Sunday, July 28, 2013

OSFest and River Song in Full Force!

Shaky from too much caffeine? Check. Room full of discarded costuming badly in need of washing and repair? Check. A folder of business cards from people I only vaguely remember talking to? Check. Ankles aching from spastic dancing in full River Song costume? Check. Fun times had at Osfest? Check and double check.

This weekend's con was a rousing success and many good times were had by all. I sold a nice handful of copies of Steam on the Horizon, enough to fully recoup the cost of the con plus a whopping $10 profit which made me exceedingly happy. It was a great chance to get my name out there, and I do not believe I stopped talking for three days straight. 

For all you authors out there, I highly recommend hiring an assistant. Below is Megan who cheerfully schlepped loads of books everywhere, ran the laptop, fetched water, and kept track of everything for three days, and I could not have done it without her. She also incidentally was helpful in attracting me to our table. I will here state that neither of us lacked for male attention all weekend. Wonder why?

Besides being superlatively helpful and nice, Megan made me an authentic, gosh-darned awesome River Song waist belt and gun holster out of real leather. I happily donned it and received many flattering comments on the full ensemble.

River Song had a great deal of fun on Saturday, including a guest bellydance appearance at a room party (accompanied by a guitar and author Keith R. A. DeCandido beating out percussion on a plastic trash can)

River Song also gamboled about on stage during the Steampunk Steerage Ball, happily kicking up her heels until realizing, a shade too late, that the song "Time Warp" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show has actual dance moves that she did not know at all. As a result, River bumbled along a beat behind everyone and making the wrong steps.
River Song later marginally redeemed herself by swing dancing with a local fellow and repeatedly beaning herself in the face with her necklace. Boots are not the best choice of dancing footwear, and her ankles are hurting today. 

Other highlights of the con include
- the Steampunk Society of Nebraska taking on the Klingon Federation at a Nerf gun battle and winning
- hosting a panel "The Pen and the Cog: Writing Steampunk"
- hanging out with the Zombie Research Institute
- shooting a Dalek on stage during the costume contest
- questioning "Does that dude have a penis on the back of his top hat?" (it was a tiny Elmo)
- dancing with a ten year old girl at midnight who squealed every two seconds
- being hit on by a Klingon
- free drinks from the bartender (an English expatriot)
- cosplaying a steampunk version of River and The Doctor with Matthew the Northern Poet
- getting new signatures in my River Song diary, including some Klingon writing

And if anything could have made it better, it would have been Loki showing up. Sadly, I wasn't at Comic Con this year, so I will leave you with this.

Monday, July 22, 2013

OSFest and More!

Gearing up for OSFest 2013! (we interrupt this blog for a brief reminder that OSFest is a sci-fi fantasy con held in Nebraska and Ozzy Osbourn will not be in attendance. Thank you). This weekend I will be awake for three days straight to run around Omaha's Ramada Inn with a bunch of cosplayers and live off caffeine and free Tootsie Rolls (which is pretty much what I did at my last con). Note: Tootsie Rolls are not an acceptable meal replacement, no matter how many of them you eat. 

However, this will be a working con for me, as demonstrated by my schedule below: 

   4:00-5:15   Book signing in Author Alley
   5:30-6:00 Book reading event 

   12:00-1:30 Book signing in Author Alley
    2:30-4:30  Present workshop "The Pen and the Cog: Writing Steampunk"
    4:30-6:00 Book signing in Author Alley 
   1:00-2:30 Book signing in Author Alley

I am quite looking forward to the writing panel and am planning on filming it to make a YouTube video for instructional purposes. I haven't taught a class for over a year, so this will be tons of fun! The workshop will cover some of the tidbits of steampunk writing I have gleaned through my experiences, such as:
   - the practical implications of steampunk technology (aka just so how exactly does that airship fly?)
   - why corsets do not equal combat
   - steampunk archetypes and why they should be avoided 
   - top ten writing sins

Extra excitement: steampunk author Gail Carriger will be a guest of honor and I am thrilled about the chance to yak with her a bit about London, tea, and steampunk writing (and not to mention treacle tart). I read Souless several years ago, which was probably my first introduction to steampunk fiction, and it will be delightful hanging out with Gail for the weekend. 

In the bustle of preparation for OSFest, I have sorely neglected the Horizon and her good crew, but fear not, plots are afoot! When I last left off, the good airship had "liberated" a cannonade cannon from a fallen Spanish airship which had crashed off of Gibraltar. The Horizon is now legging it across the Mediterranean to Tangier, Morocco to refurbish and refit the cannon. 

Both Gibraltar and Tangier are near and dear to my heart as I visited both of these places last April. Here are a few of my favorite shots from that trip. 

Grumpy camel gets his picture taken in Tangier

View from Gibraltar

View of the ocean in Gibraltar

Such  fun times! Well, must run and get ready for OSfest, so much to do!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Valleys and Peaks

As I write this, I've just managed to finally pull myself out of about a two week slump: mentally, spiritually, creatively. The creative well developed a crack and dried up, my spirits plummeted, and everything seemed bleak and flat. In my earlier years, this probably would have triggered a slide into dull depression but now that I've reached my thirties, I've come to recognize and embrace the ebb and flow of the creative process, to understand that the high of finishing a project is usually followed by a period of low, that feeling down and dull is just that, a feeling. Eventually it will go away. The muse will return, ideas will bloom to life again, and soon words will start flowing on the keyboard. 

So, with recovered energy, I am back at work on Clouds of War, a process that has involved liberal applications of Wikipedia. So far, my research topics have included:
- grades of bituminous coal
- coal mining equipment 
- types of coal mining
- water desalination techniques
- Gibraltar's position in the 19th century
- smuggling
- Spanish tariffs
- types of cannons (long gun, cannonade)
- 19th century period clothing for marine captains (On this particular note, most captains at this time period wore breeches and stockings, which Captain Roberts doesn't like - see following

Although he had been master of the Horizon for over three months now, Roberts had yet to look the part and was reluctant to do so, both out of parsimony and a deeply abiding conviction that he'd be damned if he was going to wear stockings every day. At times during his tenure as first mate of the Lucky Lady, he had reluctantly donned a formal uniform, but Captain Albert had usually been too drunk to much care what his first officer was wearing. As a result, Roberts had long gotten away with workman's clothing and he wasn't eager to give them up for breeches and epaulets even if such items unmistakably marked him as an airship captain.

Happily for Captain Roberts, by the 1850's, the tricorn captain hat had fallen out of style. I can't imagine Captain Roberts in a tricorn and I think if I tried to put him in one, he would stride off my laptop and refuse to cooperate until he could go back to practical clothing again. And no silly pointed hats with feathers. 

In this past week, I've been part of a lively discussion on The Steampunk Empire thanks to a blog post I created that outlines a gripe I have with much steampunk fiction: that is the overabundance of SFC (strong female character): the gorgeous, brainy woman who knows everything, can throw a mean punch, and leaves males in her dust trail. Dozens of people chimed in their ideas, and the result was a great deal of intelligent, meaningful debate about gender roles, character development, and plot twists. Several people argued that the problem wasn't so much the SFC overkill in steampunk but the problem of badly written, one-dimensional characters. 

One character problem I've encountered in too many books (steampunk or not) is where most of the characters share the same basic speech patterns and word choice so it is impossible to tell through dialogue alone who is talking because they all sound the same. In contrast, when writing Steam on the Horizon  I labored hard to give each character his/her own unique speech rhythm so they have marked differences in how they talk. 

Another problem, and this does occur in steampunk fiction, is overly stylized and formal speech, particularly when it is not warranted. I recently read a review of Boneshaker on The Steampunk Empire, and the writer complained that the characters often talked in long, formal sentences during tense, dangerous situations. Another steampunk book (whose name escapes my attention) had these exceedingly tedious, drawn out dialogues between the male main character and his female protagonist that, while most likely period and keeping with Victorian style, were a booger to wade through. After all, why bother using ten words when seven hundred would do?

A final character development problem I see (and this is one prevalent in most SFC) is the prevalence of the uber-competent: the wave of characters that are all abundantly skilled in various areas (fighting, engineering, navigation), never make mistakes, and are fantastically talented. This is neither realistic nor particularly interesting to read, and goes a good way towards creating one-dimension characters. 

With that, I think I will go back to some character development and turn my attention back to Clouds of War