AnomalyCon: “The Future of Steampunk”

It’s almost time to go to AnomalyCon! I gave an all-day workshop two weekends ago, this weekend I’m giving 9 hours of workshops (filling in at the last minute for a speaker who became ill), and this time next weekend I’ll be in Denver. I don’t know how this spring got so filled with engagements, but the important thing is to remember to get the pages done, every day.

So the last panel I’m cogitating on is “The Future of Steampunk,” which is so much fun to contemplate that it will be hard to rope my thoughts into a cohesive track. Nobody has a crystal ball, but here’s what I’ll be excited to see as a reader as this literary airship floats through this year, into 2017, and beyond.

A diverse crew

Have you seen some of the stories coming out of India? And the costumers whose roots are in African traditions? And what about that hotbed of invention for oh, the last five thousand years or so, China and the Asian countries? I’m looking forward to seeing stories populated by nonwhite characters. There are certainly enough stories involving the British Empire and its technology. Including my own … though I’m working on expanding that! I’m looking forward to the richness of inventions and personalities that come out of cultures not the least like my own. To going on a voyage where the food, the dress, the technology, has roots in different ways of thinking and living. I’m looking forward to learning and appreciating and coming to love.

Sites to voyage to:

Interesting side note:

I went to a high-school performance of Romeo and Juliet yesterday … steampunk style. Yes, it was the Bard in full steampunk costume, including corsets and mechanical arms … but it was more than that. It was Indian characters and costumes threaded into the Capulet side. It was a Bollywood dance number where Romeo first sets eyes on Juliet. Instead of the Prince of Verona dispensing justice, it was a Princess. An Indian princess, in full silk skirts, steampunk style—complete with an attitude about these brawling Capulets and Montagues in her town!

Bravo. I think I’ll head off to Amazon now, and see what else I can find!

 

 

AnomalyCon: “The Making of a Hero”

Art by Claudia at PhatPuppyArt.comNext up in my series of thinking out loud about the panels at AnomalyCon on March 25–27 is “The Making of a Hero.” This is a subject I enjoy cogitating on because crafting a believable story arc for a hero from mouse to master is a lot of fun.

Case in point: Lady Claire Trevelyan. We first meet her in book 1, chapter 1, page 1 in the moments after peppermint has exploded in a drink made of dandelion and burdock (the Victorian equivalent of throwing a Mento into a bottle of cola). She is covered in goo, humiliated, and the mean girls are laughing at her—and from a story standpoint, she has nowhere to go but up. She is our protagonist, but she’s not a hero yet. She’s only seventeen, and her journey is just beginning … because heroes have to start somewhere, don’t they? They don’t just arrive out of the ether like Athena from the forehead of Zeus (or if they do, we can’t identify with them very much). Heroes are like us. In fact, the text suggests, we can all be a hero given the right set of circumstances.

Sometimes I have to shake my head at heroes in movies and TV, though. You know the ones—flinging themselves into danger under circumstances where a normal person would run for the nearest phone and call the police. Their sense of self-preservation appears to be completely lacking. However, if the plot is done right, there are times we can buy into the hero boldly going where no sensible person would. A mother would fling herself into danger without thinking if her child is threatened. Is it heroic to act on instinct to protect the vulnerable or the innocent, or is that wired into us to preserve the species? Do you think that when love trumps self-preservation, that’s heroic? I have to confess I do.

But there can come a point where the hero gets used to being the go-to person. When a problem needs to be solved, they’re so used to helping and solving and vanquishing, that maybe it’s hard for them to step back. This was something I had to deal with in Lady Claire’s journey. The last thing I wanted was for people to say, “Oh, here she goes again, dashing into danger to solve someone else’s problem. How many times is she going to do this?” Claire herself realized after long and painful experience that sometimes you have to curtsey respectfully and let the other person be the hero so that their journey can begin. Her journey might not be over, but she has learned enough about herself to have attained this piece of wisdom. It’s someone else’s turn now.

Because the world can never have enough heroes, watching out for the vulnerable and the innocent, and reminding us that we are all capable of greatness.

AnomalyCon: “The Care and Feeding of Literary Villains”

Continuing my series of thinking out loud about the panels I’ll be on at AnomalyCon at the end of March, next up is “The Care and Feeding of Literary Villains.” Those folks we love to hate. Those folks without whom we might not have a story.

I like a good villain. When I was little, every cartoon had one–Snidely Whiplash, Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester the cat (am I dating myself?). Their goal was either to eat Our Hero or to confound and destroy him in some way and take the hero’s resources for himself. But as one grows up, one appreciates a little more complexity in one’s villains. After all, the Roadrunner didn’t have much trouble outwitting the poor coyote, since mostly the latter’s troubles were brought on by hubris and poor planning.

Enter a villain like Darth Vader, who I’m sure believes the Star Wars movies are all about him. At first glance, all this villain seems to want is power, which is just a bigger plate of “confound, destroy, and take the hero’s resources.” George Lucas tried to give him a backstory and lots of motivation, and hm, I wonder why people disliked the prequels so much? Sure, the antihero is popular now, and everybody likes a bad boy (I confess to quite liking the new show Lucifer myself), but my word, they’re difficult to live with.

I like to keep things simple. I like to identify with a protagonist and cheer her on when she’s up against it. Even when she’s trading on the shady side in order to survive, I want to like her for being plucky. And what better means of bringing her up to scratch character-wise than to give her an antagonist who will force her to grow and change?

You may have noticed that Lady Claire has had her share of villains to deal with. But the Magnificent Devices series isn’t all about the bad guy and wham! boom! smash! he’s vanquished until the next book. No, her antagonists have crept to her side with civility and charm, and it’s only when she begins to take their measure that she discovers the things about them that don’t measure up–and in fact are a danger to her and those she loves.

Lady Julia Wellesley

In every young lady’s life I suspect there are other young ladies who wish to make her miserable–because they can, and because it helps to make them feel better about themselves in some way. Lady Julia is the stone on which Lady Claire learns to whet her ability to manage a villain. It’s difficult to vanquish the Lady Julias of the world sometimes. They are nothing if not ubiquitous, to say nothing of persistent. The noble-minded among us can befriend them and attempt to reform them. But those of us with average minds may instead choose to create a life that does not include them, as far as that is possible. But learning to deal with the Lady Julias of the world is certainly good practice for larger impediments to one’s dreams later on.

Lord James Selwyn

Lady Claire disliked him on sight because he was a sexual being, he presumed too much, and he made an inexperienced, overlooked girl uncomfortable. But then he became useful to her. After all, what better way to hide one’s nocturnal activities than by playing the fiancee of a lord during the day? The problem with Lord James was that he was a match for Claire, and he wasn’t there just to be mean. He was attracted to her because she represented what he wanted out of life: a woman of good family, who was intelligent, with good information, and a mothering instinct for future children and heirs. Each of them misread the other badly, and unhappiness and disaster ensued.

Gerald Meriwether-Astor

Gloria Meriwether-Astor’s father was like a gathering storm throughout the first eight books in the series. I didn’t do it on purpose–or at least, not consciously–but as disastrous events transpired, they could mysteriously be traced back to one source. To my astonishment, this character had been working behind the scenes for years before I (and the characters) caught on to him. He is the spanner in the works. The Napoleon of arms dealers. The megalomaniac who sees empire-building as a sensible and profitable business. I suspect he and Lord Cutler Beckett would have a great deal to discuss over a civilized cup of tea.

But he is also the antagonist for whom Lady Claire and the flock have been honing their abilities over a number of years. If not for the events that he set in motion, would they have been able to prove their mettle and earn the reward of satisfying victory? Isn’t that what the best villains do–they force a man or woman to reach deep into themselves and discover the spine and spirit that will allow them to win. They force the stakes to rise, to make the battle matter. And this is why they interest us–because they impact the people we have grown to love and make them better even than they thought they could be.

Which of literature’s villains are the ones you love to hate? And how do they contribute to the development of your favorite character?

 

AnomalyCon: “Is This a Kissing Book?”

On the weekend of March 25–27, I’ll be one of the guests of honor at AnomalyCon, a steampunk-flavored SF convention in Denver, Colorado. Yesterday, when I told her what I was doing, Gail Carriger looked delighted and assured me I’d have a wonderful time, and advised me to take lots of costumes! Upon which I resolved to, yes, take the BIG suitcase.

At the con, I am to speak on no fewer than eight panels, on a range of highly interesting topics. In order to get my thoughts together, I want to write a series of blog posts between now and then to help me plan what I might say. I hope you’ll bear with me in this self-indulgent behavior. It will help, truly.

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, what better way to start than with “Is This a Kissing Book? Romance in SF/F.”

Many of you know that I got my start in romance. My master’s thesis in the (then) MA (now) MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University was a romance novel, and was my first book-length sale. To Harlequin, the biggest purveyor of romance in the world. An aside: If you want to look at it, I’ve since received the rights back and published it myself, so you’ll find it here. I was a romance major in the program, because the courtship story has always interested me. When I was nine and reading Nancy Drew, her relationship with Ned Nickerson was nearly as interesting to me as her solution of the mystery. Maybe that’s why romantic suspense is still one of my favorite genres.

It’s no mystery, however, that even in the most hard-boiled police procedural case or science fiction battle or epic fantasy quest, romance can throw a spanner in the characters’ works. And that makes for good fiction. Let’s face it, even if you’re re-colonizing a post-apocalyptic Earth with nothing but your two hands and an ancient CD of A Lady of Spirit, you’re going to want to form a pair bond, aren’t you? I mean, the species kind of depends on it.

In my mind, nothing increases the emotional stakes for a character like caring about someone. This is the case in real life. It’s also the case in fiction. For me, it simply becomes more interesting when the additional component of emotional stakes is added to the story. Something has to matter more than the next battle or the next clue or the surprise dragon in the cave. That something is usually another person for whom not only the character, but also the reader has come to care. Frankly, if Our Hero doesn’t care about anybody, I’m not too inclined to care about him, either. Even the lone cowboy riding into the sunset after saving the town has left behind someone he cared about—maybe he’s sacrificed her to A Greater Cause. Silly man. She could have come with him. Perhaps she’s an excellent shot and he wouldn’t have had to fight that epic gun battle because she could have been posted on the roof with a lightning rifle.

Oh, wait….

Some members of the flock have written to thank me for not making the Magnificent Devices books “too mushy.” At the same time, others have written to say how much they enjoy reading about Claire’s relationship with Andrew (and yes, there are those who are still convinced Lord James is going to resurrect himself out of the ruins of that train to cause trouble). I like Claire and Andrew, too. I like how everything is not rosy after the first kiss. And I really like exploring their emotions and the push-pull that a woman feels between the course she has set for her life and the (not unreasonable) expectations of this new partner who wishes to share it.

It feels natural to me to build characters this way. And I hope that it makes for a rewarding read, too.

 

Fields of Air: Release Day!

Fields of Air: A steampunk adventure novel by Shelley AdinaThere’s nothing quite as thrilling for me as releasing a new book in the Magnificent Devices steampunk series. Fields of Air, the first of three books about Gloria Meriwether-Astor’s adventures in the Wild West, came out today! I hope you’ll enjoy it, because you’re the reason I do this (well, and because I like having company in my imaginary worlds).

Gloria has come a long way since her days as Lady Claire’s classmate at St. Cecelia’s, when the two of them—I must be frank—despised each other. Gloria’s eyes were opened about her own misjudgment of Claire, which also revealed to her that while she might be rich in material wealth, she was poor in friendship. Through the adventures of Books 7 and 8, she learned a thing or two about herself and about just how valuable friendships among women can be. Now she has even more to learn—and since she intends to stop the war her father started, it’s going to be quite the experience. I hope you’ll join her (and me) on the journey!

Find Fields of Air at your favorite online retailer:

Fields of Air (Magnificent Devices #10): story summary

Her father started a war. She intends to stop it.

Her father may have sacrificed his own life to save hers, but heiress Gloria Meriwether-Astor is finding it difficult to forgive him. After all, how many young ladies of her acquaintance will inherit wealth, beauty, and a legacy of arms dealing? Now the Royal Kingdom of Spain and the Californias is about to declare war on the Texican Territory and Gloria simply will not allow it.

In company with Alice Chalmers and the crew of Swan, along with a lost young Evan Douglas seeking reparation for his own sins, she takes to the air. Her intention—to stop the train carrying the final shipment of monstrous mechanicals into the Wild West. But they should have known that making a deal with air pirate Ned Mose in exchange for his help could never end well.

What is a lady of principle to do? For the lives of thousands may depend on her ability to stop the war … even if it means losing everything and everyone she has come to love …

Coming in late January/early February 2016!

“I  liked Gloria Merriweather-Astor. It would have been so easy and so in keeping with so many tropes, to make this character a Mean Girl or a ditzy fool. She is neither—she is an intelligent, moral actor in her own right (though a sad and desperately lonely one) and it’s another element I love about these books; from Claire to Gloria to Alice to Lizzie and Maggie to Lady Dunsmuir, the women in this series generally like and respect each other. Other women are not required to be lesser—weaker, more cowardly, less intelligent—in order for Claire to be awesome. She is not an Exceptional woman, she is an awesome woman among awesome women.”  —Fangs for the Fantasy, on A Lady of Integrity

Fields of Air: cover reveal!

I have the most amazing art team–Claudia at PhatPuppyArt and Kalen O’Donnell. They unfailingly take my vague specifications (“It’s Weird West and there’s a blonde girl and she’s looking out an airship’s viewing port”) and give me far beyond what I could imagine. So without further ado, here is the cover for the first of three books about Gloria’s adventures, Fields of Air. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Fields of Air: A steampunk adventure novel by Shelley Adina