Tag Archives: why

Series Introduction: The Ingenious Mechanical Devices

As I was trying to figure out what to write for my next blog post, I realized I never introduced the series The Earl of Brass and The Winter Garden are part of. The title of the series, The Ingenious Mechanical Devices, was taken from the name of a book by Al-Jazali called The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices.  The book was written in 1206 and describes over fifty automaton devices, such as mechanical clocks, pistons, programmable robots, automatic gates, and many other inventions.

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While I was researching automaton devices for The Earl of Brass, I came across Al-Jazali and was immediately fascinated.  I don’t think many people realize how far back these robotic devices were being invented, I know I didn’t.  As someone who can barely put together an Ikea shelf, I am always fascinated by people who are able to create works of art that are not only beautiful but functional.  This book of automaton creatures and machines went perfectly with the aesthetic of steampunk as well as Eilian Sorrell’s love of Middle Eastern culture.  With each story in the series, there is a machine or creation that features in each book.  In The Earl of Brass, it is Eilian’s mechanical arm, and in The Winter Garden, there is an electric machine that can steal or deposit souls.  What the device will be in book three, I do not know yet. Continue reading

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You Are What You Read

tbr pile oct 30What do your reading choices say about you?  Since beginning graduate school, I have been turning this question over in my mind as I listened to others in my classes mention who their favorite authors are.  Most of them are people I have never heard of or read but are rather famous in the contemporary lit world.  Typically, I hold my tongue and don’t mention what I read for fear of being ridiculed or looked down upon.  This led to a greater question: why do people read certain books?

Do people (especially those in academia) read for fun or do they read certain books because they feel it is expected of them?  As I continue my journey through the MFA in Creative Writing program, I find myself wondering what my professors read, especially when they are writers or poets as well.  What we read automatically becomes ingrained in our beings and eventually comes out in our writing. I can attest to the fact that when I read a book I love, I am inspired to write and often I will lean toward that genre or some theme found in that work.  If I read a book I had to drag myself through, it typically slows my writing to a crawl.  Oddly, while I didn’t love reading Virginia Woolf for the most part, her works had a huge influence in the way I deal with close narration and “head hopping” as others call it. Continue reading

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The Writing Process

One of the members of my Facebook author page asked if I would do a post about my writing process.  After I saw it, I sat back and scratched my head.  What was my writing process?  Like many things, when you live with it, it isn’t nearly as obvious as it is to others.

 

As with all writing, it begins with an idea.  Sometimes it comes as a smattering of dialogue or description while other times it comes as a topic or idea.  For The Earl of Brass, it began with the idea of a man needing automaton parts in order to survive, but this rapidly evolved into a man with a missing arm who needs a prosthesis.  In the beginning, I typically free write and put down anything that comes to mind.  Sometimes it becomes the first chapter of a novel while other times it gets completely rewritten or discarded.  Once an idea beginnings to take form, I make an idea map or an outline of what events will happen in the coming paragraphs.  For flexibility’s sake, I usually only plan five or so chapters ahead at any given time.  Typically, my characters are wayward and do what they want, so I need to alter my plans to fit them.  Forcing an agenda on my characters never goes well.  Sometimes when I have ideas but am not sure what order they should be in, I make index cards and lay them out.  I will move them around and ask my best friend/beta reader and see what she thinks to ensure it’s logical to others. Continue reading

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Portrait of the Artist: From Biology Major to MFA

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Last week I was gruching about a scene that was giving me trouble to my aunt, and she said, “You know, you don’t have to do this if it isn’t fun anymore.”  For a moment, I just stared at her.  Just because I’m complaining about writing being difficult doesn’t mean I want to throw in the towel.  The idea of stopping never even crossed my mind.

As with many writers, I don’t write because I want to please my fans or make money off it but because I feel compelled to.  It’s a compulsion, an itch that can only be silenced by reading and writing.  During the semester when graduate school has taken over my life, I feel the unmistakeable misery of not being able to scratch that itch and write (usually I end up foregoing reading for class and write a bit throughout the day).

From the time I was about ten years old, I have been writing stories. Over the years, the amount I write has waxed and waned depending on my circumstances, but it has been present over the last thirteen years.  When I was in high school, I had a few lousy English teachers who killed my love of writing and reading to the point that I never thought of becoming an English major in college. Creative writing was kept under the wraps since I didn’t write about teenage-appropriate topics like sports, romance, and angst.  If the guidance counselor saw my stories full of epic battles or the one about a young woman who deals with her friend’s suicide attempt, I would probably would have been sent to counseling.  Somehow I feared college would be the same.

  It wasn’t though.  I went into college as a biology major with dreams of becoming a doctor who specialized in reconstructive surgery, and honestly, I did well in my biology classes and even earned an award from the department.  In my freshman year, I met a wonderful professor who happened to be the head of the English department.  She took me under her wing and nurtured my insecure talent until finally in the second half of my sophomore year I chose to double major in English as well.  During my time as an undergraduate, I contributed to the school’s literary magazine as well as worked on it, was a writing tutor, and spoke at two literature conferences (one on scifi and fantasy and one on Medieval literature).

Much to my father’s dismay, becoming a doctor faded away the moment a Norton anthology was put in my hands.  I finished my degree in biology but immediately applied to a graduate school with an MFA program in creative writing.  While biology could have provided me with a stable income should I have pursued it, I knew I would have been miserable.  I needed to write, I needed to read. It pulled me and compelled me and was the one thing I did that felt completely natural.  Call me hedonistic, but my life has been guided by what makes me happy and so far it has worked for me.  My mom has a job that pays well, but she isn’t truly happy there.  If I see how doing what is expected can lead to misery, why should I follow the trail of money if I do not have to?

My question is, do we do what makes us happy or do we try to live up to the status quo?

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Why Steampunk?

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Before I go on about my preferred genre, I should probably explain what steampunk is since most people stop me after I have already begun to speak about it to ask what exactly I mean. Simply put, steampunk is a marriage between historical fiction and science fiction. It’s the Victorian Era that never was, and instead of moving toward combustion engines, steampunk stories tend to explore how the world would be if steam technology became the predominant mode of transportation and energy generation in the nineteenth century. Most stories are set in the mid to late 1800s, but that isn’t always necessarily the case with some stories being set in a neo-Victorian future.

There are three reasons I write steampunk stories (each of these reasons will be explored further in this post):
1. Playing with the past
2. Exploring modern social issues out of context
3. Victorian aesthetics

Playing with the Past
Some of the most fun I have writing is utilizing real people and places within my work. Several historical figures make an appearance in The Earl of Brass or The Winter Garden, including Lord Carnarvon, David Hogarth, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert (as a corpse), and in the future, I can see many other real people making cameos. More importantly, places are key to creating a richness in a story that delves into the past. A good chunk of my research is scouring Victorian maps and texts for places my characters can go and how they looked in the 1890s. The research can be fascinating and lead to more plots or simply a nice place for your characters to go to for a night on the town. Creating a realistic landscape even with the changes I have set up in my universe has been something I have worked on throughout my writing career, and about halfway through the second book, I realized how their world would really be.
To wrap up this section on playing with the past, I have to mention technology. Most people tend to think of carriages, coal, factories, and horse poop when thinking of Victorian technology, and while that isn’t far off, science and medicine were just about to take off. The Victorian Era is a launching point from which many of the things we have today began. Medicine is a topic I work with quite often, and part of the reason is because the Victorian era was half in the superstitious past and half in the modern world. In The Earl of Brass, the main character, Eilian Sorrell, has a prosthetic arm that can flex when he commands it to. Obviously there were prostheses, but they were not nearly as advanced. In the world of steampunk, I can sprinkle in modern ideas but only use materials that were available in the Victorian Era (no stainless steel, no biotechnology, no aspirin).

Exploring Modern social Issues out of Context

Another way to bring mingle the past with the present is to focus on issues that are prevalent today but set the story in the past. Some of the issues I have explored are: climate issues, humanism v. capitalism, LGBT rights, and equality. some of these issues were present in the 1890s, especially LGBT issues with the Oscar Wilde trial and the brief movement in Germany around the same time. Part of the reason I like to do this is because it allows the reader to see what they might not notice in the modern world they take for granted. Working these issues into the Victorian Era breaks the common misconceptions, and by approaching it through a creative rather than preachy or academic way, people are more likely to listen. My hope is that my LGBT characters will capture the reader’s hearts and that you will feel for them because they are humans who hurt and are victims of the world’s prejudices by no fault of their own. As a writer, integrating modern issues into the past helps me deepen my understanding of the issue by having to research it, get into the characters’ heads, and make sure the theme is coherently coming through. By having a purpose, you make a judgment of that issue and take on both sides by creating conflict between opposing characters or between characters and society.

Victorian aesthetics
This reason is a lot more vain and visual. I love the pictorial representations of the Victorian Era. The tug and pull of artisan lace and fabric with the utilitarian mass-marketed goods of the working class always thrills me. When I think of the Victorian Era, I always think of fog rolling in off the Thames as a woman in a bustle and corset walks between gas lamps. There is something sinister yet romantic about the era. The Victorians were a pretty morbid bunch with their postmortem photography and momento mori usually made of human hair. When you contrast any “wild” place with London, the grime of the era becomes so apparent, but the civility and rigid manners still outshine any detractors of the era. Then comes the next question, what lies beneath the starched shirts and laced corsets? To understand the Victorian person, one must understand the culture and why there was a need for structure and decorum, yet it is imperative to remember that they were humans just like us. No matter where they lived or what they wore, they had the same desires as we do now, and the universal humanity in all of us, ties the modern steampunk writer to the likes of Oscar Wilde or Dickens.

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