Tag Archives: Inspiration

Sun Safety for Writers

In Queensland, Australia, we have started the long hot season of Spring/Summer/Autumn. Winter was a flop; one cold week does not a winter make.

With that in mind, let’s look at how a writer can avoid a bad burn.

Image result for vibrant sun

‘Vibrant Sun’ by Elspeth McLean

Using Sunscreen: There are many sorts of sunscreen for all levels of protection. For the newbie, I suggest the strongest protection levels, and learn to avoid the pitfalls of spell check, use a style guide like ‘Strunk and White’, and use a good dictionary to prevent embarrassing burns. Ask for help. Don’t let a bad burn put you off trying again. For more experienced writers, I suggest a writing group or a writing buddy for protection against the harsher weather conditions.

Wearing a Hat and/or a Shirt:  Sometimes, even the toughest skin is going to get a stinging burn if left unprotected. Prevention is easier than cure. Read the submission guidelines before submitting your work. Be a belt-and-suspenders type of writer and do your research before making a submission, and polish your submission to your best ability.

Moisturize: If you do get a burn, don’t neglect it in the hopes it will go away if you ignore it. Be proactive! Slather yourself with encouragement. Selfcare is important. Good friends will help you with those places that are hard to reach; go out for coffee with a writing buddy.

Getting a Safe Tan: The only way to become a published writer is to send stuff off.  You have to risk exposure to reach that goal.

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Filed under Humour, Opinion Piece, Personal experience, The Writing Life

Lurking Around

Are you a lurker?

I have been a lurker in the past. I lurked around the Voyager Online comments board for about six months before I started joining in the conversations. I spent about two months lurking around the Writing Race before I joined in. These days, I tend to jump right in, because I wasted so much time in the past.

I remember well why I was a lurker. I didn’t want to be seen as a newbie or ignorant. Now days, I don’t have the time to linger. I jump in – and sometimes I jump right back out. Most of the time, I find new friends and amazing writing resources.Boots were designed for protection.

So, I’ve crawled out of the shadows and into the light. However, I do not sit in judgement of anyone else who preferes to be a lurker. It’s a risk to step out where people can see you and make you into a target. If you feel safer lurking, lurk away!

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Filed under Humour, Inspiration, Personal experience, The Writing Life

Finding Inspiration

It is kind of a cliché that authors and writers get frustrated by being asked where they get their ideas from. It seems that people suspect we are part of a special club, or part of a secret mailing list. I wish it was that simple, but it isn’t. Finding ideas – good ideas – is hard work.

You have to dig for good ideas. You have to feed the muse. I recently spent a day going though Victorian-era medical articles online, and discovered gold dust. Today, I went and bought a whole heap of cheap secondhand books, including some reference books. I can guarantee that every one of those books will contain at least one new, unique and unusual idea. You just have to be ready to recognise it.

And that is the skill that writers have. They learn to grab onto a inspirational idea with both hands and hang on.

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An Interview with E. Chris Garrison: Steampunk Author!

Book cover for Chris

  1. What was your introduction to the Steampunk genre?

I blame my interest in the genre on William Gibson and Bruce Sterling for their collaborative novel, The Difference Engine. I’d been a fan of Gibson’s for his Cyberpunk novels, and the book came out during my last year in college, where I was studying computer systems engineering. Since it was about computing being invented over a hundred years earlier, I was fascinated. I will admit that despite that early start, I didn’t follow Steampunk again for decades when it gained more prominence as a genre of its own.

  1. What inspires you to write in the Steampunk genre?

I write the kind of stories I like to read, and Steampunk inspires me as a pure form of speculative fiction. It can be written as science fiction, fantasy, or both. The roots of my favorite genres were born with Verne, Shelley, Burroughs, Wells, and Poe. Those original science fiction and fantasy authors dreamed of a future that never was, and it’s easy to get caught up in that alternate reality.

  1. Did you set out to write Steampunk, or did it just happen?

It was an accident, I promise! Well, sort of. I had the idea of writing a novel about a character who can hop from one alternate reality to another through the use of quantum states, as in quantum computing. The idea rattled around in my head for years. I pitched ideas to my critique group, I jotted down notes, but nothing gelled for a long time. Finally, I sat down and made up some characters and started writing, to see what would happen. The first time the main character world-hopped, I had to think fast to provide a contrasting alternate history. Steampunk floated up as an ideal candidate, because it is a very visually different world from our own, and one that I could fill with swashbuckling airship-pirate action. That book became Reality Check, which is my best selling book to date.

  1. Do you write in other genres? If so, what attracted you to those genres?

I write in a few speculative fiction genres.

My first three novels, the Road Ghosts Trilogy, are supernatural fantasies, though they’ve also been called “horror lite”. I never intended to write horror, and I still maintain it is urban fantasy. I’ve been a big fan of urban fantasy as a fan of Charles de Lint’s Newford stories, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. My wife and I were ghost hunters for seven years, and so I wrote my urban fantasy involving supernatural entities like ghosts, demons, and ghouls.

That series spun off into the Tipsy Fairy Tales, which are more pure magical comedic/action contemporary fantasy stories, which still owes a lot to Buffy’s wry sense of humor and sense of pacing.

I mentioned my science fiction novel, Reality Check, and all I can say about that is, I grew up on a diet of Heinlein, Asimov, Niven, and McCaffrey. And yeah, you’ll catch Star Wars references in most of my books. It’s a weakness, I can’t help it.

  1. How did you come to choose your protagonist and antagonist?

In Girl in the Gears, my main characters literally came to me in a dream. I dreamed of a young transgender woman on the run with an Artful Dodger type mentor, in an airship without a ladder. For some reason, they had to fly up to tall structures, like the masts of ships, to climb down. (It was a dream, don’t ask me.) I woke up at 2 in the morning and scribbled down everything I could remember on our grocery list pad, and was so excited about the concept that I dropped my work in progress to start on the new idea.

The story is, in part, about the struggles a transgender woman might have in a world without even a word for transgender, without any support network or medical assistance for such a person. For that story arc, I had to make the antagonist someone very much opposed to her path to live as a woman, and so I decided it was her father who could not accept her as a woman, and who would try to drag her kicking and screaming, if necessary, back into a more “respectable” position in life. He is forced to work from afar, through agents, so the Trans-Continental aspect is due to her being chased across several of the balkanized republics of North America. Luckily, she has help, though her Artful Dodger friend has problems of her own.

  1. Do you write backstories for your characters?

Not really. I jot down notes as things occur to me, or as they come up in the story. The characters tend to reveal themselves over time.

  1. How do your own experiences add to your characters and narratives?

In the case of Trans-Continental, my experiences growing up transgender, but not knowing a word for it, or really understanding why I was different, helps me create the character of Ida, who’s trans in a world also without a word like that. She’s otherwise quite different from me: bolder, braver, more outgoing. Duffy’s even further from me in most ways, she’s cocky and tricky, but their loyalty to each other speaks to the kind of friendship I value.

  1. Are you a ‘planner’ or a ‘winger’ when it comes to plotting your narratives?

I started out more of a “winger” (in my circles, we call it “pantsing” as in writing by the seat of your pants), but have learned to do a minimum of planning to make sure the story stays on track. For novella or novel length works, I usually write a sort of headline of what should happen in each chapter ahead of time to keep the overall pacing working toward the end, even if I’m not 100% sure how it will end. I prefer having that skeletal framework to flesh things out on.

  1. If you are a planner, do you stick strictly to your plan?

Ha, definitely not! For Reality Check, I had to rewrite the plan three times while writing it, and after beta readers agreed the ending felt abrupt, I added even more on the end. Often the plan will start out with holes that need filling in, and sometimes whole unplanned chapters will become necessary to be inserted as my characters do unexpected things.

  1. What is more important to you: that the characters conform to your plot, or that the plot grows naturally out of the characters?

My stories are, as a rule, character-driven. The plot has to follow naturally based on who they are, and how they interact. If I force a character to do something that’s out of their nature, it is as if the muse responsible for the story goes on strike and my writing goes flat. So I listen to my characters, they know their story, I let them reveal it.

  1. Do you set time aside to write every day?

I wish. No, I’m more of a binge writer. Which isn’t all bad. I learned I could write novels by participating in National Novel Writing Month, which is the bingeiest binge that ever binged a binge. But I’m working to change my habits to a more moderate and constant pace. Girl in the Gears was written like this, and I think it helped me keep the story always in mind without having to put the rest of my life on hold until it was done. I’ve been in an editing/promotion phase since then, but hope to get back to a regular writing schedule soon.

  1. Do you set yourself a word length to write every day?

Sort of. The plan that’s worked best so far has been to challenge myself to write 10,000 words in a month. That’s an average of 333 words a day, and I know I can write 1000 words in an hour when I’ve got momentum. I’ve written a 500 word flash fiction story in 15 minutes, even. So this is a modest goal, and even if I have to do all my writing on the weekend, I can catch up. This flexible writing goal suits my life and personality best, it seems.

  1. Do you write with a word length in mind, or do you let the story dictate the length?

Hmm. I usually know if I’m writing a flash story, short story, novella, or novel when I sit down at the keyboard, based on the idea that the story comes from. Some stories just don’t work in that framework, and end up getting reworked. For instance, one night I dreamed about my Road Ghosts characters and jotted down what I remembered of the dream. I tried to write a short story based on it, but it just wouldn’t work for me. Eventually, that became the first chapter of the second Road Ghosts novel, Sinking Down, because the problem was, the idea demanded a lot more than a short story (and I changed the point of view, too). But that’s an exception, rather than the rule, for me.

  1. How important is research to you and your Steampunk Narratives?

I think most people who read this question expect the answer to be an ambitious, “Of course research is paramount! Detail is everything in Steampunk!” This is where I differ. My Steampunk world is an alternate reality that’s set right NOW, not a hundred years ago. History, especially science, took a different turn around the time of Newton, and so the spread and adoption of technology has gone very differently. Yes, I do research, but I don’t let my imagination be fettered by historical events or fashions, since the canvas of history in my Trans-Continental world is painted with a different brush.

  1. Do you use online resources to help you write and research? Can you make recommendations of any websites you find particularly helpful?

Google is my friend. I use Google Maps for geography, but also I search for historical maps, original names of towns, ancestry of historical figures, the progress of fashion, the dates technologies were invented, and so on. I was delighted to stumble upon your site, because the articles you write and share are fuel for my imagination for this genre.

  1. Do you have any favourite Steampunk authors?

I am a huge fan of Katina French’s Clockwork Republics stories (Steampunk fairy tales!). I am fortunate to have her as a friend and colleague. She can also tighten a corset to within an inch of your life, as I found out on our expedition to the Steampunk World’s Fair last year!

  1. Do you have any favourite Steampunk movies?

You know, if for nothing else, I adore the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes movies for their soundtrack! Hans Zimmer captured the Steampunk style in musical form with quirky instruments and a breakneck pace that I played on repeat while writing Girl in the Gears. I’m not certain that the movies qualify for most as true Steampunk, but I think they capture the spirit of the genre quite well.

  1. Are you part of a Steampunk community? If so, do they inspire your writing in any way?

I’ve attended the Indianapolis Aerodrome’s Steampunk Sunday gathering, and would like to do more with that group. I run into a lot of them at local conventions. I think inspiration comes more from friends I have in that group, through their latest costumes and inventions. They’re a creative bunch, and I’m thrilled to be among them.

  1. Tell us about your current Steampunk Book – which is due out on the 1st of June

Well, I have cleverly dropped tidbits about my latest in the questions above! But the short of it is, Trans-Continental: Girl in the Gears is a novella that’s the first in a planned series of Steampunk adventures starring Ida, a transgender woman, and her larcenous-but-loyal companion, Duffy. They are running from their respective pasts together across the military-industrial landscape of the North American Republics, which are working up toward multinational war. As my friend Moxie Magnus says, “[Ida and Duffy] put the ‘team’ back in Steampunk”.

I mentioned that my science fiction book, Reality Check, has a steampunk setting. It is that same alternate reality that I’ve used as the setting for the Trans-Continental series. I haven’t decided if there will be any direct crossovers, but they do share that common world-building.

  1. Do you have an online presence?  

But of course! There’s even a Steampunk story about that.

I deliberately avoided saying the word “Steampunk” anywhere in Reality Check. Instead, the main character, Lee Green, thinks of the Trans-Continental universe as the ‘silly hat world’ because to his modern, practical eyes, the flamboyant fashion of the neo-Victorian alternate reality is pretty silly. He even thinks of the alternate version of his love interest as “Silly Hat Dionne”.

So, when I revamped my website awhile ago, I gave it a new domain name: http://sillyhatbooks.com

I would welcome anyone who’s made it this far to come visit me there, or follow me on Twitter at @ecgarrison.

Thank you again for having me as a guest!

Chris in Steampunk cosplay

Chris in Steampunk cosplay

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Steaming Up Your Goggles: Steampunk Romance

To be honest, I suck at writing romance. I get embarrassed, imagining my children or my mother reading a romantic scene and snickering. But, of course, not every writer suffers from the same flaws as me. Your greatest talent may be writing romance. So, does the Steampunk genre have room for romance and adventure?

Cassandra Clare's  'Clockwork Prince'

Cassandra Clare’s
‘Clockwork Prince’

The answer to that is a loud and definite YES! A perfect example would be Cassandra Clare’s Young Adult trilogy, The Infernal Devices. Paranormal romance is one of the biggest sectors of the YA market, and Steampunk is a genre easily adapted to combine with the Romance literary genre. Clare is better known for her The Mortal Instruments series, which is set in the modern day, but her Steampunk trilogy is a prequel to that series.Clare started out writing fanfic, but was soon able to turn her passion for writing into a career of writing about passion.

 One of the books in The Extraordinaires  series by Michael Pryor.

One of the books in The Extraordinaires series by Michael Pryor.

Romance need not be the central theme of a Steampunk narrative featuring romantic going-ons. Michael Pryor’s Steampunk books always feature a romance as a subplot, while the main plot is always full of adventure and derring-do. He uses the romantic subplot to fill out the personalities of his characters, to share details that might not have come to light in any other way. Pryor could write the same stories without the romance, but the stories would lose some of their essential underpinnings. The love in the subplots add to his characterizations, they haven’t just been crowbarred in for the sake of having some romance. Rather than slow down the plots of his books, the romance strengthens them.

One person falling in love with another person is one of the classic plots of all time. It makes perfect sense that your characters in your Steampunk story have the same feelings of desire, attraction and affection as everyone else. This means you can contrast messy emotions with rational intellect. Just don’t fall into lazy writing, and assume only women have emotions and only men can be rational, or that pure intellect it somehow better than pure emotion. A passion for science can be just as messy as a passion for a romantic partner, maybe even more so.

The wonderful thing about including romance in a Steampunk narrative is that it helps your audience feel sympathy for your characters. Falling in and out of love is just about a universal experience. Most of your audience will have been swept away by the euphoria of discovering your crush likes you back; have lived through those heady days when your new boyfriend (or girlfriend) can do no wrong and you are slowly dying when you’re not with them; and have had their hearts ripped out when going through a breakup. A good writer can tap into those feelings, and let their readers suffer through those experiences vicariously.

You don’t have to have any romance in a Steampunk story. But don’t be afraid to add one if you deem it necessary.

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Mash-ups and the Steampunk Philosophy

Steampunk might seem to be the last genre to ever be eco-friendly, but it only seems that way if you confuse the Postmodern genre of Steampunk with the historical reality of the Industrial Revolution. They are not the same, particularly in their underlying philosophies. The Industrial Revolution was powered by Capitalism; Steampunk is all about recycling, upcycling, repurposing, sharing, reusing, valourizing Science for its achievements and not for what it can do for the profit margins. This holds true for the Aesthetic, the alternative lifestyle, and for the literary genre.

With the Steampunk Aesthetic, cosplayers take pride in making a lot of their own kit. I know that, even as the world’s slowest sewer, I have made my own items of my Steampunk wardrobe. My friends and I raid op shops looking for suitable items to be made over into Steampunk fashions. We almost make a competition of who can find the best second-hand items, and who can make the best outfit. It just isn’t environmentally friendly, or pennywise, it is also a lot of fun. In fact, we make our costumes because of any idealistic values, but because we achieve an unique style by making our own costumes.

My hand-decorated hat and recycled vest.

My hand-decorated hat and recycled vest.

This is the case for my community. We have swap meets, workshops, ops shop adventure days and other events. We make quite a few of our own gadgets, including my lovely backpack that Matt the Tinkerer built (with some help from me).

Backpack designed and made by Matt the Tinkerer.

Backpack designed and made by Matt the Tinkerer.

This has all been a longwinded introduction to the concept of Steampunk Mash-ups. I love a good mash-up, I really do, be it a cosplayer dressed as Steampunk Batman, a group of Steampunk Ghostbusters (I am a member of such a group), or a story that borrows settings, characters, and situations from other literary sources.  The most famous example would be The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which borrows something from just about every well-known Victorian novel.

One of the literary markers of the Steampunk genre is this use of well known individuals, both real life people and literary characters. This is a very Postmodern strategy, incorporating the old and traditional into the new, to create something that exceeds the impact of both as single entities. A mash-up can add a depth to the story that wouldn’t be achieved otherwise.

The series by Michael Pryor, The Extraordinaires, has Rudyard Kipling as a character. Kipling’s Junglebook is the jumping off point for the series, as this series also explores what defines civilisation and what defines the ‘Other’. So Kipling isn’t just a character, his work supplied the inspiration for the other characters and the plots, and so he acts as an analogy and as an allegory within the story. Masterful stuff!

 One of the books in The Extraordinaires  series by Michael Pryor.

One of the books in The Extraordinaires series by Michael Pryor.

It is fitting that the Steampunk literary genre ‘recycles’ other literary works in this manner. Most of the literature from the Victorian era is no longer in copyright, and can be used safely without stepping on anyone’s toes. You can use quite famous characters and real historical people, like Dracula or Brunel, and really go to town with them. Or you could research obscure Victorian characters to use in your stories. I like to research scientists, myself.

So don’t be frightened to try a mash-up. Not only is it fun, but it is in the finest tradition of the Steampunk literary genre.

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Filed under Mash-ups, Steampunk, Steampunk Themes, writing

Multicultural Steampunk

StormdancerCuttlefish by David Freer.The Steam Mole by David FreerCassandra Clare 'The Clockwork Prince'

What do all the above novels have in common? They all have protagonists that are of races other than white European or white American. Three of them are partially or completely set outside of Europe and America. They are all excellent Steampunk books. Unfortunately, because Steampunk is considered to be centred on the Victorian-era industrialisation of Britain and America, most books are set in the UK and the USA. This might seem to limit the racial palette of characters that can be considered character in the Steampunk literary genre. It doesn’t.

Technology and innovation weren’t (and still aren’t) limited to one part of the planet. It was happening (is happening) at different rates wherever any inspired and educated human being can tinker with tools and source good reference material. And if you have read Terry Pratchett’s ‘Raising Steam’, you know that even non-humans can get in on the fun. In the Victorian era, there was innovation occurring all over, in Asia, in Russia, in India, in South America and in Australia & New Zealand.

Of course, racism was a major issue in the Victorian era. The British Gentleman thought himself superior to every other race on the planet, including any person of British descent who was from the ‘Colonies’. This doesn’t mean that a Steampunk story has to reflect that ugly and outmoded attitude. In fact, I would recommend, in this post-colonial era, that you take to opportunity to write against that attitude.

Dorothy Winterman's Asian-influenced Steampunk outfit by Luisa Ana Fuentes.

Dorothy Winterman’s Asian-influenced Steampunk outfit by Luisa Ana Fuentes.

We now live in a global village. Why set unnecessary limitations on your characters?

At this point, I would like to bring up racial stereotypes. If you are going to have a multicultural cast of characters, do not resort to lazy writing and use racial stereotypes in the characterization of your protagonists, antagonists and secondary characters. As well, the race of a character shouldn’t be their defining characteristic, and make them ‘exotic’ or ‘other’.

In my own YA Steampunk work-in-progress, two of the three main characters are from mixed-race backgrounds, and one compounds the issue by being a colonial from Australia. This wasn’t a deliberate choice I made when I was first fleshing out the novel, but it became clear to me that I wanted both the characters to have a broader experience of the world than would be available to a British gentleman. This was made easier by giving them backstories that included travel to other countries without having the superior attitude of men from the British Empire; such an attitude would have interfered with their education from non-British sources.

Of course, this means more research, to get the details right. But think of the fun you will having exploring other cultures!

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Filed under Characterization, Steampunk, YA Work in Progress