Steampunk

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

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

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

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 Amazon.com (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

5 Steam-tastic (and Diesel- and Pulp-) YouTube Channels You Must See!

Morning, folks, and welcome to another meeting of the Order of the Reeking Camel, that cabal of despoilers and defiers of everything Hump Day.  Much as I love April (my sister and I had our birthdays last week and never you mind how old we are now!), I am glad to see the end in sight.  May promises warmer weather, an end to the spring rains, and maybe I’ll get my garden planted before it gets too hot.

Did you know that YouTube is the second most frequented search engine in the world?  I heard that and was sure it was bull cookies.  But apparently it’s not.  And I have made more than my fair share of contribution to that statistic.  When I was ill this past winter, I spent a lot of time surfing Teh Interwebz, including YouTube.  It’s not something I am proud of.  It’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re too ill to invest any real energy in sensible occupations, and you don’t watch a lot of TV.

While on YouTube, I found a lot of videos that I wanted to share with y’all.  I tried to bookmark them so I could use them for Fun Friday fodder.  Some of them I have already shared, some I haven’t.  Now is my chance to pass along a few recommendations.  These are mostly video channels that have been dedicated to something Steampunk, Dieselpunk and/or Pulp, either new or classic.  A couple are playlists instead, and I have noted those as I come to them (with one exception).  I chose them because they made me smile, or impressed me somehow.

Remember how I’ve ranted multiple times about my devotion to indie creative producers?  How I love their joie de créer and will seek out their work, even when it’s less than perfect?  Yeah, that still applies; consider yourself warned.

One:  Table Flip

Might as well go ahead and do the exception first.  The first recommendation is neither a channel or a playlist on YouTube.  It’s just three videos, parts one, two and three, of a show called Table Flip, which is a non-Punk game review/demonstration channel; kind of a bargain basement TableTop, without the irritant of Wesley The Wonder Weenie.  The episodes in question (linked above, as if you hadn’t already noticed)  are the demonstration of a game called Betrayal at House on the Hill.  Betrayal at House on the Hill is a horror game about an intrepid party of Scooby Gang wannabes investigating, you guessed it, a haunted house on a hill.  What originally brought these videos to my attention was the guest appearance of YouTube personality, Markiplier (I’m not linking to him; use your Google Fu, grasshopper).  My son, my nieces and I are all big fans of this Let’s Play celebrity; he can be adorkably funny.

What makes this link noteworthy for y’all is the decidedly steampunk sensibility Markiplier and his hosts bring to their demonstration.  They dress the part, which is fun all by itself.  They take on Steampunk personalities for the duration, and, more importantly, they seem to apply a steampunk sensibility to the game.  It doesn’t really affect the game play or the results; it simply changes the flavor in a way that intrigued and pleased me.  It’s a little thing, but I like it; I’d like to see Steampunk flavors added to other board/table top games, see how it might make things more fun.

Two:  The Danger Element

I am sure I have mentioned The Danger Element in one of my Fun Friday posts.  But it bears repeating here.  Apparently this dude John Soares (here’s a Wikipedia entry about him) is quite the Internet auteur, making viral videos.  I am neither qualified nor interested in making comment on that.  But I do like The Danger Element, and its pulpy goodness more than qualifies for ClarksonPunk.  There are twelve installments of this serialized story (plus two teasers and a behind-the-scenes featurette included on the channel).  In the story, there is a secret society of super-powered do-gooders vs. a secret society of super-powered do-badders.  Simple enough.  But our hero (from the good side) has been made a deal with a beautiful woman:  she’ll help him recover a stolen element (the Danger Element, natch!), if he’ll help her find and rescue her father, who has been taken by the aforementioned do-badders (the same ones who snatched the element).

Like too many indie productions, the writing is … less than stellar and the acting is obviously sub-par.  But the visual effects are absolutely stunning for a semi-amateur production company.  The same can be said for the stunts, and the Dieselpunk-friendly guns, vehicles and gadgets?  Yeah, I was drooling, and I’m not even that into the modding side of the field.

Here’s the shorter of the teasers, so you can take a peek:

Three:  Postmodern Jukebox

I know I’ve mentioned these guys before.  This is a music entry, the brainchild of a Long Island pianist called Scott Bradlee.  I’m not gonna get into how he ended up doing this sort of thing (here’s a TED talk given by him that explains it much more entertainingly than I could).  Practical upshot:  this guy takes modern music — Iggy Azalea, Radiohead, Ke$ha, Taylor Swift, you name it — and retools them to sound like classic Motown, Prohibition-era jazz, Wild West saloon style (my personal favorites are the adaptations to ’60’s style Frank Sinatra swing or the turn of the century bluegrass).  A LOT of the music falls very comfortably in the Steam, Diesel and pulp eras, and, on top of that, are shockingly hummable and toe-tappable, even for old geezers like me.  What do they call them, earworms?  Yeah, their version of All About That Bass got stuck in my head for several weeks.  Check them out.

Four:  Serial Squadron

It’s wonderfully gratifying to me to see how many of the old Republic serials are available online.  I can remember sitting up waaaaaay late at night one summer week — with my parents’ permission! — because our local TV channel was having a week-long celebration of all things Buster Crabbe.  Every night at midnight, I’d be on my sofa, big bowl of popcorn at the ready, so I could watch Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, you name it, I was THERE!  I have no idea to this day what prompted my mother to let me sit up so late when I was so young (around nine or ten).  All I know is that summer had a profound impact on my tastes in fiction.  Doc Savage novels, Flash Gordon serials, and Star Trek (the original series, of course!) were what made me the pulp-addicted old broad you see before you today.

I know I’ve mentioned one or two of my favorite serial channels.  This is a relatively new one:  Serial Squadron, it’s called.  It’s relatively new, and not as well organized as the Jaeckel channel, for example.  But it has some serials that I had not seen before, and that’s a good thing.  A couple of the offerings are very old indeed, dating back to the Silent Era.  What brought me to Serial Squadron was their offering, “The Voice From the Sky,” made in 1930, and was the first serial with sound.  It was considered lost until just a few years ago.  You wanna see?  Follow the link.

Five:  Steampunk and Dieselpunk playlist

Remember I said there was gonna be a playlist?  This is it.  Nothing too amazing:  just somebody took it into their head to start compiling various online offerings of single and multi-part videos in our fields.  It’s nothing you couldn’t find on your own.  But isn’t it so much better to have somebody else do the compiling for you?  Here’s the link.

Bonus:  Remember WENN

I stayed away from copyrighted material that’s been illegally copied to YouTube.  Those Republic serials are out of copyright for the most part, and the rest of the stuff I’ve linked to today is indie stuff released by the creators or on a Creative Commons copyright.  For this, however, I’ll make an exception.  Back when my kids were little, American Movie Classics had their first original series, called Remember WENN.  It was about a 1930’s era radio station, the actors and performers that did live broadcasts from that station, and how they dealt with the strange routines of their lives.  It was pretty good, and it’s set firmly in the year or so leading up to World War II.  Somebody has posted the whole thing onto YouTube, here.  I’m pretty sure it’s been posted wihtout the originators permission, and there’s no telling how long it’ll stay up before YouTube figures it out and pitches a fit.  So go check it out now, before they get wise.

Okay, that’s it for me today.  Next up is Fun Friday, and I think it’s safe to say, there won’t be any YouTube videos in the offering!  You know the routine:  tweet, share, comment, write.  if you have any suggestions for Fun Friday, give me a shout at the email addy on my About Page.  In the meantime, don’t forget about Vandalia Con, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Classic pulp, Dieselpunk, Music, Pulp, Steampunk, Video | Leave a comment

Fiction Monday: When the Cat’s Away Part Three

So it’s Monday morning again, and I can’t say I’m thrilled.  My weekend was rather up and down:  good times, bad news, stressful necessities and pleasant surprises all warred for my attention.  Sometimes life can be a roller coaster, even here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.

However, that’s my problem, and nothing you need to worry about.  On the Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and New Pulp front, things are all coming up Clarkson!  I have a sparkling new sub-pile on the To Be Read Mt. Everest that lives inside my Kindle (and Amazon wish list), and that’s always a treat.  More importantly, we’re now officially less than a month out from Vandalia-Con!  I know, I know, it’s a small con in an out-of-the-way town in Appalachia.  But I am really looking forward to it.  Generally speaking, I prefer small events over large ones; small ones mean you can sit down and talk, actually interact with people, places, things, etc.  Large events become too frenetic, overwhelming and less fun, at least for me.  Seriously, if you’re within driving distance of Morgantown/Parkersburg (hi, Pittsburgh readers, I know you’re out there!), make an effort to come on down and join the fun!  It’s going to be the best kind of small event, and all the money raised is going to a terrific cause.  Fun AND altruism, together in the same Steampunk package?  How can you beat that?

Okay, I’ve stalled long enough.  I owe you the next installment of April Tyree, Girl Detective.  Will she avoid her fate as sacrifice?  Will she free the girl, save the day and escape from the secret pyramid?  What happens next?  Well, you’re about to find out….


When the Cat’s Away…

by
AJ Clarkson

Part Three

Damn it, where was Charity Rostavitch!?  For that matter, where was the stupid exit?  The inside of this insane wooden pyramid was a maze of intersecting corridors, rooms, open chambers, secret passages.  For all I know, that crazy twit Patricia Blumenthal had smuggled in her own honest-to-goodness minotaur.  All I know was that I’d try a door, tiptoe further down the hall, turn a corner, hide in an alcove when I heard footsteps or voices, (both of which echoed so much there was no way of judging which direction it was coming from), then start the whole ridiculous mess over again.

At one point, I could hear shouts and pounding; I guess Patty and her flunkies had gone back to the chapel and found where I had wedge-jammed the door; it may have been un-openable from the inside, but a few good thumps from out here in the hall and my little jamming trick was toast.  Three loud bangs let me know they’d figured that out; the echoing bang and then voices and scurrying feet told me they’d gotten Mercedes and company out.  Which meant there were now at least seven people looking for me now, and all of them knew the layout here better than me.

Then I turned a corner.  There was only one door down this little cul-de-sac.  It had a symbol smeared on it, in a dark brownish-red substance that looked like dried blood.  The marking looked like this:  y

I recognized it.  I told you already, the weird hangs out on my side of the street; there’s money to be made in knowing how the underground magic scene works.  In this case, that mark was a warding sigil, a powerful one.  Nothing could go in or out of that door unless you either had the countersign or knew how to break the sigil.

What?  Yeah, you heard me right.  Magic is real. Well, some of it is real.  Some of it is pure hokum.  There are such things as wizards, people who do nothing but practice magic, and I’m ambivalent about those sorts.  On the one hand, wizards embrace a level of nerdiness that makes that annoying kid in your high school math class look as suave as the Dos Equis guy.  On the other hand, that much power is a whole new world of scary.  Patty — or whatever’s sub-letting her brain pan — is a practitioner.  A good one, too, if this sigil was any indication.

Most people aren’t at the wizard level of magic-slinging.  Most of us don’t bother with any of it, because magic is generally difficult, dangerous and expensive, even for the wizard nerd types.  Most spells require blood.  Or rare and/or precious minerals, objects, what have you.  Or all of the above.  And that’s in addition to you needing to know how to read and write a couple of dead languges, and to follow the recipe for a particular spell.  If you don’t get it letter perfect, well, the backlash is a world class bitch.

Yeah, I can cast a few spells.  Nothing on the level of Patty’s work, though. Or Herek-al-Hootchie, or whatever her name is, whoever is sub-letting space in Patty’ brain pan.  Luckily for me, breaking this sigil didn’t require that much magic.  I wasn’t casting a spell, technically.  I was just ruining somebody else’s work.  It’s always easier to destroy than to build.

Normally I would have used the kris knife to cut my hand.  But I already had a steady supply of blood, thanks to Patty and her crazy altar of doom.  I pressed my fingertips to the gouge Patty had cut in my forearm.  Okay, that hurt.  Bad.  I had to steady myself against the wall; my knees wanted to buckle from the pain.  I found myself panting hard, waiting for the lightheadedness to pass.  Wow.  I must be hurt worse than I thought.

Anyway, when I could stand up without falling over in a heap, I began muttering, not too loud, so Patty and her minions couldn’t hear me.  I would tell you the words to the incantation I used, but there are rules about that sort of thing.  Besides, I can barely pronounce them, much less spell them.  You think speaking German is hard on the throat, try reciting the thirteen forbidden names of the Sleeper at the Edge of Darkness.  Not fun.

I hate the feeling of magical power building up.  You ever touched an electric fence, or stuck your finger into a light bulb socket when the power’s turned on?  it doesn’t precisely hurt, not the way a cut or a burn feels.  But it’s so not nice, either.  To me, it feels like a fistful of gravel, just under your skin, rolling up your arm.  That’s sort of like what magic feels like as it builds up in your system, waiting to be released.  Only the gravel is hot (sometimes icy cold, but usually hot), and instead of following the nerve paths from your fingertip to your brain, it’s just moving in tight circles, bracelets of not-pain swirling around and around at lightning speed until you want to scream.

Those bracelets of not-pain were spinning around my hand and arm as I finished the incantation; the last syllables (I hesitate to call them words) came out in a harsh whispering rasp as I actively fought to keep from screaming.  Instead of that, however, I slammed my hand down on the sigil, daubing my blood onto the wood and smearing the blood of the sigil.  The magic crawling under my skin zinged out;  there was a whiff of scorched wood and a pop! that I felt more than I heard; that almost-sound was the wards, whatever they were, dissipating.  When I reached for the doorknob a second later, it was almost too hot to handle, a side effect of the broken ward.  I was lucky; if it had zigged intstead of zagged, it would have grounded out through my hand, and I’d be a crispy critter.

Magic is dangerous, boys and girls.  Don’t let anybody tell you different.

But whoever had laid the sigil hadn’t bothered to lock the door — idiot! — so the knob turned easily in my hand.  The room beyond was lit by a single bare light bulb dangling from a wire in the ceiling.  A single, stained mattress lay against the far wall.   On that mattress was a thin, narrow-hipped girl with blonde hair, wearing only a camisole and flower-print panties.  She was lying on her side, her back to me; I could see where the handcuffs that held her hands behind her had dug ugly, bloody gouges into the flesh of her wrists.

She was still alive; I could see her breathing.  But beyond that, nothing.  The girl didn’t move, not even a flinch, at the sound of the door opening.  “Charity?” I hissed.  No reaction.  I glanced back over my shoulder; so far nobody had noticed me.  I closed the door behind me and spoke a little louder.  “Charity?  Hey, girl, wake up!”  Still no reaction.

I didn’t have long before Patty or one of her kooky followers got the bright idea to check in here.  I knelt beside the mattress and felt her neck for a pulse; it was there, but slow, like a sleeper.  I undid the handcuffs (yeah, I carry a handcuff key with me all the time; it comes in handy at times.  Don’t judge me!) and rolled the girl over onto her back.

It was Charity Rostovitch all right; the face matched her photos.  But her eyes were wide open, staring, the pupils narrowed to the tiniest pinpricks. They were keeping her drugged.  Great.  Just great.  I shrugged out of my jacket and started forcing Charity’s arms into the sleeves.  “Charity, honey, come on, up and moving!” I said, as loud as I dared.  “Come on, girl, pull it together!”

Those bizarre pinprick eyes rolled over slowly in my direction, tried to focus, then gave up the effort.  “Mom?” she sighed.

“Nope.  I’m April.  Your mom sent me to bring you home.  You wanna go home, then you’re gonna have to make an effort and help me!”

“Sleepy,” Charity moaned, and tried to roll back over.

“No no no!  Now’s not the time for another nap, Charity,” I said.  I grabbed her shoulders and pulled her up to a sitting position. I jumped up, got behind her, wedged my forearms under her arms and levered her up onto her feet.  Not easy, because A) she was taller than me, and B) her legs were as bendy as Laffy Taffy.  AND she complained the entire time, giving me half-sleeping moans of “I don’t wanna go to school!” and “five more minutes, Mom, please?”

The reason I plan to never reproduce is those cute little babies eventually turn into whiny teenagers.  Blech.

Anyway, I finally got her to stand on her own, more or less, and I braced her against me, her arm around my neck, my own tight around her waist, half holding her up.  We got a whole three steps before the doorknob rattled.  The door swung open and Patty walked in.  I stepped back in reflex; unprepared for the sudden change in momentum, Charity stumbled and reeled backward, sitting down hard on the mattress.  She nearly pulled me down with her; the backs of my heels hit the edge of the mattress and I windmilled wildly, barely managing not to sit down on top of Charity.

Patty watched this graceful drama play out without a word.  When I had finally regained my balance and turned to face her, she smiled and gave me a slow clap.  “Very entertaining, Miss Tyree,” she said.  “But now that playtime is over, shall we get on with business?”

I slid my hand behind me, where my pistol was tucked into the back waistband of my jeans.  But there was no pistol snug against the small of my back; I felt only the wrinkled cotton of my shirt. Idiot!  They must have taken my gun when they tied me to that stupid altar!

Patty must have understood my gesture, and the expression on my face. “Looking for this?” she said.  She reached into the sinus of her robe and came out with my 9mm Springfield X.D, still in its holster; it dangled from her forefinger, thrust through the trigger guard.  Clumsy.  Dangerous. And useless to me, because I still had to get past Patty, whatever was sub-letting her skull (if there really was anybody in there besides a buttload of crazy), and her kook-buddies before I could get this stoned teen home to her mom and collect my pay.  And I had no tools to do any of it; I was well and truly stuck.

I sighed heavily. “Well, shit.”

To Part Two

 


 

Well, that’s it for me for now.  What happens next?  Will they escape the pyramid?  Will Patty turn out to be even nastier than she already appears?  Will April end up a sacrifice to some dark god?  Tune in next Monday, same Pulp time, same Pulp channel!

In the meantime, you know the routine:  tweet, comment, share, write.  My email is ajwriter@ajclarkson.net if you want to ask questions, share goodies for Fun Friday, or just shoot the breeze.  I’ll be back on Wednesday to share my love for all things Punk and Pulp.  Until we see each other again, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: conventions, Pulp, short fiction, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

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