Category Archives: Commentary

Steampunk: Learning the Genre

Nathan Fillion in Steampunk GarbA popular subgenre of science fiction and fantasy is known as steampunk. It features steam-powered technology with the decorative sensibilities of the 19th century Victorian era. Steampunk stories can also be considered a sort of alternate history where the British Empire continued on to be a major power in the world and their empirical style of culture and manners still hold sway in a future world.

It is often thought that the origin of steampunk as a genre began with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The stories of the adventurer explorer or the gentleman inventor who travels through the world or in time via their abilities and education and bring British culture to other peoples is a trope that is common in many steampunk stories. While Wells and Verne were certainly part of the inspiration of steampunk as a genre, they were writing alternate history or true science fiction of their times. In other words, looking to how the future may be based on the technology of their own times, much as science fiction writers do today.

The origins of steampunk was actually back in the late 1980s with a trio of authors in Southern California. Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter were a group of friends that met to talk about their writing. They developed a style of science fiction that was influenced by victorian fantasies of the past and taking it to the next level. The name for what they were doing came about when Jeter wrote a letter to Locus Magazine in 1987.

Dear Locus,

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

—K.W. Jeter

If you look at the “gonzo-historical” books of these three authors, such as Power’s Anbuis Gates, Jeter’s Morlock Night, or Blaycock’s Homunculus, you will see that while all the novels are flavored with the Victorian era’s culture there is no fixed time period or even technology. Steampunk is not about the aristocracy, although they are often present and it is not always about steam powered gadgets either. Sometimes the Victorian idea of the supernatural takes precedence. If you tire of Steampunk stories that feature nothing but airships, goggle wearing heroines or characters that go around with steampowered batman belts, fear not. Look at the origins of the genre and you will discover that these conventions did not appear until much later.

Today, the term steampunk can refer to any of the clothing fashions, jewelry, and art objects that have a particular Victorian flair. Steampunk design emphasis’s a balance between the form and function, somewhat like the arts and crafts movement did, there is a blur between the line of tool and decoration. Examples include computers keyboards and electric guitars that are redesigned to employ materials such as polished brass, wood, iron and leather with Victorian conventions, rejecting the norm of current day industrial designs. Many of the costumes feature corsets and goggles, the color brown, or antiqued British military uniforms.

The best way to learn more about the genre is to read books by the three original authors and then expand out to newer authors of the genre. It will gain you a better balance about the genre and help you avoid falling into the cliches that have developed over the past ten years since the genre has gone more mainstream. Below are some of the places that I frequent to keep up to date with the steampunk movement.

The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles
This is an active forum where all aspects of steampunk are discussed. Clothing, art, music, writing and events. If you are looking for examples in costuming or simply want to know where the local steampunk groups hang out, this is a good place to start.

The Steampunk Empire
This online community is one of my favorites. The forums, photos and places to connect with fellow steampunk enthusiasts are many. I learn about new conventions from this site all the time.

The Gatehouse: Online Dieselpunk and Steampunk Magazine
I’m new to this magazine, but I like what I see. It covers more of the literary side of steampunk and goes into what steampunk and dieselpunk are. I find it a good resource for writers wishing to enter into the genre and for readers who want to learn more about the origins of what they are reading.

Christmas List For Fountain Pen Loving Writers

When it comes time for a Christmas gift, writers can sometimes be difficult to shop for. What we love to do best is to tell stories, and while you can purchase electronic gear for us, sometimes another option would be preferable. If the writer in your family uses a fountain pen for writing, there are accessories that could be wrapped up in a basket and would be greatly appreciated by any writer.

Noodler's black bottle

Give a Bottle of Ink

The gift of ink is always welcome to a writer. Most fountain pen users can always use another bottle of black ink. In the fountain pen world, there are a few popular ones to choose from. These are a few of my favorites.

Platinum Carbon Black
This premium Japanese black ink is waterproof and will be permanent for decades. If your writer needs to keep their writing around a long time or wants to sign checks with their fountain pen, this is a good ink for those needs.

Pilot Iroshizuku Take-sumi
This ink is not the blackest ink on the market, but it certainly has character. The name means Bamboo Charcoal and the ink shades from black to dark grey, rather like how the ancient pigments of charcoal ink did in japan’s past. It is not a permanent ink, but it is quite elegant to write with.

Noodler’s Bulletproof Black
All American made, Noodler’s Black is a favorite among fountain pen enthusiasts. Cost effective and very dark black, it is “bulletproof” which means that the ink is waterproof and fade resistant.

Aurora Black
This is the most popular black ink on the market. Aurora only makes two colors of ink, a black and a blue, but what they make, they make well. Aurora Black is considered one of the blackest inks available and it is suitable for fountain pens that need a more free flowing ink.

tsuki-yo bottle

Does your writer already have three bottles of black ink? Try a nice blue instead.

Noodler’s 54th Massachusetts
This Blue-Teal is bulletproof and flows well in a fountain pen. It is named after the first all black infantry unit in the Civil War. It was considered the ink of the year in 2013. Noodler’s ink is American made and you get a large bottle for a low price.

Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo
This ink is considered the most popular of the new Iroshizuku line and is a dark blue-teal-black. It is conservative enough for business use and is a wonderful unique shade. Tsuki-yo means “Moonlight” in Japanese. It is one of my personal favorites.

Edelstein Topaz
The Edelstein line is a well lubricated ink with vibrant colors. The Topaz is a cheerful turquoise blue with wonderful shading. It works well with a drier fountain pen.

Pelikan 4001 Turquoise
One my my first favorite inks is the inexpensive and somewhat dry Pelikan 4001 Turquoise. The ink is rich and vibrant on the page and shades wonderfully. It makes a great foil for a wet pen that you need to get better control over. I usually keep a pen loaded up with this ink on a regular basis.

rhodia notepad

Wrap Up a Few Notebooks

Apica CD-10
Apica notebooks are Japanese notebooks for school children. They are very plain and come in an assortment of sizes. The CD-10 is similar in size to our own American composition books. The paper is very fountain pen friendly and the notebook is affordable. It makes a great everyday notebooks for class notes, general writing and other daily uses.

Rhodia Notebooks
Rhodia is one of my favorite notebooks. I pick mine up from Dick Blick Art Supplies, but the are available all over. Their signature colors are black or orange. They are not hard to miss on the store shelves. Rhodia paper is smooth and white and feels great under the pen. The notebooks come in a wide assortment of sizes, in both top bound notepads and traditional side bound notebooks. You can get them with plain paper, quads or lined. My favorite size is the #16 which fits snuggly in my A5 sized book cover.

Composition Books with Brazilian Sugarcane Paper
While these handy notebooks are thought of for grade schooler use and perhaps not your first thought for gift giving, they are wonderful notebooks for writers to have around. I go through around ten of these each year for various writing projects and pick them up during back to school sales. The key is to find the ones that are labeled as being made in Brazil. If you look on the back of the notebook, you can find the country of original written on the label. These notebooks are made of sugarcane paper, the leavings of the sugar refinery process that used to be burned. Now days, the sugarcane husks are recycled into paper, creating a green product that not only saves trees, but happily is also extremely fountain pen friendly.

Penvelope

Toss in a Pen Case

Leverage Bomber Jacket Pen Wrap
This luxury pen wrap holds five fountain pens and secures them with a snap tie. The bomber leather matches their other leather goods including notebook covers, pen cups and other items.

Saki P-661 Roll Pen Case with Traditional Japanese Fabric
This inexpensive pen wrap holds several pens in a lovely fabric. It closes with a black tie. I’ve owned one of these to hold my Artist Pitt pens. It is functional, beautiful and lightweight.

Lookout – Three Pen Holster
Nock Co. is a new comer in the pen case business. Their kickstarter program was a wild success and the new pen cases in cordova fabric are quite popular among pen enthusiasts. They offer several different models of pen cases, the Lookout holds three pens in your pocket and wraps them in fabric to keep them safe. You can purchase models that also hold pocket notebooks with your pens too.

Franklin-Christoph Penvelope
I am in love with the leather of Franklin Christoph. I liked what I saw online, but when I managed to find their table at a local fountain pen convention and was able to hold their pen cases in my hand, I was hooked. I personally own a two pen case in boot leather and carry it everywhere. It still looks brand new even with daily use. They are best known for the Penvelope, a six pen case. The pen cases are affordable and perfect for gifts.

All of the inks and notebooks listed above are available via Amazon or gouletpens.com, with the exception of the composition notebooks. Locally, Paradise Pens at your mall should also carry them.

Novel Reference Journal

Neo and Notebook

Every author has their own process of writing a book. Mine has developed over the past six or seven years to use National Novel Writing Month to jump start a single long term project each year. I use the energy of my fellow wrimos to push myself to writing, but there is more to the process than simply showing up for write-ins during the month of November. I also set aside the month of October to plan my novel and December to do the first rough editing of it.

One of the first things that I create for a new novel project are an outline, character sheets, location and object descriptions. I start by brainstorming ideas in a composition book, writing these down by hand with my fountain pens in ink colors that suit my mood. I condense these ideas into plot points in another section of the notebook until I have a rough story line.

At this point, I move the plot points into my computer, using each bullet point as a scene file in my Scrivener program. I don’t name chapters or try to lock them into position, I’ll wait and finalize that once the rough draft is completed. My file names are simple descriptions of what happens in the scene with a little more detail written into the “index card” portion of the Scrivener file. In the research section of Scrivener, I set up my reference files. This is not the final step in my process, although I realize that for many people this is the point where they would start drafting because they write their stories in Scrivener via a laptop.

I find that I do not enjoy writing my novel draft in Scrivener, there is too much temptation in the internet or other distractions if I am in front of a computer. Instead I like to draft with a digital typewriter, a machine known as an Alphasmart Neo. The Neo has several advantages in the drafting process. First, it has zero internet connection and it keeps me from distraction when I write. The machine is difficult to edit on so it keeps me moving forward in the writing process. I tend to write around 50% more words when I use the Neo as apposed to writing a draft on my desktop. Finally, the Neo has the advantage of not needing a power plug. I can write anywhere on a couple of AA batteries for 700 hours. However, without a laptop to view Scrivener, I also have no access to my reference notes when I’m on the go. This is especially critical when I’m out at write-ins for Nanowrimo in November.

Filofax Writing Journal with NeoMy solution is to create a second reference book, but instead of keeping it digital, I write it on paper. This way my information is always available to work along side my Neo and I don’t need to rely on finding a power plug or to rely on my smartphone. In years past, I’ve used a personal sized Filofax to organize my notes. The personal size was small enough to tuck into my writing kit and the rings allowed me to move the papers into a different order. However, after a year or two of this system, I began to discover that the smaller page size was too small for all the notes that I like to bring. It forced me to write everything smaller or to print my information by cut and paste onto pre-punched paper that was not suitable for the fountain pens that I enjoy writing with. I longed to move up to an A5 size Filofax, but the binders are rather expensive.

This year, I was browsing the A5 sized Filofaxes, intending on picking one up for my yearly reference journal, when I happened upon the Staples ARC system in Junior size. Junior is the same size as A5. I could choose covers of polycloth (plastic) or of leather. The pre-punched paper came in lined notes, quads, or projects. A “notebook” purchase with a polycloth binder came with .5” rings and 60 sheets of notepaper. It was the right size and more than enough pages to create a workable reference journal for my novel project, with room to expand if need be. The price was a mere $14. I decided that it was time to try something other than a Filofax.

I purchased the following for my 2014 Nanowrimo Journal:

    A black and white polycloth cover
    .5” black rings
    Black A5 plastic dividers with stickers
    One plastic ruler
    A pair of large rubber bands designed to keep the journal closed

When I brought the journal home, I organized it with the black section dividers and labeled each section with the following:

    Outline
    Characters
    Locations
    Objects
    Notes

ARC Journal - Outline IndexAt the front I placed a 2014 Nanowrimo Sticker to decorate the journal a little. I labeled the project, my name and the year. It will make this easier to look over years later when it is in storage. My Outline section has two parts. The front of the section has a checklist of all the scenes of my novel. Behind this index, I write the scenes again, but I also put in a paragraph description of what the scene is about, basically the information that is in my Scrivener “index card”. My ruler stays in the scene summaries at the point where I’m writing the story to make that section easier to find.

At the end of each writing session, I will upload the text from the Alphasmart into Scrivener on my desktop. I check off each completed scene in the journal index so that I know it is done when I’m away from my computer. No more accidentally writing the same scene twice, I can see my progress in my work, and I gain the satisfaction of writing that check mark. It is a little reward for me.

This year, I’m continuing work on a novel I started back in 2011. Several of the scenes for the story are already completed. They are in a different Scrivener project file so I don’t count them toward this year’s word count, yet I want to see them in my outline so I get a good idea of where all the scenes fit in the story. They are incorporated in my checklist and summaries, but I have pre-checked them in the index and wrote a note in red ink in the summaries to let myself know that these scenes are already finished. Again, I don’t want to accidentally write scenes that I do not need to.

ARC Journal - Outline SummariesThe other sections of my notebook contain my character sheets, location descriptions, object descriptions and a section for notes. Mainly the note section holds blank pre-punched note paper for the ARC Journal so that I can add new pages on the fly.

One of the surprises I had with the ARC Journal is that the paper is of a heavy grade that is very friendly to my favorite fine nib Platinum Plaisir fountain pen. The Coleto Gel Pen that I use for color coding also works well with the paper. I like the way the note paper is printed. I feel it gives my journal a more professional look. The final extra I purchased for the journal were the rubber bands. I use one to keep my ARC Journal closed and it works flawlessly. The ARC tucks into my writing kit smoothly, never opens or mangles the pages, and the polycloth seems to slide into my bag far easier than the composition notebooks or Filofaxes I’ve used in the past.

I write with a lapboard under my Alphasmart Neo and I’ve discovered that the pull out mouse board that comes with it makes a perfect ledge to hold my ARC Journal. It keeps it off the tabletop at coffeehouses so my notebook doesn’t get smudges or wet if a coffee drink happens to spill nearby. I’ve been very pleased with this year’s journal during my writing adventures.

What sort of notebook do you use? Let me know in the comments.

Guest Post: Leslie Ann Moore

Leslie Ann Moore recently was interviewed here on No Wasted Ink, featuring her latest novel A Tangle of Fates. Her experience with gaining a new cover for her novel is an interesting tale and she offered to share it with us all on the blog. Welcome Leslie! It is good to have you back.

Author Leslie Ann MooreMost authors, unless they are self-published, have no say in the design of what is arguably the single most important factor in drawing the notice of a browsing, potential reader to a book.

A well-designed cover piques a potential reader’s interest and can entice him/her to pick up the book or click on the image in order to read the blurb or a sample chapter. A poorly designed cover will do just the opposite.

Even if an author is allowed by the publisher to have some input into the cover-creation process, many times the finished product bears little to no resemblance to what the author had envisioned. The cover is what it is. The author’s approval is of little consequence. If she hates it, she has no choice but to grit her teeth, accept it and hope the marketing people responsible for the design know what they’re doing.

The original cover for A Tangle of Fates, the first book in my new science fantasy series, did not turn out as I’d hoped, despite my having some say in the creative process. The story takes the Snow White fairytale and turns it on its head. What if Snow White was fated to be a revolutionary, instead of a pawn? I wanted a cover that depicted a young woman of action. At the same time, the image had to convey that this story takes place on an alien planet, no matter that the heroine wears 19th century Old West-style mens clothing and is brandishing a six-shooter.

With respect to the artist, he did capture my heroine’s face beautifully, exactly as I imagined. However, I felt the image was static, where I’d envisioned a more dynamic scene, one in which my heroine was depicted in motion. An illustration of a scene from the book, either faithfully or symbolically rendered, was more what I’d had in mind.

Deciding I had nothing to lose, I approached my publisher, Muse Harbor, and made a proposal. I offered to commission an alternate cover, paid for out of my own pocket. Fortunately, they were receptive to the idea. I found my own artist and art directed the cover until it was exactly as I wanted. The image now conveys motion, danger, and the alien-ness of the planet on which the story is set.

A Tangle of Fates Book CoverMuse Harbor accepted the new cover, for which I’m both grateful and relieved. They paid attention to the overwhelmingly positive response to the new image when

I posted it on FB and wisely conceded. I can’t thank them enough.

My experience is not common at all. I was only able to pull this off because of an especially friendly relationship with the owners/editors of Muse Harbor. However, I hope my success will encourage other authors at small presses to at least speak up if they have a strong negative reaction to a cover for their novel. Who knows? It might result in a new, better cover!

Kidding Around at the OC Children’s Book Festival

People at the Book Festival 1

When I arrived at the Orange Coast College campus, I was not sure what to expect. I had heard of the Orange County Children’s Book Festival for years, but because I did not have children, I had never gone. I decided that this would be the year I changed that. It was a beautiful southern California day of bright sunshine, a cool breeze and temperate temperature. I discovered ample parking in the campus lots with signs clearly stating that I was free to park without a permit or a charge.

It was a short walk between buildings to find the fair, which was free of charge to enter. There were large canopies everywhere, each one filled with authors, exhibitors and educational vendors. There were booths with tutoring services, illustrators, and plenty of authors that specialized in children’s books. A large main stage dominated the open area with a few smaller stages for other child friendly entertainment available. One popular booth had a kitchen and cooking demonstrations. Many of the Moms stopped there to catch a cooking show and relax in one of the shade covered chairs.

Wow. All The Children!

For every adult there were at least two to three kids running about. Most were between the ages of 3 to around 12 years. There was plenty for them to do; from having their faces painted, to making bookmarkers, listening to live storytellers on the stage, or stopping to pose for a photo with various “monsters” in bright costumes. The trackless train that wended its way through the festival seemed to be popular with the little ones. The ride was full every time it passed me while I was there. I did not see many children thumbing through books, they had far too much energy for that, but their mothers did seem to stop and look over the book booths with an eye toward purchasing. I liked that the Children’s fair was enclosed by the college buildings, so even if the little ones were running about, there was no danger of them running off too far.

There were dozens of authors with tables promoting their YA or children’s books and there was no way to review them all. However, a few struck my interest.

Nikki White - Author and BallerinaNikki White’s table was not far from the main stage. For an author, this might prove to be deadly since you are off the walkway, but in Nikki’s case, her booth decor and striking ballerina costume drew people over. Her book is called Prima: The Ballerina and it is a book designed to teach ballerina dancing to children who might not have access to instructors.

The illustrations in her children’s instruction book were created by her husband Ethan White who created a posable doll that the couple later photographed in the various dance positions being discussed in the book. It created a colorful and friendly character for children to relate to.

Dani Dixon - Illustrator and AuthorDani Dixon is an artist connected with Tumble Creek Press. It is a website of comic books, webcomics, trading cards, and more. Dani had several portfolio books of her artwork on display at the children’s book festival which was quite intriguing.

Dani-s artwork

My last highlight is a small press that had booked a double table and featured a full stable of children and YA books. Ink Smith Publishing is a small independent publishing house with big aspirations. Their authors and editors work together to develop books, marketing plans, and sales. They have only been around since 2012, but they are growing steadily. Their books sell internationally, including Canada and the UK.

Ink Smith Publishing

I enjoyed my time at the Orange Country Children’s Book Festival. I found it well attended by several hundred people, the majority of them small children with their mothers or fathers. There was far more there than books and authors, the exhibitors offered a great deal for parents and homeschoolers to learn from. It was a comfortable event with plenty of restrooms available, a food truck court and wholesome entertainment on the various stages. All of the authors had full tables and professional style canopies to protect them from the sun.

If you are a YA or children’s book author, it is an event you should consider attending. Authors of adult books might want to think twice. While there were people of all ages at the event, it did attract children the most.

Main Stage at Book Festival

Storyteller Booth

People at the Book Festival 2

Cooking Pavillion