Author Archives: ajwriter2014

Fun Friday: Even More Web Series

And yet another Friday rolls around.  The week has been fairly quiet here in the family’s treetop fortress:  lots of home cooking.  I tried my hand at making pasta (gnocchi) with good results; at least everybody had good things to say, and nobody’s dropped from food poisoning yet.  Early days on that, though.   I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I made an exception this week.  A friend correctly argued that comics and comic book derivations are as much a part of the classic pulp phenomenon as Science Fiction or hard boiled detectives.  He also argued that, were it not for pulps and comic books, the superhero subgenre would have died with Beowulf.  I’m not sure I agree with him on that one, but he did have a point.

So the practical upshot of all this is that I started watching TV.  Specifically, I started checking out some of the superhero shows currently running; this time I focused on  The Flash, and Arrow.  I’m ambivalent.  I’ve been a fan of the Green Arrow comic since I was a kid, but the television show was hella dark, much darker and more soapy than I remember.  But then again, John Barrowman as a villain?  Yes, please.  The Flash was lighter in tone, which was cool; it only took me half the episodes for me to stop looking at the lead and saying, “Hey, weren’t you on that annoying Glee thing?”

Meh. One of these days I’m going to have to take a closer look blog at superheroes and the genre in general.  MAYBE I should take a run at writing something in the superhero range for Fiction Monday.  Then again, maybe not; have to see if inspiration attacks.

Ooh ooh ooh, slightly off-topic.  Y’all know I am not one for romances, but every once in a while one slips past the barbed wire and since we were already discussing superheroes….  Heels and Heroes by Tiffany Allee is a novella about romance among the superhero community.  It’s short (novella length), superhero oriented, and fun.  Allee strikes a nice balance on her descriptions of an unusual world for novels.  I really like her characters; I don’t know how realistic you can be with superheroes, but I found it surprisingly easy to identify with the lead.  It’s a little smutty, but, being Missy McPrudeyknickers, I just close my eyes for that bit.  I have begged the author to write more about this world, but so far, no luck.  😦  (I’m telling you, Tifferz, ya gotta!  How often do I endorse a romance, huh?  I mean, seriously!)  This is not Allee’s first rodeo; she has other romance/fantasy offerings.  I’ve read several of them and was pleasantly surprised; she even got me to not hate a romantic vampire.  Shocking, right?  Anyway, check out her oeuvre on Amazon.

Okay, enough fooling around in the world of Spandex and capes.  On to today’s Fun Friday offerings.  So I was goofing around on YouTube the other day, as I am wont to do when I’m between books.  Y’all know what a fool I am for serials.  So, on a whim, I typed “steampunk web series” into the search bar.  Wow!  There is a lot more out there than I thought.  Taking a chance, I did the same thing for dieselpunk and pulp; not nearly so much joy there.  But there was plenty of Steampunk.  So I bookmarked a bunch of them, and took a look.

The first I looked at was simply called “Felix Blithedale.”  The brainchild of Erik MacRay (who also plays the eponymous main character), it’s supposed to be the video journal of a fledgling inventor in a steampunk San Francisco in 1903.  Felix is the assistant of an established inventor, and has claimed that inventor’s basement as his own personal lab.  Here he builds various gadgets and conducts various experiments.  He’s a game young fellow, ambitious and excited, but rather hapless; his life is kind of a mess, his love life is a nerd-flavored disaster, but he keeps right on trying, bless his little heart.  As each new blow comes, he shakes it off and keeps right on stumbling forward.  The episodes are shot in sepia tone, just the one set, minimal props, only one or two characters on the screen at a time; very much done on a shoestring.  Each episode is entitled “Felix vs X,” with “X” being whatever is going wrong at the moment:  “Felix vs The Foreclosure” involves the loan to save the family home.

Let me say this unequivocally:  THIS IS WONDERFUL!!!!!! Remember me saying that I will sit through a lot of dreck in the indie art mines before coming across a diamond?  THIS is one of the diamonds.   The set design and costumes are spot on.  The little scenelets are fun, and the interactions of the characters is funny and absolutely convincing.   I laughed out loud multiple times.  The writing, so important, is solid; Mr. MacRay writes like somebody who has listened to how people really talk.  Fledgling writers forget, it’s not enough that dialogue or monologue convey information.  It has to sound natural; you have to listen to how real people really talk, and be able to duplicate the rhythms and feeling without duplicating the boring bits.  Think of it as enhanced speech; as natural as possible, but cleaner and more streamlined than the real thing.

And the acting;  Oh, the acting, God bless them!  The writing and the acting is where most indie offerings fall down; the young people who are attempting these videos are just not experienced enough in these two arts to deliver solid products.  But Felix Blithedale is a true gem:  the acting is superb!  I had to go looking to confirm this wasn’t a professional production.  Felix, the lead, triggered an immediate Mommy response in me:  I wanted to cook him something homey and comfortable, ask him if he’s getting enough sleep and see that his laundry is being washed and mended (what?  I’m a grandmother, I can’t help myself!  Don’t judge me!).  He is played by Erik MacRay as delightfully diffident, inept, naive, eager, optimistic; it was adorable!  Edward Rockridge (cute name, somebody knows their Mel Brooks trivia!) is the lodger renting rooms from Felix and his sister, and is an adorable scoundrel, making his living as a low-rent crook and card cheat.  Again, played with delicious aplomb by Adam Mayfield, Eddie is depicted perfectly as the sort of high spirited overgrown 12-year -old who women can’t help wanting to mother and the girls want to flirt with.

Okay, you can tell I liked this one, because I’ve pissed away about half my word limit just gushing.  You wanna watch the show, here’s where they can be found on Youtube.  They also have a webpage and a Facebook page.  They wrapped last June, so I’m betting the chances of a second season are essentially nonexistent.  But still, they have a donate page on their webpage to fund a second season, so maybe we’ll get lucky.  In the meantime, here’s a little taste of the show (I picked one of the middle of the run eps; the first ep doesn’t really give a feel for what a treat this show is)….

Before I forget:  I noticed something the last few months.  Don’t you think it’s interesting that Steampunk seems to generate a ton of art across many media:  video, comics, etc., bunches more than dieselpunk.  But Dieselpunk kicks steampunk’s butt when it comes to indie music offerings.  You just don’t hear that much in the way of overtly steampunk music.  The biggie in Steampunk is Abney Park and frankly, I’m not seeing it.  They dress the part, and their videos play the steam card a lot, but the music itself is 90% industrial, and only a little bit steam.  There’s a lot more dieselpunk music available.  I think it’s because of WWII era swing being so popular and emulate-able.  Hey, it’s a theory.  Thoughts?

Okay, now we’ve gotten that bizarre little sidebar out of the way, time to move on to the next web series.  Dirigible Days has good cred, I have to say.  Anthony Daniels — yes, that Anthony Daniels, the one who played C3P0 in the Star Wars movies — does all voice-over narration.  The Steampunk band Vernian Process wrote the theme music exclusively for this series.  It has a tie-in comic book with surprisingly good graphics. 

But with that said, I don’t like Dirigible Days as much as I liked Felix Blithedale.  I’ll explain in a moment.

Dirigible Days is the story of the S.S. Beatrix, an airship plying its way through the aether, doing whatever job, legal or otherwise, comes its way.  At the beginning of the story, the ship is stranded with engine failure, and Captain Santiago Dunbar is at the nearest pub, getting polluted while trying to interview for a new engineer.  He finds one, but more importantly, he finds a job.  Or rather a job finds him:  a Pinkerton operative has a prisoner that needs to be transported to the nearest facility.  Problem:  the prisoner is a big dog in a very nasty, very determined Cthulhu Cult.  And they want their big dog back.

The production values worlds ahead of other web series:  the costumes are perfect, the sets are lavish (a lot of that is coming from green screen work, but that’s okay), props and set design are spot on.  The actors look and move well; their sounding the part is less perfect, but that’s nothing unusual in the indie video world, and they do better than the average.  The writing is pretty solid; with a few hiccups here and there, it does well on dialogue, and is kicking ass in the plot department.  Somebody really thought it through, which puts them ahead of the game.

But with that said, I just didn’t enjoy this as much as the Felix Blithedale piece.  The descriptions I’ve seen online (and this has gotten written up in several articles here on the web, thanks to the cred I mentioned at the first) describe it as “Whedonesque” and “akin to Firefly.”  Well, I’m not seeing it.  This story lacks the charm of Firefly.  Their is no chemistry between the players, no real emotional connection, whether it be love or hate.  Remember how I said watching Felix made me go into serious Mommy mode?  It was an emotional connection, an identification with the character that made me feel protective and indulgent at the same time (the same way I do when I see my own children when they fumble).  With Dirigible Days, I never felt that; I couldn’t make an emotional connection.

BUT!  That’s just me.  It may be that I’m not the right audience for this show.  And you should definitely check it out anyway.  Even if you don’t connect with the characters, you’ll adore the steampunk-i-ness of it all, with such terrific production values.  Definitely take a peek.  The show’s presence on YouTube is here.  Their webpage is here.  At the first ep’s page there are links to their twitter and facebook pages.

Here’s one of their promotional trailers.  Take a peek:

And that’s it for me.  Wow, that took a while.  That’s what I get for lurking on YouTube watching episodes of web series, right?  So you know the drill:  write, tweet, comment, share.  You have a suggestion for a Fun Friday, contact me on the email addy on my About Me page.  If you have questions, suggestions, just want to tell me I’m a idiot and I’m totally wrong bout Abney Park, same address.  I’d be very glad to know of any Dieselpunk web series that I may have overlooked!  But in the meantime, be good this weekend.  And if you can’t be good, well, you know what comes next, don’t you:  DON’T GET CAUGHT!  Enjoy your weekend!

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Categories: Fun Friday, Steampunk, Video | Leave a comment

Nightside series by Simon R. Green

It’s too damned cold to be the beginning of June!  I swear, if I have to endure another cold summer, I’m going to have to sic the flying ninja monkeys on somebody at The Weather Channel.  Seriously, it’s been a cold, wet, miserable few days here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, so I’ve been staying in my Happy Place.  Me, some ginger ale, my Kindle and my netbook have been very happy and warm inside my pillow fort, and I am not coming out until the temps top eighty degrees again (that’s twenty-seven-ish for you Celsius types). I want my sauna-like Appalachian summer, darn it all, and I’m going to throw a tantrum until I get it!

Okay, that’s not strictly true.  The other night, Big Sister, who is a terrific cook, sent over a bowl of something that involved chicken, peppers and onions, a ricotta sauce and gnocchi (she likes challenging my palate, and I think she’s trying to fatten me up after the Long Illness, which I’m not opposed to).  I had never tried gnocchi before, but it was very very nice.  Nice enough that I am going to try making it myself.  I’ve never made pasta before — it looks intimidating, and I don’t think I have the right tools — but gnocchi doesn’t seem to require anything more than a bowl and a knife, which I can totally provide.  If it goes well, it may land on the dinner rotation here in our treetop fortress.

So on to business.  I’ve mentioned before that I have fairly loose parameters for what defines a genre.  I think a measurable amount of urban fantasy could arguably fall into the Pulp vein because so much of it plays on the Hardboiled Detective tropes, which are solidly pulpy.  I also think that it can still be steampunk even if there’s not a dirigible to be seen.  Genres are as much about attitude and tone as they are about the props, and, as I pointed out in my last book review, having the right props doesn’t automatically mean the story wins any cred from me.

But I understand that others can feel very differently. So it is with no small amount of trepidation that I present you with the Nightside series by Simon R. Green.  Why do I think it belongs here on a blog focused on Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp?  Because, while our hero constantly claims he is no great shakes at investigation, the stories fall very strongly into the Hardboiled Detective category, in tone, approach and style, and that says Pulp to me, as I said above.  The hardboiled detective started out as a classic pulp genre (hell, it helped define pulp as a classification of fiction), long before it went mainstream.

So, Simon R. Green is a prolific and respected British author, who has done other books besides Nightside.  Memorably, he did the Secret Histories (starting with “The Man with the Golden Torc), as well as Hawk and Fisher, Ghostfinders and the Deathstalker series.  As you can tell, his focus is on science fiction and fantasy, my favorite words in the whole English language.  But Nightside is his most well known work and arguably his best written (personally, I couldn’t get past the Marty Stu-ness of the Secret Histories, and his Ghostfinders just didn’t work for me for a lot of reasons, though your mileage may vary.  I may change my opinion in the future — I am a big one for re-reading — but for now, I’ll pass).

  1. Something from the Nightside
  2. Agents of Light and Darkness
  3. Nightingale’s Lament
  4. Hex and the City
  5. Paths Not Taken
  6. Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth
  7. Hell to Pay
  8. The Unnatural Inquirer
  9. Just Another Judgement Day
  10. The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny
  11. A Hard Day’s Night
  12. The Bride Wore Black Leather
  13. Tales from the Nightside (short fiction anthology)

The Nightside is a series of twelve novels (plus one collection of short stories) that depict the adventures of one John Taylor, a private investigator, native of the Nightside, and the Chosen One of at least one prophecy.  Being the Chosen One is never a good thing, but in the Nightside, it’s especially bad.  Which is why, when John Taylor finally left the Nightside, he stayed gone up to now.  But at the beginning of the first book, the search for a missing/runaway teen brought him back to his old haunts.  From there, things just snowballed and he took his old place back in the darkness.

So what is the Nightside?  It’s a fictional inner neighborhood of London, older than the city itself.  It’s always night time here, 3:00 am to be exact, “the midnight of the soul,” some call it.  John Taylor describes it as “a place where dreams come true and nightmares come alive. Where one can buy anything, often at the price of your soul… or someone else’s. Where the music never stops and the fun never ends.”  Every possible vice you can think of (and several you wish you hadn’t thought of) is practiced here.  Moreover, what is impossible in the outside world is common as dirt in Nightside:  angels, magic, monsters, time travel, carnivorous cars, homunculi, you name it, it’s here and probably causing trouble.

  • Angels in the Nightside are not benevolent guardians in the Nightside.  They are messengers of God, and scary as hell.
  • Gods are real, all of them, and they hang out in the Street of Gods.  Stay out.  No, really; I don’t care how good a person you’ve been, seriously, stay out.
  • Time slips are invisible, undetectable holes in time.  Sometimes people fall out of them and are stuck in the Nightside present forever.  Sometimes people from this side fall in, and are never seen again.  Watch where you walk.
  • Cars are dangerous.  They go way too fast, brake pedals are for pussies, and cars like the flavor of human flesh.  Cross the street at your own peril.
  • Ghosts can actually be pretty cool.  Knowing you have nothing more to lose is probably very relaxing.
  • Houses can and will eat you.  It’s not pretty.

John Taylor plies his trade, detective and/or thug for hire, here in the Nightside, and keeps the business running more or less.  He is hired to find missing girls, figure out why an up-and-coming singer’s beautiful voice is driving people to commit suicide, figure out why the power grid for the Nightside (they’re only nominally connected to the London grid) is failing, things like that.  But, as is inevitable for hardboiled detective, nothing is ever straightforward.  Yes, he has a small but useful magical talent:  when he concentrates, he can feel where something is, no matter how far away or how well hidden.  An inborn magical GPS for missing stuff is very handy for a PI for hire.  On the other hand,  even with magical GPS, it’s hard to play the PI game when your mother is a demigod and is weaving the destruction of the world when she’s not stalking you.  Or when an army of nearly-unkillable homunculi are looking to destroy you.  Or just when all the scary things from your nightmares think your name is a curse word and your body is great target practice.

To say John Taylor has “friends” is to stretch the blanket a little too much.  But he has colleagues and contacts who  at least respect him.  There’s Walker, who represents The Authorities.  Walker is more or less the police force of the Nightside.  No, he doesn’t care if you kill people, steal, rape, pillage, meh, who cares, so long as Nightside itself is protected.  Walker is an old friend of John’s dad.  Walker and John do NOT like one another, but neither is above using the other when the situation merits.

Alex Morrisey owns the bar John usually hangs out in.  Alex is a direct male descendant of Merlin.  The Merlin, the one and only.  Sounds cool.  But a spell cast by Merlin means that Alex can never leave the bar, ever ever.  Not for a date, not for a quick piss in the alley round back.  This makes Alex more than a little sour; he wears all black all the time because “there’s nothing darker.”  He is the closest thing John has to a friend, and Alex has bailed John out a couple times.  Then there’s Suzie Shooter, bloodthirsty bounty hunter (“dead or alive” means “dead, because there’s less paperwork”) who often partners with John on jobs when he needs muscle; she’s also his love interest, for a certain value of the term “love interest.”  Their relationship is complicated.  Then there are characters like Dead Boy, the Walking Man, Razor Eddie, and The Collector.

The prose style is classic first person, delightfully Chandleresque.  It’s a pity Humphrey Bogart is dead; he’s the only one who could do justice to an audiobook for Nightside.  Green’s style is spartan and clean, but nevertheless it describes the night and neon character of Nightside well enough that even a non-visual reader like myself can picture the place.  The stories are pretty straightforward.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge follower of the hardboiled genre (for some reason, I just can’t follow the logic sometimes), but I can follow these and enjoy them.

Downside?  This is pretty dark stuff.  The trigger warnings in these stories would require a whole new blog post just to list them; do not read if you have a weak constitution or are easily offended/disturbed.  For myself, I can’t really binge-read the Nightside series like I usually do Jim Butcher’s work, for example, just sit down and read and read and read until I’ve consumed the whole series.  I tried it with Nightside twice.  I enjoyed the reading, don’t get me wrong.  But around about Book Seven, I started feeling depressed and fatalistic.  I do better reading these stories in small doses.  Again, your mileage may vary.

All in all, I recommend this series if you’re down with the hardboiled detective pulp genre, but are in the mood for a dark fantasy/SF twist, aren’t easily offended, or just can’t resist the “hidden world” scenario in fiction (my personal favorite flavor).

Aaaaaaand that’s it for me today.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment, write.  Next up is Fun Friday, and for that I could really use some recommendations.  Contact me at ajclarkson-at-talwyn-dot-net.  I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting….. Meh, it’ll come to me.  In the meantime, I’m out of here; now I’m in the mood to read Nightside again!  Y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: books, Opinion, Pulp, Review | Leave a comment

Fiction Monday: When the Cat’s Away Part Four

Good morning campers, wakey wakey out of bed, and celebrate glorious Monday!  Aww, come on, don’t use that kind of language, there are children present (Really tall children.  With whiskers and chest hair.  And driver’s licenses.  Okay, they act childish at times, is that good enough?)!

I’ve been dragging my heels on the last short story.  Life gets in the way sometimes.  But I can’t just leave you hanging forever, right?  That would just be cruel.  So guess what:  I’m giving you another installment of the adventures of April Tyree in the Wooden Pyramid; in fact, it’s the last installment.  When last we left our plucky girl detective, she had found Charity and was getting ready to make their escape when Patty the Possessed turned up.  Will April defeat Patty?  Will she rescue Charity and save the day?  Will she ever stop snarking in the face of almost certain doom?  What is the thrilling conclusion?

Let’s see…..


 

When the Cat’s Away

An April Tyree short story
by
A.J. Clarkson

Part Four

Patty dangled my pistol from her fingertips.  If we were unlucky, she’d turn the gun around and point it at us.  If we were very very unlucky, she wouldn’t; that would mean she had something even worse than hot lead to throw at us.  Not good.  Not good at all.

“I guess we’re past the point where you’ll let me and the kid walk out the door and all is forgiven and forgotten, huh?” I said.

“Pretty much,” said Patty.

“You’re really gonna kill me in a horrific blood sacrifice-y way, and then evict the Teeny Bopper out of her own body so Hemet Nesu Weret can move in,” I said.

“Pretty much.”

“You know I can’t let you do that.”

“Yeah, I kinda was hoping you’d say that,” said Patricia.  That’s when she brought her other hand out where I could see it.  Caught tight in her clenched fish was the squirrel that had saved my butt half an hour ago.  The little creature was panicking, struggling and curling around her fist in its efforts to escape; as I watched, it bit Patricia’s forefinger hard enough to draw blood.  Patricia didn’t flinch.  She lifted the ginger creature level with her eyes and said, “That’s enough.”

The little squirrel squealed in pain and terror as Patricia started to squeeze.  I could hear its little bones crunch as Patricia crushed it in her fingers with no more effort than it would take me to crush an empty beer can.  This is what will happen to you, Patty’s smug little smile said.  When the squirrel stopped struggling, she held it out to me, opening her hand so I could see:  some of the rib bones had poked through the flesh, so blood was slowly staining the ginger fur of the crushed torso.  Its head lolled over against Patty’s thumb, the eyes lifeless, like black beads.

“No, thanks, I got some Chinese takeout before I stormed the castle.  Pyramid.  Whatever,” I said.  That quip sounded better in my head.  “But please, don’t stand on ceremony with me.  Enjoy your lunch and be careful of bones.  The teeny bopper and I can find our own way out.”

Patricia turned her hand over, letting the crushed squirrel fall to the floor with a wet splut! that made my stomach clench.  “Forever flippant.  We’ll be sure and put that on the grave marker when you die,” said Patty.  She sighed heavily.  “Don’t you understand?  Your fate has already been determined. You will die tonight.  All you can decide is the manner of your demise.  If you surrender to my will, I can make your death swift and relatively painless.  If you continue to resist, well, I’m don’t think your puny mind can grasp just how long I can prolong the agony preceding death.”

It was my turn to sigh.  “Well, I don’t think you can imagine just how unimpressed I am by your little monologue.  It’s so last year,” I said.  “But I do like the forever flippant thing.  I may get a tattoo of that.”

“Stubborn, foolish child!” Patricia hissed.  As I watched, her eyes went from gray to black again and her posture changed.  She seemed to be swelling up as I watched, growing taller, more imposing, filling the small room with her presence.  The air began to crackle with an all-too-familiar energy as she started to mutter an incantation.

Crap, crap, crap!  I didn’t have the time to crank up another spell — not that I had a good attack spell at my fingertips to defeat possessed crazies about to blast me into the afterlife.  Magic is all about preparation; I always sucked at doing the extra credit on homework.  I didn’t have my gun.  What I had was a half-asleep teenager, a ratty mattress on the floor and… well, that’s about it. Crap!

Patricia’s hair started to move and stand up as the energy caused a static charge to build up around her body.  It made her look like that Eraserhead character from the movies  Her black-with-no-whites eyes glowed and her mouth twisted into a grim smile.  And still that incantation continued.  I didn’t understand the words she was saying, but they only had one possible resolution:  with me being killed to death.

Suddenly I ran up to Patricia and punched her right in the nose.

What?  It was all I could think of.  Okay, I didn’t think, I just reacted; that nasty little smile reminded me of this chick in elementary school who used to take great delight in shoving me into mud puddles or poking me in the back with a pencil until I screamed, getting me in trouble for disrupting class.  I hate bullies.

Patricia/Hemet Nesu Weret’s head snapped back and blood started gushing from her nose.  She continued to chant, but now there was a nasty liquid sound to her words and her teeth were stained red.  More important, I’d wiped that nasty smile off her face, replaced by an expression of real alarm.

I’m such an idiot!  The incantation!  That’s what had put that look of alarm on her face.  Once you start an incantation, you have to finish it.  Stopping halfway through, regardless of the reason for stopping, has nasty consequences, usually for the caster.  All that energy wants to go somewhere and if you don’t give it a path, by finishing the spell, the energy could do something like, oh, say, backing up like a blocked toilet and burning the caster from the inside out.  Yeah, not pretty.

So Patty had to keep chanting, no matter what.  She couldn’t stop long enough to even wipe the blood from her chin.  And all I had to do was make her stop.  I turned my back to her, looking for something, anything I could use as a weapon.  Mattress — nope, doubt she was up for a nap.  Pillow, nope.  Ratty blanket wadded up in the corner, nope.  Naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling, could be useful if it were a little longer.  No pictures or crosses hanging on the wall, nothing but a big wooden ankh mounted on the center of the door.

Wait.  The ankh — a cross with a circle on top, an old Egyptian symbol for life — looked pretty heavy.  Maybe, if I could get it off the door, I could bap her upside the head with it.  I ran to the door and started trying to pry it off.

“This old lady, is she singing?” said Charity behind me, still sounding pretty stoned.

I didn’t bother looking back at her.  “Yeah, something like that.  And if she gets to the end of the song, I’m toast.  Then you’re toast.  We’re all toast.  It’ll be bad,” I said.

“What are you doing?” said Charity.

“Trying to get this — “ I grunted with effort, and managed to get the bottom arm of the ankh pulled free of the door.  I started swinging ti back and forth, trying to lever out the other nails holding it in place.  “– this stupid thing free from the door, to use the weapon.”

“Why?”

“So we can get out of here before she finishes that chant and the toasting party starts,” I said.

“She’s not stopping you –”

“She can’t do anything right now.”  I pulled the ankh free with a shout of triumph.  I hefted it in my hands; not perfect, but it would get the job done.

“So…. why don’t we just go out the door?” said Charity.

“Ummm….”  It’s all right, you can say it:  April, you’re an idiot. I resisted the urge to facepalm. “You have a point.  Come on,” I said.  I circled around Patty and grabbed Charity’s arm to steady her.  As we darted around Patricia, I glanced up at her face.  She looked pissed enough to spit nails, but there was nothing she could do.  Until she finished the incantation, she was stuck.  Tough noogies on her.

We got to the door and I opened it.  Running down the narrow corridor was a phalanx of red hooded minions.

Crap.  I slammed the door.  “Plan B!” I said.

“What’s Plan B?” said Charity.

“Still working on that,” I said.  I ran to the back of the room, dragging Charity with me.  We got to the back wall just as the door slammed open and the red robed figures, four in all, burst into the room.  I shoved the teenager behind me and hefted the ankh like a samurai sword.  The minions were unimpressed with my weapon, and launched themselves at me.  I slammed the ankh down on the first man’s head, and he fell back with a yell.  The second one came at me and I swung the ankh like a baseball bat, catching him on the cheek.  I kicked the third one; the fourth one hung back, waiting to see how the others would make out, I guess.  Chicken; I threw myself at him and swung for his head.  He dodged — damn it! — and the ankh smacked into the wall behind me.  The big hoop at the top snapped off, leaving a jagged splinter.  A sharp jagged splinter.  This I could work with.  I stabbed at the fourth guy with my shankh — a sharp ankh, get it?  Aww, man, nobody appreciates my sense of humor — and he danced back out of the way before I could connect.  I kept him at bay by waving the shankh back and forth.  Standoff.

Well, for a couple minutes, at least.  But more red-robed figures were coming in, filling the front half of the room, and effectively blocking the door.  No way could I get past all of them, certainly not while dragging Stoner Barbie with me.  No where to go behind us, and no way to go forward,  I was out of options.

Patricia’s chant had become a scream.  Energy was arcing off her like an electrical storm now, as she gathered in vast amounts of power, much more than I ever have or ever could.  Tiny black lightning bolts, surrounded by a nimbus of purple light, leaped between her outspread fingers, arced like Jacob’s ladders between the strands of her hair, and sizzled across the bloodied surface of her face.  She was shouting the words of the incantation now; there were only seconds until it went off.  She pointed at me, and little lightning bolts jumped off her fingers, trying to reach me.

I was out of time, I was out of options, and I had to get out of there.  I grabbed Charity and said, “No matter what, Barbie, when I say do this, you run.  Don’t look back, don’t stop, just keep running, okay?”

“Wait, what are you gonna do?” said Charity.  She was finally awake enough to realize what a jam we were in, because the muzziness in her speech had been replaced with fear.

“Something stupid,” I said.  I squared off in front of Patricia.  Her blood-smeared mouth twisted into a nasty smile as the words of the incantation spilled out of her lips.  All the lightning that had been dancing around her now shot down her arm, making her hand glow black and purple.  The tip of her index finger began to glow brighter and brighter, like a electrical wire about to burn through.  A bolt of that crazy black lightning started to grow from her finger, a lightning bolt moving in extreme slow motion, coming directly at me.  I had maybe three seconds before I was royally screwed.

I admit, I didn’t think this through entirely.  I just acted.  I started shrieking at the top of my lungs; no words, just incoherent rage and frustration coming out in incoherent sound.  I ran forward and slammed the sharpened end of the ankh into Patricia’s gut.  It sank in with and ease that surprised me so much, I let go.  It surprised Patricia, too.  She stopped chanting, looked down at the length of wood sticking out of her gut, the blood that was starting to spill out around it.  She looked up at me, bewildered.  I was as bewildered as she was, and stepped back.

The red robed followers stood there, just as confused as Patty and I were.  That was their mistake.  Patricia had stopped the incantation, mere syllables from the end, but still too soon.  The glow on her fingertip died as the lightning began to roll back up her arm.  It started dancing around her, wrapping her in lacy arcs of light and color.  Her hair burst into flame, then her clothes.  Her eyes flickered gray to black to gray again, over and over again.  She opened her mouth to scream, but two voices came out:  a shrill soprano and a roaring like a voice from the deepest pits of hell.

Suddenly, Patricia threw her head back and black light shot from her opened mouth, splashing against the ceiling.  Yes, I meant the word “splashing;” that was the only way to explain how that light moved when it hit the raw wood.  Wherever the light touched, the wood blackened and smouldered.  From Patricia’s hands, lightning shot out in thick bolts, striking the nearest red-robed figures. These two shouted in agony, before going stiff and jerking like they’d grabbed a live wire.  Two more bolts of light shot from these poor souls, striking the people to the side and behind them.  It spread, jumping from one man to the next quicker than I could track.

It didn’t take long for the light to come back at me.  You know how I said it looked like the minions had grabbed a live wire?  Yeah, well, it felt worse than that.  It was a cold burning that shot down all my nerve pathways at once.  i thought I was being frozen to death and burned up at the same instant.  I think I shouted something, probably a swear, but I don’t know.  I lost consciousness about two seconds in, and trust me, two seconds conscious during that was an eternity.

The next thing I know, I can taste the flavor of ozone on my tongue, and I can smell something burning, a combination of woodsmoke and burned meat.  Somebody was patting my face.  It was annoying, so I slapped the hand away.

“Come on, wake up, you stupid bitch!” shouted a voice above me.  I opened my eyes, and saw lots of blurry color.  I blinked, twice, three times, and Charity’s voice slowly came into focus.  She was crying.  “Are you awake?  We gotta go!” she said.  Her breath smelled of vomit.

“Don’t call me bitch,” I groaned.  I hurt everywhere; I felt like I had pulled every muscle in my body, and I could feel myself trembling.

“You can ground me later,” Charity shouted.  She grabbed my arm and started jerking on it, trying to get me onto my feet.  “First you gotta get up.  We have to get out of here or we’re gonna burn to death!”

“Burn?”  That would explain the smoke.  I forced myself to sit up.  The room was rapidly filling with smoke from a flame that was licking along the ceiling and working down the walls.  In front of the door, half the red robed figures were smoldering or burning.  The others, the ones that survived, I guess, were stirring, crawling, or otherwise trying as hard as me to pull it together and get the hell out.  Patricia., what was left of her, was a smoldering black blob that nevertheless pulsated and twitched; every time she moved, puffs of smoke belched out of the blob, smelling of a pork roast left too long on the fire.

Charity climbed to her feet, pulling me with her.  I pulled free of her hand so I could lean forward, my own hands on my knees, trying to keep from heaving.  there was already a puddle of vomit on the ground; I guess Charity lost her battle, and who could blame her?  I managed to keep my lunch, however, and straightened after a couple seconds.  “Come on,” I said, and grabbed her hand.  We couldn’t run, because we had to climb over the red-robed minions.

“Are they all dead?” said Charity.

“Dead or dying,” I said.  “You don’t take a magical hit like that and live.”

“You did.”

“So far, so good.  I only caught the tail end of it,” I said.  “Conversation later, okay?”  By now we had reached the door.  Thank goodness they had left the door open; we could never have gotten it open past the bodies blocking it, not in time.  We got out into the hallway, and started running.

It took us a few minutes to find our way out, and by then, most of the pyramid was on fire.  We ran out into the night, getting back at a safe distance before stopping to turn and look.  Some of the red-robed minions had gotten out as well, and milled around in the high grass, bewildered or sick with smoke inhalation or both.  They never gave us a second look, and that was just as well; I couldn’t have defended us from a bad-tempered kitten, much less a cultist who’d just had their cult jerked — or burned — out from under us.

“What the hell happened?” said Charity.  I noticed that she didn’t have shoes on, and her legs and feet were scratched up and covered with dew, though I don’t think she noticed.

“How much do you remember?”

“Passing out at a party.  A long nightmare with those guys in it — “and she pointed at the cultists.  “Then you shouting at me.  What did I miss? How did that woman make lightning everywhere?  What was she doing?”

“That’s a long story,” I said.  “Come on, my car’s this way.  Let’s get you home.  You need your mom, and I need a shot of vodka.”

The End

To Part Three


And that’s it for April this time.  I know it ran a little long, but I wanted to wrap things up.  On the ankh/shankh line, send your groans and thrown tomatoes to lilywhite, who came up with it late last night. smartassery should never go unpunished.  Tell me in the comments if you liked the story and want to hear more from April.  She’s a new kind of character for me, so a little encouragement would not go amiss.  Sometime today all the installments should be listed on the Fiction Index page, so latecomers can catch up without having to run the entire gauntlet of my blog.

And, like April, that’s it for me today.  You know the routine:  share, tweet, comment, write.  I posted on Friday about my new email addy.  I’ve also put it on the “About Me” page for when you want to contact me, with questions/comments, with suggestions for Fun Friday (or anything else, really), or if you just want to shoot the breeze.  I’ll be back on Wednesday, though I’m not sure what I’ll be talking about.  Meh, I’ll figure it out.  Until then, y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Pulp, short fiction | Leave a comment

Good news!

Finally got to talk to Elder Son.  That man is a genius, and very very patient with an old Jacobite like me.  I have a new email address.  I have updated my About AJ page, and if you want to write to me, suggesting Fun Friday, recommending a book/movie/game/whatever, if you just want to talk about our passions, you can reach me at

ajclarkson-at-talwyn-dot-net

(obviously replace the “at” and “dot” with the appropriate symbols.  I flipping hate bots)

If you’ve emailed me in the last month or so, send it again, and I WILL respond (the trick is not getting me to answer emails; the trick is getting me to STOP!)

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: Writing Resources

And it’s Friday yet again.  Funny how that day of the week keeps turning up, isn’t it?  The week has been a glorious roller coaster ride here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia:  first things are great, then they’re terrible, then they’re entertaining, then they’re frustrating.  Never a dull moment here in our treetop lair.  Right now I’m watching a sign of the apocalypse unfolding in my very own front yard:  my husband is working on my car (something he’s been putting off for a looong time).  Sigh.  I guess I’m going to have to keep that man for another few years, even if it he getting a little long in the tooth (for myself, I’m still as bright and fabulous as I was when I was twenty, and I defy anybody to tell me any different!).

Gotta ask a question.  Okay, so my daughter recommended a book to me last week, and (because she loves the book and threatened dire vengeance if didn’t) I read it.  It was billed as steampunk, and I enjoyed it very much.  BUT.  I don’t think it was steampunk.  It was set in what appeared (marginally) to be Edwardian times, but beyond that, no, nothing that screamed Steampunk at me, either in props, story, character or tone.  My question is, what do y’all want me to do when I come across a book/movie/media like that?  Review it anyway, and pronounce my opinion that it doesn’t fall in our beloved genres?  Skip it entirely?  I’m kind of torn myself.  A couple times I’ve reviewed marginal material like that, but I am unsure.  I don’t want to water things down too much.  Tell me what you think in the comments.

Still no joy on the email thing.  Son is busy and I’m hesitant to try it myself; I’m sure to screw it up.  If he doesn’t pop up soon (like in the next 24 hours), I’ll try something else.  We’ll be back up and running by Monday or else!

Okay, on to business.  Most of the time I don’t get too deep into the writing stuff here on the blog.  Yes, I’m a writer, and I adore my job (writing is something you do for love, because I guarantee you’re not doing it for the money).  But I didn’t want to do yet another writing blog; I seldom read them myself unless I’m looking for specific information, and who the heck am I to give advice anyway?  Besides, exploring my beloved genres is much more fun than talking about characterization any day!

But the fact remains that I am a writer, and I do end up collecting writing stuff that I find online.  My bookmark list is filled with tidbits marked “Reference material” and “inspiration” and “Editing advice.”  Not all of it applies to Steampunk, Dieselpunk or New Pulp, but a lot of it does.  And while not all of you are writers, I know some of you are.  And if you’re not, you may be gamers who need to write scenarios to torture your players with.  Or if not that, the sorts of info that writers dig up can still be fascinating stuff for you curious types.  This is especially true with our genres, where so much of it is firmly rooted in historical eras, events and people.

The first resource I have for you is a delicious one.  I have it filed under all things Dieselpunk, but it would be useful to any of the genres, and is just fascinating reading for anybody who likes anything spy related.  The Encyclopedia of Espionage is exactly what it says on the tin.  It’s a clearinghouse of articles on espionage and spying, focusing mostly (but not exclusively) on World War II to the present.  It’s hardly comprehensive, mostly focusing on specific events, and there are almost no discussions of specific people or their contributions as primary listings, though it has internal linkings.  For example, there is no primary listing for Mata Hari.  But under “Espionage – Chronology,” she’s listed, and a link is provided to a very good article on an outside site.  Not one hundred percent user friendly in that regard.  But there’s a dedicated search engine at the top of the page which is very helpful (it’s how I found Mata Hari’s listing).  And all the pages I’ve seen have very good links and bibliographies for those of us who can’t give up our addiction to the delicious smell of paper and glue.

Next, for our Steampunk friends, here is a page I found a few months ago.  Steamed is a blog shared by a bunch of established Steampunk writers:

  • Suzanne Lazear, author of The Aether Chronicles
  • Theresa Meyers, author of The Legend Chronicles
  • Maeve Alpin, author of The Steam-Gyptian-Punk series
  • Cindy Spencer Pape, author of a bunch of stuff, including some Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences offerings and The Gaslight Chronicles
  • Ray Dean, prolific short story writer and contributor to the Tinkered Tales series, among others
  • and O.M. Grey, author of the Steampunk Guide to Sex, Avalon Revisited and the Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter steampunk YA series.

Quite the collection of Steampunk authors, no?  And to have that much concentrated oomph in one blog is a treat.  Many of the posts are after-action convention reports (with lots of pretty pictures), talks about developments in the genre or things of general interest to Steampunk enthusiasts.  But what caught my attention and landed the blog on my bookmark list was a subpage entitled Writing Steampunk.  It’s a little collection of brief essays on the craft of creating Steampunk stories.  There’s not a whole lot here, just fourteen articles (so far).  But they’re good, informative essays written by people who are actively shaping the genre in real time, not just theory.  I have consulted these several times while working on this blog, as well as on my radio drama, and they have been very helpful.  Even if you’re not a writer, read them because it’s good to know what the pros are thinking about the path of Steampunk and what defines our genre.

Finally, something for fans of New Pulp.  Anybody who’s been reading in the genre for more than ten minutes has heard of Lester Dent and his Master Fiction Plot, which, for the non-writers out there, is Dent’s generalized template that will let anybody write a 6000 word pulp short story, regardless of subgenre (for the record, the above link is from Paper Dragons, an RPG page that has a nice resource section for anybody interested in the late 1930’s).  I like Dent’s general template okay; it’s a nice overview, but it usually leaves me a little flat.  Don’t ask me why; I guess I just find it a little too general.

So I went looking for something with a little more detail, and found this.  Pulp Centric is another RPG site (I love RPG sites; nerds ROCK) devoted to, duh! pulp-centric RPG’s.  It’s defunct now, and was apparently fairly short-lived.  But one of its subpages is the 10-Minute Plot Formula.  This is a gem! It takes the Lester Dent template and breaks it down, explaining in detail how to make each step happen.  It even gives examples and variations on structure and approach.  I find this an invaluable tool when I’m stuck for where to go next, or when I just need a little impetus on a story my brain is balking on.  I recommend it in highest terms.

Okay, as usual on Fridays, this blog post is a little short.  Other than, “Lookie here, ain’t it great, check it out!” there just ain’t that much to say about link lists.  You know the drill:  share, comment, tweet.  Like I said at the top, I’m going to have the email situation fixed one way or the other, or else.  I’ll be back on Monday with the long-awaited final installment of April Tyree’s adventure in the New York pyramid.  I’m sorry for making y’all wait, but I guarantee I’m finishing it up, because I have a big plan for what comes next.  Let’s just say that my steampunk fans will not be disappointed!  In the meantime, y’all enjoy your weekend, and be good.  Of course if you can’t be good, better not to get caught.  Bye for now!

Categories: Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, Pulp, Steampunk | Leave a comment

Nefertiti’s Heart by A.W. Exley

Wow!  It’s been a whole, what, 24 hours since we last spoke!  Nevertheless, I’m back and rarin’ to go.  I have spent a quiet week so far in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  My hubby even fired up the grill yesterday and scorched some dead animal flesh.  Delicious stuff, and he got it all done and dusted before the rains hit.    Best of all, we pulled onions in the garden.  You know what that means?  Onion pancakes for lunch!  Yay!

In the meantime, a quick housekeeping note before we move on to today’s rant. Being techno-challenged, it took me a while to notice that my email addy is acting funny, and I’m not receiving emails like I should.  So if you’ve written me and I haven’t answered, it’s not that I was ignoring you; it’s that my email hates me.  I messaged Elder Son to see if he can help me get set up elsewhere.  Until then, message me in the comments and I’ll keep them private.  As soon as I get set up on a new email (waiting for help from Eldest Son), I’ll post it here and on Twitter, so keep an eye out.

Okay, enough housekeeping.  On to the subject at hand.  On the ride back home from Vandalia, I read Nefertiti’s Heart by A.W. Exley.  The back cover describes it as “a steampunk adventure with a serial killer, romance, and a few broken hearts.”  God, I hate giving bad reviews so so much.  But I have to say that this book fails on every point.  It’s steampunk only in the most marginal sense, the romance leaves me cold, and “broken hearts” is a very low play on words.

Okay, the basic plot.  It’s 1861, and we have Cara Devon, a “curious and impetuous” estranged daughter of a famous collector of antiquities.  She ran away from home at a young age (14 years old is implied, but I wasn’t clear on that) because of a terrible event (her father basically sold her to a rapist, then beat her half to death when she fled the marriage).  Now he’s dead, and she’s come back to sell off his fabulous collection.  Meanwhile, a serial killer is stalking the daughters of aristocrats, and murdering them in a very odd manner:  he’s stabbing keys through their hearts.  Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  Cara makes a connection between the killer’s modus operandi and an artifact in the collection:  Nefertiti’s heart, a fist sized diamond (how is beyond me; the connection is tenuous at best).  So she starts investigating.  During this “investigation,” she comes across Viscount Nathaniel “Nate” Lyons, minor noble, crime boss, pirate and leader of pirates, you name it.  Oh, by the way, he’s dead sexy, and he’s got the hots for Cara.  Between the bouts of heavy breathing and coy flirting, the two of them manage to figure out who the serial killer is before the Queen’s Enforcers can do it.

Oh, gosh, where to start with all the wrong of this?  Okay, start at the beginning.  I feel like I was sold a pig in a poke.  The title and blurb implied that the story was going to be an adventure, like Indiana Jones, trying to find this artifact before the bad guys do.  What I got was a very spicy romance with a little suspense story running parallel.  I don’t like romance.  Yeah, I know, I’m a girl, I’m supposed to love that junk.  But I just don’t.  I’ll take Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade over Pretty Woman any day of the week.  If I had known this story was this romance-heavy, I wouldn’t have bought it.  The book is called “artifact hunters,” but they never really do this, beyond talking about it and occasionally reading a text).

Next.  It’s called a Steampunk story.  I’m not sure what it was, but this was not steampunk.  Oh, it had the trappings.  It had dirigibles and steam powered vehicles and clockworks here and there.  But steampunk is about more than just the props.  It’s about a  juxtaposition of modern thought and action against the structure and attitudes of the Victorian world.  This juxtaposition never happened.  Crap.  This is hard to explain.  Okay, let me give you a for instance.  At one point Cara goes to a fancy ball in London.  She decides to flaunt societal expectations (that this is a rebellious act is quite clearly stated), and wear what a modern reader would recognize as a slinky evening gown.  Fine, whatever.  Except that she wears the dress to the party and nobody notices.  There’s not a word is said, no ladies whispering behind fans, none of the men (except the love interest) ogle her, whatever.  it’s as though she were just like everybody else.

It’s a small thing, I know.  But the whole book is like this.  Everything is just a little bit off, none of the attitudes are there.  It’s like it’s the normal everyday world, only with Steampunk props added.  The props don’t even figure into the story, not in the least.  The male lead arrived once in a dirigible, but beyond that, nothing much. It made it difficult to fall into the world, to feel that I was in a different place and time.  Am I making any sense at all?

Next:  Nathaniel Lyons.  Meh.  Maybe it’s because I don’t read enough of these romances to know the tropes.  But I am utterly bored by the romantic lead in this story.  We’re told he’s a dangerous dude, a pirate, feared and respected by society, blah blah blah.  We never see any of it.  And as for being feared and respected, which one is it?  Nobody seems to take any notice of him.  It’s like I said before, the reactions of the populace was modern, not Victorian, not even faux Victorian.  Same here.  He wasn’t sexy, he was pushy.  Not a turn on.

That brings us to Cara.   Oh, Lord, where do I start?  Okay, first:  rape as character background has been done to death.  I’m not saying you can’t ever use it, because, when well written, it’s very effective.  However, you have to write it well;  dazzle me.  Cara didn’t dazzle me.  She was written as angry and bitter and so averse to touch that she wouldn’t even shake hands.  But she was willing to spill every grim detail on her second meeting with the male lead, a character she said several times that she didn’t like and she didn’t trust.  Hello?  Did I miss something here?  Moreover, it’s like the third meeting when she suddenly lets him into her knickers (which they didn’t have silky panties back then, they had things like bloomers or drawers, which reached almost to the knees; do you research!).  This chick won’t let another woman shake her hand, but she’ll let this self-admitted scoundrel cut her underthings off with a knife.  After that, the two of them are going at it like bunnies; a girl with serious intimacy issues, probably PTSD, and she’s a suddenly a maniac in bed?

And because it needs to be said:  Sex in a tree?  Really?  REALLY?

Finally (i have to get to a “finally” or it’s gonna be midnight before I finish this post).  The plot.  Yes, I’m a little annoyed they promised me an adventure, and I get a soap opera.  But I’m a big girl, I can suck it up and deal. All right, they said Cara has curiosity and impetuosity.  They say it, but I never see it.  Mostly she’s angry and … well, angry.  Next, Cara’s supposed to have come back to sell her father’s collection of antiquities.  Except there’s no collection.  There’s a lot of talk about a collection, but you never see it, Cara never sees it, nobody sees it, because, if it exists at all, he’s scattered the pieces to the four winds.  “Scattered to the four winds” is kind of the opposite of a “collection,” no?

I saw the solution to who the serial killer was about half an hour before the story did, and immediately saw exactly how the last third of the book was gonna play out.  You’ve seen one Lifetime channel movie, you’ve seen them all.  The connection between the serial killer and Nefertiti’s Heart sorta worked; at least I was willing to let it slide.  I’ll give the writer credit for being a little creative with our killer’s methods, at least.  Suitably gruesome and weird and horribly appropriate.  Last:  in the very last scene, there was an implication that the Heart had some sort of mystical power.  No, not an implication, an outright statement.  Okay, if you’d started out by saying mystical things were possible, regardless of how rare, I’d be willing to roll with it.  To say it’s possible, and then they laugh it off publicly while entertaining the though privately, I’d roll with that.  But to never once utter a single sound about it through the entire book and then suddenly come out with “Oh, you and I both bled on it and now we’re bound together by its mystical power” in the last pages?  Cheat cheat cheat!  That’s not how these things are done.  I wish there was a word as good as “deus ex machina” for these sorts of situations.

And then again, I could be completely wrong.  I was so disappointed that I bought an adventure novel and got a smutty romance, that may have biased my opinion.  But I just was not happy.

Okay, I’m sure there was more I wanted to say, but I’ve been picking at this blog post all day, it’s after ten thirty and I’m no longer coherent.  So I’ll leave off here.  You know the drill.  I’ll get back to you on the email thing ASAP.  In the meantime, I’ll be back on Friday, and I expect y’all to be good while I’m gone.  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

 

Categories: books, Opinion, Review, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

After Action Report: Vandalia Con

It’s Tuesday!  Yeah, I know, I’m shocked, too; who knew I could post on not Mondays?  But apparently the Internet still exists between my blog posts, even if I haven’t bothered to climb out of my suspended animation chamber to witness it personally.  You may be wondering why I’m posting today, instead of yesterday.  The answer is that I spent all day yesterday recovering from my weekend.  It’s been a long loooooong time since I was as active as I was this weekend, and my body decided to register many, many, many complaints.  But it was TOTALLY WORTH IT!

Vandalia Con was this weekend.  As you may recall, Vandalia is a very cozy little convention held in Parkersburg, WV over Memorial Day weekend.  I approve of cons, as a rule, but this one is extra special.  Its motto is, “Saving the Mothers of Invention,” and they mean it:  all proceeds go to help needy women get mammograms and cervical cancer screenings.  I approve wholeheartedly; women’s health is a serious issue here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, and anything that improves the chances for a woman to be diagnosed and treated successfully, I’m behind it.

My word, such pretty scenery!

My word, such pretty scenery!

I have women in my own life (you know who you are!) who would not be here, were it not for screenings and early detection/treatment.  At least one sister who, thanks to a mammogram, had her cancer detected at stage zero.  Do you know how great that is?  Yes, she had a mastectomy.  But she didn’t have to do the chemo, she didn’t have to suffer with the radiation and the sickness.  They caught it early, they were able to treat promptly, and thanks to that, I still have a big sister now.  That’s what Vandalia does:  it makes it possible for people like my sister to live.

I don’t see why more cons don’t do this.  It’s not like there’s a shortage of nerds.  Every time you turn around, we’re congregating to dress in bizarre clothes and enjoy being geeky together.  Why not take advantage of our natural nerd migrations and use it to raise money for women’s health?

Speaking of bizarre clothes and enjoying the geeky life, I should probably get on to

Front view

Front view

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Rear view. Isn’t that cool?

the after action report, huh?  Short version:  I HAD A BLAST!!!!  No, I have never been to a con before, so I have no ideal frame of reference.  But I have attended enough SCA events to know the difference between a good event and a bad one.  This was one of the gooders:  you can tell by the number of smiles to be found.

And this is just the lobby! Wait until you see the rest of the place!

Venue:
The venue for Vandalia was the Historic Blennerhassett Hotel in downtown Parkersburg, WV.  I myself wouldn’t have guessed that Parkersburg would have enough traffic to make a midrange hotel like the Blennerhassett profitable.  But apparently, they do, ‘cuz the place is thriving.   If I understand correctly, it’s a “non-smoking, pet friendly” hotel.  I do know that several people were there with dogs.  The hotel’s over a century old, and has gone the extra mile to preserve the Edwardian character of the place.   It is gorgeous.  I don’t mean in a “oh, cool wallpaper” kind of nice.  I mean gorgeous as in (to quote a fellow attendee of the con), “I was half asleep after driving in from North Carolina [that’s an eight-to-ten hour trip through the mountains, depending on route and traffic] and all I could think of was to sleep.  I came into the lobby and I was like, “Just point me toward the be- oh my God, how beautiful!” and like that [snaps fingers] I was wide awake and exploring.”

Ma Clarkson and her Gang of Miscreants! (aka my daughter Sarah, my son Levi)

What I’m saying is that this place is not the Holiday Inn.  Our room — which was 100% wheelchair accessible, including showers — was beautiful and absolutely huge.  I seriously doubt the furniture was antique, but it sure looked it.  Four of us (Jan, me, my daughter Sarah, my son Levi) slept in that room for two nights, and not once did we feel crowded.  There was room service, complimentary ice delivery, the housekeeping department was scary-efficient, you name it.  Oh, yeah, and they were nice.  Every staff member were smiling and friendly and glad to help, even to the point of pushing the chair of an old cripple like yours, truly when I got stuck and couldn’t get up a ramp.  They were not even slightly fazed by the weirdness factor a bunch of Steampunks brought with them, which made me very happy.  While I enjoyed occasionally “freaking mundanes” in my SCA days, there is a level of diminishing returns; I can only be looked at like a lunatic so many times before it stops being funny.  The staff here never flinched, and good on them for it!

The hotel allowed the con to use a bunch of their conference and meeting rooms.  The rooms were generous, good lighting, good acoustics, you name it.  I liked the fact that there were little conversation pits (metaphorically speaking) outside the conference rooms.  If you were waiting on somebody in a class, or just wanted to pass the time, you had a place to sit and talk with your compadres, rather than having to constantly stand and block hallway traffic.

Downsides to the venue:  You know, I can’t really think of anything except little quibbles.

  • Because the building is so old, I’m betting they got grandfathered on a lot of the Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.  To wit, the halls could be a little narrow for a wheelchair and a person to pass one another.  But wheelchairs are the exception, not the rule, so it’s not likely to come up for everybody.
  • The hotel has a private parking lot, but it’s a little hard to find, and it’s not that big.  On the other hand, their staff was glad to come all the way out to your car in the lot and help you transport anything you needed transport, so there’s that.
  • There’s an in-house restaurant in the hotel, which is wonderful. But I would like to have had other eating options.  Okay, to be fair, there were other options, sandwich shops and the like.  But my kids and I had never been to Parkersburg before, and Google Maps isn’t always user-friendly, so it took us some effort to find the nearest Jimmy John’s.  Maybe a quickie listing of walking-distance restaurants could be in the works for next year’s event?
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Could this steampunk family be more adorable?

Event Organization:
Very very good.  I give them an A+.  Then again, both Bret and Shelly are old hands at SCA events (and getting SCAdians organized is like herding cats), so I expected nothing less.  Let me tell you something:  anybody can be a good organizer when things are going well.  The way you tell the pros from the hacks is how they react when things go wrong.  And yes, there were hiccups, no shows on commitments a couple times, minor schedule juggling, and of course the inevitable “SCA time” (things getting started five or ten minutes late).  But Bret and Shelly were on top of things so well that all it ever became were hiccups.  The average attendee barely noticed, and I personally didn’t hear a single complaint.

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Well, actually, yeah they could! How precious is that! Squeeee!!!!!

I don’t know if this is a common thing at non SCA events, or if it’s just a Vandalia thing.  But the schedules/programs for Vandalia were printed up to look like Victorian broadsheets, which was a brilliant period touch, one I appreciated a lot.  And even more, I appreciated the fact that they were everywhere, stacked outside the elevators on every floor where things were happening.  This is good, because I have a tendency to lose programs; I must have collected half a dozen of these broadsheets over the course of the weekend.  They were easy to read, too.

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Even more pretty scenery!

Another good thing was that the schedule was well designed.  I’ve been to SCA events where the schedule was packed so tight you felt like you were racing against the clock; it’s hard to have fun when you’re frantic with worry over the clock.  I’ve also been to events where the schedule was so loose that there were huge chunks of downtime (otherwise known as boring parts).  Vandalia struck a nice balance on this score.  They had nothing scheduled before eleven in the morning, so you could wake up at your own speed, grab some breakfast and generally pull yourself together before the fun begins.  The schedule had enough classes, panels and events planned out so that you could keep busy through the day, but still have time to visit the vendors, check out the scenery walking past, or just kick it with your friends.  Most of the stuff was between lunch and dinner; after dinner there were a couple things scheduled, but was mostly left pretty loose.

Complaints:  Umm, really, none that I can lay at the feet of the organizers.  They had a couple no-shows that ended up cancelling classes I was looking forward to, but that wasn’t Bret and Shelly’s fault.  One class was a serious disappointment; I was hoping for a lot more information than I got.  But again, that was the teacher’s fault, not the event’s.

Highlights:
I loved the classes (as if you didn’t already know I’m a hopeless nerd).  There were too many that I wanted to attend, and some were cross-scheduled, so I sent my minions — err, I mean, my darling children — out to take the classes I couldn’t get to.  I think my son’s head asploded when he went to the Airship Regatta.  The Regatta was kind of a wet firecracker, thanks to too few participants.  But there was enough to make my son start foaming at the mouth, and agitating for his dad and he to get some supplies and start building their own.  Shelly, if you or your sweetie are reading this, be ready for a grudge match in the airship line next year; I’ll be bringing my own homegrown rivalry to spice things up!

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a kid-oriented presentation on Johnny Appleseed. It was very adult-friendly, and I enjoyed sitting in on this one very much.

I liked the fact that several of the classes were not just kid friendly, but actively aimed at kids.  I don’t know if this is standard con practice, but I approve, regardless.  I attended at least one of these classes, and was gratified to see that I was not the only adult who wasn’t embarrassed to attend a kid’s class.  “Interesting” doesn’t have an age limit.  There were other classes flagged as definitely not kid-friendly (the only one I attended of this kind was about ghosts), which again, I approve of.

There were several ticket events, I guess you’d call them, where an extra fee (ten dollars) was required to take part.  I didn’t get to any of these (I had a ticket for it, I just got busy elsewhere).  My kids attended a couple of these, tours of the hotel, local museums, etc.  They enjoyed them very much.  I didn’t get to the Tea Dueling event, darn it!   But I did get to the fire breathing show.  It was way cool!  They had a couple of members out for injury, so they decided to team up with a gentleman who did a bubble show for the kids.  The result?  Pure gold!  Here, take a peek!

There was a music show starting a little bit after dinner on Saturday and running until pretty late.  I caught pieces of it and it was good.  I was very happy to see that Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings were there.  Here’s a brief clip of their performance (you can just see the top of my be-laced hat on the right hand side, half hidden by the chick in the boater hat).

There was storytelling later that night, in the same area.  I was probably too tired to fully enjoy this one, but I had promised to interpret this particular gathering for one of my deaf friends, and I couldn’t renege.  Again, I was glad to have attended:  who doesn’t love singalongs and scary stories and ballads and poetry, all shared by handsome men?

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See what I mean? Such pretty pretty pirates (and a dieselpunk to keep things interesting!)

Gosh, I’m leaving out so much!  There was a small vendor area (I love this place, all the pretty scenery wanders through that area eventually), a casino night (I made a killing at blackjack, thanks to my misspent youth).  I gave the parade a miss on Sunday afternoon (I’m not a big one for parades, and with my wheelchair, I’m more of a float than a participant), but I was there for the farmers market; they let us take part and it was more fun than I anticipated.  That’s where Bonnie’s Bus was, which provides mammograms to all comers, no woman over forty turned away, regardless of your ability to pay.  There were the very young, very VERY handsome pirates who put on a show for the kids, told stories, and generally improved both the tone and the scenery of the whole con simply by showing up.

Final verdict?  SUCH a win!  I’m so going back next year, and bringing more money, more pretty clothes, and more memory cards for my camera!  Seriously, anybody can have a good time at an event like this.  But how often can you have a good time and serve a good cause at the same time?  It’s a win win.  MARK YOUR CALENDARS!   We had people from as far away as Rhode Island and North Carolina (as well as one fellow originally from Yugoslavia, but I’m doubting he made the trip just for us).  If they can make the trip, you can!

Quick note on another subject:  Tanith Lee, British author of science fiction and fantasy, died on Sunday.  She was not a particular contributor of steampunk, dieselpunk or new pulp.  But still she was a science fiction author, and the world is a little less bright for her absence.  Thank you for your stories, Miss Lee, and enjoy your final jaunt into the stars.

Okay, with that said, I know it’s Tuesday instead of Monday, but the same drill still applies:  comment, tweet, share, write.  If you have a contribution to Fun Friday, give me a shout at ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  If you don’t have a contribution, but you wanna just shoot the breeze, ask a question, send me a million dollars, same email addy.  Now that the sewing frenzy is past, I am hoping to get back on schedule.  So the next time you’ll see me is tomorrow.  Until then, be good!  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

(totally not kidding about the million dollars; I have bills to pay!)

Categories: conventions, Steampunk | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: Twitter-Pated

So here we are at Friday again, and not a moment too soon.  My week took a turn for the crap around Wednesday afternoon, and has taken great pleasure in annoying me ever since.  So I’m really looking forward to the weekend, which I can only hope will break the crap-streak and things will take a turn for the better.

So before we start, a quickie.  If you’re a fan of console gaming, I’m sure you’ve already heard that the newest Assassin’s Creed is set in Victorian London.  I’m not much of a console gamer, but my sons are (and my daughters, too, to a lesser extent).  My lack of savvy is why it took me five months to find out about Assassin’s Creed V; Younger Son mentioned it in passing this week, and of course I had to go look it up.  What I found was this video, apparently some experts talking about the upcoming game.  The reason I include it here is because they have some beautiful screenshots and samples of game play.  Gorgeous stuff.  I may end up playing it myself, it’s just that tempting.  Here, take a peek:

Okay, moving on.  Writers are advised to get an online presence ASAP; it’s supposed to be a good marketing tool.  Okaaaaay, I can see that working for some.  For me, well, I have not been very good at this part of the job. I have a Twitter presence, but it is marginal at best.  I’m just not a chatty type of person, as a rule.  But there are people in this world who practically live on Twitter, and do all sorts of creative things over there.

I first heard about some of the fun stuff happening on Twitter when I read about a fellow who did a “real time” re-enactment of War of the Worlds (which I lost and can’t find again, but it was awesome!).  So I started looking around and found that lots of people are playing around on Twitter, re-enacting historical and fictional events.  So rather than doing the usual three installments thing I usually do on Fun Fridays, I’m going to just give you a bunch of links that lead to stuff on Twitter and elsewhere that would be of interest to anybody into Steampunk, Dieselpunk or New Pulp.

Histagrams.org comes from a simple premise:  what if Instagram had been around for more than just the last couple of years?  There are lots of captioned pictures as with the image above, the sort of thing that’s on Instagram, but they’re related to historical  events, both real and imaginary, from biblical times right up to the present day.  Problem: they’re not organized in any fashion whatsoever, so finding stuff related to the Steampunk and Diesel/Pulp time frames means surfing the entire collection.

Drunk History was a short-lived YouTube channel (associated with the Funny or Die webseries) that was pretty much exactly what the name implies.  Basically a person got loop-legged drunk and tried to explain an event from history; what he described was then acted out by professional actors (some fairly big names for a web series:  Jack Black, Will Ferrell, and Ryan Goslings are among some of the people who played parts).  Yeah, sounds weird, right?  That’s because it is. There are less than a dozen postings on the above link. But somehow the idea got picked up by Comedy Central and from there ran another fifty episodes or so.  Again, don’t look for things to be in historical order, and fair warning:  this is waaaaaay not safe for work, there’s some hardcore language going on.

Here, take a peek:

BBC History Magazine has a website called History Extra, which has just tons and tons of interesting stuff on it.  None of what they discuss is investigated in any depth; however they give the best links so you can find more information.  While I was surfing it, I found their Top Ten Victorian Podcasts.  Again, exactly what it says in the title (handy, that).  This gives links to podcasts from the BBC presumably, wherein experts talk about stuff like Victorian funerals and cemeteries, life on a Victorian era farm, and boarding schools in the Victorian era.  I like podcasts; as can be guessed from my writing audio drama, I am an audio-focused person.  So I enjoy these; you might like them, too.

There are a bunch of Twitter “timelines,” for lack of a better term.  In these, they pick an event in history and post information about that event, in more-or-less real time.  That’s not a good explanation.  Let me give you a for-instance.  WW2 Tweets from 1943 has been posting events, obviously, from World War II.  All the stuff that happened on February 12th 1943 gets posted on February 12th, in order; if multiple things happened, they get posted in time-of-day order.  Tweets From WW1 is doing the same thing for World War One.  Civil War Reporter is doing the same thing for the American Civil War.  CBC D-Day Live is a real-time broadcast of the Normandy Invasion.   TwHistory keeps a listing of a bunch of them.  I like these because they give an idea of scope and progress.  You read along and you start to understand how long things ran, and what order events happen, in a more visceral way than just reading a timeline in a history book.  The downside (in my mind) is that they lack immediacy.  They’re giving you dry statements of fact at each posting:  “at noon today, the Battle of Whichever started in Someplace French, outside Paris,” just like you’d read in a history book.

For some immediacy, try Whitechapel Real Time.  Whitechapel Real Time is a realtime posting of the Jack the Ripper murders, same as before.  BUT!  Instead of having posts like, “Annie Chapman was found at the corner of X and Y,” the posts are from the point of view of people who were there.   “#Donovan You can’t trust these working girls. Chapman claims ‘she hasn’t sufficient money for bed‘” is posted just before Annie Chapman went out into the streets to earn money as a prostitute (I’m guessing some of the time frames are guesses, for obvious reasons) or “#LetterWriter’The knife that I done these murders with it is a small handle with a large long sharp blade sharpe both sides’.”  Characters include the victims, beat cops who were the first responders, bystanders and people who were only reading about the events in the news, detectives, reporters, suspects, and of course, Jack himself (presumably the Letter Writer mentioned above).  There are pictures and links included from time to time, describing and showing important landmarks associated with London of the time period, and of the murders.  I LOVE THIS.  I love the immediacy of it all.  Yes, a lot of it has to be fictionalized (how would we know what was said by bystanders?), but that’s okay.

Another one like this is Robert Falcon Scott.  It’s a little different from the Whitechapel one, as it’s written as a personal Twitter feed with only one speaker, Robert Scott, and purports to describe his last, fatal expedition to Antarctica.  This one began and ended in 2012, so it can be read in its entirety.

One last prize, and this one is a giggle.  Bite Sized Dracula is a Twitter retelling of the book Dracula.  Sort of.  There are a number of posters to this listing:  Arthur Holmwood, Dracula himself, Jonathan Harker, etc.  They’re all carrying on these conversations — some serious, most silly, all very entertaining — while the events of the book are going on.  It’s as though all of the characters from the book all had twitter accounts and are tweeting their reactions to events.  This caught my eye because Dracula was originally written in the epistolary form (letters, newspaper clippings, telegrams, etc), so Twitter is a logical 21st century extension of that idea.  That’s what got my attention.  What kept me reading is how funny it is.  Just go look, you’ll see what I mean.

Okay, that’s it for me.  I still have a crap-ton of sewing to do to be ready for Vandalia next weekend.  Next weekend!  EEEEEEEK!!!!  Who knew it was slipping up on us so quickly?  Anyway, you know the drill:  tweet, comment, share, email.  If you have a suggestion for Fun Friday, give me a shout at ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  I’ll be back on Monday, I hope; until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught.

 

 

 

Categories: Fun Friday, History | Leave a comment

On Doing Things The Old Way: Letter Writing

Wednesday morning and finally!!!!!  The weather here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia has gotten hot.  We had 90F (32C) heat for a brief moment this weekend, and have enjoyed temps in the 80F’s (27C-31C) since then.  My sister even turned on her air conditioner!  Why yes, now that you ask, I am exactly like a lizard in that regard:  I adore warm, nay, hot, weather.  Hot weather reminds me of the happiest moments of my childhood.  Plus, it also helps that the warmer the weather, the less my body hurts, so there’s that.

I need to apologize for failing to provide any installments of April Tyree the last two weeks.  Mea maxima culpa.  I had a temporary brain lock:  no writing was coming out, even my blog posts were an absolute struggle.  Why I had the brain lock is a long and unimpressive story, so let’s not go there.  But like I said, I think I’ve gotten past it.  Time will tell.

In the meantime, I want to ruminate a moment on a subject that should be dear to the hearts of any Steampunk, Dieselpunk or Pulp afficianado:  Doing Things the Old Way.

A letter by Jane Austen. Note the vertical writing on top of the normal horizontal writing? That is what they mean when people say they “crossed a letter.” It was done to save cost: paper was expensive, and on top of that, the number of sheets determined how much it cost to send through the post. More pages, more money. Note also the address and stuff in the middle of the left half. Again, it was cheaper (and more fun) to creatively fold the letter itself, rather than spend the extra cash for an envelope.

You know what I received the other day?  I received a letter from a dear friend, Thomas.  Not an email.  Not a cold missive that had been typed up on a computer, printed off and barely touched by human hands.  It was a proper letter, handwritten on stationery, with envelope, stamp, delivery by an actual mail carrier, the works.  And because Thomas is as passionate about his letters as I am about books, it was even closed with sealing wax.  With a signet stamp in the wax!  The stamp, in the shape of an oak leaf (the perfect symbol for Thomas), was something new, and everybody in the family just had to have a look at that tiny treasure.  I took special care not to break the wax when I opened the letter, because that stamp was worth preserving.

Thomas and I have known each other for fourteen years now, and for maybe six of those years we have carried on an off-and-on correspondence.  This is entirely by snail mail; I am not even sure the man looks at his emails, because I guarantee he doesn’t answer them (at least not with me).  I still have every letter he sent me; I save every letter like that, from Thomas or from anybody else.  I’m not quite twee enough to bundle the letters with a scented ribbon, thank goodness.  I have a beautiful mahogany box (a gift from Thomas) where I save all my correspondence; it’s stuffed to overflowing now, so pretty soon I’m going to have to get a new one.

Letter writing, proper analog letters that have never seen a keyboard or a text function, is becoming a dying art.  Heck, in some schools they’re no longer teaching elementary students how to write in cursive!  And I think that’s a terrible thing.  There’s something special about sending and receiving letters.  The main argument against writing letters is that they’re slow.  It’s slow to write one (unless you type by the Finders Keepers method, typing is faster than writing by hand), and it’s slow to send one (Thomas’s letter was written on Monday; I received it on Thursday).  And “oh they’re sloooow!” is pretty pathetic as an argument, if you ask me.  Not when you look at the arguments in favor of them.

1.  They’re permanent

You know what my little sister found a long time ago?  A bundle of letters between my mom and her first husband.  My sisters and I knew Mom had been widowed before she met our dad, but beyond that we didn’t know much more than his name — Billy — that they had met and married while both were in university, and that he had died of a genetic illness only a month or three after they were married.  Yet here were these letters, written by man I had never met, who had died before I had ever been thought of, but who loved my mother very much. HIS hands wrote those letters to my mom.  HIS thoughts were caught it the little yellowing pages.  Not some imaginary person my mom occasionally thought about:  this was a real person with real feelings.  Billy instantly became a person to me, in a way he had never been before.

To move beyond the personal, there are lots of historic periods where the only solid data historians can find are in letters people wrote to one another.  Soldiers and their families writing back and forth when they are separated have been collected and printed in book form (a perfect example:  Gone For A Soldier, by Pvt. Alfred Bellard, is the collection of letters of a young man fighting in the American Civil War).  These letters tell us something more important and more interesting than the dry “this battle started on X date, ended on Y date, Z number of casualties, blah blah, blah.  These letters tell us what it was like to stand on that front line and know that the enemy is coming, there’s very little to stop him and all he wants to do is kill you in the name of his cause.  That’s powerful stuff that you don’t get from the dry facts in your high school textbooks.

There are more than soldiers writing letters.  One of my mother’s prized possessions was a book that held a collection of letters written by the Bronte sisters.  In it they discussed their daily lives, the adventure of publishing “our little stories” (some of the most brilliant pieces of Georgian/early Victorian literature ever published) and, amazingly, even talked about their shared play worlds, Angria and Gondol (a paracosm; read more about it here, it’s fascinating).  For myself, I treasure a collection of some of H.P. Lovecraft’s letters (the man was obsessed with writing letters; some of his letters are longer than novels.  I shit you not.)

Every generation up to now have contributed to this body of knowledge by way of their letters.  The generation that grew up on email and internet, they’ll be the first generation since…. well, pretty much since the beginning of the written word, to NOT contribute to the group knowledge.  Email isn’t permanent, servers and clouds may still exist in a hundred years or five hundred.  But I guarantee your emails, that you dashed off in half a minute without thinking about it and sent it with the same lack of concern, those emails will not be on those servers and clouds in a century or even a decade.

 3.  They can contain more than just a letter.

Do you know what else — besides letters — is in that lovely mahogany box on top of my piano?  The dried up leaf of a palm tree.  My husband sent it to me when he was in the Navy.  It was right after we were married:  we were young and we were 4000 miles apart.  He sent me letters every day, and in them, he enclosed things that he and I, both children of Appalachia, had never seen.  Like a palm tree leaf.  Like a pinch of sand from the Pacific Ocean shore.  I sent him things, too.  A lock of our infant son’s hair.  A little swatch of green cloth from a quilt I was making.  A pressed Rose of Sharon blossom from my mother’s front yard.

And there were things that we didn’t plan to enclose in those letters, but they got in there anyway.  Like the smell of chili powder because I was dividing my attention between writing a letter and cooking supper; apparently my fingers carried some of the powder onto the letter.  Hubby loved it, said it reminded him of my cooking. For me, it was the smell of his cologne that was on every letter he sent me; he used an embarrassingly cheap brand of cologne, but on him it smelled very nice indeed.

Yeah, I’m talking a lot about smell. The sense of smell is very strongly linked to memory, according to what I’ve read.  It used to drive my husband crazy that I put a little spritz of perfume on my letters to him; he said it made him homesick.  (I don’t think it was quite hearth and home he was thinking about; like I said, we were very young and full of hormones, hehehe).

Anyway, how do you send stuff like that in an email?  A digital photo just doesn’t begin to substitute for a lock of hair.  You can’t touch a baby’s hair in a digital photo.  You can’t smell a pressed flower through the computer screen.  You can’t tell from a selfie whether that sexy guy smells of leather and cologne, or whether that beautiful woman’s skin is as silken as it looks in a picture.

And just as important as what’s inside the letter is the physical truth of the letter itself.  This isn’t some lights on a screen.  A letter is something permanent that you can hold in your hand, that is real in a way emails aren’t.  You can pull it out and look at it a thousand times, you can smell its scent and touch its creases and just experience it.  I know that sounds New Agey, but you know what I mean.  It’s real; it’s not a bunch of colored lights that can be erased from existence with just a few clicks of the mouse.

 3.  They are SO punk!

Do I even need to say that, in the time period covered by Steampunk, if you wanted to communicate across long distances, there were only three options available to you:  telegram (quick but expensive, usually only used for time-sensitive or urgent information), messenger (speed varies, not always reliable), or letters.  By the time we get into the Dieselpunk era we’ve more or less lost the telegram, but added the telephone.  But even then, much communication was still by letter, especially personal communication.

We spend a lot of time creating costumes and gadgets, pimping our accessories, our wheelchairs (hi!), our hair, to look like we stepped out of our favorite genres.  We fantasize about living those adventures and visiting those imagined times.  Why isn’t letter writing the logical next step?

Think about it:  the whole concept of -punk is that the person wearing that descriptor does not conform to the norms of his society, that he has to go his own way, for whatever reason.  I’m here writing this blog and you’re reading it because the -punk side of Steampunk and Dieselpunk strikes a nerve somewhere in your brain, right?  The entire world uses email and texting and a thousand flavors of instant messaging and that’s fine for what it is.  But does that automatically mean we have to communicate the same way?

Writing a Letter isn’t that Hard

The problem is often that, if you had the same sorts of teachers I had in school, they turned letter writing into a painful or a dull (or both) exercise.  It wasn’t about communicating your thoughts to another person; in those classes, it was about getting the date in the right hand corner, do you put the address on the left or right, do you put a comma or a colon after the salutation, and do you say, “Yours, Truly,” or “Sincerely” or something else entirely when it’s time to sign out.

Jeez, I think my breakfast is getting ready to come back up, thinking about how stressful those classes were.  Blech!  Yes, I know, it’s important to know how to do that sort of thing, and I know I’ve used it in the past, so it’s not useless information.  But they make what should be a pleasant process into a chore and who wants to do chores?  Then there are the “How to write a letter” pages online make it even fussier.  I don’t get it:  if I don’t have a dedicated stationery and a fountain pen, it’s not a real letter?  Get serious!  I’m not a bit ashamed to write a letter on a sheet of printer paper, folded over to look like a greeting card.  One of my friends writes to me only on lined loose leaf paper, the same kind you used to use in school.  Do I care that he didn’t buy an expensive cream colored stationery to talk to me? What do you think?  I am just glad to hear from him.

My parents between them taught me how to write a letter and enjoy it.  My mom showed me the folded printer paper trick.  If you’re as long winded as I tend to be (you would not believe the word count on this blog right now), the folded paper turns into two or three papers nested inside one another like a folio booklet.  She also taught me about crossing a letter (see the illustration above), and, when I did need to know the fiddly bits, she showed me how to make it all work.

With one sentence, my dad told me how to write the body of a letter.  He said, Talk to [the person to receive the letter], just as if he’s right there beside you on the soft; only instead of saying it out loud, put the words down in the letter.”  He told me that when I was eleven years old, and it still is the best advice on letter writing that I ever had.

For the record, I do have stationery that I’m using at the moment.  I keep it in a beautiful little leather folder, also given to me by Thomas (he really wanted to encourage my letter writing!).  I also have several fountain pens.  I even know how to cut and use a goose quill pen (I used to be in the SCA; it’s astonishing the disparate skills you pick up when you run with that bunch). I do not have sealing wax or a signet stamp like Thomas does and don’t think I’m not envious as hell!

I can see why a Steampunk would want to pick up the same sorts of tools as soon as possible, were he to decide to start writing letters.  The idea of fountain pens date back many centuries, but the kind we would recognize today were developed in the late 1840’s to early 1850’s, totally within the Steampunk time frame (here’s an article that shares an 1870’s article about letter writing).  A heavy stationery, with or without envelopes, liquid ink from a fountain or dip pen, the wax and seal, they convey a 19th century elegance that modern epistles just can’t match!

Now for Dieselpunks, things are much easier.  Envelopes, lots of different kinds of pens, lots of paper opportunities.  A little Google-Fu can net you letterhead from all sorts of official places (I found one that was from the desk of J. Edgar Hoover!).  The same arguments about Steampunk apply here, too.  Yes, they had the telephone, but long distance calls were expensive as heck.  If you wanted to talk to your sister on the other side of the country, a letter was the way to go.

Miscellany

Did you know you can tell stories with letters?  Go look at the original Dracula novel by Bram Stoker.  That’s called an epistolary novel, because it’s told in the form of letters going back and forth between the principal characters.  You can play games through the mail, too:  chess is famously played by correspondence.

Have you ever heard of Ghost Letters.  I’ve seen it called The Letter Game, but I know it as Ghost Letters.  Basically, the idea is that two players get together and decide on a a setting for each of them (1943, player one is in Paris, player two is in London).  Each player decides on a character, how he knows the other player, and why they have to write letters instead of just meeting in person.  Then they start writing letters back and forth to one another, IN CHARACTER, and by that they write a collaborative story between them.  One lady has made a career of writing books based on this game.  I’m not suggesting you do that, but I can recommend the game.  It’s really fun, especially if you like writing fiction.  I’ve played it a few times; it’s hard to find a partner willing and able to play along (any volunteers?  you know my email!)

Okay, this blog has gotten out of hand; sorry I went on for so long.  I have other “Old Way” ideas I might throw out from time to time.  In the meantime, you know the drill:  write, share, tweet, comment.  If you have a recommendation for Fun Friday (which is my next installment, so be here in two days!), please write me at ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  Between now and Friday I have a crapload of sewing to do, plus another crapload of writing.  Lot of work ahead of me.  So while I’m running myself ragged, ya’ll be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Dieselpunk, DIY, History, Personal, Pulp, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: Welcome to my Webcomic Wonderland….

It’s Friday, and, for the record, food poisoning sucks.  Oh joy.  Oh rapture.  I have spent so much time in the bathroom the family is ready to start charging rent.  Started late Wednesday night (after my outing with Big Sister) so I hope it’s run out of steam.

In other news, I did go out with my sister before the food poisoning hit.  We went to a Rifftrax show.  Have you heard of Rifftrax?  MST3K? I’m not going to get into a big explanation.  Here are the Wikipedia links (MST3K and Rifftrax). But the short explanation is that there is a movie, generally bad (though not always); our heroes (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, who wrote and performed in both shows) are overdubbing the soundtrack with smart ass remarks, heckles, jokes, parody dialogue, you name it.  Just the sort of thing you and your friends do during those drunken attacks of “let’s watch tv!”  Only Nelson and Team are, you know, actually funny.

So the Rifftrax folks do this simulcast thing, wherein they do a live show in Nashville, and it’s broadcast to movie theaters around the globe.  That’s why Sister and I can watch a Nashville show right here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  Big Sister and I have seen the live Rifftrax of Starship Troopers (or, as my sister likes to call it, “Apocalypse 90210”), Night of the Living Dead, Sharknado (wow.  Just wow).  This time, we saw the Riff of The Room by Tommy Wiseau.  Yeah.  It was painful at times; this is a movie that NEEDS a Rifftrax audio track.  But yeah, it was very funny.  They’re doing Sharknado 2 this summer; I’m hoping we’ll go to that one, too. Check out Fathom Events, the sponsor of the live shows, for more information about tickets, schedules, etc)

ANYWAY! I get sidetracked so easily.  What were we talking about? Oh, yeah, right Fun Friday.  What delightful delectables have I got for you today?  Apparently the wind inside my too-empty brainpan has turned west or something.  I don’t normally read webcomics.  I use a netbook 99.99% of the time, and webcomics don’t display well on my tiny, tiny screen.   But this time, I’m making an exception.  Three of them, in fact.

The first is a Steampunk offering, sent to me by Maggie Maxwell, writer and all around good person (her blog is here).  She says this is her favorite web comic, and I take her at her word, since I’m not that big on webcomics.  The name of the webcomic (technically it’s a web-graphic web-novel) is Phoenix Requiem, written and illustrated by Sarah Ellerton (who is also the creator of Inverloch). Phoenix ran from 2007 to 2011, and was nominated for a number of awards for both story and art.  It is set in an alternate Victorian era, one where magic works.  The story is that Anya, a young nurse studying to be a doctor, is involved in the care of Jonas, a young man who was found in the woods, unconscious, shot and bleeding.  They get Jonas back to health, but now the town they’re in is falling victim to this plague, a disease that is sweeping through this community, and eventually others.  Some of the townspeople believe that Jonas may brought the plague with him when he stumbled into town.  Meanwhile, skeptic Anya, who doesn’t believe in magic or ghosts, is suddenly receiving visitations by ghosts and vengeful spirits, people who died from the plague.  Things only escalate from there.

As I said a moment ago, Phoenix received a lot of nominations from the webcomic community, particularly for the artwork, which is a beautiful, clean not-quite-manga style.  It also received some criticism for the story, and I agree with the general complaint:  the beginning is very slow.   It seems to take too long to get to the actual story part of the story.  However!  Once you wade past that part, you’re golden; the story is good, the pace cracks right along with no problem.  You just gotta get past that slow part first.

Anyway, if you want to check out Phoenix Requiem, the link is above.  Check it out, and tell ’em Maggie and AJ sent you!

The second webcomic is… well, it’s hard to classify.  I think it’s Steampunk.  It’s called Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether.  It’s exactly what it says on the box.  Lady Seneca Sabre is the leader of a band of pirates, sailing around the world in their airship.  They split their time between swashbuckling, sword fighting, romancing, shedding blood, whipping bad guys and pinochle.  Only not the pinochle.

What exactly is swashbuckling, anyway?

The artists behind Lady Sabre are Rick Burchett and Greg Rucka, who are professionals; they’ve won awards for their work on such comics as The Batman and Robin Adventures, Gotham Central, Queen & Country, and Whiteout: Melt.  They do these outside projects, like Lady Sabre, out of a desire to create without the restrictions of the mainstream comic industry.

The art is absolutely beautiful, stuff you would see in a good, high quality comic.  The style is very comic book, which makes sense.  The stories are good, not so clean fun, exactly what you’d expect from a pirate story.  They do not suffer the same flaw as Phoenix Requiem; “slow” is not a word that applies to this story.  Also unlike Phoenix, this one is still rolling along; it started in 2011, and its last post was February of 2015 (as of this posting).  If you want to check it out, start here.

Finally, I have one called Steampunk Soiree.  To quote the webpage, “Steampunk Soiree chronicles the adventures of two traveling thieves and performers, August and Berkeley, as they journey from town to town in their generic steampunk airship.”  And that pretty much covers it.  The two heroes travel from place to place and get into mischief.  The drawings are in a very deliberate anime style, which I don’t personally enjoy, but I can see the merits of it.  I can’t find out much about the creators, other than they are called Benson and Shaina; she writes and draws, he maintains the webpage.  Beyond that, not so much.

This comic lacks the depths of Phoenix Requiem, and it lacks to artistry of Lady Sabre.  But that’s not a condemnation.  I think of it as brain candy:  not all that good for you, but pleasant to consume.  If you want to consume it, you can start here.

Okay, that’s it for me.  Now I have a headache to go with the tummyache and nausea.  If this turns into the flu, I’m going to kill whoever brought it into the house.  Anyway, you know the drill:  write, tweet, share, comment.  My email addy is on the About page.  I’ll be back on Monday with more fiction.  Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Comic/Graphic Novels, Fun Friday, Pulp, Radio, Steampunk | Leave a comment

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