers,” or sometimes “steampunkers,” dream about and sometimes build their fantastical machines. If they don’t actually build them, artists draw and paint them. Hundreds of nonfiction titles exist about steampunk, and many more hundreds of novels and short story collections have been written to that theme, with at least five steampunk alphabet books for the kiddies. How would one explain the apple below to one’s four-year old?A is for Apple

Greyshade, a librarian by profession, goes on to say that today’s steampunk is not just Victorian although it’s generally Victorian “flavored.” Nor is it always about gadgets and goggles. According to him, these may only be clichés that writers use to produce bad books.

“Steampunk is definitely it’s own aesthetic,” he says, “with its own distinctive standards of beauty and value. It is the marriage of Victorian-era focus on manners, beauty and form with technology, Motorcyclegiven a fantastical twist of functionality and craftsmanship, with a firm grounding in community and environmental consciousness. It seeks to reconcile a modern industrial sensibility with optimism, beauty, imagination, sustainability, and even whimsy and humor, things often notably lacking from post-modern design.” (http://www.province-of-the-mind.com/steampunkphilosophy.html);” hence, the attraction to DIYers and makers.

At the FANS Conference in Dallas TX in July 2014 held in conjunction with AKON Anime Convention, a fan had this to say: “The “Punk” aspect of Steampunk infuses a healthy dose of anti-authoritarianism, rejection of patriarchy, eschewing rigid definitions and limitations imposed by culture. Defiantly individualistic, Punk gave rise to several expressions, ranging from music and fashion to technology, with the rise of the Cyberpunks, who took great delight in hacking and re-arranging computers and electronics. True to its Punk roots, Steampunk gleefully dissects the bikes at festpast, salvaging the useful and the beautiful, pushing metaphor into multiple dimensions and opening up new horizons of meaning, all-the-while thumbing their noses at mainstream suburban values.”

The fan continues, “The influence of each of these social and artistic movements is plainly evident in the far-flung manifestations of Steampunk – it’s all there: the love of handcrafted, well-designed art integrated into daily life, the respect for self-expression, beauty and workmanship, the love of technology and disregard for the lg car?rules and authority figures. Steampunk pushes on to include elements of ecology and permaculture, diversity and community-building.”

A fan of neither sci fi nor fantasy, I find I am not drawn to some of the steampunk literature after reading two steampunk short story anthologies. While the written words and plots are unique, thrilling, and mysterious, it is the visual representation that fully captivates my attention, in other words, the aesthetic—the films and the fashion. To that end, I embarked upon a movie marathon, loading my Netflix queue with films noted by aficionados to City of Lost Children posteractually be steampunk or whose elements are heavily steampunk-influenced. What a ride of discovery! Below are the movies I watched and loosely ranked in order of my understanding of steampunk plus my enjoyment of the films.

  1. The City of Lost Children, 1995
  2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1954
  3. Wild, Wild West, 1999
  4. Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004
  5. The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box, 2014
  6. Castle in the Sky, 1986
  7. Howl's posterSherlock Holmes, 2009
  8. The Time Machine, 1960
  9. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2003
  10. Five Weeks in a Balloon, 1962
  11. Hellboy, 2004
  12. The Extraordinary Voyages of Jules Verne, 2008
  13. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1989

These movies all contain steampunk elements of one kind or another: mad scientist or evil genius; zeppelins, armored submarines or street-worthy tanks; goggles or eyewear of some sort; mechanical tarantulas, birds, or other monsters; steam-powered wheelchairs, bicycles, trains, flying machines, or giant drills; floating castles, cities, or islands; underwater worlds; water wheels, enormous cogs and gears; fancy dress of the upper class League of Extrad. GentlemenVictorians or bare feet and rags of the lost or orphaned lower class children. Now, knowing a bit about steampunk, I found the films fascinating as I identified these special elements. However, I believe the movies would be quite entertaining and enjoyable without knowing a shred about steampunk— which I conjecture that describes 90% of the movie-going audiences.

Do you know more about steampunk than you ever did? Or, more than you ever wanted to know? Now it’s your turn to think about the genre. Write a 2500 word short story! Win a contest!

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Steampunk Revealed: Part II

It appears that steampunk has moved from the literary into films, clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, and rock bands. On www.steampunk-music.com, bands from The Aeronauts and The Clockwork Dolls to Pocketwatch and The Unextraordinary Gentlemen are listed, among hundreds. Associations, clubs, websites, and events are built around steampunk. Maker fairs and DIY (Do-It-Yourself) folks follow steampunk themes. Annual conventions (called cons) are held around the world from Boston MA and Kissimmee FL convention crowd Ito Galveston TX, to Minneapolis MN, San Diego CA and Portland OR, as well as Tokyo, Japan; Stade, Germany; and New South Wales Australia. There’s one down the road in January in Long Beach CA: Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium. In Surrey, Great Britain, there’s The Surrey Steampunk Convivial VI; the Alaska Steamposium Festival; and the Stonefield Wild West Steamposium Festival in Cassville, WI. There are hundreds more!

In 2010 and 2011, organizers in Santa Rosa CA conducted The Great West End and Railroad Square Handcar Regatta. Think: Renaissance Faire meets Mad Max meets Jane Austen, with Victorian ladies strolling the streets and fantastical steamer-constructed HR11announcement2handcars moving along the railroad tracks, the crowd cheering for their favorites. The closed off streets were filled with creatively designed booths of crafts and food, handmade steamer clothing and jewelry, and unidentifiable but apparently utilitarian geegaws. The Handcar Regatta was a welcome novelty and unusual spectacle for the uninformed, one that lasted but two years, perhaps due to the refurbishment of the tracks for the arrival of the Smart Train.

To my astonishment, I found that the ultimate crafter website Etsy has multiple pages of steampunk clothing, gear, home decor items, shoes, and paraphernalia that non-steamers DIYSteampunkGearsNecklace_Medium_ID-521640probably cannot even identify. (Go to www.etsy.com and search for steampunk clothing, jewelry, costumes, cosplay–costume play–etc.) Not only can one buy these items already made, but there are many DIY websites that provide directions on how to make these things. Having Stevie steampunk Irecently seen a poster of Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, I have decided that she might be considered steampunkish in her cape, boots, tinted glasses, and top hat with feathers.

Wild West TucsonRick Klaw, writing in Steampunk, edited by the Vandermeers, says the oldest movie with recognized steampunk elements is the French 14-minute animated short, “Le Voyage dans la Lune” (The Voyage to the Moon). That was back in 1902! So, does that prove that steampunk actually moved from films into books rather than the reverse? Since that little movie is so obscure, I would suggest that the novels and short stories came first.

One of the earliest modern movies often referenced as a precursor to steampunk is 20000leaguesposterDisney’s 1954 production of Jules Verne’s book “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” which takes place in 1868 Victorian seafaring times. Captain Nemo’s one-eyed sea monster is actually a beautifully polished bronze submarine steaming on and under the seas to thwart evil. In 1954, however, there was little steampunk as we’ve come to know it today, perhaps only cyberpunk or sci fi. But the submarine, outfitted with multitudes of gears and cogs, tubes and other gadgets, established itself as a model for the imaginative machinery to come in the next few decades.

It seems that steampunk, although it coalesced in the 1960s and 1970s, is not universally recognized or understood today, despite elements of it having appeared in literature and movies for years. It is not a way of life, a cult, a Krank dream stealerreligion, or a movement but perhaps a subculture of the merged literary genres of science fiction and fantasy. The website Rotten Tomatoes, a movie critiquing site, does not recognize steampunk. If you do a search on Netflix for steampunk movies, you get zero. The Internet movie database imdb.com (http://www.imdb.com/list/ls059908237/), does in fact have several articles on the genre. Also, if you Google “steampunk”, bingo! The list of books, movies, clothing and other accoutrements is endless.

I hope my blogs about Steampunk will inspire Redwood Writers’ members and others in the California Writers Club to submit pieces to the Steampunk Writing Contest that kicks off in May 2016. Stay tuned!

Part III: More about Steampunk books and movies.

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Steampunk Revealed: Part I

My writers’ group, Redwood Writers (a branch of the California Writers Club), is conducting a Steampunk writing contest this spring. What? Who? Never heard of it! Steampunk? That’s the inevitable reaction I get when I inform people about the contest.

Steam and punk: two nouns with no obvious association, conjoined to name a worldwide happening. I’ve been on a quest myself to better understand what it is. In the next several blogs, I shall provide a brief overview for the uninformed. Merriam-Webster says it is “science fiction dealing with 19th-century Car.jpegsocieties dominated by historical or imagined steam-powered technology.”

The Urban Dictionary goes further: “Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’ It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or Morelock Night.jpeghorror themes.” Steam-powered vehicles, clocks, zeppelins, mechanical limbs, and weapons are featured. Brown and bronze are the dominant colors.

James Blaylock, one of the original authors of steampunk, wrote in the Huffington Post January 17, 2013 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-p-blaylock/on-steampunk_b_2494561.html): “Literarily speaking, Steampunk refers to contemporarily written stories and novels that are set during the Victorian era. Such stories almost always owe a debt to Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, and they often involve Victorian science (which was conveniently imaginary much of the time) and the colorful trappings and sensibilities of that era. They’re often dark and dystopian in nature, although not always. Sometimes they’re mash-ups that involve space aliens or dinosaurs or zombies. In other words, Steampunk is difficult to define with any Zeppelin I.jpegparticularity, which is one of the reasons that I’m fond of writing it.”

In Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s anthology Steampunk II, author Gail Carriger says that she was wearing steampunk fashions years before “steampunk” existed. Calling herself a fashionista, she favors tweed jodhpurs, fancy vests, and ruffled Victorian silk blouses. She believes the attire is as vital to the steampunk movement as the literature. The clothing, not worn just at conventions, brings together the fans, the authors, and the makers. It is distinctive, recognizable, and makes a defining statement about the genre.

Steampunk couple.jpegThe Vandermeers, in their Steampunk II, claim that Michael Moorcock is the “true Godfather of modern steampunk.” Morcock is on every list of top steampunk authors. The term itself is attributed to science fiction author K.W. Jeter (Morlock Night, 1979 and Infernal Devises, 1987). He said: “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 [two sci fi authors], and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’ perhaps.” [Published in a letter to science fiction magazine Locus in April 1987.] Voilå, that was the inception of the Male Steampunker.jpegterm!

Scott Laming in www.abebooks.com says: “In 1990, steampunk was introduced to a wider audience with The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, in which the mechanical computer Charles Babbage theorized in 1822 was successfully built and led to the dawn of an Information Age in the late 19th century, rather than 100 years later. Other examples of technology mash-ups that might be classified as steampunk are spring-powered robots, 22nd century zeppelins, Edwardian atomic power or a steam-powered hovercraft.”

Writing on www.steampunkworkshop.com, Jonathan Greyshade contends that Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelly were not truly steampunk authors but are “important sources of inspiration for steampunk.” He feels that Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter, 1979, “was the earliest of the novels in the newly named genre.” In addition to Steampunk accessories.jpegMorlock, Greyshade lists the eight other novels that he believes define steampunk: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, 1983; Homunculus by James Blaylock, 1986; Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy by K.W. Jeter, 1987; The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, 1990; Lord Kelvin’s Machine by James Blaylock, 1992; Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock, 1971; Land Leviathan by Michael Moorcock, 1974; and The Steel Tsar by Michael Moorcock, 1982. (Note that three by Moorcock are included in Greyshade’s list.)

Part II: More about the books, the movies, the clothing, the fairs and festivals!

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We Write What We Know…or Not

We write what we know (or see or hear). That’s the writer’s motto cliché. It’s true. In looking back at all my writing, I can see that there’s a bit of me in everything, published or not. Not major things, but tidbits of personality, body language, use of language, outlook on life, methods of operation. Not only are hints of me in my work, but features of other people I know or have observed.

My antennae work full time, observing tics or unique facial expressions, language peculiarities, clothing, odors, movements. “What are you looking at?” my husband asks. “I’m watching the guy pull at his shirt collar and hunch his shoulders every 20 seconds.” Or, “I’m listening to the guy with the throat-clearing tic.” “I’m watching the girl constantly smooth her eyebrows.” “I’m listening to that woman introduce every sentence with ‘It’s the sort of thing’.” “I’m smelling that funny skunk or patchouli odor somewhere.” Oh.

Sooo, I just published a collection of nine short stories plus an epilogue, knowing very little: Adventures of the Hotel Sisters. Eight siblings and their Hotel Sisters FRONT cover WITH SPINE_11-19-15divorced mother live in and run a hotel in the 1920s, a period in American history that always fascinated me. I had a few alleged facts about the family and the hotel and ran with them! The rest I concocted or researched.

Actually, it was both fun and challenging as I tried to stay true to the known details and also the history of the Roaring Twenties. I guess one could say the stories are “historical fiction.” I also included five pages of glossary of words and expressions from those days (for the younger generation).

chp1_FINAL1Because Carrie, the story-teller, ages from four to 16, I say the book is appropriate for about 11-14 year olds. However, one of my blurbers is a mentally agile 97 year-old woman who remembers the 1920s. I truly think nonagenarians would enjoy Adventures of the Hotel Sisters as well. Good, bad, sad, and humorous things happen from 1918-1930. It’s 126 pages of mostly light reading. Go to www.amazon.com/author/sandybakerwriter for either the $12 paperback (on sale now) or the $4.99 Kindle book. Soon it will be on my website www.sandybakerwriter.com. And of course, enjoy!

 

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A Business Model to Avoid

The thrill of publishing one’s first book is joyful, a dream come true, right? Oh, the anticipation of getting my children’s picture book into print and out there in the marketplace! I attended lectures, workshops, and conferences to acquire the information I needed to become an indie publisher. I’d heard horror stories from authors who’d been scammed by vanity presses, paid too much for a web design, or didn’t know an ISBN from the BOE or a DBA, POD or LCCN. That would not be me.

I bought a block of ten ISBN numbers. After all, if one costs $125, ten at $250 is more than a bargain. Smart, huh? I set up my own Butterfly Books imprint and obtained a resale license from the state Franchise Tax Board. I was now a sole proprietor ready to do business and offer the world my first kid gardening book, Mrs. Feeny and the Grubby Garden Gang. This of course was after I’d hired an illustrator and book designer whose charges will remain undisclosed.

A couple months down the road, I discovered that there was a second Butterfly Books imprint, owned by a lawyer who had filed his the same week as I did. What are the odds? A lawyer? Oops! I wisely and quickly created another imprint name to avoid conflict of interest or infringement or who knows what. I’m now Black Garnet Press.

MRS. FEENY cover.jpg

My book was to be a typical children’s picture book: full color, 32 pages, 8” x 10”, and hardbound. I priced it at $15.95, in the mid-range of this genre. I found a company here in the U.S. that would print them, one, ten or 100 at a time. This is called Print On Demand (POD), and the company I chose after much research and advise was Lightning Source International (or LSI), an arm of the huge Ingram distribution company. (My first book, left, Mrs. Feeny…)

The company would take only 20% of the selling price. Wow, and I would get 80%. We’ll round up to $16 for the ease of it. So 20% of that price is $3.20, and my 80% is a whopping $12.80. Got it?

However, the cost of printing the book was and still is $9—which of course comes right out of my 80%. So, $12.80 – 9 = $3.80, my “royalty” on the book. That’s actually not unlike the BIG publishing companies’ payouts. Not bad, so far.

Say I consign the book, an agreement that is typically 50-50: the shop nets $8 on a $16 sale and so do I. That means I receive $8 for a book that costs $9 to print and forget the royalty. How’s that for a business model?

I decided not to purchase 2000 of them from a printing company in Korea or China—I know authors with 1800 of them still in their garage. It really IS less expensive to print over there, but who needs that many books?

Hotel-Sisters-FRONT-cover-with-spine-FOR-WEB_11-19-15.jpgGranted, children’s full color, hardbound picture books are among the most expensive to produce. Turns out that LSI doesn’t offer dust jackets nor does it print the title and author on the spine. Arrrgh! Are there lessons to be learned here?

(Adventures of the Hotel Sisters, published December 2015. Collection of 1920s short stories for middle grade readers. I’ve learned a lot over the years!)

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Habitat Gardening: Tips for Developing a Good Habit

Habitat gardening—until about 15 years ago, that was a term and concept that had eluded me. Now, it’s a way of life. I simply refer to it as gardening for birds, bees, butterflies, and bugs. As a habitat gardener, I’ve learned to tolerate a bit of messiness because nature Mixed perennial borderdoesn’t work in tidy, parallel rows. And a few insect holes and bite marks on leaves come with the territory as do some random weeds like Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, and wild radish. If you are fastidious, meticulous, and compulsive about having a perfectly neat, weed-free garden, then perhaps habitat gardening is not for you.

But what a habit it is—the good kind! It simply means that you make your gardens appealing and safe for the creatures, especially the pollinators. Grow plants that will attract them and feed them. Keep clean water Echinacea with beeavailable. Don’t use toxic sprays. And plant a diversity of trees and shrubs so they can build their homes and thrive.

I’m not a bug expert. All I know is that if you have enough of the right plants in your garden, there will be both good bugs and bad bugs, and the former will eliminate the latter. If they don’t, the birds will. Your garden will be in balance.

Like humans, birds, bees, butterflies, and bugs need a home, water, food, and a safe environment to raise their kids. Here are some tips:

  • The greater diversity of plants you have, the greater diversity of these creatures you’ll attract.
  • Think in terms of levels or layers. You need tall trees to provide an upper canopy where birds spend much of their time, singing, checking out the opposite sex, and building nests. You Mixed border  with habitat plantsneed an understory of shrubs, all sizes of flowering plants and ornamental grasses, and even a muddy or moist spot where male butterflies meet to swap stories and gather minerals for mating. Trees and shrubs also provide a windbreak that butterflies appreciate.
  • Add some flat rocks where butterflies can warm themselves and lizards can do their daily pushups.
  • Build a small rock or log pile for lizard and insect hiding places.
  • Create a brush pile or teepee as a bird cover for when any perceived predator like a cat or hawk enters the area.
  • Use no toxic sprays and let the birds and bugs take care of Buddleia and swallowtail butterfly.themselves. Often, even the safest of sprays can harm butterflies
  • Include a couple of birdbaths, but not in deep shade or they’ll grow algae more readily.

One last thing—add a bench to sit, relax, enjoy a cup of coffee, observe, and perhaps even photograph all the activities in your garden.

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Mistletoe Kisses

Standing under the mistletoe at Christmas, waiting for that special young man to give you a shy smacker may have been exciting in our junior high days, but when I see what it does to our trees, the thrill is gone. Mistletoe is a parasite, which in a severe infestation as shown in the photos, will eventually kill the tree, its host. I prefer the tree to the mistletoe!      Mistletoe Clusters in Oak

It is thought that mistletoe colonies are begun with undigested seeds in bird droppings adhering to the branches of trees. Technically, mistletoe is a hemi-parasite because its gray-green leaves do produce a bit of sugar through photosynthesis, but mostly, it gets its water and minerals from the host tree. I took these photos because it’s only in winter when a deciduous tree loses its leaves that you can see the enormous clusters of mistletoe. Mistletoe Colonies in MarchIt’s not an attractive sight. Most people consider mistletoe a pest, but some believe it attracts berry-eating birds and increases the diversity of animals.

 

The poor tree in lower photo is being attacked from below by invasive ivy. The tree will not thrive or survive with predators from above and below!

Some cultures believe mistletoe represents the divine essence of man, e.g. romance, vitality, and fertility. (Is that what those kisses were all about??) For more information about mistletoe and how to control it, go to this university of California website: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7437.html

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