Friday, September 25, 2009

Thoughts on Steampunk and related genres

For those who don't know, steampunk is science-fiction set in the Victorian era with steam-driven technology that is a little too advanced. Think about the tank and submarine in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

So, this month I have two stories labeled "steampunk" coming out.
The thing is, only one of the stories is steampunk. The other is gaslight romance.

Let me explain:

Let's say you write a story about a brass robot worker who runs on steam.

If you write it with the "ooh, shiny, look what we did! We're so clever, let's save the world!" tone, it's an Edisonade.

If you write it that the hero has done this to get rich, relieve his drudgery and marry his lady-love, it's gaslight romance.

If you write about the robot putting workers out of jobs, because it doesn't need food or wages or sleep, and the workers revolt, you have steampunk.


Steampunk has been summed up as "an argument with the SF of earlier eras." The steampunk shiny always comes with a dark flip-side. An Edisonade is a story that focuses on the inventor, usually a man, who comes up with something really brilliant. There is no dark side to his shiny.

Sure, we can build a deep-sea vessel, maybe even an undersea city. That's your Edisonade: the bright-boys building, overcoming obstacles and achieving a brainiac uptopia. Steampunk explores questions like "who gets to live in the city?" If it's built by bright-boy inventors who form an all-male inventing club and don't let women or "lesser minds" in, who is going to do all the things they think are beneath them? And when they let the lesser folk in, what happens when the lessers want to invent as well?

Gaslight romance uses the high-tech trappings of steampunk to tell stories that are not challenging to the status quo, but not "oooh, shiny" of the Edisonades. In Gaslight Romance, characters take their everyday tech for granted. They like it because it works. They seldom tinker with is. The story they are involved in does not center on the tech, nor does it quarrel with the tech or (too much) with society.


Hence "Skyway Robbery," with Robin and his crew specifically targeting "Edisonian" ships, taking from the bright-boy-inventors-turned-sweatshop-owners and funding workers is explicitly steampunk. But "Cherry Tart," with Chastity and Ulysses falling in love being the main focus, and even the trip to Io in a brass and wood ship being secondary, is pure gaslight romance.


A side note
There are many other -punks:
Bronzepunk: 300 is a good example of this. Swords and Sandals with extra. Archimedes was the father of Bronzepunk tech and should be used as often as possible 8)

Clockpunk: Renaissance period

Dieselpunk: Post-Victorian, pre-Atomic age.

Atompunk: Hard to separate from cautionary tales and 1950s Big Bug movies. Technically, The Hills Have Eyes remake would be Atom and Splatterpunk.

Cyberpunk: Science fiction, usually dealing with humans and machines interfacing. This was the first of the genres, and Gibson's Neuromancer is still considered the seminal work.

Mythpunk: use of post-modern elements in classic elf and fairy stories. Catherynne M. Valente specializes in this.

Splatterpunk: really excessively gory horror.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A busy week this week

Two anthologies release this week with steampunk stories by Naomi and me.

"Cherry Tart," a rare straight piece, is coming in Ellora's Cavemen: Flavors of Ecstasy III. It releases Sept 22, Tuesday. I'll blog more on that when I have a cover.

"Skyway Robbery," a steampunk Robin Hood menage a trois, is coming in Like a Corset Undone from Circlet Press

A safe excerpt follows:

Marion looked up from the aetheric tank where the representations of the airships drifted in and out of view amid scudding clouds. “Three degrees more to port or we'll never catch those Edisonian bastards!”

Obligingly, Robin turned the wheel of the pirate dirigible, Sherwood Forest, to the heading. Marion had picked up navigation skills as if born with a tank in hand, despite the fact it was her first voyage. She had begun badly, orphaned on the doorstep of a workhouse, and progressed to a shop-girl working for a glover. He smiled to think how fast she had agreed to be a boy to pursue a life of flight and piracy.

He watched his crew as they scurried here and there, preparing for the battle. Little John, his first mate, gathered the boarding party with their grapple-launchers. Will O'Hara, a runaway Fenian, and Mudge, his little jack-of-all-trades, angled the burning-glass that stood along the port side. He'd named his whole crew after his ancestor's legendary band, saying it was wiser so, since no official would accept a report that Robin Hood and his Merry Men had just robbed them.

Once the burning-glass was settled, Will scooted up to him and nipped his neck as he slung a quiver of explosive arrows on Robin's back. His time with the Fenian Brotherhood had given him a love of explosives and shiny things. It amused Robin, most of the time, to indulge him. “Just pull the fuse and fire. The fuses are a little longer so you don't lose your eyebrows again, Robin darlin'.” Will stole another kiss and dashed off to do more tinkering with the glass.

Robin saw Marion shoot him a dark look as she watched them. She might be filling his bed, but Will had been there first. Robin had no intention of giving up either one of them.

He'd informed Marion of this the second time Will had gone overboard under suspicious circumstances. Fortunately, Will was small, light and fast enough to grab at some netting. Robin had found him pretending to be working while he awaited rescue. The normally fearless boffin had worn safety harnesses for weeks afterward.

“Your new navigator has a ferocious temper, Robin darlin'. But sure, I probably deserved it,” was all Will would say of the incident.

The fat industrialist dirigible, with its enclosed gondola, emerged from the mist like a surfacing whale about to spout. Robin allowed himself a grin of pleasure and stroked the smooth yew wood of his bow. He loved hunting trips.

He glanced at where Marion had bent over the tank again. He appreciated his lady and her new-found skills, but never more so than when she stood like this, her trousers taut over her legs and rear. Only he and Will knew her true sex. She bound her breasts, lowered her voice and dressed in men's clothing, with enough layers to hide her shape, by his orders. It might be the newly-minted twentieth century, but his crew was as superstitious as any that had ever sailed, Phoenician or Norse or their own ancestors under Drake and Morgan. A woman aboard ship was bad luck to their minds. To Robin's thoughts, she would become another bit of spoil to be quarreled over. That development would serve no one.

Will still scurried about, his blue eyes shining with delight at testing his new toys, and his sharp Irish tongue lashing all the men with curses and blarney in English and Gaelic alike. Speaking the Irish language might be grounds for jail time on the ground, but Robin loved the sound of it and here, he was the law. He watched Marion track Will's motions as effectively as she tracked the Edisonians.

He wanted the battle done, the Edisonians' wealth aboard his ship, and to be bundled into the master cabin with Will and Marion while John held the helm steady for their hideaway. He needed to resolve this personal mess and the sooner the better, lest it spill over the crew. Ah, there would be time. The Edisonian ship was in his range, although he was not yet in theirs.

“Fire one!” Marion yelled.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Question

This is a repost of my post to the Amber Quill blog.

I finally got The Question. You know the one, "Where do you get your ideas?"

I took a page from the late, great Lewis Grizzard and said, "I subscribe to a service in North Dakota. $10 a month and they send me three ideas a week."

In reality, anything can start a story. Ideas are all around us. Comedian Carl Hurley says, "I don't make anything up, I just watch folks and tell it like it is." Well, as a writer, I tell it like it isn't. But I do observe and I do record and everything is grist for the mill.

For instance, my first stand-alone short story came because an editor said "I need a 10,000 word Christmas story. Any topic." I kicked it around a little and remembered the old superstition that children born on Christmas Day are werewolves. I remembered being on the old vampyres@guvm mailinglist. And I put it together and got a couple of thoroughly modern creatures of the night who meet on mailing-lists, play computer games, shop, host parties and watch DVDs. And have a lot of sex.

I've had stories come out of role-playing games, songs, fragments of old legend, my husband's boardgame collection and my job.

For instance Curse of the Pharaoh's Manicurists came about because my muse was having a really bad day. He and Naomi's muse sat down and started talking. They decided they wanted to travel, to do a historical.

It sounded something like this:
Nick: You can be the handsome globe-trotting adventurer and I your devoted comapnion
T: With little round glasses?
Nick: Oh. You like me in the glasses...and a bow tie. We'll skip the sweartervest.
T: *amused look* My secretary. Who keeps my affairs in order because I'm far too adventurous.
Nick: Oh, I like that. Fluttering after you trailing papers and pencils. And I can be cute and really bubbly
T: And I can be naturally dashing.
Nick: and we can explore and have adventures and have lots of exotic sex

And they worked out names and occupations, decided it was a pulp, then ambushed me in the grocery store and made me scribble the opening on my list, somewhere between the tortillas and toilet paper.

There are stories that started as missing scenes in other stories. "Collared Hearts" came out of "Tuition Fees," a private Christmas present scene between Nick and Chris.

The moral of this entry:
1) Inspiration can come from anything.
2) Always carry something to write with and on.
3) Always pay your North Dakota Idea Service promptly.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oh my. A busy month

Y'all are gonna get tired of me talking here.

I have oodles of books coming out this month. I gotta be more careful when I pray for a good harvest. The gods have senses of humor.

The quick and dirty run down:

Queer Dimensions is out
"Skyway Robbery" is coming in Like a Corset Undone
"Cherry Tart" is coming in Ellora's Cavemen
The print format of Curse of the Pharaoh's Manicurists is coming.

Busy busy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writing with an Agenda

I've been told writing with an agenda is a bad thing. I hear it stifles the story. I don't agree.

I have a four-fold agenda when I sit down to write a GLBT story:

1) Tell the best story I can in a way that will captivate and remain with the reader long after the book closes. This should be EVERY writer's agenda.

2) Promote the normalization of same-sex relationships through repeated exposure to characters with that orientation. The more people see gay characters as ordinary people, the less shocking such relationships become. Julian May surprised me with same-sex spouses in the 80s. But rereads found Gert and Hansi and Felice and Amarie less shocking.

3) Include a transgressively happy ending. There are enough Dead Queer books around. The happy ending challenges the social norm that gays must be miserable or dead by the end of the book.

4) Move money from the reader's pocket to my own in exchange for this story. Again,
every writer's agenda.

Think and know your agenda. It makes for better writing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

QUEER DIMENSIONS presents queer futures in an
exciting collection of 17 science fiction tales from
both new and established authors.

Ebook available now.
Print available Sept 21*
35% Discount off the RRP
Coupon Code: MN24S (code is not case sensitive)
Expires: September 21, 2009
Coupon Code is valid only at SmashWords for a limited period. SmashWords provides a wide range of formats and the purchaser is available to select whichever format is desired.