Saturday, September 29, 2012

Eradicate Foul Moods with Steampunk!

Yesterday was one of those days that presented an endless panoply of irritants, beginning with Erasmus throwing up at 6:45 am. Let me tell you, nothing rockets me out of bed faster than the sound of the dog horking wetly, as I know I have eight seconds to get him outside. I threw my bedroom door back and Erasmus raced for his doggie door....and then stopped and stood directly in front of it preparing to vomit. I have to literally push him out the dog door, then go back to my room and clean up some barf he had let fly loose. The day went downhill from there; quite frankly it was a fairly normal day but I was in such a lavishly foul mood that the slightest of irritants seemed like a major catastrophe.

In my dark mood, I grudgingly laced myself into my corset and donned my "officer of the Horizon" costume for the steampunk military ball, all the while grumbling to myself about why I had chosen a career that required me to play dress up like a four year old and ratchet myself into a bloody corset on regular occasions. Not thinking properly, I forgot that shoes go on before the corset, and had to unlace myself to get my boots on, snarling all the while.

However, the Steampunk Society of Nebraska outdid itself at the Military Ball. Special kudos go to Erica and her amazing decoration skills; she well deserved the medals that were pinned to her jacket at the awards ceremony for all the hard work she puts into steampunk. We had a grand night out last night, and one particular fun event was the session on 19th century dancing we learned. Two uniformed officers lead us through the Grand Waltz and the Virginia Reel on a dance floor that was a tad too small for the number of people we had trotting around on the floor, so the officers had to act as traffic cops and redirect the swarms of dancing couples in the right direction. Boots kicked, medals jingled, sheathed swords banged into shins, hats tumbled to the floor, sleeves caught in various steampunk accessories, beads went rolling away, bustles bumped, toes were trodden upon. At one point, Nick and I were holding our arms up to help form the human bridge, and my additions to the proceedings were limited by the fact that I am short, my corset was holding me back, and my jacket is too tight across the shoulders, requiring the people ducking under my section of the bridge to practically crawl.

I think I speak for the group when I saw a very good time was had by all. What a ball!

On the home front, I have spent the past two days running around Omaha putting up my posters. If any Omaha people have venues for posting and want to hang a few posters for me, just give me a call! I've also been contacting steampunk groups around the world to introduce myself and ask if they would be willing to post my Kickstarter link on their group pages, but I have yet to hear back from anyone. I have a contact at the Iowa Nonpareil and I am hoping I can get a news article out of him. Yesterday I met a student working for UNO TV and I told her about my project, and she might do a feature. Octopodicon and Emerald City Steampunk Expo will be great marketing opportunities. However, I know there is more I can do to get my project out there. Anybody have any idea or suggestions?

So far, is standing at $712 pledged with 42 days to go, so if you feel lead to contribute, you are more than welcome! Kickstarter takes any pledge amount of at least $1, so you can give as you feel inclined.

Captain Roberts is currently dealing with a monkey situation on board the Horizon. When I last left Chapter 15, he and Miss Victoria Pickens were having an argument about said monkey, and Miss Pickens was in danger of winning it, much to Roberts' better judgement. Captain and crew are heading to Istanbul, and I am in a bother trying to discover if there are any Google-map type programs out there that plot courses for marine ships. I honestly don't know how long it would take a 19th century steamer ship to get from Gibraltar to Istanbul, and thus I am not sure how much time to allot for the journey. They will need to stop more than once from coal or otherwise obtain needed fuel, so that is another consideration. The Horizon can take the birds-eye path if it chooses, but it is currently sailing with the merchant marine Morning Star and the two need to remain in eyesight of each other.

Well, I need to figure out what costumes I am bringing to Octopodicon next weekend and make any further adjustments. Quick, to the craft room!
Twitter @Melissa_Conroy

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spotlight Time!

I write this with numb fingers and eyes at half-mask courtesy of a poor night sleep which itself was courtesy of the insomnia I inherited courtesy of my mother. I had let my Basset Hound Erasmus up on my bed last night which I rarely do, and he had quickly claimed about 7/8th of my queen-sized mattress as his territory. Perched on the edge of the mattress he grudgingly allotted to me, I twitched and turned restlessly for hours and I could practically hear him think, "Geeze, Mom, would you stop wriggling?" Eventually due to back pain and desperate, I ended up falling asleep on the floor. As I finally fell into slumber, I realized the humor of the situation: I was on the floor with just a blanket and Erasmus was the one on the bed.

However, despite fatigue, today is a momentous day for I now have my posters!

Starting tomorrow, I will be descending upon every coffee shop, costume store, and relevant mercantile to beg permission to post these babies. My plan is to actually go in steampunk costume to help draw more attention to my plight. Right now, I stand at 3% funding on so it is chugging along nicely.

Currently I am trying to work out an "elevator pitch" for my project and book, but that is a challenge because I first have to explain steampunk, which is not easily defined in a few seconds, then explain my trilogy which is also complex. I suppose I could simply parse it down to, "Gimme some money and I will write a totally kick-butt trilogy with airships, explosions, dogfights, love triangles, and death warrants."

Tomorrow's project is working on the military bustle I am creating for the Military Ball - pictures forthcoming!

Okay, now time for a nap!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Screwing and Yawning

Funding is at $312 pledged! I should be getting my media tomorrow and then I can start scampering around town hanging up the posters. My plan is to go in full steampunk gear when I do so in order to further solidify the impression that I am indeed strange and hopefully cause people to think, “Gaa, she's weird! Maybe if we throw some money at her, she'll go away!”

Interestingly enough, I am starting to attract an international crowd. Yesterday my Facebook page had its first Portugal user “like” it, and I think this person was also the first non-US resident to like the page. I was just looking at my Kickstarter backers and saw a person from Canada as well as a few souls that have never met me before but are generous enough to give me money! Technology truly is incredible; I have been very much struck by how the internet can draw people together from different countries. Yesterday looking at the list of steampunk groups around the world I was astounded by how many they are and where they are located: Spain, Ireland, Morocco, New Zealand.

Yesterday I was doing some research on the HMS Beagle, a steamship commissioned during the Crimean War. The ship was a screw steamer, a term I had encountered before and which conjured up an image of a giant tapered drill bill attached to the end of a ship. I had been curious about that concept as a giant, whirling screw did not seem like a logical choice for nautical propulsion. It was only until yesterday that I realized “screw” was just a baffling word for “propeller” to distinguish it from earlier paddle-driven steamships.

On a less-confused note, here is an interesting article about the possible future of airships Reading it, I discovered a new aviation term “yaw” which is defined as “the angle of the plane's longitudinal axis relative to its direction of motion.” See for more terms. “Yaw” is simply a funny-sounding term and it will be appearing at least once in Steam on the Horizon, despite the fact that even with that explanation, I really have no idea what it is. However, I better find out because I plan on having a glossary of terms in the back of the book.

One order of the week is to finish a military bustle for the Military Ball Friday. I had an airship officer costume put together that consisted of tall boots, pants, a knee-length jacket, a military shirt, and a hat. After some pondering, I decided that a bustle would look interesting, so I found the perfect olive-colored fabric and some red ribbon for trim. In my head, the entire combo will look quite dashing, but we shall have to see. Bustles, after all, are made to be hidden under dresses, not worn on the outside of pants like a half-formed miniskirt.

Another order of the week is to get my stupid leg and back issues resolved. As much as I love my chiropractor, I think we see way too much of each other. I need to start introducing myself as, “Hi, I'm Melissa. My hobbies are steampunk and injuring myself.” If I spent as much time getting into shape as I did rehabilitating myself after trying to get into shape, I would be a candidate for the Olympics in six months.

And, with a rant to close, let me say here how much I passionately detest Google Chrome. It crashes constantly and is the most fickle, nonsensical navigation system I have ever had the misfortune to use. I think I will create an antagonist airship and name it the Chrome in revenge.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Full Steam Ahead!

Okay, so the funding is chugging forward on    $287 dollars pledged and 47 days to go. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me. However, today Airship Ambassador posted this link on Twitter   It's a world map showing steampunk groups around the world. I plan to contact every single one that has English as their group language and ask them to post my link/get the word out to their group. What I could offer in return is publicity: Steam on the Horizon will have a section in the back that explains the Kickstarter project and thanks everyone who contributed. I can list all the steampunk groups that helped me out and post their links on my social networking in thanks.

I start work on Chapter 14 today - Roberts and crew are still in Gibraltar but I think the plan is that they will play a small role in the Crimean War which was raging at the time of the story's setting. Which means more research for me: a brief perusal of a few Wikipedia entries will not cut it.

On Friday, the Steampunk Society of Nebraska has their annual Military Ball. I pondered about what to wear and toyed with a few outfit ideas - my initial thought was to have some spectacular ball gown to wear. But I realized that would take time and money: two elements that I have a decided paucity of, so I next hit upon going as an officer on board the Horizon. This meant I could put together a costume for cheap since I had most of the parts and could indulge in a bit of project promotion. Although to be fair, that is somewhat false advertising since as of writing, I have no female officers on board. But, that could change - I do have three books to complete after all! Here is the officer's cap I finished yesterday:

The letters were embroidered via a tricky method of printing out the text I wanted, carefully cutting out the letters, gluing them on the blue fabric, and using the letters as a stencil for my needle. I am sure there were much better ways of going about this than the method I chose, but hey, it worked! For this week, my plans are to add some officer stripes to my jacket and make a bustle out of military-looking fabric. I have a wacky idea that wearing a bustle over a pair of pants would look good. If it doesn't, hey, I have a bustle for skirts! I also want to see if someone has a saber I could borrow - at one point there were two Marine sabers in my house, but my brother sold them. I am not about to bring my katana with me, although I do have a small tanto (Japanese knife) I could carry in my belt.

By Wednesday, I expect to have my business cards and posters printed - yippee! Bad news - I heard from my video editor yesterday and apparently her mother has a habit of erasing files off their shared computer and she erased my video the editor was putting together. We still have the original files, but she needs to redo my video. Dearier, that is what flash drives are for! Also, anyone know if there is a way to password protect files/folders so she could keep her mom from erasing her stuff?

Well, the Horizon is churning out steam and impatient for us to be underway, so I'd best run!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Race Starts!

My Kickstarter project is off and running - with 49 days left to go and 2 backers already pledged! Please show your support for steampunk and visit my link to learn more!

Yesterday I went to the printers to see paper copies of my business cards and posters, and they are so splendid I nearly exploded from happiness right there on the spot. It is, however, a trifle odd to see oneself in glossy print - very official and authory-looking. After years of seeing such media presenting other writers, it is indeed strange to put yourself in that position. Mostly it is a strangeness born out of a slight panic that there are now people who expect quality writing from you. After all, it is you who is on the poster, so you clearly know what this writing stuff is all about and better deliver the goods.

Such is what I am attempting to do with all my might. I finished the draft of Chapter 13 yesterday and by my estimates, I am half-way through Draft 1. Someone asked me the other day if the storyline is progressing as I expected and my response was, "More or less." The basic plot has stayed consistent, but there have been an abundance of delicious surprises scattered liberally throughout the chapters. My characters have an amazing ability to take on a life of their own and go striding blithely off into their own direction while I stumble behind bleating out, "Wait! Where are you going? The plot's THAT way!

What I have found particularly fun is embedding snippets of my travels into the book. I have tramped through ten countries throughout my life, and some of them will make cameos in the trilogy. Gibraltar was one of them, and the Horizon was just there in Chapter 13. Tangier, Morocco is slated to make an appearance, and I would love to work in Oxford if I can, but we shall have to see.

Speaking of travels, Captain Robert of Abney Park posted on Facebook yesterday that he and Kristina will be on the first-ever steampunk cruise   It leave New Orleans March 16th and sails to Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Cozumel. Without seriously thinking this through, I called up and paid a non-refundable $100 deposit to attend. My train of logic (such as it was) went like this. "Oooohhh! A week hanging out with Abney Park! Hey, my book should be published by then; what a great promotion opportunity! A week to spend in steampunk garb hanging around with other steampunk people! It's a business trip; I can write it off!" Not exactly featured in the train of thought were things such as 1) Overall cost factor, not including getting to New Orleans 2) Cruises involve tons of people jammed on a ship and herded around like cattle, not exactly my idea of fun 3) I burn like a turkey in a blast furnace whenever there is the slightest ray of sun falling on my delicate skin 4) I have no money 6) According to experienced cruise goers, it is common to gain a pound a day on a cruise. However, I reasoned that if I cannot go, I am just out $100 which is a significant chunk of money and the deposit will ensure that rooms won't sell out while I am toying with whether to go or not. So, plans are to find $1,800 or so lying around and spend seven days sailing the high seas with steampunks!

On a non-steampunk note, I implore you: do not, for the love of all that is holy, buy Cascade with Gain action tabs for your dishwasher. The pods are heavily overscented and leave soap residue on your dishes. My brother and I had diarrhea for two days until we tracked down the source. I don't know why American culture insists that all cleaning products must reek of flowers and be oversaturated with perfume - what is wrong with a faint clean smell of soap? Why in God's name do dishes need to smell like flowers? I was burping up perfume all day yesterday, and I had to rinse all of our dishes in hot water laced with vinegar and run several rinse loads with vinegar to make the dishwasher lose its perfume scent. That and I have a game leg that has forced me to limp around the house and which sends shooting pains constantly up my leg and also have a twitchy eyebrow from too much caffeine. Then my brother is congested and still feeling icky from the dish soap - it is now a quarantine zone at my house!
Twitter@ Melissa_Conroy

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pictures and Chapters!

Today has been rather interesting, and it is only 8:22 am. First of all, I haz pictures!

The picture and several others are courtesy of Guy Rish and can be seen at (

More exciting news is that you can read, distribute, praise, criticize, swoon over, and generally imbibe Chapter 1 of Steam on the Horizon at this link

Third exciting news is that my Kickstarter account is now live!   I won't be promoting it very heavily until I have my video posted and my media printed, both which will happen in the next couple days. But it is live, so check it out and make your pledge so I can get Steam on the Horizon written and available!

Today's task, get the Horizon coaled up and ready to fly in the Gibraltar port - she is probably heading to Tangier, Morocco next. I was in Tangier back in April and Tangier has a long, colorful history. It has been an international tax free zone for decades, tempting profiteers, spies, and other characters to its borders, and it will be a perfect place for my motley crew of steampunk airmen to find work, intrigue, and danger!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tormenting Monkeys

I am writing this curled up happily on a nest of couch pillows that are cradling my aching back. Despite a chiropractor visit the other day, my lower back decided that it was going to throw a sulking fit and hurt all day. My brother gave me a back rub this morning while Erasmus threw a Basset fuss because I was getting all the attention: he kept pawing at me and whining irritably for attention while I lay face down on the carpet and Seth dug his thumbs into my lumbar region. 

Since sitting at my desk is horribly uncomfortable, I am typing away on my couch and thanking my blessings that I don't have to be slaving away in an office. Yesterday, the Horizon was heading to Gibraltar, a towering mountain of rock honeycombed with tunnels and reaching high into the heavens. Gibraltar is right on the southern tip of Spain and on a clear day, you can see Morocco on the other side. I was in Gibraltar a few months ago after coming back from Spain, and I encountered a group of thieving Barbary apes - see the video below...

Therefore, I am planning for a Barbary ape to sneak on board the Horizon after she has docked to refuel - apparently Gibraltar was an important coaling station in the 19th century. The ape will cause some mayhem and amusement for Captain Robert and crew until it is apprehended. 

If you are in the mood to support some steampunk, do wander over and check out this film project  These good folks are in need of your support and contribution, so check it out today. 

Yesterday I had some friends over to play the card game Gloom and we decided that a steampunk version of Gloom would be fantabulous. I am in the middle of thinking up ideas for this game - you would certainly need a family of airship pirates, perhaps a gypsy steampunk family, and a family of mad scientists. 

Okay, Chapter 13 is awaiting creation and the Horizon is sailing towards Gibraltar! I must away!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Ad Work

I spent the morning tracking down and emailing several steampunk cons that will be taking place between September 15th-November 15th, the approximate time frame I will be running my kickstarter project, to see if they would be willing to publish this ad I had created by the good folks at Rainbow Press Printing Company.

Currently the kickstarter url is live, but my project on kickstarter is not. However, I expect it will go live by the beginning of next week as the whole project is close to completion. I also need to figure out how to make a url link of the ad and see if any steampunk blogs would be willing to run the ad in exchange, not sure. I will see if there is anything I could offer in exchange such as writing, promotion on my blog, etc.

Today's topic is airship design - I had a great conversation with some friends yesterday about the actual schematics of the Horizon, and one friend pushed for an enclosed airship as opposed to the open main deck/traditional sailing ship gondola I had envisioned hanging down from the airbag envelope. He pointed out that an open-top deck would bring a host of problems with it, such constant moisture from going through clouds, wind, and the very real danger of men falling off the ship, something I had been thinking about quite a bit. If a man falls off a water ship, as long as he can swim, he should be okay. Falling out of an airship going 5,000 miles above the ground would be much more fatal, and my friend suggested all airmen be rigged with parachutes. However, the main issue I am pondering today is the enclosed vs. open top design. The one main problem I see any airship encountering is visibility. If you stick the pilot on the main deck out in the open air, he could see around him better but you've still got a whacking big envelope blocking the view up and the gondola blocking a lot below. Put the pilot inside the airship and he's got even less to view, although he would be better protected. Also, I am wondering if the way the Horizon will be designed if the wheel and steering apparatus will need to be near the main engine/boiler room, which could affect where the pilot is situated. I like the idea of the men racing around on the main deck in the open air, wind blowing in their hair, but it probably makes a lot more sense to keep them inside the ship where they are better protected and in much less danger of falling. My brother suggested I take a lot of ideas from WWI fighter pilots when crafting airship battles since WWI marked the earliest days of aerial fights, which is also a good idea.

All in all, I am blessed to have friends that are far smarter than I am and who enthusiastically bring up a welter of ideas I had never considered before. I suspect this book will become some sort of a group effort. Oh dear, splitting royalties twenty-seven different ways may become a bit challenging!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Abney Park and Bacon

Admit it, those are about the coolest combination of words that the English language can concoct. Abney Park is first on the list because my wonderful friends Kristine and Charles just informed me today that not only are they obligingly carting me down to the Emerald City Steampunk Expo but they have also purchased Emerald Passes so that we can meet Abney Park. I am currently writhing in a cocoon of fangirl delirium, or at least I would be if this hadn't also entered the picture today

Kristine and Charles, in their incessant goal to spoil me utterly rotten, took me out to lunch today at Village Inn where this particular confectionery awaited us. It is dubbed the "Salty Hog" and yes, that is a piece of bacon resting on top. And yes, it was unbelievably delicious. Despite much coaxing, I only ate 2/3 of it since directly following the pie was a 45 minute bout of agony known as bootcamp fitness. Somewhere in the middle of it, I was doing pushups over a lake of my own sweat and pondering if 45 minutes of gladiator-intense exercising would be enough to counter all the calories I had just vacuumed up. The answer is no, but the pie was much too yummy to pass up.

So yes, back to Abney Park! I shall try to comport myself with all decorum and sensibility when I am able to finally meet Captain Roberts and crew, but I am half-afraid that all they will elicit from my lips is incoherent squealing and a series of genuflecting that I might be permitted to be a roadie for a few weeks. I can just picture the phone call now, "Mom, please take care of my dog for a few months. I'm going to be cavorting around the US as a band roadie." No, I will endeavor to be mature and look forward to thanking Abney Park sincerely for all their inspiration and creative spurring they have been - usually blasting "Building Steam" or "Aether Shanty" helps me get past a particularly troublesome bit of writer's block.

It will be a splendid steampunk con, that I am assured of, and Kristine and Charles have enthusiastically volunteered to help me hand out promotion material and spread the word about my book and kickstarter project during the con. The kickstarter project should be live by next week, and I am hoping to hit three steampunk cons (Octopodicon, Steamcon IV, and Emerald City) while my funding drive is ticking away, so the next two months promise to be lively.

One more installation of Chapter 1 should be forthcoming to round out the chapter, then I will create a url that has Chapter 1 in its entirety, after I have made some revisions based on excellent feedback. So please, if you have suggestions for Chapter 1, please comment! Some technical issues cannot be resolved now since I am still grappling with them, but I already know I want to lengthen the scene where the Horizon is falling towards the ground and explain more about how the crane latches onto her and brings her back onto the dock - thanks to Lady Saotome for her feedback regarding this!

Finally, I shall introduce you to Victoria Pickens, a reporter for the London Times. I did not plan for a female character to play a significant role in Book 1 because quite frankly I feel like it has almost become a requirement that an author must have a strong female character present. Me, being who I am, said, "Nope, I am not going to be dictated to about what I have to write in my book, thank you very much," and thought no more about the matter. Then there was the fateful day that Victoria stomped into my office, planted her gumshoes on my keyboard, and proclaimed, "You WILL write me. I WILL play a role in your entire trilogy, and you can fuss about it all you want. Start writing." My friend Lisa was also writing about this issue the other day on her blog  and insightfully pointed out "as writers, we follow our characters’ leads as much as they follow ours." 

Victoria quickly came to life in Chapter 10 and as of writing on Friday, she had just published a very accurate and information-exposing newspaper article about the Horizon and Sir Smothers himself that very quickly made Captain Roberts realize it was prudent to get the heck out of England until things simmer down. With her article, Victoria also incurred the full wrath of the Smothers empire and now has her own troubles to manage, primarily by also getting out of England. While Roberts will have a love interest coming up in Book 2, I think that he and Victoria will also be embroiled in a love/hate relationship for awhile, just to add some intrigue.

Now, about that 1/3 piece of pie I still have yet to eat.......

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chapter 1, Part 5

Without further ado, here is the next installment of our tale!

Steam on the Horizon 
Chapter 1, Part 5

Whenever Sir Smothers eventually went to his final reward, deserved or not, his empire would pass into the hands of his two sons: Richard and Albert. Richard had become his own legend in the airship business before turning his skillful attention to the railroad industry and had been steadily accumulating a fortune to rival the old man's and with the elder's blessing and assistance. In stark contrast, Albert had been a magnificent, chaotic failure in just about every endeavor he attempted. After both Oxford and Cambridge had made it known that despite his prodigious family wealth, Albert was no longer welcome to grace their ancient walls, Sir Cornelius had forced his young son into the business, to the detriment of all parties involved, the elder included. Time and time again, the old man had dragged his wastrel son from the whorehouses and opium dens and put the fool in command of an airship, and it had been a lavishly catastrophic failure each attempt. Too many ships to count had crashed or eaten up all their profits under the younger son's inept command before he was given the Horizon as a last resort; she was considered a black sheep anyway and it was marginally easier to blame problems on the airship rather than the one who commanded her.

Roberts had been offered a generous salary as the Horizon's first mate and the position came with a gentleman's agreement that he keep things afloat and functional and manage Albert's failures as best he could. It was no small task: after two years, the Horizon had only escaped crashing, bursting into flames, or running out of coal in the middle of nowhere more times than Roberts cared to think. That the airship and crew were still alive and functional was largely because of her first mate's tactful hand and realization that keeping the captain's rum stores well-stocked meant that the man would stay holed up in his cabin out of the way, leaving Roberts to run everything.

It was at this point, standing with his back to the patch of flooring containing one newly dead captain, that Roberts realized that his unspoken contract had most likely included a stipulation about keeping the wayward Smothers son from killing himself due to sheer stupidity. The mangled corpse several feet away was a physical representation of Roberts' career as an airship officer, and unless he managed some skillful damage control, he had no more chances of finding a position on board another airship than Captain Smothers had of rising to life again. Smothers elder was generous with success and ruthless with failure, and right now Jenkins was giving his first mate the kind of look that translates in every language as, Nice knowing you. Good luck, you poor sod.

Roberts troubled musings were interrupted by Jenkins. “Ship won't last when the old man gets a hold of her,” he said gruffly, reaching out to awkwardly pat the hull in an oddly affectionate gesture. “Sorry, old girl, but he'll have you for firewood, I'd be bound.” Roberts' mind flew to a rumor he had heard years ago – the only daughter of Sir Smothers had died in childbirth barely a year after her wedding, and the doctor who had attended her birth had quickly left England, some say with knives and clubs following after.

Angrily, Roberts growled, “It's not the Horizon's fault she was commanded by a fool.” However, his attention was already being directed above deck where the sound of thumping feet and yelling men was growing rapidly. Now secure in a berth, the wounded Horizon was being attended to and evidence was being evaluated. Something official was being shouted, most likely courtesy of a squadron of Her Royal Majesty's Military Airmen who patrolled the wharf in search of lawlessness to arrest. Boiler explosions were common enough that sabotage would be easy to conceal, and such an accident automatically earned an official inquiry, hence the uniforms currently crawling all over the Horizon. But Roberts guessed that the soldiers wouldn't prod too far: the Horizon was well-known as a tricky vessel and the younger Smothers as a complete disgrace to the captain's hat he wore. Few men would suspect anything of foul play. But Sir Smothers would be far less easy to placate.

Briefly Roberts wondered if it would help his case that he was not on board the ship at the time of the accident or if Smothers senior would only be that more furious that Roberts wasn't around to keep his son from blowing the whole damned thing apart. “What was the captain doing down here in the boiler room anyway?” he demanded of the two airmen facing him.

“He was, um, discussing something with Silverman,” Brown ventured timidly. “Um, well, I guess arguing was a better word for it.”

The boy flushed and Roberts put a hand on his shoulder. “It's okay, lad,” he rumbled. “Whatever reason he was down here, he's dead all the same.” Actually, Roberts had a fairly good premonition of what the topic of discussion had been, and the aftermath was currently lying in pieces across the hull. Captain Smothers had insisted on purchasing a new model of boiler a month ago, despite the fact that the Horizon's old boiler was perfectly serviceable. The new one was supposed to reduce their weight load by a hundred pounds and increase their fuel efficiency by 5%. Roberts had hated the blasted thing at first sight; the seams looked dangerously weak and while it was certainly lighter than the one it had replaced, he would have welcomed the extra hundred pounds if it meant another layer of protection against an explosion. But the captain had insisted and had paid an exorbitant price for it. Even worse, he had taken an uncharacteristic interest in the boiler's operation and was forever tinkering with it in a way that set everyone's teeth on edge. Both Jenkins and Silverman were constantly griping about the captain being underfoot in the engine room, and his endless fiddling with the new device in attempts to coax more efficiency out of it had been the source of more than one heated argument.

And just to Roberts' cursed luck, they were in home port, the bastion of the Smothers' empire not a quarter-mile from where the crippled airship lay drunkenly in the berth, waiting for the ministrations of the dock workers. Smothers senior would hear the bad news quickly; in fact, word was probably winging its way to his plush, opulent office right now.
Twitter  @Melissa_Conroy

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Photo Shoot Time!

This evening, I will be lugging myself and about 20 lb worth of costume to the Joslyn Castle in Omaha for a steampunk promotion shoot. Joslyn Castle is undeniably lovely...take a look at the link! Inside is all intricately carved wood, stained glass, swooping banister just begging someone to slide down on it, and one would assume at least one or two resident ghosts. It is almost mind-boggling to think that a place like this exists in Nebraska where one would expect only to find corn, tractor pulls, and baseball caps. However, Omaha has its grandeur if you know where to look.

Out of the shoot, I should be getting a good picture for my business card - the graphics designer I am working with had never heard of steampunk before I presented the project to her. After much information from me (probably a tad overwhelming), she concocted this design:

Pretty nifty, huh? The URL needs to change and I have a backside to the card with more urls, but the overall design is quite nice: appropriately steamy and Victorian. There will be a picture in the white square, so thus why I have a photoshoot arranged for today.

The costume for the shoot was put together with the help of some friends and comes in multiple layers: crinoline, underskirt, overskirt, blouse, corset, jacket, hat, gloves, necklace....... I am pondering how easily driving will be today and wondering if I might need to just lay down in the backseat of my car and have my brother drive me.

Back to the trilogy: the draft of Chapter 9 just has a paragraph or two left, then I am plugging away at Chapter 10. One of the pleasures of writing is when a minor character springs into life and very quickly you realize that he or she needs to become a much bigger element of the story. Yesterday, I needed something for the Horizon to transport, and I seized on the idea of mail: the Royal Mail Service certified airship that was supposed to transport the mail was late, so the postmaster contracted the Horizon to take it. By the end of the chapter, the short, rather unimpressive looking postmaster had survived an attempted raid by a pirate airship and had shown courage and quick-thinking, leading Roberts to offer him a position as the day pilot.

A few days ago, I seized upon a book entitled "The Age of Steam" by a certain John Van Duyn Southworth: it details the development of steampowered war ships and has been extremely helpful. One point I picked up was further information about anthracite coal. A month or two ago, my dad had recommended that the Horizon be powered on anthracite coal, and he suggested pulverizing it so it could work with a fluid bed boiler. Anthracite is very hard and burns smokeless, but it is quite difficult to light and is not found all over the world. Luckily for my book, Wales is a major producer of anthracite, so shipping it to London would not be a problem. Also, the Horizon will be flying to China, and China is also a major source of anthracite. Pennsylvania also has massive anthracite beds, but I do not believe my airship will be flying over the colonists, so Roberts is going to have to depend on Wales and China to get him the fuel he needs if he continues to use anthracite.

As of late, I have been mentally classifying days as "good to fly" or "not good to fly". Today seems to be presenting tolerable flight conditions: the clouds are thick and sullen but low enough to fly over and the winds are stilled. It is time for me to get the good ship Horizon back in the air and figure out what adventures await her today.
Twitter @ Melissa_Conroy


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chapter 1, Part 4

The airship Horizon avoided crashing to the ground, but her troubles are just starting...

Steam on the Horizon

Chapter 1, Part 4

Brown, Richardson, McFadden, Carter, Smith, Roberts counted quickly as men started to emerge from the rubble, pull themselves shakily to their feet, and stagger towards him. Carter the bosun was bleeding even more heavily and Richardson the day pilot was being dragged forward by Brown, a gangly airman with only four flights under his belt. Richardson had a chunk of wood embedded in his thigh while Brown looked unhurt but about three seconds away from total panic. McFadden was sporting the beginnings of a significant bruise on his forehead and was clutching an arm to his chest in a way that indicated it was broken. Smith seemed dazed but reasonably intact but after unfurling himself from the wreckage and taking a few steps forward, he sat down very carefully with his back to a crate and closed his eyes.

“Where's Johnson?” Roberts bellowed to the second mate, a tall fellow of African extraction who spoke precisely modulated English like a professor. The second mate looked unhurt and, as always, serenely unruffled.

Bowing his head regally, the massive dark-skinned man said in his deep, rolling tones, “Sir, I believe Mr. Johnson fell during the accident.” As he spoke, something crashed heavily below deck and Roberts heard the bellows of Collins the quartermaster as the man thudded up the ladder towards the main deck.

“Sir! The Captain! Captain's dead, sir!” Collins staggered into view, clutching a mangled arm. The man was a sight – half his shirt was gone and patches of exposed skin were covered with the angry red wounds of steam blast. Boiler accidents were almost inevitably a catastrophe – a blown boiler could strip the flesh from a man's bones in a heartbeat and as Roberts thundered down the ladder towards the engine and boiler room, he had a looming premonition of what he would find there.

The hull was a chaotic mess, hot steam filling the air with choking clouds and jagged debris littering the floor. The door and much of the bulkhead walling off the engine and boiler room has been blasted outward and the heavy engines in the middle of the wreckage were silent, their cogs stilled as the furnace glowed a furious red. The boiler was a twisted mess of distorted metal, shrapnel lying in chunks across the hull as boiling-hot water spilled out of the ruined machine. It hit Roberts' boots, soaking through the worn areas in the soles, but as he moved forward he froze, momentarily ignoring the hot liquid seeping into his boots.

Two, well, bodies was perhaps too strong of a word for it, lay not far from the mangled boiler, strips of angry pink flesh and shredded bits of clothing loosely arranged around exposed bones. The faces were completely mangled, and what looked like an arm was lying against the opposite wall. A sickening odor that faintly reminded Roberts of cooking meat filled the air and he turned away, choking back the bile. But the glance had been enough – the captain and the day engineer were clearly dead beyond any hope of recovery.

Poor bastards, Roberts thought grimly. Captain Smothers had been a colossal idiot and Silverman little better, but neither man deserved that kind of death. At least it was quick, Roberts shook his head. Or at least he hoped so; nothing hurt like a steam burn, and for their sake, he deeply wished both men hadn't know what had hit them.

Roberts backed away from the grisly picture, his feet already complaining mightily as the hot water soaked into his boots, and the rest of him casting about for a way to hide the boiled blood and curls of violent pink flesh from view. Pausing, his ear caught the sound of footsteps racing towards him. He held a hand up to check the onslaught and shook his head as Brown's thin, anxious face appeared at his right side.

“Sir! I....” Roberts cut him off halfway and steered the youth away from sight, blocking the view with his broad-shouldered frame.

“You don't want to see that lad, trust me on this one.” The lanky teenager gulped audibly and for one moment, Roberts thought Brown was going to lose his lunch all over the hull but no vomit issued forth and aside from being the color of a sunbleached sail, the young airman looked as if he was maintaining tolerable control of his faculties.

“Right!, we think we lost Johnson. Oboe saw him fall out the hole in the side of the ship and...uh....” Brown trailed off and a sickly green pallor crept up over the whiteness of his face.

Roberts nodded grimly. “Oboe told me.” The tall African had some incomprehensible jumble of consonants for a native name and attempts to pronounce it had quickly degenerated into Oboe. The man answered to it so Oboe he had permanently become.

Brown, Richardson, Carter, Smith, Oboe. Where's Jenkins? Roberts thought and if reading his mind, the night engineer appeared, staggering down the ladder into the hull, fury written on his face.

“Just what have those bastards done to my engines?” he growled, clutching a dirty cloth to a bloody head wound. Roberts stuck up a hand to stop him and shook his head.

“They're dead, Jenkins,” Roberts rumbled “The Captain and Silverman both.” Jenkins froze and for one brief moment Roberts saw the struggle between genuine sorrow over the tragedy and a recognition that both idiots got exactly what they had coming to them. But the engineer swallowed the second and focused on the latter as he whistled through his teeth. In the middle of rising curls of hot, acrid steam and the steady drip of water falling from the ruined boiler, not to mention the two very dead bodies just feet away from the men, Jenkins uttered something Roberts had not had the leisure to consider.

“Sir Smothers is going to have your guts for garters, you know.”

Reality punched Roberts in the gut as he frowned deeply, realization rushing over him like the hot water determinedly soaking into his boots. Oh. Dammit. He closed his eyes for one long moment and let loose a heartfelt sigh, then glanced back at the ruined engine room. It was currently interring the still-steaming remains of Mr. Albert Smothers Junior, second son to the shipping tycoon Sir Cornelius Smothers and partial heir to the vast empire of airships cruising the skies from Canton to London and everywhere in between. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Library Dreams

I am currently seated at a desk in UNO library which overlooks Dodge Street, a pile of books about opium and 19th century Victorian shipping surrounding me, and my vaguely steampunk bracelet now off my wrist because I have forgotten it rubs painfully against my skin when I am typing. Today is a research and library day for me and I am inordinately happy for I can pretend I am a graduate student once again. This morning, I dropped my car off in the bowels of Crossroads Mall parking garage and joined a long line of students waiting for a shuttle bus to campus. UNO has an admirably effective shuttle bus system - every few minutes a fleet of shuttles arrive and whisk off several dozen students, so I was at the library in just ten minutes from parking my car to stepping onto campus pavement.

Then it was a quick jaunt across campus to the library as I basked in remembrance that college life by necessity offers a number of walking opportunities, perfect for someone like me who has a pathological loathing of sitting still. Inside UNO's library is a welter of useful books, and I trawled the shelves searching for necessary research material, including a book on opium production in the Victorian era and a bonus find entitled "The Age of Steam: Part One" which contained this lovely line about early steam-powered ships "Yet the descendants of these ridiculous little boats would, in time, inherit the dominion of the seas".

Alas, I did not find an excellent and lavishly illustrated book about opium I had discovered a few weeks ago, and I shall need to request the assistance of a librarian to locate it. If one were to browse my computer's search history over the past few months, one would encounter a variety of links to sites about opium, cocaine, drug trafficking, prostitution, and other less savory topics that I have been researching for both Book 1 and a fanfiction story set in the Elizabethan era. The other day, I popped into Google to research the status of the butler in Victorian England. Google autocompleted, "butlers in the buff". Out of morbid, yet hesitant curiosity, I clicked on the link to discover that this is a UK company that supplies buff, handsome young men in the buff (one would assume they wear white gloves and little else) to hen parties and ladies nights.

The link reminded me of a news story I read about a wild girls night party at a home where the attendees were so rowdy that the neighbors called the police. A police officer showed up at the house, unaware that the ladies had ordered a male stripper dressed as a police officer. When the real officer showed up at the house, the ladies pulled him into the house and began removing his clothing until the frantic officer explained the situation and, one would assume, called for backup. Bear in mind this happened in the Middle East a few years ago. I have been told by a friend of mine who was a former bouncer that he would much rather supervise a bunch of men watching female strippers than have to be a bouncer for a ladies night event with the Chippendale dancers: apparently women are far more crazy at these events than men. Someone else told me that she went to the opening night of "Magic Mike" and the women attendees were practically rioting in the aisles.

Sooo, all this is to point out that research leads one to all sorts of interesting topics. My challenge for today is to finish my allotted amount of pages to draft out (five) and plunge into these books stacked around my desk. The "Age of Steam" one is practically begging to be read, ruffling its pages temptingly. One question to be answered is whether the steam on the Horizon will be used primarily for keeping her airbags full or if her engines will be steam-powered as well. I am thinking that both will be the case: the section I am currently writing has Captain Roberts at the wheel and he has a steam divert valve that can feed more steam into the engines for extra power. But I am not sure about the technical feasibility of such an apparatus. My brother Seth and I were talking about Book 1 as we drove to campus this morning, and my plan for now is to draft out the basic plot. Many mechanical and technological features are being left to the wayside or merely glossed over until the first draft is done. Then comes the exquisite challenge of answering many of the technical questions people have been asking me, and it is surprising how many of these questions are ones that are already in my mind. The Horizon is constantly mutating and changing in my mind as I think about her: her envelope growing and shrinking, doors appearing and disappearing alongside her hull, decks switching like the stairs in Hogwarts.

All this means it is time to stop writing about the Horizon and get back to actually writing her. Take heed, my fellow readers. We who are about to write salute you!
Twitter @Melissa_Conroy

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What a Tool!

My family went on a camping trip this weekend: the lake was beautiful, the weather was cool, and Scooters was less than ten minutes away. I spent this morning meandering through a beguilingly pleasant woods, my Basset Hound Erasmus excitedly sniffing and gamboling about, my dad and oldest brother with me, and a tall Scooters Butter Pecan brew with cream and double sugar in hand. Yesterday evening, my dad pulled this out of the car...

I took one look at this hand-powered drill/screwdriver and squealed, "Oooohh, I could totally steampunk that!" Dad handed it over to me, knowing that I'd probably sneak over and swipe it anyway. Now I am thinking a steampunk carpenter might be an upcoming costume: I could be an airshipwright and build airships for a living. This drill/screwdriver would be a handy accessory and could double as a weapon if something irksome needs a good poking.

Speaking of airships, my plan tomorrow is to hie myself to UNO's library for some serious research. I have an ever-growing list of research topics, and astronomy just added itself. The Horizon will be flying day and night, and I need to acquaint myself with Victorian maritime course plotting and other ways of directing an airship without modern navigational methods. Sadly, Captain Roberts does not have the nifty star chart app a friend at our campfire showcased last night: we were using it to view the various planets, constellations, and stars on display over our heads while the app sounded out the names of the stars in a monotone android voice. Roberts would probably kill for something like this. Sadly, he has to make do with following the stars and hoping clouds don't cover up the heavens and prevent him from guiding the Horizon in the right direction.

In the course of some research Friday, I encountered this handy article about marine chronometers    It points out the interesting fact that a marine clock that was just a few seconds off could potentially cause a ship to be diverted miles off course. So far, I believe Captain Roberts will have a state-of-the-art (for the time) marine pocketwatch that is extremely accurate and there will also be a marine chronometer on board the Horizon. When I left writing on Friday, the Horizon was flying across Ireland to deliver a load of grain to the dock in Galway, Ireland because a massive grain mill explosion in the country meant that food prices were skyrocketing and they needed food quickly. Writing this section made me realize that 1) I didn't know how 19th century ships kept time on board 2) I didn't know nearly enough about how 19th century ships navigated their path 3) I have even more research to do.

Therefore, Monday will see me at the library of UNO for several hours where I can pretend I am a graduate student again, eat the homemade potato chips served in the library cafe, and amuse myself by fiddling around with the moving shelves in the basement. The long shelves of books in the basement are on railings, so if you wish to walk down a particular aisle, you press a button and an aisle magically appears between two shelves. This allows both for more shelves to be placed in an area and unique amusement opportunities as I see if I can run the length of an aisle as it is closing without being squished. Therefore if no further blog posts are forthcoming, I probably got laminated between the shelves at the library. Death via books: that would not be a wholly terrible way for a former grad student to go.
Twitter @Melissa_Conroy

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chapter 1, Part 3

We last left the good airship Horizon in the turmoil of a sudden catastrophe - read below to see what happened to her!

Steam on the Horizon 

Chapter 1, Part 3

Boiler explosion, Roberts thought furiously. I'll kill that damned Silverman. Already the wharf alarm was blaring as soldiers and ship workers poured across the deck, racing for the wounded airship as she floundered helplessly in the sky. With three bounding steps, Roberts reached the edge of the deck, watching in panic as the Horizon dropped at least twenty feet in less than a minute. As her main deck dipped below the edge of the wharf walkway, Roberts didn't think, just acted. Grabbing a mooring rope in a work-hardened hand, he slid the length of it down to the forecastle which was now several feet higher than the poop deck, the ship's rear sagging downward as equipment and cargo slid down the angled decks and filled the aft with weight, dragging the ship's back end towards the waiting ground below.

On board the Horizon, men were racing up and down barking out orders or scattershot bits of information and Robert's eyes quickly swept the crowd as his feet hit the deck. No sign of the captain, but Roberts wasn't too particularly concerned about that, his attention quickly diverting to the bosun staggering across the tilted deck towards him, blood pouring freely from a head wound.

“Sir!” the man gasped out. “Boiler blew all the hell to....”

“I know!” Roberts bellowed back. “Where's the damned crane jib?” The Horizon was clearly too injured to keep afloat: she'd be crashing to the ground in a minute if not assisted. But as he spoke, the groaning squeal of the crane filled the air, mixing with the screams of the Horizon's engines overheating in their desperate plight to keep the ship from plunging to the ground. Already the ship had reached the end of her mooring ropes, and the lines were wire-taut, creaking with stress. After a minute of valiant effort, one broke under pressure, the thick line snapping with violent force and the airship jerked in recoil, sending her nose towards the ground as the deck pivoted, loose gear, baggage, and crewmen now sliding down towards the bow forward.

Another line snapped under the vicious pressure, jarring the airship again and starting a nasty seesaw motion as the Horizon continued her uncontrolled descent, the ground below looming up to embrace her in its unyielding arms. Then with a thunderous crash that nearly rent her asunder, the crane jib swung around and plucked the floundering airship from the sky.

The Horizon rocked chaotically in place, suspended fifty feet from the ground and liberally shedding broken pieces of futtock, assorted barrels, and shredded ends of rope into the open air, the great wound in the ship's side weeping pus of hemp and metal fragments. But she was caught now, and the crane jib lifted her up away from the looming ground and carefully swung her around into the arms of a gantry crane. Thus snared, the Horizon was moved smoothly down the line and set in an unoccupied berth as gently as a mother placing her child to bed, Roberts shouting for order and counting heads as the ship was carefully righted and secured in the berth. With a final coughing grunt, the belabored engines stopped, sending the airbags sagging against the mainmast as the ship rested its full weight on the berth with the sound of groaning wood and escaping steam filling the air.
Twitter @Melissa_Conroy 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Home Bound

It has been a week exactly since I exited the corporate world for the excitement and financial insolvency of self-employment. It has been an exceedingly rewarding week that, in retrospect, seems to have fitted into at least a month of normal time: time passes quite differently when you spent the vast majority of it within the confines of your own home. I had been in this position before: for seven years, I was a college composition instructor and aside from the times I was in the classroom, the bulk of my work was done at home. Upon giving notice at my job last week, I was rather surprised at how easily I slipped back into the patterns of working at home. However, this particular venture has involved me converting a hobby into a career, a noble and envious position, but one that is not without its drawbacks.

For those of you who have not had the experience of working from home before, I hereby offer you a list of some of the positive and negative aspects culled from my own experiences.

- Freedom of scheduling: this, for me, involves rising at 5:00 am and sitting down at my computer to start my day before 7:00 am, long before most mortals are stirring to life.
- Clean house: I think best on my feet and since writing requires constant mental gymnastics, quite an enormous amount of my work time is spent while my hands are busy with dishes or a broom and my mind is chewing meditatively over a sticky plot issue.
- Naps: Oh lovely, fabulous, sweet naps. I surrendered to the sweet embrace of a nap just an hour ago and passed a blissful thirty minutes floating cozily in that dreamworld between sleep and consciousness, letting my mind adrift to whatever happenstance whiff of fancy passed by. This lasted until my untroubled consciousness began refocusing itself on its task at hand and interrupted my sweet rest with insistent barkings that I return to work.
-  Basset Hounds. This fat, fuzzy fellow here adores sleeping on my feet and keeping my toes warm with his long ears. I sincerely love spending the work day with him asleep under my desk, his head propped up on the printer.

- Off peak hours: No more the madness of trying to rush to the bank after work or arranging for a half day off so I can get to the DMV. When one works from home, one can complete necessary chores at times that the rest of the city is not doing so. This morning, I was sharing Panera with a clutch of white-haired seniors past retirement age and the normally full store had plenty of seating available for us all.
- Gas savings. I spent almost two years driving approximately 90 minutes a day and every three days saw me at the gas station. Today my car has just under 1/5 of a tank left and the last time I put in gas was on Friday. This is such a novel concept I am half afraid I am going to drive my car until it sputters and dies from lack of fuel just to see how conceivably long I can go without filling up again.

However, everything is not rainbows and unicorn farts - working at home on a hobby-based career does have its drawbacks, chiefly which are....

- Isolation: When your office is three steps from your bedroom, you have little reason to mingle with the greater world outside and find yourself going stir-crazy quite frequently. The Panera trip today was borne out of the desperate realization that I was going to go quietly mad if I spent another long day at home. $4.32 for a bagel and coffee was a small price to pay for being surrounded with people noises and the cheerful bustle of human beings.
- Devolution: There is an exceedingly great temptation for the stay-at-home worker to degenerate to a level of proto-human, wandering around the house in old pyjamas or nothing at all, picking thoughtfully at your toenails with a butter knife you just used to make a sandwich and which still has the remnants of peanut butter sticking to it, subsiding off a diet of Doritos and Cheese Whiz squirted directly into your mouth, forgoing showers and all basic grooming for days on end. To combat this urge, I do not allow myself to fire up my computer for the day unless I've gone to the gym, eaten breakfast, walked the dog, made the bed, read my Bible, and showered. Otherwise a very few weeks may find me a Nutella-besmeared blob of unwashed flesh and greasy hair who only communicates in grunts.
- Boredom - Turning a beloved hobby into a career is a dream of many. However, one of the unsavory drawbacks to doing so is that you can quickly start to despise said hobby. Not to mention that when you spend all day trying to get your hobby to earn you money, you are somewhat at a loss of what to do when the workday is over. I have a flood of other writings to work on but a distinct disinclination to spend all evening doing what I just did all day.

On a different, more steampunk note, a friend of mind was telling me about the triple point of water: this is a state of thermodynamic marvel when H2O exists in steam, liquid, and ice form. This has marvelous steampunk possibilities, and I have been toying with ideas all morning. Say, hypothetically, an airship who is being assailed by an attacking airship, wouldn't it be useful if they could somehow convert the steam in the attacking ship's airbags into water or ice through some technological wonder? Anybody know anything more about this triple point concept or have ideas about its various steampunk applications?
Twitter @Melissa_Conroy

Monday, September 3, 2012

Chapter 1, Part 2

Moving along, here is the second installment of Chapter One of Steam on the Horizon. Enjoy!

Steam on the Horizon

by Melissa Conroy

Chapter 1, Part 2

By now, Roberts had the captain firmly enough in hand that as long as he kept an eye on things, the Horizon stayed aloft and on course and the men received their pay. But with the increased numbers of empty bottles rolling out of the captain's cabin, keeping a tight ship was becoming harder and harder. Roberts had nearly walked away from the whole damned mess more than once, but the pay was too good. After a successful run, Captain Smothers was apt to freely distribute bonuses in a rum-inspired fit of generosity if coaxed into the right mood, and Roberts was hording every farthing he could lay hands on. One day he'd have command of his own airship and none of this nonsense of slaving away under an idiot in the command seat.

Preoccupied with the future, both immediate and distant, Roberts stalked forward, mind growling irritably with thoughts and eyes intent on the bobbing bulk of the Horizon dancing impatiently in the stiff wind. Here, further down on the wharf, there was less traffic and fewer things to impede his feet except a huge stack of crates piled high in the middle of his path and being negligently supervised around by a small knot of Chinamen, the tonal chops of Cantonese rising in the air. Despite his grumbling worries over the Horizon, Roberts had to smile thinly to himself as he caught wind of their conversation: he knew enough of their tongue to surmise that they were talking about women, as men were wont to do after too many weeks crammed inside an airship with nothing but other men for company.

But the smile was fleeting as Roberts stepped irritably around the traffic jam, impatient to get back on board to discover just how much chaos had been unleashed in his brief absence. Mind thus preoccupied, he was completely taken off guard when an enormous explosion rocked the wharf, shock waves reverberating along the wooden planks as something exceedingly powerful struck it like a battering ram. Knocked off balance, Roberts fell to his knees behind the stack of crates, then rolled quickly out of the way as one at the top teetered for a moment, then fell to the deck with a crash, spilling open and sending a battalion of paper-wrapped opium logs careening across the deck.

A scream of Cantonese, and a Chinaman slide helplessly towards the edge of the wharf, slithering down the length of a floor plank that had knocked loose and was tipping the unfortunate man towards the ground seventy-five feet below. With a growl, Roberts shot forward on his hands and knees and grabbed the coolie's ankle, halting the fall and leaving the man dangling upside down from the lip of the wharf, his thin arms flailing pitifully as terror shook his small frame. But Roberts had a firm grip on the man's bony ankle and like most Chinamen, he was a skinny little runt; Roberts pulled the man to safely with one swift jerk of his arm and clambering to his feet with a heart-thumping suspicion of what had just happened.

He wasn't mistaken. Rounding the edge of the tower of boxes (which was now a disorganized jumble), Roberts burst into view and then froze at the sight of the chaos spreading before him. It was worse than he he had anticipated, much worse. The Horizon was wreathed in angry smoke, a gigantic hole gouged out of her hull and her engines shrieking in alarm as the airship sagged on her mooring lines, her airbags already deflating before Roberts' eyes. The once taut envelope was now rapidly deflating from a sizable hole in one of her airbag that must have been caused by a piece of shrapnel tearing through the tough canvas, for the jagged wound was loosening steam in angry waves of white and the airship was losing air by the minute.

They hadn't properly docked the airship on Captain's orders, hadn't carefully set her down on an empty berth where she could have rested against the canvas-cushioned supporting beams and waited for Roberts' return. Captain Smothers had insisted that they simply tie the Horizon off at the wharf and let her bob in the wind, a common procedure for a quick stop, but one that left the ship dancing about and too prone to slam into things, such as other airships also tied up like balloons at the wharf. With nothing underneath her but air and her deflating airbags struggling to keep her aloft, the injured Horizon was tilting backwards, her aft sagging towards the ground as her bowsprit edged upwards into the sun in a ferocious squeal of overheated engines. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Steampunk or Not?

Yesterday, I wandered into the vast garage sale that is Ebay searching for a pink lace Victorian blouse for the Steampunk Society of Nebraska's upcoming Military Ball. With just a few moments' of perusal, it because appallingly clear that many of the denizens of Ebay are either a trifle confused about the genre of steampunk or are hoping that affixing the label "steampunk" to whatever they are hawking will increase its sale potential. Some of the items I encountered which proudly bore the name "steampunk" in the posting title were this...

And this......

And this....

Now, to be fair to the lightly-informed, steampunk is a quite broad genre with a multitude of possibilities open to the creative and descriptive. The website Nazi Dieselpunk has an excellent article on the different types of punk that may be found  One of the charms of steampunk is its inherent fluidity. Some steampunks are more rigid about their classification of the genre than while others are more forgiving of less-than-period elements such as open-toed boots or metallic-painted plastic weapons.

There are others who have a far more developed understanding of the steampunk genre than I do, and there is much helpful wisdom to be found on websites and in the Steampunk Bible book. However, for the purpose of this blog post, here are some simple guidelines that I like to pass along:

1) Make a decent attempt to stay in period. You should make a concerted effort to choose items that look passably Victorian, hence why the hot pink, drop-waist blouse posted above is not anywhere near steampunk-worthy.  

2) Think function over form. If you have not watched "Just Glue Some Gears On It", get thee to YouTube straightaways. As the title implies, there is a regrettable tendency in steampunk to randomly attach gears wherever they look snappy without any thought whatsoever about what practical function the gears serve. Just the other day, someone commented on the lace gloves I just constructed and asked me what the gears were for - my reply was that they were to tighten the ribbon in case I wanted a snugger fit. Now, one of my friends also pointed out that having some extra gears around one's person is a smart idea in case a mechanical breakdown happens, so a few random gears here and there are certainly no crime. However, as one is constructing steampunk, a consideration of function should play a role somewhere.

3) Go easy on the glue. This is a personal pet peeve of mine and it somewhat goes along with #2, but do make sure that if you glue gears on, you don't make it obvious you did so. Yesterday I almost purchased this neat, gear-laden ring at Nobbies, but a second glance reveled that most of its components were sitting in obvious puddles of glue. Keep your gluing, soldering, or other adhesives discreet to not ruin what you are making.

4) Keep it somewhat real. This is more for writing than anything else, but a decent attempt at practical reality should be attempted. Fantasy is certainly part and parcel of steampunk, but good fantasy does have some consideration for the limits of gravity, physics, and other elements. As I have harangued on before, one of the most pressing concerns of an airship would be weight. One steampunk story I was reading had an airship land and out of its belly came an onslaught of elephants with cannons on their backs. Bear in mind that this would represent a significant amount of weight, not to mention that heavy animals moving around an airship could easily throw it off course. Good steampunk should have some grounding in the probable!