Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nightwalker Rises

Okay, it has been ten full days since I have blogged; how negligent of me! Nearly a fortnight has been filled with a vast assortment of activities and new knowledge as I continue my job training as a medical helicopter dispatcher. A tidy amount of what I am learning has been pertinent to steampunk airships, particularly the emphasis upon how weather can play havoc on any air-going vessel.

To wit, the Horizon flies by VFL (visual flight rules) meaning that she has no radar tracking equipment on board to help her navigate, seeing as I've chosen not to make radar part of my steampunk world. For a helicopter racing at an average 120 knots, VFL can be tricky way to fly because you can easily overlook objects in the sky until you are on top of them. The rule of thumb is if you run into thick fog, your life expectancy is about three seconds because you can't see anything. However, the Horizon's top speed is 35 knots which gives her a much wider room for error. Nevertheless, I am realizing that I have merrily sent my airship into all sorts of bad weather throughout Steam on the Horizon: blizzards, rainstorms, thick clouds, etc. and in effect she is blundering about in the aether essentially blind as a bat in many cases. Happily, through the omnipotent powers granted to me as an author, I will ensure that the Horizon avoids any fatal collision in the sky: otherwise this series would be laughably short.

Speaking of which, it is almost certain that Steam on the Horizon will be divided into three parts and sold as three different e-books. I had this word of advice from some writer friends, and it makes sense, so I am currently tackling it from that direction. So far, I have identified Part One, which currently clocks in at 72,389 words and am focusing my editing prowess on beating this into shape. Part One covers Gavin Roberts taking on the Horizon and ends when London grows too hot for our daring captain and his merry crew and they decide to beat feet to Gibraltar.       

However, as I revise, I am intently scrutinizing to see if all of Draft 2's 186,432 words truly deserve to remain or if significant eviscerating is forthcoming. It is possible I can prune Steam on the Horizon down to 150,000 words or less: in that case, I will offer it as a single e-book. However, I am almost positive that my writerly soul will not allow such mass extermination and that this will be a three-parter.

The editing process overall is going quite well, I...

He he, how did that get there? Just a little spat of authorial frustration - nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

No, truly, I finished reading Part One in more or less a towering rage at my own ineptitude and frustrated that a draft which had read so well only a few weeks ago seemed nothing more than pompous, stilted bile. The writing process is one of peaks and troughs, and the only way to get out of the ditch is to keep writing away until you work yourself past a spot of self-loathing.

Happily, I think I have my next steampunk series on the make. Starting Sunday, I will be switching to a night schedule, working 5:30pm-5:30am three to four times a week. Since I normally rouse myself around 5:00am, this will be a complete restructuring of my world. I am actually happy about this because I fully expect to complete an enormous amount of writing on my off days: after all, there will be little for me to do at 2:37am but write!

Today I was ruminating on this new incarnation as a nightwalker when a new steampunk character sprang to life: a young man who has xeroderma pigmentosum: essentially an allergy to sunlight. He is only able to go out at nighttime and thanks to the marvels of steampunk technology such as night-vision goggles, he is able to traverse the dark streets of London at night to solve crimes and root out mysteries. How does the name "Steampunk Nightwalker" sound for a series? Too cheesy?

Well, this young man will have to wait awhile before he comes to life - I have Captain Roberts' tale to tell and the good airship Horizon to sail, which I shall do now! Time to edit the stuffing out of Chapter Three!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Steampunk Valentine's Day Prep!

The Steampunk Society of Nebraska has their annual Valentine's Day shindig next month, and this is going to be an all-day event: a steampunk swap meet, tea party, gaming time, dance lesson, and a re-dedication ceremony of two of our key members. What could be more romantic than renewing your wedding vows during a Valentine's Day event surrounded by steampunks in their finest? Needless to say, these festivities require an awesome steampunk costume, and I have been hard at work at something appropriate. My enthusiasm has been severely curtailed by the fact that I am a virtual pauper and my first paycheck from my new job is going entirely to the mortgage and bills. This has required some creativity on my part, not to mention a thorough scouring of the house for items that can be pressed into service as part of my costume.

Last time I posted pictures, I had this lovely ensemble going on:

Expert Basset Hound fashion criticism gives it one tail wag. Erasmus is rather persnickety with clothing: the other day, my brother popped into my office all spiffed up in a new outfit and asked, "How do I look?" Erasmus immediately gave out a loud groan of disapproval, so clearly Seth and I both have a better fashion sense to develop. Since then, I have made some modifications to the costume.

Attending a 1920's party left me with a long strand of pearls that seemed apropos for Valentine's Day and while not exactly steampunk, the effect with the red jacket (which I shortened into a bolero) was quite nice. This self-same 1920's party left me with some material I had intended to work into a flapper costume. Alas, my sewing machine declined to cooperate, and I was left without a flapper costume but with a very nice length of black fringe that I decided to put on my corset.

I handsewed a layer of fringe to the bottom part of the corset using a loose running stitch for easy removal later. The overall effect with the red bolero was vaguely reminiscent of 19th century brothel/dancing girl style, which seemed to fit into a Valentine's Day theme. I didn't have quite enough to line the entire top of the corset, so I put fringe just on the front (where it would show) and left the back without fringe benefits.

Liking what I had so far, I cast my eye around my steampunk work room/crafting area/disaster zone and spotted a roll of red ribbon. I needed to do some bustling/tucking of the skirt as it was a tad too long, so I decided to make some silk roses. First, I cut a length of ribbon, ironed it to make a crease, and cut it in half lengthwise. 

I then rolled the ribbon up, making some tucks and bends to replicate a rose.

When it was vaguely rose-shaped, I ran some red thread through the ends to secure everything and form it into a round shape.

The next part was a lot of eyeballing (I tend to be gleefully imprecise when crafting/sewing). I simply pinched a section of the skirt, shoved the rose in the middle, and sewed it from the inside to hold it in place. This slightly bustled the skirt to raise the hemline up a bit (it was too long to begin with) and added some nice visual effects to what is a very dark, rather plain skirt.

Liking this, I placed several roses around the front of the skirt in a random pattern.

The back seemed to call for something different, so I made two roses out of a full piece of ribbon and put a little bustle at the back. The whole effect put the skirt at a good height for walking, just enough to show a bit of stocking. I intend to track down a pair of striped stockings to wear under the dress.

I may add a few mini roses to the back, but I think this might mess up the hemline some, so I believe I will leave it as is.

So far, so good! I have a lovely pair of embroidered white gloves to wear, and my next order of business is making a teardrop hat. I will use the red silk I took off the bottom of the jacket and a bit more black fringe. Pictures forthcoming!

But first, I must hurry off to the nearest print store to obtain all 299 pages (10.5 point, 1.5 space) of Draft 2 in print form and start reading it over. A dear friend of mine and my mother are currently in possession of Draft 2 in order to offer their feedback. However, my dear mother does not get steampunk. She tries for my sake, but her logical, rational mind is not predisposed towards fantasy, glamour, and the improbable. Therefore, I wholly expect she will dutifully read my draft and try to find some enjoyment out of it. If she honestly tells me that she likes it a lot, I will know that I have likely crafted a novel that even non-steampunks will enjoy.

Oh dear red pen, prepare yourself. You have some editing to do.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Draft 2 Completion!

Hooray, hooray, it's a wonderful day for I have finished Draft 2! Last night about 7:45 pm, my overworked keyboard stilled and I flipped over the last sheet of the printed draft into the inbox, signaling the completion of Draft 2. In excitement, I ran a word count, eager to know how much I had hacked away during the intense pruning that happened between Draft 1 and 2.

To my surprise, Draft 2 clocks in at 186,432 words, a whopping 14,713 more words than Draft 1 contained. Confounded, I ran the numbers again and did the math, and my original assessment was correct; despite the sections ruthlessly eradicated from Draft 1, I still managed to pack in almost 15,000 words to a draft that was quite lengthy to begin with.

Writer friends of mine have informed me that a typical book usually runs about 100,000 or less and publishers start squawking when the count hits 120,000. To give a rough idea of how that translates into pages, common wisdom states that a page of published book generally contains about 250 words. Which means I currently have a 700+ page draft on my hands.

To give you a better visual picture, below are two books: Cheri Priest's Boneshaker which is 414 pages and James Clavell's Shogun which is 1152 pages.

At this point, Steam on the Horizon would be about in the middle between these two books as far as length.

To the eye and hand, Shogun is chunky and awkward: it is obvious in a glance that the book will be a challenge to read. Boneshaker is slimmer and less intimidating, and to the eye it doesn't seem particularly long. Obviously Shogun has smaller dimensions than Boneshaker and that affects the overall presentation. Standard manuscript format and printing dimensions vary quite widely, and on Amazon's Createspace, self-published authors have a variety of printing choices and manuscript dimensions to choose. Yet, despite whatever size a printed copy of Steam on the Horizon ends up being, the very real questions I am currently asking myself are:
1) Is this too damned long?
2) Do I have superfluous stuff to cut?
3) Would the story suffer if I cut out a lot?
4) Would anyone read it if I didn't do significant whittling down?
5) Should this planned trilogy involve more than three books?

Right now, I have no answers to these questions. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet the dynamic steampunk writing duo Tee Morris and Philippa Balentine at the 2012 Emerald City Steampunk Expo, and they were kind enough to enthusiastically share ideas with me for several hours. Last night in a befuddled panic about how the heck I was going to tame this wild madness of a draft, I dashed off a message to them asking for their advice and I am eager to see what they have to say.

One thing I am pondering is breaking down Steam on the Horizon into three parts just for e-book form. For printing, I still want to offer just three books for this trilogy I have planned. But it may make more sense to have a Part 1, 2, and 3 for Steam on the Horizon in e-book form. What I could also do is offer Part 1 for free as a way of hooking readers on the trilogy. I was already planning on offering the e-book for just a few dollars, and giving away part of it could possibly be a strategic marketing campaign.

However, this may simply be a case of a wiser, more objective head looking over my draft and identifying about 40,000 words or so that need eradicating or could simply be removed without causing damage to the overall story line. I have a small cohort of beta readers ready with their red pens sharpened, and I will be getting them Draft 2 soon. It will be interesting receiving their feedback. I can envision a scene where kind, well-intended friends are gently prying a chapter from my white knuckles as I moan, "No!!!! Don't take that from me!!!! Pleeeeeassssee, can I keep it????"

On another note, I have started my new job as a coordinator for a medical helicopter company and am excited about learning more about latitude, weather conditions and how they affect flying, helicopter anatomy, and a vast assortment of topics that hopefully will transition somewhat into steampunk. Also included in the training process is a chance to ride along on a helicopter transport, a prospect I am looking forward to with boundless enthusiasm. I only hope pictures will be permitted so I can document the exciting adventure!

Next up, finish costume for the steampunk Valentine's Day event. I have a skirt to bustle and some accessories to make!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Valentine Costuming!

The Steampunk Society of Nebraska is making plans for their annual Valentine's Day ball, and I am working on my costume. A few days ago, a friend and hied to that epicenter of steampunk: Goodwill. I was lucky enough to score a lovely dark blue skirt and a snazzy red top for under $6.

I am already loving my dressmaker dummy form for costuming purposes. It is so much easier to work on it in 3D form rather than trying to put in pleats and hem the edge while the garment is dangling flatly from a clothes hanger. However, my new weight-loss goal is to perfectly fit the constrains of the dummy - so far it is about two inches too small in the bust. I had lost some weight due to waitressing, but alas the gluttony of the holidays ensured that the abandoned poundage quickly found its way back to my thighs and hips.

Ahem, back to costuming. The red jacket was originally longer - I whacked off the bottom and made it into a bolero jacket. Now I have a nice strip of red fabric that will soon become a Victorian teardrop hat. Teardrop hats look like this.

Never having made a teardrop hat (or any hat, come to think of it) I turned to the internet for inspiration and discovered this wonderful blog that offers a tutorial for making a teardrop hat. Lorie, who maintains the blog, sells the form for the hat if you don't or can't make one of your own. I will be ordering a form this week and starting work on the hat! I am thinking that the hat itself should be red, then I will have black roses, black ribbon, and black tulle on it. We shall see what inspiration strikes.

I'm also planning on hunting down a hearts pattern fabric like this...

and making a wrap around bustle to add some Valentine's Day color to the dark skirt.

However, I still have Draft 2 to finish! I finished up Chapter 27 the other day and will be starting Chapter 28 today. Most likely, I will have Draft 2 done by next week. Then there is the exciting moment of discovering what the word count is for Draft 2 and printing the sucker out for more editing! I'll edit and revise Draft 3, then beg/borrow/steal money so that I can put the draft in the hands of a professional fiction editor. Hopefully the editor will not suggest too many changes and one day in the future, the draft will be ready for publishing...

after I work with a graphic artist to create the cover illustration, figure out a marketing campaign, and arrange for a million other things. Sigh.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Writer Rambles

Today is a glorious work-free day - after I finish vacuuming  I have the rest of the day to tackle Draft 2. Right now, I have Chapter 25 to finish, and it is timed to occur just after the 1st of November. The Battle of the Alma and the Charge of the Light Brigade have happened, and the Horizon witnessed both campaigns, not exactly the safest of ventures if you are dangling from a steam-filled canvas balloon. She survived, and Roberts and crew will soon be flying a load of desperately ill/injured soldiers down to the military barracks in Scutari where they will run against the indomitable might of Florence Nightingale.

As I revise, it is astonishing how many little things demand attention. Yesterday I was reading Bill Bryson's peerless At Home: A Short History of Private Life when the topic of soot arose. It dawned on me that I had never considered the fact if the Horizon's anthracite-fed boiler produces soot from the coal dust it burns. I would assume that would be a yes, but before I make a decision, I have to research to check my assumption. I do know that anthracite burns essentially smokeless but if the boiler will produce soot or other byproducts, then I have to tackle the question of what the Horizon does with all its soot. I also realized that my engineers, by default, are permanently covered with coal dust and need to work that into their description.

I'm also wondering if I need to touch on scurvy, the plague of sailors until people figured out that it was caused by dietary deficiency (Bryson covers this in his book). However, airship flights are much faster than marine ship sailing, so perhaps airships touch down in port often enough to access fresh food? Or I could have my on-board surgeon Harding be an innovative soul that has worked out the link between nutrition and health and insists that the crew eat properly. Also, a steampunk world would probably have better standards of medical knowledge than the historical 19th century. Bryson states that several medical researchers figured out that scurvy was caused by a vitamin C deficiency long before the Navy began to supply their sailors with lime/lemon juices. Many medical professionals thought that scurvy was caused by too hard work, unsanitary conditions, constipation, etc. In fact, one commander encouraged his sailors to rinse out their mouths with their own urine in attempts to combat scurvy - yuck!

Now that Draft 2 is nearing completion, I am starting to think about cover art, illustrations, and advertising media. I've talked with a few artists and there are a number of possibilities out there. So far, I have a fairly good idea in mind for what I want as the front illustrations, and I am hoping to have a diagram of the Horizon on the flyleaves. The anime series "Last Exile" is a good model for what I want: each DVD cover has intricate diagrams of the different airships inside the cover, and these help give great detail and scale for the ships.

I haven't quite worked out what the Horizon looks like, and in my head, I have been playing with 125 feet for her length. What I need to do is find an unbroken stretch of snow, a tape measure, and a friend to help me sketch out in the snow what the circumference of the Horizon's gondola should be. I figure I can bring a spray bottle of colored water to help mark in lines and create a canvas on the snow. I'll definitely take pictures of this so you can see the crazy things I do for accuracy and concept.

And at last...here is a picture of Erasmus for general "awws" and morale-boosting!