Wonder Woman, geeky mug

You know people know you’re a geek when they start giving you mugs like this. 🙂
photo: Corrina Lawson

Happy Tuesday all! Today’s tea? Assam Loose Leaf because I seriously needed the caffeine boost to wake up.

The work on the steampunk, tentatively called The Dark Mage of Lotus Hall, continues at a good clip. Last night, I hit 35,000 words. I had to backtrack a bit, however, as I encountered what writers call “the saggy middle.”

In other words, things were going far too well for my intrepid heroine and it was time to pull the rug out under her feet by asking “what’s a horrible thing that can happen that will upend the entire cast?” and then doing that. I also wrote a scene between the antagonist and my heroine that it contained many-layered dialogue, my favorite thing ever. Hopefully, all those layers will be fully seen once the villain’s scheme is clear.

What those poor dears must endure for the sake of story. Mwwhahahahah! 🙂 (I’ve not put a foot in George R.R. Martin territory yet but I begin to see how his landscape develops.)

We’ve had several snow days here in New England, leading to a four-day weekend for the teens and less writing time for me. But, still, I managed to bang out a few fun articles.

Out my office window this week. photo by Corrina Lawson.

Out my office window this week. photo by Corrina Lawson.

My first post on Heroes & Heartbreakers which concerns, naturally, Wonder Woman, was published this week. Or, rather, it’s about her longtime love interest, Steve Trevor. Fate has not always been kind to Steve but now he’s Chris Pine, so it should work out all right in the end.

I’m still loving, loving Agent CarterThis week, it even did flashbacks well!

I enjoyed several of this week’s DC Comics, so check out the full reviews of DC’s entire slate and ended up riffing about my most hated trope: the all reaching conspiracy.

“Yeah, we’re supposed to believe Mother is this all-powerful person who can predict what children will be suitable and what won’t be suitable but, c’mon. I’d believe in superspeed more than seeing into the future to predict that this child will turn out to be exactly what someone wants. I’ll give Mother the ability to send women out as trophy wives for the rich. But to know which kid will be a superhero? Just no.”

Suspension of disbelief broken. 🙂

Gregor Sherringford by Fabian Cobos

In my excitement over selling The Curse of the Brimstone Contract yesterday, I neglected to mention there is a short prequel that’s going to be published first, a four-page comic tale in Greyhaven Comic’s all-steampunk issue.

Last night, I received character concept sketches from the artist on the story, Fabian Cobos, and he’s done a marvelous job. He even inked this portrait and sent it to me.


I will never get tired of seeing art of my characters. 🙂


Note: I  published this over at GeekMom last week but I thought it was relevant to my writing, so I’m cross-posting it here too. And, btw, if you missed GeekMom’s steampunk week last week, it’s not too late. Go look. Still awesome articles on steampunk books, music, crafts, and even the French side of steampunk.

I first heard “steampunk” used in connection with William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which was published in 1990.

At the time, I thought adding tech to the Victorian Age was a fascinating idea but I was much more interested in reading space-based science fiction and gave it a pass. I didn’t think much about steampunk until last year, when I started hearing that steampunk, particularly romantic steampunk, was the next big thing.

My response was, “Wait, how can it be the next big thing when it’s over 20 years old?”

Intrigued, I attended a workshop on steampunk at the Romance Writers of America national conference last summer.

At the workshop, I learned that steampunk is all about the gadgets. And the presenters did have the coolest steampunk costumes with a number of gadgets, including steampunk wrist-watches and, of course, goggles.

But still I wasn’t really connecting to the genre. The retro look is very cool but it seemed to me that regular science fiction has plenty of futuristic gadgets. I wasn’t sure what the point was of creating more cumbersome and less efficient gadgets and placing them in the Victorian Age.

Gradually, though, I began to see the appeal. Part of that is due to my love of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. The main planet in that series, Barrayar, is a backwards society loosely based on Russian society around the time of the end of the Czars. The contrast between the Barrayaran culture and the ultra-futuristic gadgets that they’d adopted from the rest of the colonized planets was a great way to show that while society may be technically advanced, similar advances in cultures and mindsets take far longer.

And that’s what I find the best part of steampunk. On the one side is a culture that is extremely constrained by rules and on the other side are technological advances that are leaps and bounds ahead of where people are emotionally. It’s a great way to explore the changing role not only of technology but also the class and gender differences of the time period. In some many ways, the Victorian era was at the crossroads of change. Adding technology to it would just accelerate that change, causing as many problems as it solved.

So when my lovely editor, Sarah Hansen of The Wild Rose Press, challenged me a few months ago to write a steampunk story, I was interested but unsure of where to begin.

I started thinking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. That story had Professor Challenger and his gang of intrepid explorers discovering a hidden world where dinosaurs survived. It’s not quite steampunk but Professor George Edward Challenger is certainly a steampunk-style scientist.

Thinking of Doyle naturally led me to Sherlock Holmes. I’m an utter Holmes geek. I devoured the Canon as a teenager. I have both annotated editions. I’ve practically got the stories memorized.

Thinking of Sherlock Holmes led me to Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories, which are set in an alternate world where the Plantagenets still rule Britain and magic works. The Watson of these stories is a forensic sorcerer. That led me to another Holmes-style detective, Simon Archard, the main character in the comic book Ruse. Archard also exists in a Victorian-style age on an alternate word and his assistant is another magic user, female this time.

The answer to my question became blazingly obvious.

I would write a steampunk detective story with a Sherlock Holmes style character and turn my Watson-inspired character into a woman and possible romantic interest. I figured I’d just add some steampunk gadgets to the flavor of a detective story and I was all set.

Eh, not quite.

The mystery came easy. But I couldn’t just “throw in some gadgets” because that didn’t make sense. It’s never good to just throw in anything to meet a particular genre in any case and certainly it wouldn’t work in this story.

In order to create the gadgets of my steampunk world, I had to find a reason why these particular Victorians would be using steam power as part of their daily lives.

So in order to write a 24,000 word story, I had to create an entire alternate history for my world. Eventually, I followed Ruse’s lead and added some magic to the mix. The main idea is that the humans in my alternate world have discovered a talent similar to photosynthesis in that they can convert sunlight to energy. The by-product of this talent is a substance called mage-coal, which burns cleaner and far longer than regular coal and thus created a reliance on steam power.

Once I had the technological issues settled, I had to sort through all the implications of having magic users and what it would mean in term of gender and class issues in Victorian society. It could go either way but I felt there was a great deal of conflict to be had if the upper classes decided erroneously that mage power was something gifted only to them. They would feel that they were superior and that the lower classes would naturally not share such a gift. That would leave the class structure in place but also create untrained mages who would have little love for the current system and might use their raw powers to cause a great deal of trouble.

As in the real Industrial age, I had a conflict brewing between those responsible for great technological advances and those left behind to either be untrained labor or used up by the new system.

It was only until I had these world-building issues were settled that I was able to create the main characters, Lord Gregor Sherringford and Joan Kriegerson. They’re Holmes-inspired but definitely a product of this strange new world. (And if you’re enough of a Holmes geek, you might spot the Easter egg in my detective’s name.)

Having finished the story and sent it off to my editor last week, I was left with two main thoughts about steampunk.

One: it is really, really hard to write well and required far more research than I ever thought.

Two: it’s a whole lot of fun.

We’re doing a steampunk week over at GeekMom, so pop in this week and check out the articles.

I’m particularly taking notes on the Steampunk tea post that we’ll be running but we also have a giveaway going all week as well.

Steampunk Week on GeekMomI
And just in time, I finished my steampunk detective story and sent it off to my editor. Wish me luck.

I learned a few things while writing it:

1. Doyle was a genius at creating mysteries. They are *hard.*
2. World-building is needed even in a short story. That took the longest to sort out.
3. Why did I wait so long to write a Sherlock Holmes-type story? That was So. Much. Fun. Even the title was fun. “The Case of the Brimstone Contract.”

Morning all,

I just look outside at my deck. The snow there is piled up to my waist, at the least, and the fence in the backyard has snow covering 2/3 of it.

We’ve had a lot of snow. 🙂 And a lot of snow days from school which is keeping me busy and putting me behind in many things. But, happily, I’m at least about done with the steampunk detective story I’ve been working on.

It’s tentatively entitled “The Case of the Brimstone Contract,” and I have put the big confrontation with the villain and the romance aftermath to finish. I also have to go back through the story and layer in the world-building that’s sprung up as I was writing. I’ll top off at about 20,000 words or so, I think.

To make my life difficult, I put magic in the story but I didn’t know how it worked until this morning.

Then I was watching “How the Earth Was Made” while drinking my tea (loose tea, from Fortnum & Mason, yummy) and learned about the microscopic algae things at Shark’s Bay in Australia that basically convert sunlight into oxygen and exudes rock as part of the overall process.

Basically, the buggers convert light (energy) to an actual substance.

This seemed, I don’t know, somewhat magical to me.

So I thought a version of this would be a good basis for magic powers.

The magic users in my alternate Victorian world can convert energy to something else, with a by product as well.

So the steampunk machines are run on coal but the coal would be produced by a spell cast by a magician that converts energy into coal. Of course, it’s a little more expensive than actual coal, magicians being rare, but it’s more reliable and runs the machines much more efficiently.

I know, I know. It doesn’t make real science sense.

But it does make magical/imaginary science sense, at least I hope it does when I’m done with it.

So my magic users would basically have this plant-like talent for converting energy and it comes out in various forms.

My heroine does it unconsciously. To a talented magic user who can see the process, she walks around with somewhat of a glow as the sunlight is converted to radiance around her. But she has no idea she has it or how to use it.

The hero, my Holmes character, basically has a slight of hand talent, in which he can get rid of light/energy and thus can appear surrounded or hidden in blackness.

Which comes in handy for a sneaky detective.

So my Big Bad, the devil-type, can basically take energy from *people* if they agree to the process. It’s just another form of conversion of energy to something useful. But the process requires the person to agree. So the Big Bad learns how to tempt them into agreeing.

All this evolves into the legend of the devil tempting people in order to steal their souls.

And I think I can go forward with this in the short stories that come next after this tale and develop and overall Big Bad that takes a few adventures for my Holmes & Watson to solve.

Hey all,

It’s been a while since I’ve updated. I’ve mostly been slammed by doing a lot of GeekMom work, editing and writing.

The eldest has been in the middle of doing all sorts of college application stuff. I think we’ve all got it in and she really worked hard on her essays.

And I started working on several writing projects.
The first is a ghost story/urban fantasy/romance that I started a few years back, finished, revised, and then put aside because I didn’t feel good about the story. But it kept haunting me (pun intended <g>) so I went back to it. I’d originally written the beginning in first person, didn’t like it, flipped it to third person, and it worked better but not hugely better.

When I went back, I flipped it to first person again and *finally* found the character’s voice. I’m pleased! 🙂

The other is a new short story that my editor over at The Wild Rose Press asked me to write.

It’s steampunk.

Now, when she asked, I said “I don’t write steampunk.” Yes, I know, I have all sorts of cool gadgets in my Seneca storyverse. But that’s alternate history.

Steampunk is different.

Then I thought about it. Then I watched Sherlock on PBS. Then I saw a promo poster for the return of the CrossGen universe, featuring Simon Archard from RUSE.

And I thought…well, maybe I don’t write steampunk. But I’ve always wanted to write a Sherlock Holmes mystery. And he’s in Victorian times. And he was a chemist and tinkerer so….

Thus was born my story, tentatively titled “the Curse of the Brimstone Contract,” starring one Gregor Sherringford, my riff on Holmes.

Yes, it’ll be a romance but if I do this right, I can carry the romance over a number of short story mysteries, just like Doyle’s original tales. (The short mystery part, not the romance part.)

I’ve finally mapped out all the scenes I want. The plot came easy–it’s getting the steampunk gadgets right that I’m having trouble with so far. I know what part I want them to play in the story. But first, I have to figure out how to engineer them, if that makes sense.

So I’ve been writing in “uses gadget to test gloves for traces of chemical” in the manuscript.

Then I’ll have to go research to fill them in.

I have to say I’ve having a ball writing them, especially putting in easter eggs from Doyle. Like, say, my detective’s last name. 🙂

Note: cross-posted from my livejournal.