Fun Friday

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!

Categories: Fun Friday, Steampunk, Video | 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

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. 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

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

Fun Friday: More Pretty Pictures!

It’s Friday again and Welcome to May!  I can only hope this herald of spring marks the end of the cold mornings and rainy days we’ve been enduring here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  I want it to be warm again!  Heck, I want to spend an afternoon whining about “it’s too hot!” and “why are we spending another year without an air conditioner?” (hint:  I don’t really want an AC; I like the heat too much)

I have big plans for my weekend.  As I’ve mentioned about a kajillion times,  daughter Sarah Lydia and I are going to Vandalia-Con at the end of this month.  Tomorrow, she and I are going to the piece goods shop to buy the materials needed to make our Steampunk costumes (and hopefully to pimp my ride).  After that, it’ll be a flurry of sewing, painting, and debating a thousand details until we’re both satisfied.  It’s going to be a delight; I am finally well enough to do a big project like this, and I can’t wait!

But that’s tomorrow.  For today, it’s Fun Friday and I have just the thing to give the end of the work week a little zing:  pretty pretty pictures!  Normally I’m a musician (when I’m not being a writer), so I don’t often pay that much attention to visual arts; it doesn’t help that my eyesight is so crap I’m practically the female version of Mr. Magoo (ask your parents).  But I was surfing the Internet the other day and stumbled across a couple things that I thought might tickle your fancy.

For you Steampunk fans out there, I offer you the works of Mr. Brian Kesinger (he’s the one I stumbled across).  Kesinger is an animator at Disney Studios, starting there at age 16 (making him the youngest artist ever to work for the company).  He worked on Treasure Planet, naturally, but also on Winnie the Pooh, Tarzan, Tangled, Chicken Little, Home on the Range, Bolt and Meet the Robinsons.  This is all well and good, but I’m not really a big booster of Disney (not political; I’m just uninterested in most of their movies).  So I’m more interested in his non-Disney works.  He has several gallery-focused blogs online (the bottom of his Wikipedia page — linked above — has links), a few brief video discussions of his work on YouTube courtesy of DeviantArt (here, here, and here) and one conglomerate gallery here.

Among the Steampunk community he is probably best known for his Otto and Victoria series, as seen above.  Victoria is a lovely Steampunk girl, a proper Victorian lady, seen at work and at play with her pet cephalopod, Otto.  Each drawing is more creative than the last, and they have been collected into two full color books and one coloring book (!!!), which can be purchased at (here, here and here).

Yes, Otto and Victoria are charming, make no mistake.  But honestly, I prefer his “Tea Girls” series, pictured on the conglomerate gallery.  They are less ballyhooed, and haven’t been collected in book form, which I think is a pity.  Look at this:

Isn’t that gorgeous?  I like how they look like the art is springing forth from a tea stain on the page.  It’s just clever as can be.  The Tea Girls tend to be more Steampunkish than Otto and Victorian (who are more Lovecrafty, IMHO; the octopus says Lovecraft to me), and, while they definitely fit in the Disney style, they’re more adult and less cartoony than Otto and Victoria.  But Steampunk girls isn’t all he has available.  Let me just leave you with this thought and image:  STEAMPUNK MEGATRON!!!!!

Seriously, go check him out.  Good stuff, and merch to boot!

Next up, something for the Dieselpunk. As I said before, I have but a passing interest in visual arts, so it’s not like I spend a lot of time on DeviantArt.  But maybe I should, because there are guys like Alexey Lipatov doing some really impressive work over there.  I can’t find out anything about him except what DeviantArt has on his profile:  he’s a male artist from the Ukraine.  He has all kinds of pictures over there, but one folder, marked “Dieselpunk,” definitely caught my eye.

As you can see, he has a more comic book style than Brian Kesinger, but still, I like.  He does work in both color and monochrome, and there are a lot of half-dressed women in his pictures, plus even more retro-futuristic tech.  None of this is a bad thing as far as I’m concerned.  I would share more, except his collection isn’t as big as the Steampunk one, and the individual pictures are ENORMOUS.  I don’t want to crash my computer (again), so if you want to see, you need to go take a peek for yourself.

Finally, for my beloved Pulp:  I have no new artists to show you pretty pictures, alas.  But I don’t come to you empty handed.  I have found The Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists.  I don’t know if this is a comprehensive collection of classic pulp art — both covers and interior art — but it’s definitely an impressive one.  This webpage was built by somebody named David Saunders; again, my otherwise-impressive Google-Fu skills failed to tell me anything about the guy.  But he has done a masterful job of collecting tons of art from the covers and pages of the classic pulp magazine.

The page is well organized.  The artist are listed in alphabetical order.  Once you click on an artist’s name, a new tab tells you a brief bio of the artist in question and a brief timeline of his work.  On the left are all the samples of his work that the collection has; they work as a slideshow, which I like because my computer doesn’t like bunches of new tabs, and it HATES pop-ups, even when I summon them on purpose.

Pretty!  And the art makes me want to read the magazine!  Which, now I think about it, is kind of the point of these paintings and sketches in the first place.

Anyway, I think that’s about it for me today.  I hope you’ve enjoyed, and I hope you’ll let me know what you think!  Share, tweet, comment, of course; if you want to email me, either for questions/comments, or because you want to share a Fun Friday idea, my addy is ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  I’ll be back on Monday with the latest installment of April Tyree’s adventures.  Between now and when next we meet, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Classic pulp, Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, Steampunk | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: Saints, Sinners, and Artificial Men

Wow, I’m cutting this one close to the wire!  Shame on me for getting caught up reading.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I’m never ashamed of getting caught up in reading!  Hi, guys, it’s Friday again, and time to have a little fun! Here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, there is much talk (from my husband) of firing up his smoker and doing a little cookout.  Problem is, it’s April and that means the weather, while beautiful now, cannot be counted on to stay pretty for more than ten minutes running. I do hope it stays pretty; Hubby has been waiting so patiently to do a cookout, and I’m hoping Daughter will bring Grandsons out to join the fun.

Okay, on to business.  What I got caught up in reading, and made me nearly miss  my deadline, were my possibilities for today’s Fun Friday installment.  I actually have an embarrassment of riches this week, and I can’t really decide which ones to share and which ones to save to another day.

Let’s start small.  You’ve heard of the Raimi Brothers, right?  Sam Raimi is a Hollywood wunderkind, directing the Spiderman movies, and being a co-creator of one of my favorites, the Evil Dead Franchise.  Well, his brother Ted (a character actor and quite charming, in my humble opinion) has started a pulpy little series on Youtube called “Deathly Spirits.”  Each video is very short, just about five minutes.  Ted Raimi is the host, playing… well, a creepy dude who lives in a creepy Edwardian house.  Raimi gets the show started, then tells a (very) brief horror story, and then wraps up by describing how to make a cocktail that (sort of) matches up with the story.   When asked, Raimi said he was inspired by the old horror anthology radio shows of yesteryear, how wonderfully moody and atmospheric they could be, and how wonderfully chilling their hosts were.  He is consciously trying to reproduce that.

There have only been two installments so far on this little series, but it has promise.  The stories he tells aren’t all that scary, but then again, he’s basically giving an audio version of a drabble.  I’m not a drinker, so I’m not qualified to comment on the cocktail recipe’s quality.  But I think the idea of pairing these two concepts is cute and clever, though not really unique.  Here’s a link so you can check it out.

Speaking of radio, that brings me to our next installment.  Maybe you’ve heard of The Saint; Val Kilmer made a pretty crappy movie of it back in 1997 (it made good money, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck).  This crappy movie was loosely based (very loosely) on a series of novels by British-American author Leslie Charteris (you can find a comprehensive list here).  The novels, unlike the movie, were pretty good.  The movie depicted The Saint as more of a freelance spy.  In the novels, he was more a thief with enlightened self-interest.  Every description I have seen compares him to Robin Hood, and not without merit.

The Saint, who is actually named Simon Templar is a thief who, with the help of certain friends and cohorts, uses his thieving and con artist skills to take down mobsters, corrupt politicians and others who prey upon the less fortunate.  He gets his nickname from his calling card, which he leaves at crime scenes:  a stick figure with a halo.

There were lots of incarnations of these novels.  There was that Kilmer movie (which I am not going to say anything more about.  I hope.). There were magazine short stories and comic books.  I remember watching the TV series incarnation, starring Roger Moore; it wasn’t bad for sixties television (no, I’m not that old; it was reruns.  Besides, the TV show was British; we didn’t get first run here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia).  But what I’m here to share with you today is my personal favorite incarnation:  the radio show.

Yes, I know, I am more than a little biased about radio.  What can I say?  I have found my niche, and I love it there.  But anyway, there were several iterations of the Saint on radio, with runs in the late forties, and early fifties.  The one I’m looking at was from 1950, and starred, of all people, Vincent Price, the King of Golden Age Horror. And he does a cracking good job playing the part; he sounds like he’s having a grand old time, which is what a character like the Saint needs.

Anyway, the Internet Archive has a collection of the recordings available to download or to stream for free, so I totally recommend you give it a listen.

My final installment is another oldie.  Would you believe my first encounter with Tintin comics was when I was a little girl?  And in German?!  True story.  My mother and father both taught at the same high school, so I spent a lot of time in that building.  One day I wandered into the library and found a copy of a Tintin comic in a hardcover library binding.  Now this is a high school library, and I was seven or eight years old; finding a comic book, something with colorful pictures in it, yeah, that was like finding the mother lode.  The fact that the whole thing was in German didn’t faze me at all; I wouldn’t stop whinging until Mom checked them out for me (there were like four volumes).

Luckily for me, I spoke enough German as a child to read the books fairly well.  Okay, fairly is overstating it, but I understood what the stories were about, and Dad was glad to fill in the blanks (all my sisters spoke at least a little German, out of self-defense; Mom and Dad spoke German when they wanted to discuss things they didn’t want small ears to hear)

ANYWAY (man I can wander off topic sometimes), I fell in love with those Tintin comics.  Now I’ve grown up, I see the flaws in the comic, but I can’t give up my affection for this series.

Who exactly is Tintin?  He’s a cub reporter, an investigative journalist who travels around the world with his little fox terrier companion, Snowy, looking for stories and finding adventure and danger.  Okay, they say he’s a reporter.  But you never actually see him reporting on anything, or even just writing anything down, so take that “reporter” thing with a big grain of salt.  What he does do is get into trouble, all kinds of trouble, from tangling with spies to science fiction to deathtraps that 60’s era Batman would respect.

Tintin is another one they made a movie of not too long ago, this time an animated venture that was visually very striking and not a bad story, too.  But the original Tintin adventures were a series of comic strips by Hergé, a Belgian artist.  They were in French, and first appeared in 1929 in a youth supplement to the Belgian paper, Le Vingtième Siècle.  At one time, it was considered one of the most popular comic strips in all of Europe.  It has been collected in comic books, and appeared in radio, theater and the movies as well as continuing as a comic strip all the way up into the 1980’s!

Fair warning:  these comic strips are not even close to being politically correct.  Especially in the earlier comics, they are brazenly racist, depicting black people as almost subhuman (Tintin in the Congo), Russians as unrepentant villains (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), and we’re not even going to discuss how orientals are depicted.  There’s also a lot of paternalism in the books, as well as a casualness to violence against animals and people.  I’m not going to argue about this; if you can’t stand that sort of thing, don’t read it.  But if you can get past it, understand that this series is from a different time and a different world, then you might very well enjoy this series.  Rather than try to link to all of the books (there are 20-something volumes, in half a dozen languages), I’ll just give you the Goodreads listing; from there you can click your way to Amazon or the book outlet of your choice.  Give them a try:  good pulpy fun!

Okay, I should have had this posting out almost an hour ago.  Feel free to blame my daughter.  She called me just as I was getting ready to write my closing paragraph and sign off.  But I don’t feel too guilty; being almost an hour late was worth it to talk to my daughter and sing the ABC song with my grandson!  Anyway, forgive my tardiness and, well, you know the rest:  tweet, comment, share, write.  My addy is ajwiter-@-ajclarkson-dot-net.  If you have something to share for Fun Friday, give me a shout.  And until we meet again, be good.  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

P.S.  Don’t forget:  Vandalia Con is in less than six weeks!  BE THERE!!!

Categories: Classic pulp, Comic/Graphic Novels, Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, Horror, Pulp, Radio, Uncategorized, Video | 2 Comments

Fun Friday: “Giant Sea Monster Attacks Tokyo Seven Years Before Godzilla Movie” ….Wait, what?

Looks like another Friday, and it’s been a quiet week here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  In fact, it’s been dull as heck.  Did a little sewing here, did a little audio mixing there, little writing in between, lots and lots of reading, of course.  Truth is, I don’t have a lot to report to you.  Just passing the time, waiting for the rain to ease off and summer to officially arrive.

So about the title of today’s blog.  On May 29, 1947, WVTR, the official Armed Forces radio station in Tokyo, interrupted their programming to report that a 20-foot sea monster had climbed up out of Tokyo Bay and was laying waste to everything in its path inland.  Over the next hour, there were news bulletins, eyewitness reports; reports of troop movements as the U.S. Army moved in with tanks, flamethrowers and grenades (apparently bullets only pissed the thing off) to try and contain the threat.  residents were advised to stay inside their homes.

Finally, after an hour of breathless reports, the monster reached the center of Tokyo, and a young corporal-journalist screwed his courage to the sticking place and approached the monster, live on the microphone.  It was at this point that the monster gave its one and only sound bite.  In a woman’s voice, the monster congratulated WVTR on its fifth anniversary in existence.

For realz. I’m not making this up!

No kidding.  All that fuss for a lighthearted joke (for a certain, decidedly bizarre, definition of a joke) to celebrate the station’s anniversary.  But, as Orson Welles claimed to discover, the public didn’t appreciate the humor of the situation.  The fake broadcasts had caused a very not-fake panic; thousands of calls poured into the radio station, the military police mobilized, and the Japanese civilian authorities mustered themselves to face what they thought was a very real threat.  Suffice it to say, once the smoke had cleared, so to speak, the authorities were not impressed with the station’s sense of humor.  People were demoted, relieved of duty, reprimanded, all the other things the military does to express its displeasure with a boneheaded move on the part of one of their own.

No, there was probably no direct connection between this little stunt and the movie Godzilla, which was released in 1954.  Instead, Godzilla was said to be indirectly inspired by a 1951 Ray Bradbury short story and a 1953 movie based on that story.  But still, there were amazing coincidences between the plot of Godzilla and the events of May 1947.

Not impressed?  Okay, so how about this more Steampunk-flavored article…..

A Man Eating Tree Grows in Madagascar

In 1874, the New York World newspaper carried an article describing a fantastic new discovery that had recently been made on the island of Madagascar, to wit, an enormous tree that looked like an eight-foot-tall pineapple, had tentacles to defend itself, and ate people.  According to the report, a local native tribe, the Mkodos, sacrificed a young woman to the tree (part of a religious rite?  Unclear) and the reporter, “eminent botanist Carl Leche,” was witness to the death in all its gory detail.

The article was reprinted all over the country, appearing in publications like The Garden and The Farmers’ Magazine even two years later.  It was the source of ongoing speculation even up into the early days of the 20th century.  It spawned several expeditions into Madagascar to find the tree, one as late as 1932.  Obviously it was a hoax, one of several supposedly perpetrated by Mr.  Edmund Spencer, who had written a number of articles (of dubious accuracy) for the New York World.

Where am I finding these stories of frauds?  On a webpage called The Museum of Hoaxes.  It talks about hundreds of frauds, hoaxes, jokes and “misunderstandings,” divided by decade and type.  They have whole sections devoted to photo fakery, April Fools jokes, military frauds, etc.  Some of the stories are funny; some re mind-boggling, some are just sad.  It’s not typical fare for ClarksonPunk, not being overtly Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or Pulp.  But it covers decades, topics and people from all three eras, so I feel confident in recommending it to your attention.

But be warned:  there is a distinct danger of being trapped in Archive Binge Land.  I don’t think there are giant sea monsters or man-eating trees in Archive Binge Land.  But I can confirm that there are Dreaded Time-Eaters there.

Now, see the pretty red in the picture here to the left?  In America, these are called suspenders.  In Britain they’re called braces.  Here in Appalachia, we call them “gallows” (pronounced “gallusses.”  Don’t ask, I don’t know why, I just go with it).  I’m not really digging the bright red color of this set (nor do I like the metal adjustment buckle thingie), but I do like the fact that they button to the trousers.  But I can’t afford to buy these guys; what’s a fashion conscious novice cosplayer to do?

Duh!  Make your own!  And apparently the rumor is true:  if you can think of it, there’s a page about it on the Internet.  A while back I bookmarked this article that describes how to make your own, custom fitted gallows, complete with a shopping list and diagrams.  An absolute must-see for the well-dressed Steampunk gentleman.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten the ladies!   Here and here are pages that describe how to make your own garter belt (I’m eschewing the picture for this one; decorum and all that).    While in Steampunk the lady is more likely to wear a simple garter band (like you see in weddings), the belt is perfect for Dieselpunk cosplay.

Okay, our last installment is at hand.  Now, anybody who’s talked to me for more than ten minutes knows I have a wild obsession with the indie arts.  Independent music, indie publishing, indie movie-making, indie game design, you name it, I’m willing to give it a go.  No, no, no, I’m not a hipster, I’m too old for that pretentious crap.  But you have to admit that a lot of what’s coming out of the mainstream “creative” industries ain’t all that creative; they’re telling the same old stories, over and over again.  And I understand that, they’re in business to make money, and those old stories are guaranteed moneymakers.  I’m not opposed to them making money, more power to them.

But I don’t always want to see the same old stories.  Honestly, after seven Fast and Furious movies, how much more is there to be said about driving fast and chasing pretty girls?  Sometimes I just want something new and fresh.  So I surf Smashwords for indie books, I surf YouTube for indie music and movies, I subscribe to Lets Play channels for news of indie games.

Now a lot of indie works have a bad reputation.  Supposedly, since these products not going through the gatekeepers of the mainstream industries, there’s a lot of under-edited, under-developed, under-tested crapola getting out into the world.  And I have to say, there’s a lot of merit to that argument; those mainstream industries spend a lot of money to hire the best editors, musicians, and film crews so that their products are the absolute best they can be.  Many of the books on Smashwords — I’d even argue that the majority of the books on Smashwords — are so not ready for prime time; storytelling, editing, and proofreading are skills that the budding writer must constantly hone.

The same can be said of independent videos posted on YouTube.  Sometimes the writing is a little clumsy.  Most of these guys are getting their buddies to be the stars, so the acting is uneven, amateurish, or downright painful.  Indie games can be buggy, crashy, or worst of all, just not interesting enough to be worth their price on Steam.  To their credit, most of the indie musicians I hear on YouTube aren’t actively bad (you have to go to American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent audition episodes to find truly hideous singing).  No, the sin of bad indie musicians is to just be uninspired, unimpressive, or just plain boring.

BUT!  If you keep digging through the virtual stacks, you WILL find gems.  Last year the Slenderman game on Steam was absolutely huge and spawned an avalanche of sequels, imitators, etc. Heck, those games were based on Marble Hornets and EverymanHYBRID, a pair of independent vlog-structured video series on YouTube, which were themselves based on some photograph manipulations and horror short stories (okay, “stories” is a loose description) that appeared in the Creepypasta forums.  Nowadays, the big indie breakthrough game is Five Nights at Freddy’s, which I’ve seen played and I can see why it’s big, though it’s not really my cup of tea.

Indie author Michael Coorlim is my own personal discovery; I’ve mentioned him before, particularly his Galvanic Century stories about Bartleby and James (follow the link, follow the link, follow the link! The first book is free!!!).  I adore his light touch with the Steampunk genre and I strongly recommend him. I found him on Smashwords, while doing another, now-defunct indie book review blog with a fellow writer.

However, Coorlim is not why I bring you here today.  Today is for this:

I only stumbled across this last week, and I’ve not yet seen the whole thing; have to wait until I have a spare bit of money to buy the DVD (remember I have  hospital bills).  But this caught my eye because of the subject matter.  Frankenstein is already proto-Steampunk in its own right.  To carry it those final few steps over the line?  Yeah, quit talking and take my money.  Granted, the acting in the trailer is right on par with what I expect from amateurs, though not without some merit.  It’s hard to tell on the script writing; there’s just not enough of a sample to judge.  However!!! The costumes and sets?  Oh, my goodness, that’s some terrific production values for a film that cost the same as a used motorcycle.

It’s not like me to discuss a Fun Friday focus when I haven’t seen it myself.  But this one intrigues me.  Here’s their webpage, if you want some more information.  And here is the movie’s listing on Amazon, if you want to check it out. And if you do check it out, please do contact me and tell me how you liked it.  If you write a proper review, I’ll post it here on another Fun Friday (you get a byline, but, other than my unadulterated gratitude, there’s no pay).  When I finally see it, I’ll be sure and report back.

And with that said, I’m outta here.  Y’all know the routine:  write, tweet, comment, share.  My email addy is ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  Enjoy your weekend, but don’t enjoy it too much, if you take my meaning.  And if you do, don’t get caught!

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

Fun Friday: Vandalia Con

And it’s Friday again.  Busy week here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  I’ve had a busy week, as if you couldn’t guess.  Another doctor visit, but this one didn’t involve my guts or being sick.  No, I ordered new glasses!  Yay!  I don’t do this nearly often enough, mostly because glasses are obscenely expensive.  But it’s been five-ish years since my last exam.  Plus, I broke my glasses back in January (they’re currently being held together with black duct tape.  Thank you to my hubby for his jerry-rigging, but oh, dear heavens, I look ridiculous!).  So it seemed I was gonna have to bite the bullet.  Luckily, we have vision care on our health insurance this time, so the cost did not break the bank.  I’ll probably post a picture of me and my new specs on my Facebook page (no, I’m not posting a picture of Duct Tape Glasses!  No way I’m giving y’all blackmail material! 😀 )

I also finally got back behind the wheel of a car again.  It’s a testament to just how ill I was last year when I say my family has not let me drive since October or so.  They were too scared something bad would happen.  Yeah, it was frustrating, but they were right; I had no business behind the wheel, sick as I was.  But now I’m not sick, and I can’t depend on being chauffeured everywhere.  So I whinged and complained and argued until I got the keys to the car again.  YAY!

Finally, it’s Holy Week, for those of us practicing the Christian faith.  Maundy Thursday was yesterday, Good Friday today.  Two church services this coming Sunday.  Lots of running back and forth to church (a half hour drive one-way for me).  Busy busy busy.  But I derive a lot of comfort from church, so it’s worth it.

Okay, so I’ve mentioned VandaliaCon before.  It’s a Steampunk con in Parkersburg, WV founded by some old friends of mine.  It’s a small con — last year had an attendance of 300 — but that’s a selling point, in my humble opinion; smaller, more intimate gatherings generally are more fun, less hectic, and less intimidating to the introvert and chronically shy (like me!).

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good party.  But Vandalia is extra special:  the tagline for the con is “Saving the Mothers of Invention.”  A big point of the con is to raise money so women of Appalachia can have mammograms and cervical cancer screenings.  See, the thing is, Appalachia has a dreadful record about women’s health.  Part of it is the culture:  we mountain women just don’t talk about that, not with our families, not with our doctors, not amongst ourselves.  But most of it is about being poor.  Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, well, it ain’t playing out so well here in the trenches, not in 2015.  Lots of women don’t have the money for these exams (which are expensive, don’t kid yourself); I have fairly good insurance, and even I’m daunted by the out-of-pocket for a mammogram.   Last year, Vandalia raised  over $5,000 cash for their war chest (no pun intended).  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but you’d be surprised how far that can be stretched, and how many women it helps.  This year, they’re hoping to raise more.

So as I recall, when I last mentioned Vandalia, I said I was gonna attend this one.  I’ve never actually attended a con before, and I wanted this one to be my first.  It was gonna be epic.  Of course, then surgery happened, and doctors and prescriptions and oh, my God, do you know how much all that costs?  A crap-ton of bills pretty much told me that, in fact no, I was not gonna get to do the con thing this spring.  The disappointment, it was huge.

But this week, I got a message from a friend of mine, who goes by the name of Jan.  I met Jan around the same time I met Bret and Shelly (the founders of the con), and we were all friends together.  It helped a lot that Bret, Shelly and Jan are all genius fencers and, while I am NOT a genius fencer, I do know the basics and, before I landed in my chair, I really enjoyed the sport, regardless of how sucky I was (yeah, not kidding, fencing as in “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” fencing.  Quick tip:  don’t piss these folks off; they have sharps and know how to use them).

Jan is a wonderful person, a teacher, a photographer, a wife and mother, and just generally a kind and gentle soul (who, nevertheless, knows how to use a long pointy object to carve a big “Z” into your backside with a simple flick of the wrist.  Humans are a mass of contradictions, no?).  She and I bonded over a passion for fencing (her teaching me), sewing (me teaching her) and American Sign Language (just sharing with one another).

Gosh, I’ve wandered far afield, huh?  Anyway, Jan and I had planned to do the con together.  But then life got in my way, and I had to back out.  Until I got the message this week from Jan.  In short, she’s paying my way to Vandalia.  She’s paying my entrance fee.  I’m riding up with her.  She even changed her reservation to a wheelchair-accessible hotel room so I could bunk in with her!  All I have to do is pay for my meals and any extras I may desire.

BTW:  did I mention, she’s also paying for my daughter as well, because said daughter helps me in my day-to-day mobility and functioning?

Apparently it’s a birthday present (I turn 49 in just shy of three weeks).  How do you thank somebody for a gift like that?  No, I can’t answer that one, either, but I’m open to suggestions.  I’m getting together with this saintly woman this weekend, to do a marathon of sewing (I’m sewing a small project for her, and we’re going to see about doing some fittings and mending on her Steampunk outfit for the con).  But knocking together a blouse / smock, and taking in a few seams on some existing outfits (both things I can do in my sleep) doesn’t begin to cover it.  Gonna have to put my thinking cap on for this one.

So yeah, looks like I’ll be at Vandalia Con.  If you live in driving distance of Morgantown or Parkersburg (I’m looking at you, Pittsburgh, PA people; I’ve done that run before, it’s not that far), I STRONGLY urge you to come up to Parkersburg on May 22-24, at the Blennerhassett Hotel.  Entrance fee is only $30 (dead cheap, guys, you can’t do better than that!) and there are a ton of activities:  a concert by Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings, a tea drinking tournament, children’s activities (how cool is that?!?), competitions, classes and panels, you name it.  There’s even going to be an RC aircraft regatta!  Costumes are encouraged but by no means required.  AND!  Bonnie’s Bus will be providing on-site mammograms.  Most insurances are accepted by Bonnie’s Bus, but no woman over forty will be turned away for a lack of ability to pay.

If you like this blog, please come find me at the event.  You can’t miss me:  I’ll be the woman “of a certain age” wearing a headscarf with whatever Steampunky garb I can cobble together (cosplay is a relatively new thing for me), in a wheelchair.  I’ll have a mini-entourage (my daughter and at least one friend), probably doing sign language interpretation at the occasional class or concert (not officially or professionally; I’ll just have people with me who need the service, and I don’t know if they’ll have a licensed ‘terp on-site).  Just come up and say, “Hey, AJ!” (I’ve also been known to answer to “Junely;” how I became an adverb is anybody’s guess).

I will be taking pictures and hopefully some video, and I will definitely share those here.  I’m particularly looking forward to the airship races and the costumes.  I’ve seen pictures from last year, and OH MY GOD I”M JEALOUS OF HOW COOL EVERYBODY LOOKED!!!!!!  In the meantime, I’m trying to score a guest post or  interview with either Bret or Shelly Dusic, the founders of the feast.  Even though we’re old friends, it’s difficult, as they’re both busy busy people, and twice as busy now with the run-up to the convention.  If I can make this happen, I’ll be posting it here.

Okay, so that’s it for me today.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment.  You can email me at ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net, if you have a suggestion for a future Fun Friday spotlight, or just want to talk about steampunk, dieselpunk or New Pulp.  Enjoy your weekend, y’all, and seriously, check out Vandalia Con; it’s gonna be epic!  Be good, y’all, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: conventions, Fun Friday, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: Steampunk Sparklies

And yet another Fun Friday rolls around!  First up, let me give shout-out to my Big Sister, who spent much of this week in the hospital, recovering from surgery.  Lillie, the Clarkson girls have spent too much time with doctors this year; time to give somebody else a chance.  But as soon as you’re up and about, we’re hitting the Indian restaurant; we’ve been waiting entirely too long for both of us to be well at the same time, and I need an infusion of curry!

So the other day I was minding my own business, and I was attacked by the Dreaded Vorpal Plot Bunnies.  True story!  I have this rogues’ gallery of characters in my idea notebook (and stomping around in my head, sometimes), going begging for a story to be put into.  Sometimes they languish for years, waiting for inspiration.  The other day, inspiration struck in a big big way; fifteen short story ideas all struck me at once, regarding this pair of characters that I’ve been keeping on life support for a while.  After talking with some experts (hi, Cantina!), I decided that these stories would be most fun in the Steampunk milieu (that’s how I’m spending my weekend:  writing short stories and playing with my grandsons, though not necessarily at the same time).

But I had to tweak the raw ideas in order to make them fit the setting and genre.  And this brings me to a minor peeve of mine, something I notice in a lot of Steampunk fiction.  I don’t mind the Gadget Girl trope; in fact, I think it’s great!  However!  What is the deal with the clothes and attitude?  Why must a Gadget Girl automatically be a tomboy?  Trousers or knickerbockers, hair tucked up under a newsboy cap, smudge of grease on her forehead or pert little nose is a fine idea, but every single time?  Really?  If I were of the radical feminist bent (clue:  I’m not), I’d say that rather implies only males or faux-males can like that sort of thing, which just isn’t true.  Why can’t a Steampunk girl be into gears and galvanism, and still like pretty dresses?  You don’t have to be a girly cheerleader type to appreciate the joys of playing dress-up.  I was a tomboy once upon a time myself (I grew up on a farm, catching snakes and climbing trees!), but I had my girly moments; heck, I even made my own dresses!

So!  As you might imagine from the mini rant above, I’m going against type in this short story cycle (I hope it’s a cycle; have to see how smoothly it goes).  If I have a Gadget Girl (I haven’t quite made up my mind on this; I’m technobabble-challenged at the best of times), she’s not going to live in trousers and oversized men’s shirts, and will recognize that strategically-placed smudges of soot and grease, while sexy, are not an appropriate fashion choice outside the workshop.  This may blow up in my face.  But if it doesn’t, I’ll share the resulting stories on Fiction Mondays.  Or not.  We’ll see how it plays out.

Okay, with that mini-tirade out of the way, let’s move on to something more fun.  As usual, I have been collecting tidbits from the Interwebz and hoarding them for y’all.  I was surfing through the collection and realized I had a goodly number of Steampunk themed videos y’all might enjoy.  So today is a Steampunk Video Fun Friday.

We’ll go from shortest to longest.  Which means we start with Lindsey Stirling.  For those of you who don’t recognize the name and squee right off, Lindsey Stirling is a “hip hop violinist” and dancer/performer out of Utah, who did the indie musician thing on YouTube to become pretty huge, actually (that’s how I heard about her; I love indie artists like Peter Hollens, The Piano Guys, Sam Tsui, etc.  When she did the Skyrim duet with Peter Hollens, I had to follow the links).  She was a quarter finalist on America’s Got Talent, she has done two collaborations with my favorite group, Pentatonix (a cover of Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive, and a cover of French singer Stromae’s hit Papaoutai), and she’s got two albums out on iTunes, not to mention a metric ton of EPs and singles, collabs, etc.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Her music is not Steampunk.  It’s rock and roll, hip hop, kind of all over that end of the map.  Her style is also in that end of the map.  However, she did one video that I thought you’d enjoy.  It’s called Roundtable Rival, and it’s…. well, it’s rock and roll, but I like to pretend it has kind of a Steampunk vibe to it.  Okay, maybe not, but it’s still really good; I love her work (my current favorite is this one and Master of Tides, which also has a fun video, combining a flash mob and kind of Jules Verne-meets-Lovecraft vibe, which means it might be slightly Steampunk, too)

The video for Roundtable is SO Steampunk.  She plays a Wild West saloon owner trying to use her gadgeted-up violin-weapon-thingie (no, I don’t know how that works, something about sound waves being dangerous, don’t diss the thingie) to stop a bank robber who has his own gadgeted-up-electric-guitar-weapon-thingie and they have a weapon-thingie-sound-waves shootout (I told you I’m not good at technobabble).

Enough talk.  Here, look at it for yourself!

The name penny farthing apparently comes from the actual coins. Apparently the old British penny and farthing (a fourth of a penny) had a similar size comparison to the wheels of this bicycle (which was originally called an “ordinary.”

Okay, on to the next video.  This one is just a hair longer than Roundtable Rival, and doesn’t have near as many pretty dancers or cool costumes and gadgets.  However, it has a Penny Farthing.  For those who are new to the Steampunk world, a penny farthing is one of those early bicycle incarnations you’ve seen pictures of, the one with the tiny little back wheel, and the really enormous front wheel.

So a few years back I got to see one in real life at a museum.  But I had never seen one being ridden.  And it’s a fixed axle machine, which means no chain and no gears, so for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to get on one, much less how to get it going before you fell on your face.  Nobody at the museum had a clue, and it’s not like penny farthing riders are common in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.

Then I found this guy on YouTube.  He knows his stuff, and demonstrates it.  Not only demonstrates it, but he makes it look easy.  No, he’s not as glamorous as dancing violinists.  But take a look anyway….

BTW:  when I pulled up this page, the top video recommended on the right was entitled Penny Farthing Crash.  I don’t know if that’s what it’s showing for y’all, but if it isn’t, here, take a look, it’ll blow your mind.  Who knew a penny farthing could go that fast?  And who knew a rider could be that crazy?  And I’d give money to know what those other cyclists thought when the Jules Verne wannabe went flying by.

Now, the last video of the day is the longest.  I kind of blundered into this one.  I found this video on YouTube, going by the name, “Steampunque.”  Here, take a look.

Pretty freaking cool, huh?  Wait!  I’m not finished!  You can’t just throw a video like that in front of me and expect me to just kick back and watch.  I needed more information.  So, I limbered up my Google Fu, and found out some very interesting stuff.  This video is not the entire piece; it’s just a tiny fraction of a movie made in 1958 —  no fooling, 1958!!! — by a Czech director and animator named Karel Zeman.  He was considered quite the innovative genius, specializing in combining animation and live action.  Here’s the Wikipedia article describing him and his work.  This guy got to the live-action-with-animation party way before Disney’s Mary Poppins, guys.

The tidbit I found on YouTube is a clip from his 1958 film,  Vynález zkázy, literally The Deadly Invention. In the English speaking world, it was released as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne.  According to what I’m reading, the movie pulls from several Jules Verne novels, but primarily Facing the Flag.  According to Wikipedia, the animation is supposed to look like the original woodcut illustrations of Verne’s work.  I happen to be a HUGE HUGE fan of Victorian woodcuts (Sir John Tenniel is my hero), so I’m here to testify, Zeman succeeded; it looks great.

And here’s the exciting thing:  the whole thing, the entire movie is on YouTube.  Yeah, I know it might be a violation of copyright.  But it’s there all the same.  It’s also available on DVD from Amazon.  Here’s the YouTube playlist, in case you’re feeling impatient.

Okay, I think that’s it for me.  You know the routine:  write, share, tweet, comment.  And remember what I said earlier about Gadget Girls automatically being Tomboys?  Tell me what you think:  am I being too judgmental?  Are there tropes that you don’t like, wish you could subvert?  Let’s talk about this!

You can contact me through the comments here, or at my email, ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  If you have a contribution for next week’s Fun Friday, if you have something to say that won’t fit in a comment box, or if you’d like to throw some fiction my way, that email is where you can reach me.  I’ll be back on Monday, hopefully with some audio drama headed your way.  In the meantime, enjoy your weekend, but don’t enjoy it TOO much.  And if you do, don’t get caught!  Later!

Categories: Fun Friday, Steampunk | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: A little bit of this…..

Friday is upon us, and marks a full week of me being back on a normal blogging schedule.  Yay me!  I’m looking forward to the weekend; I have an outing planned with Big Sis, and I don’t know which I’m more looking forward to:  seeing Hitchcock’s classic “Rear Window” on the big screen, or getting chili cheese fries (my first in over a year) at our favorite burger joint.  Man, that’s a hard one to call.

In the meantime, however, time to get on with our Fun Friday adventure.  First,  you see the picture to the left; isn’t that gorgeous?  I couldn’t stop looking at it, so amazing.  This popped up on my Facebook feed, courtesy of Bret Dusic, old friend, and co-founder of  Vandalia Con, the Steampunk convention in Charleston West Virginia (I never pass up the opportunity to plug this con, check it out).  The picture is on a site simply named Afropunk.  I can’t find out where the collection originally came from, but there’s another site with some more photos (there’s a lot of duplication, but still check it out, the extras are as gorgeous as the duplicates)  The photos are certain to be of interest to the Steampunks among you.  Even if you’re not into Steam, the pictures are just beautiful to look at.  My goodness yes.


Next, we move up a few years to 1904.  Seems there was a tiny town in Scotland, Selkirk, that was trying to raise money to save a bridge that was about to fall down, or be torn down, not sure.  Anyway, they had a three day fundraising event to get the money together.  The opening ceremonies were conducted by no less a personage than author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Pretty cool, huh?  Okay, maybe not, but we’re getting to the cool part.  Apparently, part of the fundraiser included selling a little folio of short stories contributed by locals.  But it turns out Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a 1300 word Sherlock Holmes story especially for this little fundraising pamphlet:  Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar.

You haven’t heard of it?  Yeah, no kidding, neither had I.  Neither had anybody, until this fellow turned up back in February, with a copy of the pamphlet.  For real!  Check out this article on it.  A new, previously unpublished Sherlock Holmes story!!!  I’m all squee about it.

And here it is, the original story, courtesy of the London Telegraph paper. Double squee!

(Yeah, about the pictures.  I know that Cummerbund person is the Big Dog in the Sherlock Holmes world right now, and I agree, he’s a cutie patootie.  But for me, Sherlock’s either Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett.  It’s okay to call me an old fogey; I embrace my eccentricities, they’ve been my good friends all these years)


Finally, we move forward many years to what could possibly be the strangest juxtaposition of well, things, that I’ve written about here.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you, Dieselpunk Beer.

No, I’m not kidding.  It’s a real brewery, a micro-brew, obviously, out of California.  They were brought to my attention by a very dear old friend, Mr. John Perry (he’s a journeyman writer, good ideas, right on the cusp of being published; when he gets there, I’ll be sure and link you in)  Anyway, Dieslpunk Beer produces an IPA, a stout and a porter.  Dear John Perry turned up on my doorstep the other day with three bottles of the IPA.  There’s not a soul who can say that John isn’t a giving fellow, and an aficionado of beer.

Now the thing is, while John may be a connoisseur of the brewing arts, I’m incredibly NOT.  In my misspent youth, I was known to smoke the odd bowl, but not so much on the booze front.  It all tastes like it should be poured back in the horse.  Besides, as sick as I’ve been of late, and on so many medications (including some seriously hardcore narcotics), I’m sure that drinking is not in my best interests at the moment.  So when it came time to test said beer for flavor, I turned to another man who knows his beer:  Dear Husband.

Dear Husband said it was pretty good stuff:  not too strong, hoppy with a toasted wheat taste to it, but don’t let it get warm or the flavor goes downhill fast.  He also said it was more like a lager than an IPA.  For my part, I just nodded and pretended I knew what all that meant.  If that made sense to you and you want to give it a try, the brewery webpage tells where the beer can be found.  I hope you enjoy it, and report back!  I just like the name and the label; I leave the actual tasting to experts like y’all.

Okay, I think that’s it for me!  You know the routine:  share, tweet, comment.  If you have any recommendations for Fun Friday (or for a topic for discussion, or if you have a short story you’re dying to share), email me.  Commenter Jennifer Swinford (Hi, Jennifer!) had some difficulty finding my email address on the About Me page.  I have since made that a lot easier to find (I hope it’s easier).  In the meantime, if you want to write, try me at ajwriter – @ –  (take out the dashes and spaces; gotta do my part to foil the dastardly email bots!)

And with that, I’m off in my flying machine, to continue my quest for world domination.  Or to wash my dishes; something like that.  Y’all enjoy your weekend, but not too much; drink responsibly (dieselpunk beer!) and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!  Later!

Categories: Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, History, Pictures, Reader Contributions, Steampunk | Leave a comment

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